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Fighting for their faith?

I've been hearing lately by word of mouth about a study, which I haven't been able to track down yet on-line, that shows that more than 75% of Christian young people lose their faith within a year of going away to college. I haven't been able to hear of any breakdown of these as between those who go to Christian colleges and those who go to secular colleges. Perhaps they all went to secular colleges. The claim is that the #1 reason cited for the loss of faith was "intellectual doubts."

I'd like to gather some anecdotal evidence, here. For those of our readers and my co-bloggers who work with college students, does it seem to you that Christian young people who come to have doubts about their faith tend to seek help to resolve these--perhaps from a parent, a Christian professor, a pastor, or a priest--and don't find help that satisfies them? Or are they losing their faith under the influence of (say) their secular peers and professors without putting up any fight? Or are they trying a little to find answers to questions but not trying very hard? I realize that these things are going to fall along a whole spectrum. I can't help wondering to what extent the failure here is on the part of the young people to look, or perhaps to listen well to and heed good answers they are given, and to what extent the failure is on the part of their Christian guides and mentors to give them good answers.

Comments (44)

Speaking from personal experience...

20 years old.

secular college.

The professors weren't intelletually pushy. The IV community that I was initially part of was too much of a Protestant-only (read, PCA-only) club. Many of their answers were wrong, which only pushed me further away.

Or are they trying a little to find answers to questions but not trying very hard?

That seems to be my impression, both from my own experience and that gained from having a child in college right now (secular state U). It seems not so much intellectual doubt per se, as much as it is simply disinterest in the subject of religion all together. Life at that age (particularly at the upper class level) is focused on getting through and gettng a job, making money, etc. It seems mostly when you start thinking about a family, and what are you gong to do with this new bundle of joy for whom you are responsible (both materially and spiritually) do you begin to pay a little more attention.

I think intellectual doubts come more from apathy, or at least sound less self-incriminating than stating apathy.

Lydia, my local Bible-based evangelical church did a little study, although it was related to baptism, it had some components that indicated that almost 25% of un-baptised youth drifted away from God during the college years, with a small portion, like 10% returning laters after wandering.

With a high school senior who's evaluating colleges, this would be good to know.

I lost my faith in a Jesuit college, which I hear doesn't really get to call itself Catholic anymore. I suspect 'intellectual doubts' is a euphemism for loneliness. Most of the academic challenges to my faith were pathetically easy to fend off. But to have friendship, love, in some cases even just a conversation, it seemed I had to leave God somewhere else.

We need community, and we also need to read St. Paul a little bit closer- his zeal for the single life was tempered by the knowledge that most people needed to get married early, before sexual sin endangers their spiritual lives.
I think sometimes we get complacent and think people will go wild for a bit, settle down, and then come back. I know of people who have come back, but of the people that I know who left, I am the only one who came back. So, it seems to me smarter to help others avoid the test, rather than allow such a terrible test to take place.

Of course, I also look forward to the Church exerting a bit more authority over allegedly Catholic institutions.

During that first year, we all had those questions. We either: 1) Ignored them and lived as a pagan. 2) Convinced ourselves that the answers would be too much work to find and so lived as a pagan. 3) Or we looked hard for the answers to the questions we had and became strong in our faith.

Most people chose 1) or 2).

The answers are there, people just have to be willing to look. If that means turning off Family Guy, not getting wasted every weekend, etc. then for some that's asking too much.

It's been a while. I went to a soft-core fundamentalist college (Liberty University). It certainly turned me off to fundamentalism, and thus set me on a course for an even more completely deracinated protestantism. In retrospect, I veered very close to atheism (of the practical sort: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism), but I never doubted my faith (such as it was) at the time. Fortunately Catholic Church, unbeknownst to me, kept following me around and finally caught and subdued me.

I don't know the exact essay, but there is some bit by C.S. Lewis wherein he quips: (something to the effect) how many college sophomores have honestly been argued out of their faith over their past year? Very, very few was his guess. It's just in the water at most colleges universities, and people will usually modify their beliefs such that they get to do whatever the hell they feel like (no matter how incoherent that makes their beliefs). When the lash is taken away, such as in the libertine and poorly managed daycare center of academe, they therefore tend to stray, usually early and often. If they were instead to do something useful like get married, hold down a job, and pop out a kid or two, they just might keep the faith... or failing that, come back to it when exigencies require it.

