How Logic Can Help Save a College Student’s Faith
by Dave Starrett
“I’m a liberal, pacifist, atheist, and if you don’t like it, you can leave,” the professor said as he began the first day of Renaissance history at the University of Colorado. Joni Raille, who grew up in a conservative Christian home, was taken aback and wondered what her professor’s bluntness had to do with Renaissance history. I asked her if she ever considered dropping the course. “No,” she replied, “I can learn from anybody, even if he is an atheist.”
A few days later, Joni’s professor began speaking of religious changes within European Christian culture. He wrote a Bible verse from the Gospel of Matthew on the board. “How many of you are Christians? Raise your hand!” Joni felt singled out. But she, along with four other students, raised their hands. The professor probed further. “How many of you read the Bible everyday? Keep your hand up.” Joni kept her hand up. She was the only one. “What, are you going to be a nun or something?” Joni smiled, and politely said, “No.” The professor smiled back. “C’mon Joni, I think you would look good wearing a religious habit like a nun.”
Losing Their Religion
Some parents who raised their sons and daughters in the church fear that their student will leave the faith while in college. There is some reason for their fear. As Cathy Lynn Grossman wrote,
Seven in ten Protestants ages 18 to 30—both evangelical and mainline—who went to church regularly in high school said they quit attending by age 23, according to the survey by LifeWay Research. And 34 percent of those said they had not returned, even sporadically, by age 30. That means about one in four Protestant young people have left the church.
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Bill Savage, distinguished senior lecturer in English at Northwestern University, sees no problem with students walking away from their narrow-minded faith. Savage wrote,
For the foreseeable future, loyal ditto-heads [conservative parents] will continue to drop off their children at the dorms. After a teary-eyed hug, mom and dad will drive their SUVs off toward the nearest gas station, leaving their beloved progeny behind.
And then they all are mine.
And as the late Princeton philosopher Richard Rorty said, “We try to arrange things so that students who enter as bigoted, homophobic, religious fundamentalists will leave college with views more like our own.”
In response to college students leaving Christianity, some have argued that the church must change its beliefs about issues like gay marriage to keep college students and young professionals in the pews. But if this thesis were correct, then mainline denominations that have already changed their doctrine and accepted gay marriage would be growing numerically rather than declining rapidly. According to the research of Christian Smith, published by Oxford, the most frequent reason given by students for leaving Christianity (32 percent of respondents) was doubt and intellectual skepticism…