Responses on Religion on Campus

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I am currently writing a blog on assignment out of the country to investigate a story involving a fascinating mix of religion, politics, and human rights issues. Because of the delicate nature of the situation here, I will wait to file reports until I get back next week.

Below, I am posting some of your reactions to Monday’s article about religion on college campuses. I don’t have time to respond to the notes right now, but I think to some degree, they respond to each other.

God bless, Father Jonathan

Fr Jonathan,

Reading your article, I was reminded of my own college experience in which I took a World Religion course. We spent approximately two classes on Christianity, and it was treated delicately and as a subject of great controversy. We spent much longer on Buddhism, Islam, Judaism … even Shinto received more attention. Funny that the name "Jesus Christ" is the most offensive name that someone can mention. One can talk about any other religious movement, leader, tyrant, etc., but once you mention Jesus, everyone (regardless of religious affiliation) reacts differently. Thanks again for your blog.

— Peace, Brad

Father Jonathan,

My wife is a Native American who was the target of insulting comments on the part of the good Christians at the mission school on the reservation where she grew up. They treated her like an uppity little "injun" girl who occasionally had the audacity to question the dogma to which she was being subjected.

As a matter of fact, the only bigotry and intolerance that she has experienced in her life has been at the hands of those who call themselves Christians. As a result of our experiences, we have a very negative opinion of organized religions in general and have come to the conclusion that none of us has enough ill will in his or her heart to be a Christian of any flavor.

As someone once said, "You Christians are so unlike your Christ." Intolerance is definitely a two-way street and Christians are just as good at it as others. And they appear to be much better at whining about perceived intolerance and slights.

— Jack (New Mexico)

Father Jonathan:

It was with interest I read your article on The New York Times’ report on college students and religion. I disagreed with your position on the article in a number of ways that I’d like to share with you; be forewarned that all these points come from the mind of a 28-year-old atheist:

We live in the 21st century; science has taught us breathtaking amounts about our physiology, our planet, our universe, and the historical development of all of these things. It is an unprecedented period of scientific knowledge and technological acceleration. And, amidst all of this, among students in institutions of higher learning, the future intellectual foundation of our Great Nation, mind you, five out of five believe they are being watched by an all-powerful invisible man in the sky.

This, to my mind, is, with all due respect to your faith and profession, a grievous tragedy. These students should be being taught the critical thinking skills to exist as reputable professional intellectual entities, and yet they haven’t even trained their minds to be able to question, or seek evidence for, their supernatural/religious/spiritual beliefs. A student population so quick to accept things on faith is, I would argue, is one that is not in the habit of doing much thinking, and the fact that these students are expected to excel in an increasingly scientifically literate world economy is little more than a setup for a huge disappointment.

— Chris (Burlington, VT)

Dear Father Jonathan,

The funny thing is that “secular humanists” will never understand religious belief because they think that anything that can’t be proven by the scientific method simply doesn’t exist. How silly. I would invite them to try to prove their love for their wife, the existence and nature of free will, find the human soul, or a whole other host of things that if you deny, well … life is pretty meaningless. For those of us with faith, we know it’s reasonable.

Father Jonathan,

I was very glad when my son, who is graduating from Penn State next week, told me that masses held at the Hub on campus on Sunday nights were standing-room only. PSU has a very non-traditional atmosphere, like most universities, and I was concerned when he left for PSU four years ago there would be a problem. But there wasn't. I have two more going away in the fall.

— John S.

Dear Father Jonathan,

You hit the nail right on the head! I love the “aging generation of secular humanists” part, because it fits so well. My oldest son is currently a freshman at Chaminade University in Hawaii. He, thankfully, has a good religion professor, and mostly the atmosphere is descent there. But he hungers for more and is actually thinking of transferring to Benedictine College in Kansas (my college of choice for him). Now, the only reason a 19-year-old kid would want to move from Hawaii to Kansas is either for a girl (he doesn’t know anyone there) or for that “hunger” that you describe. We’ll see what happens, but just the fact that he’s evening considering it is amazing to me!

— Rosanne (Maple Grove, MN)

Father Jonathan,

Well put. I especially love the line “college students, who care more about their faith than previous generations, are living in an environment of genuine religious intolerance, promoted by an aging generation of secular humanists who are understandably fearful of their own extinction.” That is beautifully eloquent. But then, like most college administrators and other frustrated intellectuals, I love being tolerant of those who agree with me. I practice being tolerant of those who disagree with me, but I must confess that it is not particularly fun, and occasionally requires considerable effort on my part. But if it were easy everyone would do it.

Many times I have been amazed and amused and even angered at how befuddled the baby boomer generation is by young people rejecting what are now, 40 years later, the liberal values of the “establishment.” What a shock. Apparently none of them ever foresaw that their values might be rejected by their children’s and grand-children’s generations. They fail to see the obvious irony in denying young people the very same rights they demanded for themselves and demonstrated for in the 60s. Sometimes I wonder if they ever go out into the forest and wonder why there are so many the trees blocking the view.

— Bruce (Blackwell, OK)

Father Jonathan

Forgive me if I am a bit touchy about this; I am a scientist, and we are usually on the front lines of this kind of, frankly, bogus argument. The indignation that you see from faculty is a result of years of being told that when we attempt to teach our disciplines that we are being intolerant for not teaching things that are either not relevant or flatly wrong, usually by people that know nothing about them. So please, if you are going to talk about religious intolerance, reserve it for somewhere where the “intolerant majority” aren’t outnumbered 300 to 1.

— JD (Denver)

Father Jonathan,

I am a biology professor at an Ivy League university (I prefer not to say which one) and, I must say, your article was very true. Anyone with Christian faith in my department better be quiet (I myself am a searching agnostic). The intolerance to anyone who doesn’t buy into the anti-religion viewpoint is very evident. The funny thing is that they are so unscientific about why believing in the supernatural is contrary to science in the first place. Thank you for your writings. They spark many conversations around these parts.

— M

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