From my on-going experience as an undergrad, most Christian students come to college and start to view their faith as a burden. The atmosphere of your standard American university isn't exactly faith-conducive, and with the constant urgings to be 'progressive' many students succumb under both the indirect pressure of the environment and the seemingly daunting task of having to define and defend your beliefs in a somewhat hostile setting.

I do think part of the problem, though, at least from what I've seen, is that many young Christians are never made to take a serious look at their faith before they leave home and enroll in a college. I went to a Catholic high school, and in four years of religion classes we never took a really in-depth look at the philosophical support of Christianity. I think many young Christians come to college woefully unprepared to deliver a reasoned defense of their religion, and thus are apt to drift away from it.

Of course, there are always individuals who never really believed in Christianity all along, and simply view college as an opportunity to abandon the pretense without repercussion from parents or teachers.

Of 8 children in my family, 5 left Catholicism (and Christianity) behind during the late 60's & 70's. For 4 of them, I believe that 2 major factors were at fault: a complete, absolute lack of intent on the part of teachers and priests to communicate that the Faith is reasonable, in the face of a (seemingly) rationalistic secular culture; and getting turned on to the world of drugs, alcohol, and sex - i.e. hedonism. The first might have been overcome if not for the pressure to fit in with "everyone" who was into pleasures contrary to the faith. The second would have been overcome by repentance if there had been a cultural acceptance that belief is rational, human. The willing descent into hedonism, I think, blunted and then killed their willingness to see any part of the Faith as reasonable or valid. (Nobody likes to constantly remind themselves that they are not living up to their standards - it is thus easy to change one's standards).

The 5th (and his family) left the faith as an adult because they got several bishops in a row, and countless priest after priest, who would not, could not teach the simplest truths without shilly-shallying about and pretending that in some cases grave evil might be OK, or that grave error might be "slightly" true, or that "it all depends on your perspective". In other words, they all bought into the modernist heresies. They had bishops who couldn't care less that a so-called Catholic hospital was doing abortions and tubal ligations, priests who could not be bothered to go to the hospital for a dying child. I shudder to think what these "leaders" are going to face on judgment day.

Keep it up, guys. This is all good to have a record of. What I'm hearing is "both/and."

Hey Lydia,

I know a family friend that went off to college and suddenly had intellectual problems with his faith. I was asked to get involved and I pointed the young man, who was genuinely intellectually gifted, toward some literature that addressed his particular questions. I actually gave him two of the books and offered to field any questions that he had either about the books or about his doubts.

It turns out his intellectual problem was that he did not like the fact that his beliefs consigned his unbelieving friends to hell. He rejected the idea that these college buddies of his were in peril of damnation for not being Christians. That really bugged him. That was the intellectual issue. He was not the least bit interested in answers to his questions. He did not like the ramifications of his, or more to the point his parent's beliefs.

He just recently had his Buddhist wedding at a Renaissance festival. I know that there are some true doubters out there, but most of the people that I know are only taking the superiority route of intellectual questions because it is the most comfortable path to rejecting the seeming constraints of discipleship.

I was an atheist that had questions. I found the answers eventually. It took some time, but I truly wanted to know.

I teach at a conservative Christian college; we have our politically liberal profs and students, but not many, and most if not all of them are still social conservatives (pro-life, anti-gaymarriage, etc.). The great majority of our students are professing Christians; a fair number are children of alums. About a third are from home schools, a third from public schools, and a third from private schools.

I see just about everything here: students who turn away from faith and blame the college (its rules and "legalism"), students who are tremendously strengthened in the faith they entered with (usually evangelical "low-church" protestant), students who embrace the emergent church (because the college and the local churches are too "legalistic"), and an increasing number who are moving more and more toward Anglicanism and Catholicism.

For the ones who abandon whatever faith they had, almost always it's a matter of using the fact of rules and regulations necessary for a community (and, yes, we are fairly strict, but less so every year, and never have been, I think, unreasonably so) as a cover for not wanting to live a committed Christian life anyway. They really just *want* to have sexual liberty or liberty to drink and stay out all night whenever they please because they want to control their own lives. They claim that the rules we have are too rigid or non-Biblical, but they rarely if ever actually talk to anyone about the reasons for the rules (and no one claims that they are all Biblical -- some are frankly to keep our students as safe as possible and to keep the community functional). When they do ask or are confronted with reasoned responses to their complaints, they rarely listen and almost never are open to being convinced. Many of these young folk have either felt constrained all their lives in Christian homes and want out, or they have never been constrained and don't know how to handle being under authority.

