This I Believe

Baxter, James Phinney

  • James Baxter describes his belief that the source of a country's freedom is its religion.
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And now, This I Believe. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. James Phinney Baxter the Third is the President of Williams College. An eminent historian as well as one of this country’s most distinguished educators, he is the author of the Pulitzer Prize winning history of science during World War Two called “Men Against Time.” He came to Williams as president in nineteen-thirty-seven after teaching at Harvard and Cambridge universities and at the Naval War College. Here is president James Phinney Baxter.
For thirty years, I have lived among college students, teaching American history, and for the last seventeen years, administering a small New England college. Both jobs have led me to wonder about what makes people tick and about the things that help them, myself included, to tick better. If you and I design a ship, we have to plan not merely for the light airs of an August afternoon, but for the full gales of mid-winter. We provide the safety factor from the outset. How can we best provide that safety factor in our own lives and in the lives of American youth? I believe the answer lies in a liberal education, combined with religious experience.
Charles Evans Hughes well described the elements of the Christian life as “faith without credulity, conviction without bigotry, charity without condescension, courage without pugnacity, self-respect without vanity, humility without obsequiousness, love of humanity without sentimentality, and meekness with power.”
The young too often assume that the hardest strains of life come only to the old and the middle-aged. Yet millions of young men have faced their severest tests in World Wars I and II or in the long struggle in Korea. The roughest portion of my own life came in my early 20s, when I was bedridden for four years with tuberculosis.
Fortunately, I already had a college education to help me in the long uphill pull and an abiding sense of God’s mercy and loving kindness.
Religious teaching helps, but for me, the principle source of religious conviction is the act of worship. Where totalitarianism triumphed, as in Hitler’s Germany and in Russia, the subverters of liberty struck promptly at the universities and the churches. When we strengthen those dynamic forces—education and religion—we are building safety factors into individual lives and into the nation. As an educator, that gives me great satisfaction.
In the words of Walt Whitman: “I say no man has ever yet been half devout enough, none has ever yet adored or worshiped half enough. None has begun to think how divine he himself is and how certain the future is.” I say that the real and permanent grandeur of these states must be their religion. Otherwise, there is no real and permanent grandeur, nor character, nor life worthy the name without religion; nor land, nor man or woman without religion.
That was James Phinney Baxter the Third, president of Williams College in Williamstown Massachusetts.