Posts Tagged ‘majority’

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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An Unsolicited Reality Check – From The Plumber

Last week my daughter proudly flushed the toilet paper holder down the toilet, which she saw as a great experiment. After a full week of wishfully thinking that the toilet would just start working again, we finally called the plumber.  He is nice enough and after 15minutes we have water that responds to gravity again. I feel relieved that the bill is not twice the amount. Ok, “bye bye and thank you very much”.

Not so fast.

Our homes are meant to be a safe place where we can protect our loved ones from  violence, war, god, racism, bad wine, etc.

But then the plumber walks in and bursts my bubble while I am still in my pajamas. This stranger reminds me that our world is full of people who assume everyone is like them, one of the majority – part of the club. Of course someone as respectable as myself, with a nice yard and a decent car in the drive, has to be part of their club. Certainly not an immoral non-believer. They are so sure, in fact, that they are comfortable making small talk about god and race in a stranger’s kitchen!  

Out of nowhere this plumber decides to talk about a hill of crosses nearby that seems to upset some people. He, however, is pleased to have them as a reminder of the “sacrifice and loss that makes god so sad”… I give an awkward grin and move toward the door. (BTW, I  have no idea what the crosses stand for, but my guess is its a pro-life statement).

But thats not all. Oh No. He decides to explain how the “cross hill” is in a nicer neighborhood than mine. He realizes that this may be rude, so he backtracks saying “well Oakland is getting better all the time. Its becoming a lot more White.” My mind was spinning, thinking of my two eldest children, who happen to be Black. He was insulting my babies and had no idea. I somehow doubt he would have assumed I was in his club if I wasn’t White like him.

Now, I know my husband would have handled this better, with some very dry, witty response in the style of Eddy Izzard. But I just felt like my personal space had been invaded by a racist religious freak and I just wanted him out. Oh, and of course the irony of a racist Christian do-gooder is only lost on him.

It is often in the most mundane times of life when I am rudely reminded that the comfortable bubble I have fashioned for myself is fragile. I am reminded of why deconversion was hard, partly because most people assumed I was a believer. Anything else would have been aberrant and socially unacceptable.  Of course it is those times when I’m caught with my guard down that I wish I had taken a firmer stand.  So, after this man comes into MY kitchen sullying MY home with HIS beliefs, I am left feeling both wronged and GUILTY because I didn’t make him aware of how misguided he was.

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