At the 5Cs, conversations about faith and religion are rare. Perhaps this is due to our generation’s perception that believing in God is anti-intellectual or has no place in modern academia. This perception may have stemmed from the notion that religious people do not believe in certain scientific truths, such as evolution, or that they are not skeptics who are able to critically question ideas but instead believe in moral Truths devoid of logical reasoning.
I myself have struggled to bring my faith and intellectual curiosity together. Through my Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE) seminars and tutorials, I have had the valuable opportunity to engage in rich discussions of human nature, ethics, morality, and justice. But it has not been without challenge, as many of these questions were directly related to my views as a Christian. I struggled to bring something as personal to me as my faith into conversations that are built around factual evidence and reasoned arguments. However, my personal revelation stemmed from this Bible verse: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). I am to love God through the willingness to think deeply and critically about matters of my faith and through the internal struggles of answering my own and others’ questions. Others may argue that personal faith has no place in academic settings, but I’d like to disagree.
In my classes, when I read literature and documents with biblical references and Judeo-Christian values, I often felt the need to detach myself from views that are grounded in my faith. For instance, when I read John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government for my PPE philosophy seminar, I sometimes felt that I ought to leave my faith at the door when Locke used biblical references, such as the story of Adam to make his argument about private property rights and the state of nature. I struggled to be as objective as possible and tried not to discuss his work from a personal viewpoint. I came to realize, however, that I had value to add to the conversation because of my perspective as a Christian. One of my favorite professors once brought up a memorable quote from the movie, You’ve Got Mail:
“It wasn’t personal.”
“What is that supposed to mean? I’m so sick of that. All that means is that it wasn’t personal to you. But it was personal to me. It’s personal to a lot of people. What is so wrong with being personal anyway? Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.”
The professor stated that even people who claim to be objective are coming from subjective, personal perspectives. We all have our biases, and we each experience the world differently. Personal experiences and backgrounds make us who we are. Striving for objectivity can sometimes strip away the unique and valuable element in each one of us that add depth to the conversations we are able to have with one another.
Many of my peers at the 5Cs who do not ascribe to a faith came from families that did. Some went to religious services regularly before coming to college, perhaps simply because it was a part of their family’s routine. However, after we come to college and become independent, the decision to continue practicing our faiths or attending religious services becomes solely our own. For this reason, whether because of the busyness of college life or because our faith was never truly our own, it is easy for us as college students to stray away from our religion. Generally, however, people underestimate the immense value of religious or spiritual experiences, and this is what perhaps causes the lack of conversation about them.
Dialogue about our religious and spiritual experiences and questions about faith are what ultimately leads us to think about the greatest questions that define our existence. Such conversations need not be either divisive or contentious. It most importantly ought not to be political, with religion–or a lack thereof–being used as a tool to further an agenda. Such discussions should lead us to think more deeply about the most important questions we could ever ask ourselves—the meaning and purpose of life, reasons behind one’s motivation and drive, and one’s ethical and moral values. These are definitely questions that are not exclusive to religious people, but it is true that people’s religious and spiritual experiences can add unique and in-depth insights that would be otherwise left out.
Some of the best conversations I have had about faith were with friends who are not religious or who come from different religious backgrounds. As I talked with them, I gained insight and knowledge about where they were coming from and was able to respect the diversity of values at the 5Cs. Often, it is through such conversations that both parties are able to learn something new and gain a better understanding of each other. Such conversations ought not to be one trying to force one’s ideology on another. It should be an open conversation about why we believe in the things we do.
For Christians, the Bible teaches us to be gracious, understanding, and humble as we engage in such conversations. I strive to be this way though I am far from perfect, as I believe in a God that has shown me so much forgiveness, love, and grace.