Thinking About God

September 17th, 2010

The Baccalaureate address by David Rohde '90 raises important issues about the dynamic between religion and intellectualism ("What the Taliban Taught Me about God," July/August). Religion is not faith. Faith applies to our belief, while religion applies to the systematic expression of that belief. I find it a sad state of affairs when use of the word God must be done tongue-in-cheek in apprehension that an intellectual audience gathered for (of all things) a Baccalaureate service will not well receive "a lecture on becoming more religious." What has happened to the open-mindedness which Rohde later exhorts and on which the Brown community has always prided itself? If we are open-minded to everything but the subject of God, then are we open-minded at all?

Through all of the personal and professional obstacles I have faced in the forty-two years since my own graduation, moments of recognizable supernatu ral manifestations have reinforced my Christian belief and sent me back to the Bible. I remember that during the moral turmoil of the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, and the espousal of free love during my undergraduate years, there were so-called "free thinkers" who grumbled about the reference to God in the University's motto, In Deo Speramus. They suggested the University pick a different motto, saying, "What if I don't believe in God?"

I am pleased that forty-two years later the motto has survived. It still bears its message of hope. It has been my experience, and the experience of countless others, that hope is not the god, but rather it is God who keeps hope alive.

Kenneth P. Young '68
Alburtis, Pa.



David Rohde's Baccalaureate address employs a form of linguistic sleight-of-hand that inhibits discussion about religion's place in society. He conflates two very different meanings of god: an omniscient, omnipotent deity, creator of the universe (God); and a fuzzy term that can apply to any values, objects, or activities about which one cares deeply (gods). At one point he equates his Muslim companion's faith in God and the afterlife with his own love for his wife, implying that these values are on the same footing. But one is a claim about the universe, its origins, and its hidden nature; the other is an assertion of feelings towards another person. It is essential to separate metaphorical and religious uses of "god," lest we lose sight of what religion is really about.

Rohde's address contains some provocative claims about religion: that its worthiest parts are universal values such as repentance, forgiveness, tolerance, and compassion; and that religious extremism "brings out our worst," while religious "moderation... bring[s] out our better angels." Perhaps it would be best to discard religion's arcane theology and mysticism, and retain only those humanist values that philosophers have eloquently defended on secular grounds.

It is unfortunate that Rohde's blending of the literal and metaphorical obscures these points, which might otherwise spur meaningful debate.

Stefan Love '06
Rochester, N.Y.



I am surprised that you allowed some very fuzzy and dangerous thinking in Rohde's address. He refers to "horrible atrocities" committed by every major faith, and uses as examples the slaughter of 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica, Hindus raping and slaughtering Muslims in India, and Jews dismissing Muslims as animalistic. My Brown education stood for more rigorous thinking than conflating murder and rape with harsh words.

Bob Chambre '71
New York City



I can understand David Rohde writing his politically correct bit of drivel, but I guess the minds of the BAM editors are as soft as his for publishing it. The last line of his article—"Make hope your god"— betrays what he is. He most likely wanted to say "make the prophet of hope and change in the White House your god."

William Nowack '66
Leawood, Kans.

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September/October 2010