Archive for the ‘college’ Category

Should God Get Into College?

The article “Harvard’s Crisis of Faith” in the latest issue of NEWSWEEK outlined a recent debate at Harvard University about the validity of teaching religion within higher education. Apparently there is no defined religious studies department at Harvard and there has never been a religious studies requirement either. Compared to their peers, they are the lone hold-out in creating a department dedicated to the study of religion and seem to have a problem with retaining faculty due to lack of esteem.

The basic line of reasoning for requiring a class within a “Reason and Faith” category is in acknowledging the  role that belief plays in our world as a whole. How can Harvard, or any institution of higher education, goes the argument, claim to prepare students for contributing to our global society without an understanding of religion as a part of the “human story?” The pro-side suggests that for better or worse “religion matters.”  This sounds reasonable. 

On the other hand, should we give space to belief and religion when there is no proof, evidence or basis for reason? Shouldn’t religion be reserved for schools of divinity, whose focus and impact is expected and limitedly regarded?   Shouldn’t rigorous evaluation and critical thinking be requirements of getting a degree? The  circular reasoning of faith hardly passes this test.

One of the main protagonists in the debate, Steven Pinker, is a professor at Harvard and author of The Blank Slate. He succinctly points out that

 “Reason and Faith are not yin and yang. Faith is a phenomenon. Reason is what the university should be in the business of fostering.”

 The angry, sick-of-facing-well-educated-people-who-don’t-“believe in evolution” side of me agrees that the sooner we stop diluting education with religion, the better off we all will be. We shouldn’t “respect” belief on college campuses to the extent that people can leave with a degree but without a knowledge of how their belief contradicts reality (like dinosaurs and the age of the Earth!!).

 **An example of this strange dissonance was illustrated to me when a good friend of mine  – who happens to be Muslim, a law student and a graduate of the public equivalent to an Ivy League school- argued that the idea of evolution was a ruse specifically designed against Islam. Yet, she admitted that she couldn’t explain a single tenant of evolution.

 The rational side of me agrees that by knowing what you DON’T believe in you are better equipped to make sense of the world and the diversity that shapes many of our societal challenges. For instance, I think I am more empathetic and better equipped to understand the majority culture of believers in America because I was once part of the their club. Belief can be very dangerous and everyone needs to develop literacy about the major, and not so major, world religions and the hold that they can have on human nature.

 I don’t believe that religion should be silently ignored OR openly disdained like a big sweaty elephant on college campuses.  I just don’t think we need to give GOD any more space than we would give one found in Greek mythology – he/it/she should stay within the context of culture, art, literature, politics, geography, philosophy etc, and not take up a whole building on campus.

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Religious Compromise In a Down Economy?

When my husband and I met 10 years ago, the plan was for him to stay home with the kids and I was going to have a wonderful career.  I blame society for things changing tracks – boys generally make more in boy-laden fields than girls who tend towards fields that lift up our young and help our sick  (I stick my tongue out in petulant protest).

After 4 yrs of being home with my kids full-time I am ready to get back to work. I am ready to feel multidimensional and our balance sheets could use an influx of cash. But what’s  a girl to do when the mama drive to work again is timed with a bad economy? And, short of start-up web companies, there aren’t any fields more desperate right now than Higher Education in California.

So, I apply to everything in my field that is local. I get a call back and set up an interview at a small private school. Cool.

As I research the school I see, deeply imbedded in the website, that they hold MASS daily! What have a I gotten myself into?  Apparently everyone but me knew that their name was synonymous with Catholicism. I consider canceling the interview, but decide that the experience would be professionally valuable.

As I park on campus I try to insulate myself with a bit of humor. I send a text to my friend asking whether the Catholic cross is done left to right or right to left?  I imagine myself pulling it out if things get really rough in there. My husband sends me a message saying “good luck and god bless.” I most enjoy seeing their mascot, which had to have come from a bit of respectable self-deprecating humor Catholic Penguins? This actually encourages me. Maybe we can be friends after all???

I felt a weird heaviness just walking around this beautiful campus. The inside of the buildings were old, dark and empty – with big tables, drapes and carpets. As I was given a bit of an architectural tour, I almost asked whose “sisters” my guide was talking about. hmmm. My interview panel was very dull –  exactly the characters I had anticipated. This was disappointing as I was hoping something about the interview would shake up my expectations (like the penguins).

I’ve thought a lot about both the ethics and the realistic aspects of taking this job. I read an argument that it is unethical to contribute to an institution that perpetuates such a damaging lie. I agree in theory, but this economy sucks and I don’t know when the next opportunity will arise.  Perhaps I would even be a great help to skeptical students on campus – As a Visible Atheist I could be a bastion of hope to other Atheists!

There is a part of me that thinks this would be an interesting professional experience and maybe I could approach it as a bit of a scientist – you know, if I make it all about my gain then it is justifiable. But, they were nice enough people and I don’t feel quite right taking the piss either.

So, I got a call today saying I was one of the finalists and they just had a few follow-up questions. Huh? Didn’t my non-belief create an aura around me that made them equally as uncomfortable? I haven’t heard about the poor job market challenging people’s personal ethics, but here is an unconventional case-in-point.

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