By Richard Vedder
It may be that the most profoundly intellectual of the world's greatest leaders is a religious person, Pope Benedict. A former professor, he has a keen and perceptive view of the academy and its role in our society, if his remarks during his American papal visit are any indication.
The Pope has spent a lifetime thinking and speaking on the relationship between truth, faith, and reason --concepts he does not think are necessarily incompatible with one another. He believes in constrained academic freedom. From faith we can identify certain core truths, but in our pursuit of truth we need to explore every avenue, express unconventional thoughts, and analyze evidence rigorously, objectively and honestly --but in a manner consistent with the core truths derived from faith.
He said truth is a broader, more encompassing concept than "knowledge." The acquistion of knowledge may lead to truths. Truth leads us to the good life, the full life. "The profound responsibility to lead the young to truth is nothing less than an act of love." How true, how important, and how often forgotten.
I have always thought of university teaching as a "helping profession," not too dissimilar to occupations that cure the sick (physicians) or help the troubled (the ministry and priesthood). Good teachers are ones who have a passion for their students becoming better, more wise, more mature --and more aware of the truth. A good professor loves his students in a very Christian way.
Too often the mechanics of higher education, the institutional relationships, and the perverse incentives often present lead us to lose sight of the fact that we have a noble, almost sacred mission: imparting the values of a Judeo-Christian civilization that is the greatest the world has ever known to the next generation --our youth. An elderly and wise retired professor, Pope Benedict, understands this, and his visit to America is a welcome event.