A Baptist at Notre Dame

November 1997By Scott H. Moore

Scott H. Moore, a Baptist, is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Baylor University in Texas.

In the December 1995 issue of the NOR, my friend David Solomon offered his reflections on “What Baylor & Notre Dame Can Learn From Each Other.” An undergraduate at Baylor, and now a professor at Notre Dame for over 25 years, Solomon spent the fall of 1994 at Baylor (a Baptist university) as a Visiting Professor of Philosophy. I, a member of the philosophy department at Baylor, spent the 1996-97 academic year at Notre Dame as a Visiting Fellow at the Center for Philosophy of Religion and in the philosophy department.

What did I learn at Notre Dame? I’ll leave aside such skills as shoveling snow and driving on ice — things that northern Indiana will teach an overconfident Texan. They are neither academic nor religious (though both did contribute to my prayer life on occasion). I did learn something about the differences and similarities in these flagship institutions, one Baptist and the other Catholic, and I came home better prepared to reflect on the nature of Christian universities.

One of the abiding differences between Catholics and Protestants is how we value the material manifestations of religious practice and belief. The “materiality” of the Catholic religious experience looms large for a Baptist visitor like me.

In his NOR essay Solomon pointed out how Notre Dame’s campus has many religious objects and images in evidence while Baylor displays almost none. I took issue with him not about the correctness of his observation but about its significance. How important could a bunch of statues be? Isn’t the “Word of Life” mosaic on the front of Notre Dame’s Hesburgh Library better known on campus as Touchdown Jesus? Perhaps these images do not play the lofty role for which they were intended, but are trivialized by the more accessible features of our common culture (in this case, that “other” religion at Notre Dame — football).

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