To put it in the simplest terms, I believe in education. I am a person of faith, and I have found that my liberal arts education has strengthened my beliefs and refined my definitions of religion.
Take a trip back in time with me to the autumn of last year. The setting is the second annual DeKalb County associational tent revival. The speaking pastor is the modern-day equivalent Baptist equivalent of the 19th century circuit rider, a gregarious and out-spoken man. Halfway through his sermon he proceeded to polish off a dusty old chestnut and began to rail against “these liberal colleges and professors” and the effects that they have on students. He elaborated on a theme that I have heard countless times: young and impressionable students are turned away from their religious faith and beliefs and their family values. I had always resented this idea, seen it as some kind of throwback to the boomer generation and the social upheaval of the 1960s, particularly in liberal arts universities.
Starting then, I have given a lot of thought to this idea and realized that, at least in my case, it is a load of the proverbial hogwash. As an English major and Religious Studies minor, I have had courses and professors that espoused ideas that probably would have made that pastor’s head spin. The flaw in this idea of our minds being corrupted is that the student isn’t given enough credit for thinking for themselves. In the minds of some of the older, stauncher generation of Christians, college students are empty vessels begging to be filled with Marxism and atheism and humanism and any number of other –isms. We apparently are unable to process new ideas and reconcile them with our own beliefs and upbringing.
To the contrary, being presented with ideas and belief systems that are contrary or contradictory to my own has only served to strengthen my own beliefs. I have had professors that ran the gamut of religious beliefs and I have come to the opinion that being offered alternative viewpoints may change the minds of some, while merely strengthening the resolves of others. Having been taught the concept of reading Bible stories as allegorical or metaphorical has not caused me to reject their verisimilitude or truth at all. Instead, I can see deeper meanings in the stories and parables that had become stale and two-dimensional in their telling and re-telling. After learning the right questions to ask of the doctrine that I have been taught my whole life I have found, on my own, that I believe it to be true. Being tested by the fire of controversy and the allure of other beliefs and religions has not melted my faith; indeed it has served to temper it and make it stronger and truer. After years in the spiritual battlegrounds of a large and diversely populated liberal arts university, I have been able to refine a belief system that is probably shockingly traditional and conservative.