We do have many thoughtful young students here, though, who find it a safe place to question, to admit doubts, to talk about their genuine concerns with the churches they've grown up in and the attitudes they see in the church community, etc. These young folk may go toward stronger conservative, traditional faith beliefs, or they may go toward more and more liberal beliefs either theologically, socially, or both. It seems to depend on which underlying assumptions about human nature and the role of church and state in our lives they already hold or are developing at the same time. These seem to be equally influenced by faculty, family, other students, and the reading they do. I've seen some of those who developed more liberal theological and social ideas begin to pull back a little as they get older and encounter "real life" more fully than before.

It's a different environment, of course, from a public university, but we get a lot of variation in beliefs and commitment here. The greatest privilege for faculty is being able to address the kinds of questions they have very directly both in class and out -- I assume that's why the ones who are really wanting to learn don't hesitate to come to us. My greatest fear is that too many of them may leave here still complacent about their faith, and I would consider that our greatest failure.

How many young people feel that faith is much of a boon to them? God is very remote, the flesh and emotions very close at hand, and isn't God something of a bore? It's not like he's that big a helper, voice, pal, excitement generator.

Suffering is needed. Broken and contrite hearts.

I was an anamoly. I found the faith at a Christian college with a record of destroying it in others. In fact, most of the alums I've talked to have been surprised to hear that a soul was saved at their alma mater.

While there, however, I did witness several of my friends and acquaintances abandon the faith of their families for the egalitarian, pacifist, pro-homo heresies advanced by our Bible department.

On the other side, our math and sciences wing is/was pretty strong. Ironic that the accountants have a better idea of what they believe in than their "spiritual" colleagues.

I guess I have to point to the elephant in the room.

Higher IQ and higher educational achievement both correlate with skepticism.

Lower IQ and lower education achievement both correlate with religiosity.

Yes yes, many very smart highly educated people are religious. But, in general, the more educated a person is the less religious.


Is this current universally true across all times, or is it a contemporary feature of this particular age trotted out as universally true?

I've heard this line before and seems more of a cudgel used to stigmatize belief than an observation with actual merit. I don't think you would find such widespread skepticism among the well-educated in any other era of history. Could you point me towards some research that proves otherwise?

Typo alert: the first line was meant to read "is this supposed truism ...".

I'll contribute my story.

I grew up in a Pentecostal house. The whole nine yards; tongues speaking, arm waving, and some other even stranger things. I was a preachy little firebrand, helping start and run a high school lunch hour Bible study that went for all four years I was in that school.

In my teen years, I was fascinated by apologetics. My initial source was Josh McDowell; I read Evidence that Demands a Verdict cover to cover twice, and spot read it persistently for maybe three years. I eventually found my way to CS Lewis and read almost everything he had produced. I was also one of those students that constantly spoke up in geology, chemistry and biology classes about creationism. I was a full blown young earther, and mostly sneered at the arguments against creationism I encountered.

I went to university for a history degree, Christianity firmly in hand. I never once encountered a professor who spoke disparagingly of Christianity, even though most obviously were not Christians themselves. This is partly why I have such a difficult time believing all the conservative Christian complaints about the academic elite; I have an undergrad degree and a master's degree, and I can't ever remember a professor criticizing Christianity (outside of small grad seminars made up of Nietzsche and Foucault readers). None of them ever had time to bother playing up to the elite liberal stereotype.

I met many angry and virulent atheist students, of course, and we had many heated debates. I always felt as if I held my own. I don't remember them introducing any serious doubts.

Near the end of my first year, however, a few things began to come together. An introductory psychology class covered some of the classic experiments concerning authority, showing me for the first time that groups and authority directly influence personal beliefs. It was not hard for me to look back at my small town, charismatic church and see all sorts of manipulative dynamics. Any of you that have spent a long time in a small town church will probably know what I'm speaking of.

That did not introduce any direct doubts, but rather indirect ones - I doubted mere claims to authority and group think. I also began to doubt my own perceptions, wondering how influenced they had been by being a part of such a cloistered group.

