Enough Tupperware
by Leslie Lawrence '72

Letters ....continued  

"Oberlin today could benefit greatly from a re-introduction to the "real" Finney, who would enter eagerly into the lively diversity of religious experience and conversation of the campus. "


Quest for the "Real Finney"
I was very interested in the letter to the editor in the Fall issue that referred to the Summer article about religion on the Oberlin campus. As one writer notes, "Charles G. Finney, the prime evangelist of the 1800s, left his indelible mark on Oberlin." True as that is, I believe it would be quite fair to say that the nature of that mark has often been misunderstood, not only at Oberlin but generally. For a great many "evangelicals," among them other writers of the response letters, Finney represents "the good old-time religion" identified today with fundamentalism, or at least the intense and often quite emotional "conservative" form of Christianity. This representation of Finney, the portrait in the minds of so many who still see him as an evangelical hero, actually distorts the man and the powerful movement he stirred and embodied.

Having grown up in the Oberlin community, worshiped often in Finney's First Church (though a Methodist myself), and having eventually gone into the Christian ministry, I have always been interested in Finney. My own faith journey took me into a "liberalism" that seemed much at odds with Finney's evangelical message and style--until I had the opportunity to read his memoirs. There I discovered a very different kind of person than I had imagined, a man fearlessly combining spiritual devotion and fervor with powerful intellectual evaluation of traditional Christianity. Indeed, Finney made such radical departures from the traditional Presbyterianism of his day that he almost didn't get ordained. His "new-school Presbyterian" theology, also known in that day as "Oberlin theology" got him into a lot of hot water. He was widely excoriated by many for his challenges to traditional doctrines of the day. In this he was much like Harry Emerson Fosdick a couple of generations later, the favorite whipping boy of the fundamentalists in the early 20th century.

Oberlin today could benefit greatly from a reintroduction to the "real" Finney, who, I believe, would enter eagerly into the lively diversity of religious experience and conversation of the campus.

Vincent Hart '53
University Place, Washington

B&N Inspires Regret
Before I get to the point of this letter, let me say that I thoroughly enjoy the Oberlin Alumni Magazine. It is both attractive and informative. And refreshingly free from typos! (I happen to work as a technical writer.)

Now to the point. I guess it all depends on your perspective. The news that Barnes & Nobel has been retained to manage the store that was formerly the Co-op Bookstore is profoundly sad. Why so? Aren't the needs of the town and college going to be served? Isn't it better to have a bookstore than not?

The answers to these question are, of course, yes and yes. And yet, as a writer and as someone who believes in the importance of a diversity of voices in the mass media, I believe it would have been far better to have searched for and found an independent bookstore that would have been willing to operate the store. Barnes & Nobel is one of the behemoths of the bookstore industry in the United States, opening stores all over the country and taking away business from the struggling independent booksellers.

Just yesterday I was listening to NPR's Alternative Radio show and heard media critic Ben Bagdikian pointing out how a handful of corporations control the mass media--newspapers, magazines, television, radio, movies, videos, and books--that most of us are exposed to. By having Barnes & Nobel run what was previously an independent bookstore, one more independent outlet has been snuffed out. We are all the poorer for that.

Ted Hornoi-Centerwall '72
Seattle, Washington

The Oberlin of 150 Years Ago
A member of the Hitchcock family found a collection of letters in a trunk in the attic of his family farm in Pittsford, Vermont. Among them was a letter from Henry Chapman Hitchcock to his grandparents, dated May 24, 1850, when Henry entered Oberlin. Here are excerpts your readers might find interesting.

Dear Grandfather and Grandmother, In noticing the date you do not find the long word Fredericktown but in its stead a trisyluble and now I imagine I hear you thus solyoquise. "Oberlin! Why, where is that?" Now to save your calling to memory the days when you studied Geography, I will tell you where it is: vis in Lorain Co. N.E. part of the state of Ohio. Mother has occasionally sent you a paper called the "Oberlin Collegiate Institute" now called "Oberlin College." And it is hither that I have resorted to acquire that knowledge so essential to a youth of the present generation...

This is a beautiful village of the New England order and mostly N.E inhabitants. I room at Rev. James H. Fairchild's--Prof. Of Mathematics--which gives me superior advantages. He is an excellent man. The institution is congregational and antislavery and all the inhabitants of this section of country vis "Western Reserve" are all abolitionists and congregationalists. The institution educates the Negros, which makes it unlike any other institution in the U.S. Several are in my class and they fully equal the foremost of the class. My studies are the Greek and Latin Languages and Orating.

Your affectionate Grandson.

Norman Rich '42
Lyme, Connecticut

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