Nathan Harden’s story of being admitted to Yale is an unconventional one. Harden grew up in various states across the South and began dreaming of Yale at ten years old. When he was in the fourth grade, his mother began to homeschool him. The homeschooling, he said, “sort of faded out gradually.” Harden quit school the summer before his senior year and took a job as a manure-loader. He moved to Seattle at 18 and worked as an airline baggage handler, then to Florida shortly after, where he became a waiter and lounge singer for a retirement community. After September 11, he joined a relief organization and witnessed true poverty. He knew at that point that he wanted to do something with his life, and he started studying for the SAT. Three attempts and several years and moves later—and now with a young wife—he was at long last admitted.
One might understand, given this unlikely story, why Nathan Harden might have been induced to write such a book as Sex and God at Yale. At heart, this book—like William F. Buckley’s God and Man at Yale, from which it draws its title—is the autobiographical account of a Yale student who felt betrayed by his institution, an institution he had long dreamed of attending. He had expected learning, culture, and all the best of Western Civilization. Instead, he received a cheap hodgepodge of multiculturalism, gender studies, and Sex Week—free condoms, vibrators, and porn. If Nathan Harden sounds angry in these pages, that is because he is. The book’s excesses might best be chalked up to a righteous indignation.
Harden’s main argument is that because Yale has abandoned its purpose of raising up young men and women to the greater glory of God and country, it has succumbed to the worst of mankind’s sins in the name of critical thinking and political correctness. The book thoroughly details Harden’s depressing experience at Yale—the “hook-up culture” taken to new extremes, Yale’s naked parties, professors sleeping with students, pornographic films shown in class in the name of cultural studies.
The heart of the book, however, is some 100-plus pages of lurid description of Yale’s Sex Week, a student-organized biannual “educational” event that hosts everything from live pornography screenings and sex-toy demonstrations to nude presentations by members of the porn industry and student-modeled lingerie shows. The lectures are sponsored by the sex industry, organized by Yale students, but hosted in Yale buildings on Yale grounds. The seminars Harden recounts are horrifying stuff—hardcore pornography, how-to talks on sadism and masochism, giveaways of various sex toys, student-modeled lingerie shows. The level of cultural and spiritual depravity evidenced in these descriptions is startling, but the detail to which Harden goes in discussing what he saw is perhaps unnecessary. Does the reader need to hear, for example, a blow-by-blow description of the exact sexual act—involving three people—that left a young porn star both injured and HIV positive? Do we need the entirety of the lecture on oral sex?
Harden seems to dwell on each “lecture” he heard during Sex Week in the way that one imagines a scarred beating victim might relive her torture, as some kind of therapeutic coming-to-grips. He is fully aware of the shocking nature of his work and argues in the concluding pages that “The extreme sexual material detailed in this book is meant to serve as a measure of sorts—a way to illustrate the extent to which Yale has forsaken its guiding purposes and lost touch with all common sense.” The accounts he gives are necessary, he says, to make his audience understand the flagrancy of Yale’s irresponsibility. Perhaps, and to some extent, but far fewer pages of vivid description would have sufficed in fulfilling this goal.
If Harden goes to excess in recounting the horrific details of Sex Week, he is at his best in pointing out Yale’s gross institutional sexism. Yale, he argues, has created an environment hostile to young women. Part Three of the book is entitled “Yale’s War on Women”—ironic for an institution that considers itself to be at the forefront of liberal gender egalitarianism. Harden argues that some of the nation’s best, brightest, and most talented women attend Yale, and they are sold a bill of goods. In one class, they learn about the feminist revolution and how the oppressed gender threw off the patriarchy. In another, they are subjected to watching porn in the name of cultural studies. And of course there is Sex Week, featuring hardcore porn that glorifies rape and other physical abuse of women. How, Harden asks, are these women supposed to forge their way in a male-dominated world when they have been slowly habituated to the idea that the way for women to be happy and successful is to forego marriage and meaningful relationships for a series of short-lived sexual encounters that damage their psyche and health while freeing men from all responsibility? How are men supposed to respect the women who sit across from them in boardrooms, when Yale has taught them that women enjoy painful, acrobatic, male-centered sex?
How, indeed. In the Foreward, Christopher Buckley points to the irony of the feminist revolution: Its fruition is a culture in which women are valued for their willingness and ability to submit to sexual degradation of the worst kind. “Betty Friedan,” Buckley laments, “thou shouldst be living at this hour.”
The underlying problem, according to Harden, is that Yale has forsaken its sense of moral purpose. The school’s motto is still “For God, for Country, and for Yale,” yet Yale’s divinity school is an embarrassment to the rest of its faculty, and the school has only recently allowed the ROTC to resume training on its grounds. In an effort to be politically correct and multicultural, Yale has accepted an anything-goes approach to morality. As Harden highlights, “Pluralism may allow for a maximum sense of academic freedom; but, on the downside, Yale lacks the cohesive moral framework religion once provided. When faced with more complicated moral dilemmas, leaders at Yale have no agreed-upon basis for saying what should and shouldn’t be advanced in the classroom.” Even if Yale wanted to do something to protect its female students, it cannot. The very ideologies the institution espouses prevent it from passing judgment.
The limit of freedom of expression is one of the “more complicated” issues that Harden discusses. Because Yale has said that no institution has a right to dictate right and wrong, that every moral decision is a matter of individual conscience, Yale administration has no grounds to impose any kind of moral authority that would protect the public good. The consumption of pornography is a matter of individual conscience, so allowing porn stars to teach young women about how to please a man in bed is fair game. Showing young men porn–and thus teaching them that pornographic sex is the best kind, to the detriment of their future marriages—is also morally neutral, according to Yale. What matters is freedom of expression, exposure to diverse opinions.
Harden writes of his own belief that arguments for human rights and human dignity must be rooted in a sense of that dignity being derived from a Creator. When we no longer value human beings as endowed with certain rights and dignity by God, we have no basis upon which to protect that dignity. Why is pornography degrading to women? Why is one sex act worse or more harmful than another? What is “harm,” anyway? Yale can no longer speak intelligibly on any of these. Yale and institutions like it cannot protect young women or men because it denies that certain activities—in this case, sexual license—are harmful. It denies that the sexes are fundamentally different and thus assumes that uninhibited, mechanical sex with multiple partners is what both sexes should “naturally” enjoy. The results are predictable: broken human beings.
Harden does a fine job in highlighting the human toll of Yale’s policies. He recounts the stories of those porn stars who visit during Sex Week, oftentimes young women who chose careers in porn when their dreams of acting fell through. He also gives the stories of the young women he met at Yale, women who had been duped into believing that marriage and family would hold them back in their careers, and that the best suitable replacement was no-strings-attached sex. “We often forget,” he writes, “in the course of all our fierce debates over sexual politics, religion, and morality, that real people are behind all the issues that fuel our culture wars. Ultimately, maintaining a respectful sexual culture is not a liberal or conservative issue; it’s a human issue.”
Overall, Harden’s account is a useful though depressing look at the anti-woman ideology of one of the nation’s most respected institutions. The book’s structure is not perfect—the organization is meandering, and Harden is at times repetitive—but his is a journalistic account. Harden forcefully highlights the problem with academic pluralism. When academia refuses to submit to moral law, universities have no basis upon which to protect their students when those laws are broken in their halls. Even the august halls of Yale.
Nicole M. King is the Managing Editor of The Family in America, from which this article is re;produced with permission.