At the same time, I was spending a lot of time with a group of Christians (good men and women) who, at the time, were too concerned with how we were all failing as Christians. I found our meetings increasingly tiresome. With hindsight, I see that I could have simply rejected the meeting, but it fit with my upbringing's image of Christianity to begin with.

In my second year, my rigid young earth creationism came straight into confrontation with professionally presented archeology and geology. I wasn't in high school anymore, and actually handling casts of dozens of pre-sapien skulls was a compelling experience for me. If my young earth creationism had not been so rigid, this would not have been as much of a problem.

My point with this lengthy post is that my doubts did not arise because of arguments against Christianity. All my doubts were entirely indirect, and McDowell and Lewis were insufficient.

The YEC pattern is one I'm not surprised to see come up here. Of course, Christianity per se doesn't depend on YEC, but unfortunately that is not how the matter is billed to YEC young people themselves in the first place.

Steve's comment about the math department is an interesting one and probably reflects something that is true in more than one place.

Beth's comment about people railing against legalism certainly rings true. I would imagine that is the sort of thing that young people encourage in one another. "Yeah, you're right! This _is_ unbiblical and legalistic. Yeah!"

I had a duel major in my first year of college: debauchery and soccer. This was at a smaller local, secular college.

Second year I went to a behemoth state University with something like 40,000 full time students and 20,000 part timers – three of the dorm buildings each had their own zip codes. I dropped soccer as a major since I couldn’t play with the big dogs, but maintained as much of the debauchery as possible. After a year there, I decided to leave before I was asked to do so (facing scholastic probation does wonders for your desire to go elsewhere).

My last two years were at a local medium sized U with about 15,000 students. Major changed to history as debauchery could no longer be afforded, and I didn’t want to deal with the math for computer science any more (anybody out there still speak Paschal?).

When I got to college I didn’t so much loose my faith as throw it away as fast as I could.

Oddly enough, it was in my junior year of college that I began to rediscover my faith (in a physics class, of all places), and began to feel pulled to Catholicism (through the study of history, of all places).

Sure, it’s very easy to loose your faith in college. But it’s also possible to find it there as well. A lot of what happens depends very much on what you bring into college when you get there.

Hehe....soccer and debauchery.. good times, good times. Brings back so many memories.

Hehe....soccer and debauchery.. good times, good times. Brings back so many memories.

Most of these comments are highly indicative of what I witnessed. I attended one of Ohio's small liberal arts schools, the kind associated with a vague aura of disestablishmentarian protestantism. The school's real religion, of course, was secular humanism. There were serious calls during my time there to move beyond coed dorms to coed rooms. I don't know anyone who was reasoned out of the faith during their time there, although I know plenty of people who lost it one way or another. Oddly enough, despite the school's affiliation, most of the people I knew were at least nominally Catholic.

The people who mentioned the unfriendliness of the environment are spot-on: nobody is going to come up and throw rocks at your because you're Catholic. What they're going to do is operate an entire society that acts as if Catholicism simply doesn't exist. Although I wasn't familiar with him at the time, it's really quite Gramscian: simply remove the things that make people think of their faith, and pretty soon they won't think about it any more. Mass was several blocks away down the street (although occasionally a priest came and said it on campus), while debauchery was right down the hall. We had a Newman society that hung plenty of fliers, but it always seemed to consist primarily of three or four somewhat annoyingly over-caffeinated women who, for some reason, simply couldn't attract the sort of people who really needed help with the faith.

It takes a lot of personal fortitude to hold onto what you believe in when everyone around you operates entirely on the presumption that it doesn't even exist. You have to be able to go home at night and think about it, you have to be able to drag yourself out early in the morning and go to church, you have to be able to say "eh, not this time" when good clean fun goes bad. Not everyone can do that. It's sort of a divide and conquer technique on the part of the devil---cut Catholics off from one another through social contexts that isolate them and leave little room for displays of faith, then pry each one open like a tin can.

For a taxonomy, I saw 5 types of Catholics in college;

1) People who managed to keep their faith
2) People who partook in the full range of debaucheries, but still went to church on Sunday and seemed to maintain a realization that maybe he shouldn't be sleeping around.
3) People who partook in the full range of debaucheries and maintained a vague sense that being Catholic was OK, but who came to insist that you don't have to, say, go to church.
4) People who traded in their Catholicism for something more "relevant," "contemporary," and above all, permissive
5) People who were "only Catholic when they go home"

For what it's worth, I can't think of anyone who came into school actually believing in God and left it an actual atheist.

