Phi Beta Cons

What to Pray For

David Brooks wrote an interesting column today in the New York Times (hidden behind the TimesSelect firewall, of course) about the social mobility of what he calls the “quasi-religious” (in particular, quasi-religious Catholics). Brooks, though, moves in the end of the piece towards one of his pet topics, higher education, and how it relates to his topic.
Brooks writes:

In fact, if you really wanted to supercharge the nation, you’d fill it with college students who constantly attend church, but who are skeptical of everything they hear there. For there are at least two things we know about flourishing in a modern society.
First, college students who attend religious services regularly do better than those that don’t … they work harder and are more engaged with campus life. Second, students who come from denominations that encourage dissent are more successful, on average, than students from denominations that don’t.”

It’s an interesting point, but I don’t think it would be accurate to construe the column as Brooks having said that small-scale heretics are just smarter people. The larger point, though, is important. The idea is that students who come from strong religious traditions, but who are encouraged to embrace their faith critically—that is, understanding more than what they believe, which is why they believe—are more likely to succeed. And maybe that is true to a degree of Catholics, who Brooks describe as being temperamentally conservative and having relatively traditional values wedded with what Brooks called a “future-oriented” perspective.
The point is muddled towards the end of the column, and could be misconstrued as an attack on the devout. And certainly more than Vatican II’s effect on the Catholic mindset contribute to the transformation of the Catholic demographic. But the point that the intelligently faithful are a key group in this country is a good one. It’s another testament to the importance of the nexus between faith and education.