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“Purityrranical” P.C. Is Insulting, But Indifference for Hellenic Paideia Is Truly Injurious

Princeton University’s recent decision to remove classical Greek and Latin as pre-requisites for its Classics (sic) Department sparked feelings of disappointment and indignation among media outlets and bloggers in Greece and the Diaspora. But for anyone familiar with American idiosyncrasy, the present overreach shouldn’t surprise anyone. It is absolutely consistent with a particular purit(yrr)anical pietism that results in witch hunts, loss of measure, and extremism.

During colonial times, this neurosis sought to save society from witches. In the 20th century, the Puritan heresy that still deeply permeates American society abandoned searching for broom riding sorceresses and turned to purported communists. Countless victims were deemed as suspicious and condemned with summary proceedings. Those denying the charges or refusing to give in to the mob mentality and turn against their fellow citizens suffered the ‘necessary’ public shaming and consequences. Now, the enemy appears to be anyone refusing to isolate and view skin color or sexual orientation within the context of ideological blinders as the top factor in individual evaluation.

The psychoneurosis of pietism rests not in the religious beliefs or political preferences of those possessed by it. History teaches that even if these change, its methods remain constant. It doesn’t really matter whether the impetus for pietists’ activism is God, capital, or rights. What matters is that whoever doesn’t embrace their dogmatic opinions is deemed inferior and marginalized.

On the contrary, the indifference shown by the very same media and blogging circles regarding the state of Greek education – especially in the Diaspora – is truly surprising and deeply disturbing. After all, the question is no longer whether university xyz will produce enough classicists, but rather, if the Greek Diaspora will continue to produce generations that can speak and write in Greek.

This column has frequently warned that Greek education in the United States is undergoing a protracted crisis that threatens the future of the Greek-American community. There is no existing plan for elementary and secondary Greek schools, nor has there ever really been. Organizations and entities (primarily parish communities) operate independently (often rivalrously), with varying degrees of success, to establish and maintain Greek schools. 

Greek-American parochial schools perennially face economic hardship. In the best case, they can meet payroll, but their staffs’ salaries are far from competitive, or even sufficient to cover living expenses. Similarly, tuition is increasingly harder to cover for working families, and school budgets are not augmented by supplementary resources.

In recent months, the story that contributions for the reconstruction of the St. Nicholas Church at Ground Zero surpassed $90 million was heavily publicized. However, taking pride in the fact that the budget for this emblematic, but small church is over four times the initial estimate has generated concern. Now, consider that for decades there’s never been a fund for Greek education to help schools upgrade services and keep tuitions affordable, and the concern multiplies. 

With so much money being directed to a church designed by Mr. Santiago Calatrava, with all the caveats that go along with this, it’s hard to understand how even a fraction of these funds can’t seem to be found to serve the needs of our parochial schools, which have been left alone to ‘sink or swim’ for decades.

The situation in higher education is no better. The president of the lone higher education institution in the Community – Hellenic College/Holy Cross School of Theology – tendered his resignation in late May, only to retract it a few days later. The reasons that led him to this decision were never made public. Moreover, judging from the skill set of numerous seminary graduates, it is apparent that the loss of Hellenic culture is not something that threatens only the laity, but the clergy as well, notwithstanding that the latter are supposed to act as torchbearers of Hellenism during difficult times.

Many graduates of the seminary are functionally illiterate in Greek, which means that they may (sub)consciously feel animosity toward it. Hence, wherever they are assigned, not only will they not aid in spreading the Greek language and culture, but they will likely do whatever they can to curtail its use, relying on the stale rationalistic argument of comprehension. Still, the steady increase of the English language throughout the Archdiocese since the 1970s did little to reduce the number of mixed marriages or fill parishes with young people.

Faith is something that is understood empirically, experientially, not rationalistically. People don’t go to church because they are taking a class. They go to church because they were grafted into the faith by their parents and grandparents, experienced the joys and sorrows of life liturgically and sacramentally, celebrated life accompanying the epitaphios on Good Friday and chanting Christos Anesti on Pascha, participated in the sanctifying grace of the mysteries of the Church, and prayed before their icon-stand, calling upon the Grace of God, the intercessions of the Theotokos, and the help of the saints.

Just as the maintenance of our ecclesiastical conscience is done empirically, so too can the teaching of the Greek language be done empirically and serve as an invitation/challenge to participate. Let’s not forget that the Greek language was kept alive for centuries using the Iliad and the Psalter as primers. Now that both of them are being marginalized, what does the future hold?

The present Greek Government, which supports Holy Cross Seminary with an annual contribution of $2 million, should reconsider its decision and distribute these funds to Greek parochial schools. Instead of money, the Greek Government should offer seminarians the opportunity to study theology in Greece and improve their knowledge of Greek.

As much as Princeton’s decision may vex us, it’s nothing compared to the indifference for the teaching of Greek in the Diaspora. Let’s attend to our own affairs, holding all leaders and stakeholders accountable, to produce positive results for Greek education. Otherwise, we’ll end up far worse than those politically correct Ivy League pietists, because they are marginalizing something that doesn’t belong to them, while our Community is turning its back on our inheritance.

Follow me on Twitter @CTripoulas

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