Monday, April 6, 2009

Should God's Name Be Heard On Campus?

Posted by Pamela Urfer

“Certainly not!” say a loud number of voices. “Religion is an embodiment of irrationality and a threat to liberal values. Religious people are crazy. They’d as soon bomb you or shoot you as look at you. It’s too much trouble! Best leave it alone.”

And didn’t your mother tell you the same thing? “Don’t talk about religion, politics, or sex,” she cautioned, “and you’ll get alone with everyone.” The post–Enlightenment modern university agrees with your mother, but for other reasons.

The most well-known are:

1. Acknowledgement of religion violates our post-Enlightenment principles.

2. There is no God, so therefore religion is basically self-deception and superstition.

3. Religion has perpetrated too many atrocities and must be acknowledged as the root of most social unrest in the world.

4. There may be a god (or many) but vulnerable college students should not be pressured into joining any organized church by purveyors of those beliefs so that they can use their time on campus to study, learn a trade and/or find themselves (in a secular sense only.)

5. Even classes in history of religion must be taught by non-believers as anyone who is actually a member of those religions can hardly be considered neutral in their beliefs and will use class time to proselytize.

Recognize those? Let’s see if we can’t (easily) rebut them.

1. There was much wisdom, as well as much craziness, in the 18th century struggle against dogma and hierarchy. But now, with the Enlightenment’s own dogma and hierarchy firmly in power, we might want to reexamine what we consider oppressive.

2. The non-existence of God has never been proven. It is a minority opinion held by a small (but influential) number of Northern Europeans/Americans.

3. Yes, this is true. And much good has come from religion as well – the anti-slavery movement in Britain and America, Child Labor laws, the Civil Rights movement and even William Wilberforce’s pet project, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. As evangelical lefty Jim Wallis says, “The answer to bad religion isn’t secularism. The answer is better religion.”

4. Protecting college students can only go so far. Outlawing alcohol and drugs has been only partly successful. Forcing students off-campus for their stimulants is not the same as a cure. Religion, if outlawed, can also create a backlash. Nothing is more attractive than the forbidden.

5. What exactly are we afraid of here? Are physicists not allowed to teach physics in case their natural enthusiasm for the subject seduces students away from their chemistry major? Must native Italian speakers teach Swedish instead, so as to keep language learning on neutral ground? Teachers of the same religions they practice can only be made into bogymen if adopting a religion is considered a fate worse than death. (see #4 above.)

There is one more point forbidders of religion often miss – many students arrive on campus as members of a religion. According to the 2006 CIRP survey, at UCSC 48.9% of incoming students self-identify as practitioners of a religion. 52.1% will have attended a religious service and 33.8% carried on a discussion of religion in the past year.

Roman Catholics at 17.5% are, by far, the largest self-identified group. These students, raised in a close family environment with religion a basic aspect of their identity, are being asked by the paternalistic university to renounce their heritage “for their own good” and the better development of their ‘identity.’ Teaching such students that God doesn’t exist, that they don’t really need him and are far better off without him, is to do them some sort of damage. And it is a step beyond the true parameters of a noble university.

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