"It began with reference to a newspaper article about a country church
building with an electric beer sign hanging right over the front
entrance. The building had been sold and was being used as a bar. One
can guess that some classroom laughter started at this point.
The college was well known for drunken partying and the image vaguely
fit. The article said a number of people had complained to the
church officials about it. It had been a Catholic church, and the
priest who had been delegated to respond to the criticism had sounded
quite irritated about the whole thing. To him it had revealed an
incredible ignorance of what a church really was. Did they think that
bricks and boards and glass constituted a church? Or the shape of the
roof? Here, posing as piety was an example of the very
materialism the church opposed. The building in question was not holy
ground. It had been desanctified. That was the end of it. The
beer sign resided over a bar, not a church, and those who couldn’t
tell the difference were simply revealing something about
Phædrus said the same confusion existed about the University and that
was why loss of accreditation was hard to understand. The real
University is not a material object. It is not a group of buildings
that can be defended by police. He explained that when a college lost
its accreditation, nobody came and shut down the school. There were no
legal penalties, no fines, no jail sentences. Classes did not
stop. Everything went on just as before. Students got the same
education they would if the school didn’t lose its accreditation. All
would happen, Phædrus said, would simply be an official recognition of
a condition that already existed. It would be similar to
excommunication. What would happen is that the real University, which
no legislature can dictate to and which can never be identified
by any location of bricks or boards or glass, would simply declare
that this place was no longer "holy ground." The real University
would vanish from it, and all that would be left was the bricks and
the books and the material manifestation.
It must have been a strange concept to all of the students, and I can
imagine him waiting for a long time for it to sink in, and perhaps
then waiting for the question, What do you think the real University is?
His notes, in response to this question, state the following:
"The real University, he said, has no specific location. It owns no
property, pays no salaries and receives no material dues. The real
University is a state of mind. It is that great heritage of rational
thought that has been brought down to us through the centuries and
which does not exist at any specific location. It’s a state of mind
which is regenerated throughout the centuries by a body of people
who traditionally carry the title of professor, but even that title is
not part of the real University. The real University is nothing less
the continuing body of reason itself.
In addition to this state of mind, "reason," there’s a legal entity
which is unfortunately called by the same name but which is quite
another thing. This is a nonprofit corporation, a branch of the state
with a specific address. It owns property, is capable of paying
salaries, of receiving money and of responding to legislative
pressures in the process.
But this second university, the legal corporation, cannot teach, does
not generate new knowledge or evaluate ideas. It is not the real
University at all. It is just a church building, the setting, the
location at which conditions have been made favorable for the real
Confusion continually occurs in people who fail to see this
difference, he said, and think that control of the church buildings
control of the church. They see professors as employees of the second
university who should abandon reason when told to and take
orders with no backtalk, the same way employees do in other corporations.
They see the second university, but fail to see the first."
The primary goal of the Church of Reason, Phædrus said, is always
Socrates’ old goal of truth, in its ever-changing forms, as it’s
revealed by the process of rationality. Everything else is subordinate
to that. Normally this goal is in no conflict with the location goal
of improving the citizenry, but on occasion some conflict arises, as
in the case of Socrates himself. It arises when trustees and
legislators who’ve contributed large amounts of time and money to the
location take points of view in opposition to the professors’
lectures or public statements. They can then lean on the
administration by threatening to cut off funds if the professors don’t
they want to hear. That happens too.
True churchmen in such situations must act as though they had never
heard these threats. Their primary goal never is to serve the
community ahead of everything else. Their primary goal is to serve,
through reason, the goal of truth."
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Pirsig, excerpts from the Chapter 13.