April 22, 2004


The Bible college that leads to the White House: The campus is immaculate, everyone is clean-cut and cheerful. But just what are they teaching at Patrick Henry College? And why do so many students end up working for George Bush? (Andrew Buncombe, 21 April 2004, The Independent)

It is worth making clear from the outset that Patrick Henry College in rural Virginia is not your average American university. At Patrick Henry, the students - about 75 per cent of whom have been taught at home rather than in schools - are required to sign a statement of faith before they arrive, confirming (among other things) that they have a literal belief in the teachings of the Bible. At Patrick Henry, students must obey a curfew. They must wear their hair neatly and dress "modestly".

Students must also obey a rule stating that if they wish to hold hands with a member of the opposite sex, they must do so while walking: standing while holding hands is not permitted. And at Patrick Henry, students must sign an honour pledge that bans them from drinking alcohol unless under parental supervision.

Yet these things alone do not make the college special. There are, after all, a number of Christian establishments across the United States that enforce such a strict fundamentalist code for their students.

No, what makes Patrick Henry unique is the increasingly close - critics say alarmingly close - links this recently established, right-wing Christian college has with the Bush administration and the Republican establishment as a whole. This spring, of the almost 100 interns working in the White House, seven are from Patrick Henry. Another intern works for the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign, while another works for President George Bush's senior political adviser, Karl Rove. Yet another works for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad. Over the past four years, 22 conservative members of Congress have employed one or more Patrick Henry interns. Janet Ashcroft, the wife of Bush's Bible-thumping Attorney General, is one of the college's trustees.

And this is no coincidence. Rather, it is the very point. Students at Patrick Henry are on a mission to change the world: indeed, to lead the world. When, after four years or so of study, they leave their neatly-kept campus with its close-mown lawns, they do so with a drive and commitment to reshape their new environments according to the fundamentalist, right-wing vision of their college.

Critics say that Patrick Henry's system cannot help but produce narrow-minded students with extremist views, but the college's openly stated aim is to train young men and women "who will lead our nation and shape our culture with timeless biblical values".

Nancy Keenan, of the liberal campaign group People for the American Way, says: "The number of interns [from Patrick Henry] going into the White House scares me to death. People have a right to choose [where their children are educated], but we are concerned that they are not exposed to the kind of diversity this country has. They are training people with a very limited ideological and political view. If these young people are going into positions of power, they have to govern with all people in mind, not just a limited number."

It is also worth making clear that the staff and students at Patrick Henry College are extraordinarily pleasant.

What kind of world will it be if these people go out and make their environs pleasant places too? Sickos...

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 22, 2004 11:25 PM

Gee -- if I were a politician, I might prefer to recruit interns from an environment encouraging ethics, loyalty, and a reduced chance for embarassing lapses in behavior too.

Posted by: jd watson at April 23, 2004 12:41 AM

Kind of refreshing bit of news. I disagree with Ms. Keenan about the students lack of exposure to diversity being a hindrance. Those folks will make their way very well in the US, or where ever life takes them. They possess something Ms. Keenan has no capacity to understand. TW

Posted by: Tom Wall at April 23, 2004 2:09 AM

All very nice. I hope that when it comes to analyzing modern governmental documents they are allowed to use judgment.

Why anyone would go to a supposed school where to get in you have to agree not to think is beyond me.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 23, 2004 2:16 AM


No, that's Berkeley.

Posted by: Peter B at April 23, 2004 6:18 AM


Berkeley is the flip side of the same coin.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at April 23, 2004 7:24 AM

"Alarming"? "Scares me to death"? Boy, it must be tiring to be a liberal.

Posted by: David Cohen at April 23, 2004 7:42 AM


Not so, at least not with all religious schools. I really don't know about the curriculum of the fundamentalist colleges, but many Catholic colleges and universities give as much rigourous training in the thought of the secular heroes as the religious ones. If you want to learn about and debate the full spectrum of Western thought, that's where you would go.

Posted by: Peter B at April 23, 2004 8:12 AM

David: Exhausting, from all the adrenaline from the constant flight-or-flight (that's not a typo). When the heck did the left turn into such a bunch of scared little girls?

