Ross Douthat Presents on Religion and Spirituality

Ross Douthat, a conservative columnist at “The New York Times,” supported the widespread practice of organized religion as the inaugural speaker of the Kaleidoscope program at All- School Meeting (ASM) on Wednesday.

The Kaleidoscope program aims to bring speakers in consecutive ASM that offer contrasting opinions about controversial issues. In his presentation, Douthat argued that religion should be more integrated into the lives of Americans.

“In the post- modern world, people are spiritual but not religious,” said Douthat. “They say yes to meditation and epiphany, but no to Roman Catholicism or Orthodox Judaism. They say yes to religious experience, but no to dogma…There is value in seeking a particular world view. Only religion really inspires to unveil the inhabitants of the strange world story,” said Douthat.

Douthat said that though atheists argue that there are an overwhelming number of religions to choose from, individuals must investigate overarching world views before selecting portions of religions independently.

“The differences [between religions] are actually big and important,” said Douthat.

Douthat identified the liberal perspective that specific religions may be too limiting in the modern world. He asserted, however, that people should adhere to one religion, rather than mix certain ideals of separate religions. “It is in fact presumptuous to believe that a single religion could encompass the whole truth of the universe,” he said.

“[But] That is what you are looking for in a religion. An account of the unknowable that gets a little closer to the heart of things than the other accounts,” he added.

Douthat acknowledged that one issue many individuals have with most religions are their restrictions on casual sexual relationships. In opposition, he proposed that society should have a more conservative view of sexual activity because it is a serious matter.

“I invite you to consider the possibility that the fact that the world’s great religions all tend to have very stringent lines on sexuality ought maybe to be a sign of their seriousness, not a sign of their irrelevance. Almost nothing that humans do in life is freighted with as many human consequences as sexual relations and sexual decisions,” said Douthat.

Before addressing his argument, Douthat examined the roots of religious impulses and religions.

He claimed that the ability to judge the surrounding world is an attribute of all people. “Human conscious has godlike qualities. We have the ability to step out of this world and to view the world from a different vantage point,” said Douthat.

“Religion suggests that the world should be and could be completely different,” said Douthat. “It is the ability to imagine a different and more perfect world,” he added.

While the world is full of mysteries, there is also a profound order of nature. According to Douthat, people used religion to describe the natural organization of the surrounding world.

“If you look around at basically every part of the natural world, you realize that everything follows some sort of pattern, such as seasons of the year, tides, sunrises, migrations and chemical reactions,” said Douthat.

In the beginning of his presentation, Douthat encouraged the predominately liberal Phillips Academy community to consider an alternate perspective to religion.

“I will break down where I think the religious world view comes from. Try and forget everything you have ever experienced in religious settings,” said Douthat.

Mark Meyer ‘13, a representative in the Republican Club, introduced Douthat at the All School Meeting.

Students commented that Meyer’s introduction focused heavily on his political concerns rather than on the religious questions discussed in his presentation.

“I would have preferred to hear speaker’s specific opinions on the issue of religion rather than his political interests which seemed unrelated to the speech,” said Meaghan Haugh ‘13.

“The fact that they had him introduced by the Republican club annoyed me. I think it made the assumption that Democrats aren’t religious while Republicans are,” said David Crane ‘13, a religious Catholic and a Democrat.

Following the All School Meeting, many students and faculty members attended a luncheon with Douthat to ask further questions about the topic.

[In the small group discussion, I thought that Douthat did a good job at advocating for personal religious choices, rather than supporting the religion he was brought up with,” said Crane.