Thursday, April 7, 2011

Hey, Kids: Don't Leave Church. Complain!

Radio talk show host Dennis Prager says universities turn young people into liberal secular humanists, but I don't believe it. I was largely impervious to professors' politics, right (yes, there were a couple) or left, and I'll bet almost everyone else is, too. Rebutting Prager, Conor Friedersdorf has a more practical, persuasive explanation for why highly educated young adults become less religious:
[P]eople who attend college leave home. That is to say, they leave their church, the community incentives to attend it, and the watchful eye of parents who get angry or make them feel guilty when they don't go to services or stray in their faith. Suddenly they're surrounded by dorm mates of different faiths or no faith at all. For many of these students, it turns out that their religious behavior was driven more by desire for community, or social and parental pressure, than by deeply held beliefs. Another reason education correlates with secularism is that secularists are more likely to seek advanced degrees, partly because they're more focused than their religious counterparts on career.
To give at least part of the argument back to Prager, one thing about a good education is that it destroys, or should destroy, simplistic theodicies by giving the student a glimpse of the full range of human misery and injustice across the centuries. Knowing how relentlessly the good and innocent suffer, it's hard to believe that God is spending much time protecting me and those I love because we happen to be living in the safest country in the world, going to the right church, or singing hymns in the right key.

Indeed a crisis of faith probably should result from a liberal arts education as night follows day, as should the ability to discern the difference between the divine and its poor reflection in human institutions. Religion sometimes glorifies God and sometimes lets God down. That's why I always tell our St. John's middle schoolers that if they're not getting what they deserve from church, synagogue, or mosque -- a sense of God as a loving, inspiring, challenging, saving force available in every aspect of their lives -- then they should find out who's in charge and tell them.
Hat tip to The Dish


MK said...

Excellent analysis, John--you nailed it! I, too, was impervious, and I was an undergrad at the height of the VN war. Someday I'll explain my church situation to you, I can't spell it out here now. . . .

J.C. Marrero said...

I think a religious inclination is largely genetically based. Some folks are natural mystics; others go to houses of worship only when forced by family or other social pressures.

Without these, lots of folks would just as soon stay home Sunday mornings and sleep late.

Perhaps, what we see today is not a diminution of religious fervor, but alot less social pressure to mimic it.

Benedict XVI hinted at this when he said that tomorrow's Church will be a creative minority--the yeast in the dough, if you will.

My guess is that religious inclination correlates with the type of music you like. Hard metal and rap, not too religious. Italian opera and sad country balads, hallelujah! "Amazing Grace" and "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring"--get me to a monastery, now!