College and faith

I know the controversy is so last week. But I finally got around to reading Garry Wills‘ eminently reasonable response to Santorum’s complaint that colleges destroy religious faith:

Minds grow by questioning things, and adolescence is a great period of questions. Mark Twain and H. L. Mencken learned to cross-examine the Bible all on their own, without any help at all from college. An unquestioned faith is not faith but rote recitation. The opposite of such questioning is not deep belief but arrested development.

A report on research by Richard Putnam (Bowling Alone) and David Campbell on young adults, Christianity, and the culture wars: . A free summary of the Putnam and Campbell Foreign Affairs article is here. To quote Putnam, young Americans are saying, “If religion is just about conservative politics, I’m outtahere.”

But it’s not just conservative Christianity that turns college students and young adults away. There are significant cultural factors as well. Christian Piatt cites seven, not one of them connected with conservative politics or the culture wars.  Instead, he mentions:

  • that there’s no natural bridge to church when teens leave home
  • distraction
  • the need to filter out the vast quantities of information (and advertising) that assault young people.

In other words, we’ve got our work cut out for us. Especially in light of Christian Smith’s ongoing research, which I’ve mentioned before. Another take on that is here:


One thought on “College and faith

  1. Well, I think the first step for many churches, particuarly mainline ones, who want to attract young people, is to start with Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s advice: “It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”

    On a more serious note, though, I thought all the articles were very interesting, even the Thomas Kidd one. What Kidd doesn’t seem to acknowledge though, is that the SBC and similar brands of conservative evangelical Christianity are not very well suited to remedy the problems he sees in my generation. And the problem isn’t just the conservative, anti-gay politics–it’s their entire approach to morality.

    I was watching a special on MSNBC about a Pentecostal pastor who embraced universalism (I can’t remember his name at the moment.) One of his mentors, disappointed in his switch from a more exclusivist position, said something like, If everybody goes to heaven and nobody goes to hell, then what’s the point of preaching? Why are he and I even here? I challenge him to answer that question. There’s no point in having a church if everyone goes to heaven anyway.

    Well, that’s a terrible attitude. The point of preaching in a world where people don’t go to hell is to cultivate a love of doing the right thing for its own sake, not because of some punishment you might receive, either in this life or in the next. The point is to teach people how to do moral reasoning, not futilely attempt to give them a rule for everything. That, and not exclusivism or legalism, is the solution to what ails my generation.

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