Someone mentioned emotionalism above, and I see so much of that in my college. The kids think if they have cried or raised their hands and sung a praise chorus 10 times that they are solidly Christian -- never mind if they can get to class on time with their work done! This is another frustration we deal with here, trying to convince professing believers that what they profess should actually affect *all* their doings.

I taught at another "Christian" college for a few years where I saw a fair number come in with a professed faith and leave agnostics or worse: and this because the Bible department promoted doubt, even demanded doubt (one prof mocked -- in class -- a student who claimed that he wasn't having any serious doubts about his basic faith; and this was one of our best thinkers and most serious Christians). Of course, they promoted women's ordination and were not very strong on a stand against homosexuality, too . . . It was very, very sad to see the simple faith of so many under attack just because they weren't "sophisticated" and "nuanced" in their beliefs. Many of the thinking kids left skeptics; the rest left thinking that specific beliefs of the faith were not very important and that disagreements on virtually any issue were just fine. Of course, had their home churches and families given them better grounding in the Scriptures and how to think about, interpret, and apply them, it would have helped . . .

What makes me shudder as a parent is to think of the sacrifices the parents went through to afford to send their children to that ostensibly Christian college that you mention. It's not as though it was going to say on the web site, "We specialize in undermining your children's Christian commitment in the name of sophistication."


It's not as though it was going to say on the web site, "We specialize in undermining your children's Christian commitment in the name of sophistication."

Have you ever read Bill Buckley's rants about Yale that complain likewise?

Lookey here:

“William F. Buckely, Jr.—Yale and Higher Education” By John A Sparks, J.D.

In 1951, the late William F. Buckley, Jr. issued one of the best-known challenges to higher education. In what became a conservative classic, God and Man at Yale, Buckley, then a recent Yale graduate, first called upon U.S. colleges and universities to rejuvenate the Christian spiritual and moral roots from which they had sprung. Buckley began with the question which many parents of college-bound students would ask over the next several decades: “whether Yale [substitute almost any university or college] fortifies or shatters the average student’s respect for Christianity.”

"It's not as though it was going to say on the web site, "We specialize in undermining your children's Christian commitment in the name of sophistication."

I think some sort of questioning/falling out is part of growing up. It's not matter of if, but rather when and how much. I think the best analogy, and this may seem a very odd comparison, but finding out that Santa Clause wasn't real. Then, those that find a stronger faith will say, "OK, Santa wasn't real, but the Spirit of Christmas is."

I'm not implying that God or Jesus are myths as is Santa. No, that's not what I'm saying. But being able to challenge something, finding the greater truth, and making it your own - that happens to us all, and it's part of growing up.

Royale, IMO it would have been a lot better if Mom and Dad hadn't convinced the kid that there is a Santa Claus in the first place. (Quite literally, I don't. I think it's lying to kids.) And it should be possible to be brought through such a questioning period in such a way that you don't throw over Christianity. At least, it should be possible on the assumption that there are good answers to such questions. The non-Christian will of course take it to be a _good_ thing that these kids lose their Christian faith--growing up and becoming enlightened. Those of us who don't look at it that way would like to see something better than undermining going on, because we think something better is possible.

Aristocles, yes, I have no doubt that what Buckley said was true. It wd. be interesting to see if the rates have changed, though, of young people who do go in Christians and come out having decided "I don't believe that stuff anymore."

The problem at my former college wasn't that students were encouraged to be open about their questions and doubts. It was that they were taught that questions are more important than answers; that answers probably can't be found anyway. Their Bible profs reveled in turning them into skeptics, not in helping them work through doubts to stronger faith. And they thought that all confident belief was by definition superficial and unthinking.

Robert says:

I guess I have to point to the elephant in the room.
Higher IQ and higher educational achievement both correlate with skepticism.

Johnny Dollar hints at the answer, Lawrence Auster hashes it out here.

