Christianity As An Intellectual Pursuit

I was driving to work today, and I saw a very . . . um, quaint bumper sticker. I was fairly certain before I read it that it would be counter to one of my beliefs because it was on the back of a car with a large number of bumper stickers. It has long been an observation of mine that skeptics and Democrats are the two groups most likely to load down their car with bumper stickers. I wasn't disappointed. This particular bumper sticker had words to this effect: "Keep Your Prayer Out Of My Schools; I'll Keep Thought Out Of Your Church."

Needless to say, I was rolling on the floor laughing. After all, I can't imagine anything more clever than that. (Please note the dripping sarcasm.)

But, of course, this is simply a perpetuation of the straw man characterization of Christianity that it is not an intellectual pursuit. The old catch phrase is that Chrsitianity is a matter of faith, not facts. In one respect, I understand the attitude because too often in Christian churches people are told to just believe or just have faith without providing any intellectual meat to support such belief/faith. This approach to faith is also a fairly recent phenomenon since prior to the 20th Century, it was Christianity and the Christians who were the leaders in virtually all intellectual endeavors in both the Americas and Europe. It was in the early 1900s that the Christian church took on a rather anti-intellectual viewpoint of its own faith, and today's Christians are having to reap what its forefathers have sown.

But thankfully this trend is showing signs of reversing. In addition to the fine thoughtful works by such intellectual luminaries in the Christian church as Alvin Plantinga, William Lane Craig, J.P. Moreland and others too numererous to identify in this short piece, it appears that Christianity as an intellectual pursuit is beginning to gain some steam in the Ivy League Universities.

According to an article in the Yale Herald entitled "Do Christian students have a prayer in the classroom?", the number of students interested in pursuing the study of religion not as an anthropological view but as an intellectual pursuit in and of itself is increasing.

Had I matriculated in 1999, academics might have spurred me into agnosticism; in 2003, though, a nascent network of students and faculty existed to convince me that my belief was worth preserving, even at Yale. And though I didn’t know it at the time, I had entered college amidst a groundswell of post-9/11 academic religious interest. That resurgence coincided with a rapidly growing community of Ivy-League Christians who take their cues from the few professors they know to be believers. As a result Christianity—once the pariah of modern intellectualism—is slowly reinventing itself as a viable academic perspective on campus.

* * *

My decision to continue believing in a living God—despite Nietzsche's pronouncements to the contrary—was largely due to the efforts of a faith community which, after an era of marginalization by the secular establishment, is exploding on Ivy League campuses. Moreover, Yale appears to be leading the pack with respect to this trend. According to statistics cited by the Christian Post, an online Christian news outlet, membership in fellowships such as Campus Crusade for Christ has, over the past 20 years, increased by 163 percent at Brown, 500 percent at Harvard—and 700 percent at Yale. Such growth stems from many factors—most notably, the influx of Asian-American students, many with deeply Christian roots in Korea and China, as well as the fact that evangelicals have climbed the socioeconomic ladder over the past 30 years, a trend which has empowered them to pay the high cost of an Ivy League education.

The Christian population explosion has coincided with an unprecedented revival of intellectual interest in religion after decades of indifference. While there were only six seniors majoring in religious studies at Yale as recently as 1999, that number has since ballooned to 30. After a recent internal curriculum review, Harvard, traditionally known for being more secular than Yale, is considering requiring a course in religion towards the undergraduate degree.

Along with virtually every other professor interviewed, Philosophy Professor John Hare, whose "Philosophy of Religion" class routinely reaches maximum capacity, cited the events of Sept. 11, 2001, as a trigger for this seismic shift in attitude. "It's clear now how much is at stake for our world with regard to these religious questions," Hare said. The secularist concept that faith and reason are mutually exclusive certainly seems to be on the way out. "Back in the '80s, and even into the early '90s, people would regularly come up to me and ask why we were teaching religion in university," said Carlos Eire, chair of the religious studies department. "No one asks that any more."

The article goes on and raises a lot of interesting questions and insights into the life of Christian students in a still atheist dominated arena, and I encourage everyone to read it. But I do want to add that I wholeheartedly agree with the closing advice to Christians.

"The most important thing we can do [as Christian students] is to not fall into stereotypes," said Ellen Ray, CC '09, a DS veteran. "We have to show that we can approach things with an open mind." In that respect, the Christian and secular scholar may have more in common than either might think.


Kevin Rosero said…
A most encouraging post. I was a Religion major in 1988-92 at Hamilton College, a secular college. But I can't really remember a chill there as far as religious faith. My personal faith actually thrived there, probably because my mind was actively engaged. As you seem to say, a faith without thought is a recipe for stagnation.
August said…
Great article, and especially valid in light of a couple of debates I just had with atheists.

They equate atheism with "reason", and in their own little grouphug, kept re-assuring each other of the stupidness and blindness of Christians.

Of course, the moment that they are confronted with the intellectual side of Christianity, the ad-hominems start flying.
Puritan Lad said…
Super Article.

It starts with what is being taught in our Youth Groups today. I recently saw a curriculum that said that we need to "get radical for Christ" (without giving any specifics) and then immediately added that "intellect is a enemy of radical faith". Sad indeed...

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