MUCH AS I HAD enjoyed teaching my students there how to read such classroom staples as Macbeth, Ethan Frome, The Red Badge of Courage, and how to write the English language with some measure of clarity and skill, it seemed to me in the last analysis to be icing on the cake. A boy could learn all I knew about reading and writing and still have little understanding of himself or his own life, have nothing to hold on to, to believe in, when the chips were down. As far as the decision for or against belief in God was concerned, most of the time he had little idea even what the issues were because no one had ever made the effort to discuss them with him. If he rejected Christianity, it was usually such a caricature of it that I would have rejected it myself, and if he accepted it, the chances were he knew equally little about what he was accepting. Compared to the teaching of other subjects, the teaching of religion at most schools I had any knowledge of tended to be cursory—a course that met only once a week for half a year, say, usually with very little work required in it and taught by people from other departments who had no real training in the area themselves. The very fact that it was relegated to such an obscure corner of the curriculum was itself, of course, a way of telling students that it was not a subject that much mattered. At Exeter, on the other hand, I would have the chance to set up some rigorous, academically respectable courses in the subject and to try to establish them as an enterprise no less serious, relevant, and demanding than the study of American history or physics. Even though it was not a form of ministry that I had ever considered, I decided to give it a try.
-Originally published in Now and Then