I've read through the Lynn/Harvey/Nyborg paper and as I expected it does not control for other factors and does not deal with any of the objections I raised. The paper is itself an artifact of the secular modern mind which assumes that its own way of seeing things is the only way that could exist. For example, the authors don't ask, if such a study were done in, say, the 13th or the 17th century, what would be the results? Of course the IQ elite in the 13th century, instead of being secular academics and rationalistic, reductive believers in the ideology of scientism, as today's elite is, were churchmen and believers in God. Without any acknowledgment that the society being discussed is unique in history in that its elite culture and many ordinary people reject God (the authors are so tendentious in presenting their own elite prejudices as the norm that they write the word "god" in lower case), the paper tells us nothing other than that in an age dominated by materialistic scientism, higher IQ people will--gasp--tend to believe in materialist scientism. Stuck in the present, lacking any historical or civilizational perspective, failing to consider and control for counter-examples, e.g., a society in which Christianity is the elite belief, the authors fail to prove what they claim to prove: a negative correlation between IQ and religious belief.

For example, the authors don't ask, if such a study were done in, say, the 13th or the 17th century, what would be the results? Of course the IQ elite in the 13th century, instead of being secular academics and rationalistic, reductive believers in the ideology of scientism, as today's elite is, were churchmen and believers in God.

They would all be atheist today, or so I am told. A common response is that these people were products of their time and if they were around today they would certainly not believe in God. If Newton were around today, he would be propagating the new atheism!

I went to a Jesuit school, although I did not really appreciate it until after I graduated. I would say that college had no effect on my belief in God. Maybe one thing that holds students back is the perception that belief in God is uncool or that if you believe in God, you are unintelligent. Nobody wants their coolness and intelligence questioned.

Thank you, Gintas, for clarifying the point. I should know by now never to try my hand at typing past midnight.

The colleges in our fellowship commissioned a fairly wide-ranging study of kids who were both baptized and high school graduates. It tracked these kids over 10 years. Not surprisingly, our kids going to our colleges had the best chance of remaining faithful (85%). An extra four years makes a huge difference.

Kids who never went to college at all were somewhat more likely to lose their faith than kids who went to state colleges. Figures for the latter two categories were somewhere in the mid-40s%.

More work needs to be done on the state college side of things. Many local churches sponsor out-reach ministries to these colleges. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the vast majority of incoming freshmen never seek out these ministries or bother to attend the local church. In other words, before they ever set foot in class, they've lost their faith.

As for myself, I attended several different secular colleges, picked up three graduate degrees, and remain a YEC throughout. So there.

A common response is that these people were products of their time and if they were around today they would certainly not believe in God.

But of course, we are not products of our time.


What's ironic about universities like Yale, Harvard, Dartmouth, Oxford and Cambridge were originally established to produce preachers of exceptional competency in preaching; that whole Ars Praedicandi thing.

Who would've known that these days they would be utilized to develop some of the finest athiests in the world?

In other words, before they ever set foot in class, they've lost their faith.
Or did they really have it to begin with? I don't mean in a Calvinistic sense of people who appear to lose their faith were never really saved. I mean how many of these kids just went to church because their family did or because they were part of a group where that was socially acceptable?

When I was a teenager and not yet a Christian my older brother (who was a Christian at the time but later backslid) tried to get me involved with his youth group. There was one particular "nice Christian girl" he tried to sort of fix me up with. After a couple of dates she wanted to have sex and do drugs (I'm not sure in which order). I wasn't a professing Christian, but I wasn't into that scene, either. It just goes to show you never know what's really going on with some of these kids before they head off to college.

When I did become a Christian I went off to Bible college. They taught us a lot of liberal higher criticism which really shook up a lot of the churched kids. I did know one guy who seemed to lose his faith as a result, though none of it phased me. It wasn't until seminary that I started to get equipped with some of the tools to refute the liberal stuff (though some of my seminary professors were at least pretty moderate, if not downright liberal).

John does raise the question of how "Christian" was defined for the purpose of any study about young people who lose their faith. I'm going to assume, to make the study meaningful at all, that we are talking about young people who previously believed that Jesus is God and at least a few things like that and self-identified as Christians but considered later that they had lost this and no longer self-identified as Christians. Otherwise, obviously, if we're talking about people who didn't even believe anything or have any Christian commitment to begin with, the figures could be fairly meaningless.

My own college experience began in ’97 at Colorado’s premier state university. I possessed a stubborn faith driving me to go to Sunday Mass each week. Perhaps I was fortified by a trip to my forbearers’ Old Country where feeling history hardened my multi-culturally-approved ethnic identity.

