Friday, February 22, 2008

Atheism and the Methodist academy

When the Rev. Betsy Eaves sat in front of me at last night's Centenary Forum, I figured she would be the perfect person to respond to the evening's speaker for the story I was writing.

Instead, she was nervous and chose her words carefully. All day she had been assaulted by e-mail from people wanting to know why a Methodist college was bringing an atheist to campus. The liberal college was obviously trying to brainwash students, the e-mails said.

The speaker at the center of the controversy is philosophy professor Erik Wielenberg, of De Pauw University. He visited the Methodist college to talk about values and God as part of the annual Centenary Forum. Specifically, he addressed the question: is God necessary for morality? Wielenberg, also an atheist, made an intelligent argument, (I'll respond more later) and he presented it well judging by the good questions that were asked and the fact that the students were paying attention.

After listening to him, I was confused by the vehement reactions Eaves was receiving.
Isn't the college the perfect place for these sort of discussions? Aren't students supposed to be challenged and confront the other?

It is through those challenges that we are forced to understand and articulate what we believe. Fear of these ideas is just a sign that we do not trust our own faith or that of the students. And I know Eaves, as chaplain, does all she can to promote faith and encourage students to take ownership of their beliefs.

The Forum seems to be a brilliant concept because it has reaction built in. Unlike many lectures, this one will not stand on its own. For the next week, everyone will have a change to mull over his argument and at 7 p.m. Monday, two students and two community members will give their response.

Through that discussion I expect many people will surprise themselves to find they have an even deeper understanding of what they believe and why.


John said...

Hi Diane:

While Centenary can do whatever it wants, I think the problem here is that this man was INVITED into a place where God is supposed to be in charge. Am I right about that? Why would I invite evil into my home, school, etc?

If you have children, would you mind if a homosexual goes to his/her school to promote a lifestyle of homosexuality?

Most college-aged kids are so unstable in their beliefs that this kind of stuff can easily sway them to the wrong side. No, they many not become atheists, but they will lose what little foundation they might have; and for way too many kids these days that foundation is pitiful because they have not been taught by God-fearing and serving parents.

"Liberal" arts colleges are corrupting many of our Christian youth. I watched it happen to my step-daughter. She was weak going into it (and I take what responsibility is mine) and is now not even what I'd consider a Christian in the basic sense (that Jesus Christ is Lord God and Savior).

I'm a recovered addict, but I'm not going to invite a drug dealer into my home to try to convince me that his lifestyle is right OR to bolster my "faith". It's not necessary and it's dangerous. Same goes for inviting evil into our schools so that our children can be "challenged" and "articulate" what they believe. If ONE soul is lost because of it, it was a dismal failure!! :(

BrianC said...

While I tend to agree with the charge that Centenary takes the "liberal" in liberal arts a little seriously for a "religious" institution, I also completely agree with your assertion that challenges to your faith only make you more aware of what you believe and why. I spent 4 years in an anthropology undergraduate program where God was reduced to another myth and morality was viewed as an advantageous evolutionary adaptation. These prevailing views did nothing but make my own faith stronger. Why is Christianity so special? Why isn't it just another myth? Seeking the answers to these questions only made me much stronger in my faith. I was proud to be the "Christian" in the room. These new intellectual attacks on Christianity are hear to stay. The sooner people realize they are nothing new and learn how to respond to them, see the loopholes in reasoning etc, the stronger and more mature their faith could be. It's easy to be a Christian when that's all you've ever known. But to proudly proclaim your Christianity among a din of conflicting views will only only make you a better example of that Faith.