Thursday, October 27, 2011

Catholicism on Campus-- Not Exactly Vibrant...

I attended a talk organized by UCD's Newman Society yesterday evening. Billed as a talk on faith and science, it turned out to be a potted history of University College Dublin and its antecedent institutions, with some reference to Newman and the opposition to science-teaching by the Irish hierarcy of his time. Aside from the two academics who delivered the talk, there were three other attendees; the chap who organized it, a young lady, and myself. I was the only Irish person there.

I can't really criticize too much, since I haven't attended any of the talks given by the Newman Society, UCD's Catholic society, in my ten years of working in UCD's library. But from what I can see, the Christian student movement here is not exactly flourishing. It's a long way from C.S. Lewis's Socratic Society at Oxford, which regularly held debates featuring the best and brightest of unbelieving and believing minds. (Having said that, a debate on whether religion is a good or bad thing was held in UCD last night, organized by the Literary and Historical Society.)

I have occasionally attended Mass in the church at UCD, always on Holy Days of Obligation (the regular Mass is not at a time I can make). The congregation is usually of an encouraging size. Of course, people go to Mass for all sorts of reasons, not always out of religious conviction or commitment-- I suspect for many rural students it is a link to their way of life at home.

It is also worth noticing that, in a recent survey for the University Observer, three-quarters of UCD students polled were pro-choice on abortion. A few years ago about seventy per cent, in a survey by the same newspaper, affirmed a belief in God.

None of us need to be told that statistics and numbers mean little. The Pope has wisely re-echoed Jesus's words on the mustard seed in recent times, reminding us that the fidelity of the faithful is more important than their numerical weight. But if a Catholic revival is going to come about in this country, it is natural to look to the universities as its springboard.


  1. Natural to look to the universities? I'm afraid I would look to the universities for very little except tick-box liberal shibboleths. Allow me to quote the irrascible Peter Hitchins: '(at university) you are free from the influences of home, subsidised into a fake independence which you think you have earned, spared the need to earn your bread, spared contact with the true drama of provincial life, and surrounded by arrogant ans self-righteous people in their late teens, much like yourself, who think that they have discovered sex and idealism for the first time in the history of the human race.' (From 'The Broken Compass')

    Hear, hear!

  2. I adore Peter Hitchens but I have to say, one thing I don't like about him is that kind of cynicism. I don't think conservatism is about cynicism.

    I work in a university library so I am under no illusion at all about how shibboleth-laden and infested with liberal group-think the modern university really is. I can see it just from the books that I loan out. But I don't think that should make us give up on the ideal of a university, or go about growling "bloody students, they should get a job". I think it is entirely appropriate that there should be young people who have a privileged few years to dream dreams and think big ideas-- it is almost a hallmark of civilization. I don't think we should judge the ideal of liberal education (in the true sense) on the reality of illiberal education.

  3. A privileged few years? Well, perhaps. Problem is, there seems to be an awful lot of them carrying that sense of privilege out into the world. As it happens, I deliver many of the little darling to UCD every morning (I'm a bus driver) and I've got a real ache beating them back off the bus when they're trying to blag their way on for short fare. You get the sense that they're doing it just becuase they think they can - becuase they're priviliged.

    There are simply far too many people going to university these days. Most of the non-technical courses could easily be done at night by those so minded once they have joined the workforce and have had some of the sand knocked out of them. I really don't think there should be more than about 10% in full time third level education, and most of them should be studying things like medicine and engineering, things that require intensive all-day study.

    When I studied law, eons ago, one of the salient memories was of the lecturers who repeatedly noted that those, like me, who were older, in the work force and who studied at night had a much less sympathetic view of offenders than the funky young radicals among the day students - I guess even then I was starting my journey away from liberalism. The problem is that people like me (dare I say, 'like us'?) find we are unrepresented in the public forum, since most politicians these days are professional, career men and women who come out of university at twenty-two with the appropriate views inculcated and thereafter, we have our choice of liberals to represent us, and the university system is heavily responsible for that. It is in serious need of major reform, and just stuffing ever increasing numbers into it and calling that an improvement is no answer.

    By the way, do you lend out much Chesterton at your library?

  4. "There are simply far too many people going to university these days...I really don't think there should be more than about 10% in full time third level education, and most of them should be studying things like medicine and engineering, things that require intensive all-day study."

    I totally agree. I think university, in the sense of a liberal education, should be reserved for the few who are genuinely passionate and committed to knowledge and culture for its own sake. Vocational training is something different. I hasten to add that I do not consider myself amongst that relatively small number (I don't think I especially benefitted from college), nor do I think students who ARE university material (in the proper sense) are superior or even necessarily more fortunate than others. You can be highly intelligent without being university material. You can even be highly cultured and artistic without being university material. But I do think society as a whole benefits from having an academy where lofty subjects are pursued for their own sake.

    My own experience of UCD students has been that the undergraduates, the younger students, are (for the most part) a delight and pleasure to serve-- polite, civilized, friendly. The mature and older students, on the other hand, tend to be more unreasonable, aggressive and to suffer from that very "entitlement mentality" you mentioned! (Yes, they paid fees. No, it doesn't mean they should be waited on hand and foot.) Of course this is not true of all mature students, many are wonderful.

    UCD library has an excellent Chesterton section, presumably because of its Catholic heritage, but the books are rarely borrowed-- except for when I borrow them.

  5. By the way, although the humanities subjects in universities mostly consist of liberal brainwashing, I don't think most students absorb much of it-- their own liberalism is more a case of prizing the (empty) freedoms the contemporary culture allows them.

  6. I know there have been real problems with the number 10 bus from Belfield, though. I hope it's the rowdy few-- I'd hate to think the students who seem so sweet in the library transmogrify into louts when they get outside.