Thinking back on freshman year, I now see how much my dormmates helped maintain and improve my poorly-formed faith. On my floor section there were about three hedonistic party guys, one freakishly nihilistic fellow, three young Catholics (besides myself) of more-than-minimal faith, and a friendly Evangelical guy.

My Catholic roommate was a partying jock, but he nonetheless helped me grow a bit. On the few occasions when a group of us went to Mass together, he mentioned how one ought to go to Confession before receiving Communion. He was one of the first Catholics I ever noticed to remain in the pews while everyone else went forward. (At least one of his younger brothers later spent some time in the seminary.)

The Evangelical down the hall roomed with a Catholic engineering student. Their minor arguments and friendly discussions about matters of faith helped remind me that there is an intellectual component to faith, and helped shame me that I, at the time a capable computer science major, was severely lacking in that intellectual formation.

To my regret, I never kept in contact with these dormmates, so I don’t know where or what they are now. A couple years ago I did once see my roommate at Mass with his high-school sweetheart, whom he has probably married.

A later roommate, a Korean immigrant who had lived in the US for a few years, helped inspire me to learn and pray the Rosary.

Like many commenters here, it was not so much the professoriate who attacked faith as the vocal students. Reading the student paper was an invitation to despair, with all the standard indirect “sexism/Whitey/civilization bad, hedonistic secular indifference good.” Perhaps it was my ingrained aloofness, or my vicious Pride, but I was disgusted by most of it.

My mostly-intact sexual morality also led me to contemn my peers, especially when one of the hedonists on my floor decided to take his girlfriend into the floor’s shared showers. Since secularism couldn’t easily explain why such obvious obscenities were wrong, religion held greater explanatory power for me.

Additionally, the life of the mind was hard for me to find on campus, and the smart, aggressive atheists I met were typically attacking a straw deity in whom nobody believes anyway.

What few moments of skepticism I had came late at night, when I could counsel myself to sleep it off and worry about God in the morning.

It also helped that my mother, attempting to counter the influence of a posturing Nietszchean high school friend, gave me a concise copy of the Summa Theologica and Copleston’s first volume of philosophy history.

The one time I recall a professor voicing a direct doubt of Christianity came in a Greek history class when the prof superfluously but cynically compared the tale of Noah to Gilgamesh. One anthropology professor made sure to indicate he was a Christian and saw no conflict between religious belief and evolutionary theory, while another anthropology professor repeatedly and melodramatically insisted he wished he could believe.

I also recall a class reading of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale I found risibly propagandistic.

Perhaps because we were Colorado residents, I and my fellow local Catholics could laugh off Boulder’s secularist eccentricities as being of little merit. A student from out of state might not see it that way.

It is my conviction that a great problem for young Christians is that they often have years of minimal formation in math, science, and perhaps the liberal arts, but no deep formation in Christian belief and life. Thus they easily lapse into stubborn emotionalism or drift into skepticism.

Faith and intelligence appear especially at odds when someone armed only with sixth-grade Sunday School knowledge is combating even a freshman Marxist.

While young-earth creationism is, and should be, doomed at the university, it’s obvious that people from such backgrounds face severe difficulties. Reportedly, mainline Protestantism used to be a good refuge for people from Fundamentalist backgrounds, but surveys now show they are not attracting the people who need the sophisticated Christianity such churches no longer provide.

As for the IQ claims, it’s important to remember that the aforementioned survey defined intelligence as the ability to process lots of information. Efficient massive information processing requires significant filtering, and atheism is one such filter. However, such intelligence can find just as much attraction in processing theological or biblical knowledge

The uses of intelligence in our age must also be examined. Knowledge is now largely used for analysis and domination, not synthesis and contemplation. The modern university is motivated to reduce the world into information manageable for social advancement and economic profit. This requires seeing both the cosmos and mankind as a product of processes which are to be manipulated rather than marveled at. Religion is merely adaptive, Reason is merely instrumental, Will is merely All.

The vigorous insistence that reason is God’s gift to man would be a sufficient inoculation for many such sentiments.

There does not need to be any explicit commentary from professors antagonistic to Christianity to undermine the faith of a student. There are a number of other factors that do it all behind the level of conscious thought.