Peter: Sadly, not anymore. You're reading the words of an alum of one of those Catholic universities, and while Heaven knows they'll walk you through Kant to The Rubyfruit Jungle, that God person and everything about Him is generally pushed to the side.

Posted by: Chris at April 23, 2004 8:35 AM


The classic error of the egotist is to think his thoughts are worth thinking.

Posted by: oj at April 23, 2004 8:45 AM


Understood, but I wasn't thinking so much of the big traditional ones like Notre Dame as the smaller focussed ones you see advertised in First Things.

Posted by: Peter B at April 23, 2004 9:08 AM


I think that's whjat Harry & Jeff meant about it being the opposite of their kind of schools.

Posted by: oj at April 23, 2004 9:50 AM

A bunch of squeeky-clean kids graduating from an institution with neatly kept campuses, who have been instilled with "timeless biblical values," and Ms. Keenan is "scared to death." How pathetic is that?

Posted by: Roy Jacobsen at April 23, 2004 9:52 AM

Well, I am an egotist, so it isn't an error for me, only for you.

There appears to be no necessary connection between holding the insane belief that the Bible is inerrant and functioning in everyday life.

But most people who function in everyday life do not engage in much analysis.

You might have a problem, though, if your task requires analysis and your theology forbids it.

That's true anywhere, at Berkeley as well.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 23, 2004 2:10 PM

No task ever really requires analysis. Someone else has always answered it before you and better than you're likely to.

Posted by: oj at April 23, 2004 2:16 PM

We live in an age of willful blindness and willful forgetfulness. Philistines do not know that virtually every thrust that they make against Christian belief was anticipated and articulated in the sed contra objections of the doctors of the Church themselves. They do not know that the debates of which the moderns are so proud ultimately resolve into arguments that arose in past ages among Catholic philosophers and theologians -- realism versus nominalism, the limits of natural human knowledge, the tension between philosophical skepticism and rational dogmatism. To cite one example among so many, in seventeenth–century France one found scholasticism of various philosophical stripes, Thomist and Scotist revivals, an Augustinian revival, Cartesian, Aristotelian, and Malebranchist schools of Catholic natural philosophy, a flowering of mysticism as well as debates about the dangers of mysticism. There were deep disputes between Jansenists and Jesuits. Dominicans, Franciscans, and Jesuits debated each other over the nature of non–Christian cultures and the scope and limits of natural law and natural reason. Montaigne, Charron, Mersenne, Gassendi, and the singular Aristotelian Barbay; Pascal, Arnauld, Fenelon; devotees of Suarez, Salamanca, Louvain, the Sorbonne, and Port Royal -- all living and flourishing within the bosom of the Catholic Church.

-- Alan Charles Kors, First Things, April 2002.

Posted by: Paul Cella at April 23, 2004 2:43 PM

Anticipated yes. Answered? Hardly.

Anyhow, I'm not as cosmic as all that. I just want to know whether you Christians believe that Jesus was crucified on Friday (Matthew, Mark, Luke) or Friday (John).

Do your views on divorce match those ascribed to Jesus by Mark, or the different views ascribed to him by Matthew and Luke?

You do not have to make any decisions about nominalism to answer those questions.

Orrin, all serious work requires reanalysis.

The work that Kors alluded to was shoddy stuff and needed to be redone, as it was in the 19th century. The 19th century stuff had to be redone in the 20th century.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 23, 2004 4:54 PM


Too few people do serious work for it to matter and even less make insightful analyses of that work.

Posted by: oj at April 23, 2004 7:06 PM

"A bunch of squeeky-clean kids graduating from an institution with neatly kept campuses, who have been instilled with "timeless biblical values," and Ms. Keenan is "scared to death." How pathetic is that?"

It could be very scary, Roy, it depends on which timeless Biblical values they've been instilled with. It's a pretty broad spectrum from "love thy neighbor" to "suffer not a witch to live".

Posted by: Robert Duquette at April 23, 2004 8:30 PM


Why's that broad? Witchcraft isn't neighborly.

Posted by: oj at April 23, 2004 8:47 PM

I prove my point. Be very afraid!

Posted by: Robert Duquette at April 23, 2004 9:17 PM

Sorry, was typing too fast. John says Thursday.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 23, 2004 10:31 PM