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.