The modern secular university is built around a notion (usually unstated) that each branch of knowledge, and thus each department, is autonomous in essence, and cannot be cast into any hierarchical structure relating one to another. Therefore, there is no relation between the root, basic axioms each discipline claims or uses. As a result, no student is expected to (or encouraged when he tries) to inter-relate the implications of the assumptions of physics to the assumptions of sociology or literature. Or vice versa. No student will find it easy to come out of the experience integrated in an intellectual sense.

Secondly, it is virtually universal (ha ha) among professors that they teach in a manner that pounds into the students skulls, day in and day out, that there is no such thing as "higher" truth, as universals, as principles that apply to the world or to moral analysis. The best we can get are so-called "laws" which merely have not yet been proven false. This attitude is so thoroughly ingrained that they virtually NEVER argue its merits (except maybe in Fresh Phil for 1 class or so) and so undermines any kind of grasp of the truths that are the preliminary intellectual framework for a mature Faith that a professor need never mention Christianity to wreck hundreds of peoples' capacity for belief each year.

Tony has brought up the question of what Philosophy professors do. I'm afraid there are many who fit his description, but "virtually universal" is an overstatement.

Incidentally, one episode from my own experience sheds a side-light on the question of the influence of professors. A student knocked on my door a few years and introduced himself. He had, he reminded me, taken a symbolic logic class with me four or five years earlier. Since that time he had become a Christian (not due to my influence), and he had wanted to drop in and ask -- "You're a Christian too, aren't you?" I acknowledged it without hesitation. "I thought so," he said. My curiosity was piqued, since I did not think I had used class time to discuss my own religious beliefs, so I asked him why he had thought so. "Well," he said, "do you remember how, near the end of the course, you took one of Thomas Aquinas's proofs for the existence of God and formalized it in first order predicate calculus?" I did. "When you discussed it," he said, "you did not make fun of the idea of the existence of God."

So small a thing as that ...

The direct attack's on the faith in the physical anthropology classes at behomoth University did not cause me to doubt the faith. I saw others whose faith was shaken by equating Christianity with the faith of the Puritans as presented in the Crucible by Arthur Miller. I understood that Miller was misrepresenting the Puritans and was therefore not troubled.
I was troubled by the indirect attacks on the gospel [especially from faculty members in the religion department] at a prestigeous Christian College I attended for a year. I resolved my doubts when I undertook to understand the assumptions that were the starting point for these faculty members. I came to realize these men were post Kantian liberals who just pretended to be Reformed. They then were unable to trouble my faith. Some of my friends bought into the rubbish and had doubts about core issues of the faith.
The subtle indirect attacts are more dangerous.

I suggest that everyone here google The Kansas City Integrated Humanities Program
and see the fascinating experiment they undertook.


Note that these findings apply to Catholics as well as Protestants. Christians have been disarmed before they enter college.

"Literally and figuratively, in this way the IHP was a musical education, observing in poetry, dance, song, stargazing, and calligraphy, an understanding of what Socrates, Aristotle, Aquinas, Shields, and Charlier all called for as preliminary and prerequisite music and gymnastic for humanizing the student prior to any advanced studies. The IHP neither encouraged nor discouraged higher studies beyond its program in any general way. What they offered was minimal for all. To become a scholar, to study philosophy or literature or law, was a decision for individual students in concrete cases."

One local Church took a proactive approach to dealing with what was taught at Behomoth University. [Russell Kirks name for my alma mater]

English Composition and English Literature were no longer taught as such at Behomoth U. [How narrow minded of you to think that written and spoken English is essential to an education.]Instead we were taught American Thought and Language. The first term dealt with the writings of the colonial period especially the Puritans. We read some of the more obscure American Puritans and some Jonathan Edwards. We also read some accounts of the Salem Witch trial. From there we progresssed to Athur Miller's Crucible. This was linked to Senator Josheph McCarthy. The logic was that Puritans were a Calvinists who carried the Calvinist faith to its logical conclusion. Calvinism was Biblical Christianity carried to its logical conclusion. This all led to witch hunting. Senator McCarthy engaged in a modern version of witch hunting. Senator McCarthy was an anticommunist. We were told and therefore should or could see that this was part of an evil heritage we had as Americans. Since Witch hunting falsely persecutes the innocent, and since the Puritans engaged in witch hunting, and since Puritans were Calvinists and since Calvinists are Bible believing Christians we can now reject Puritanism, and Calvinism and Biblical Christianity. Since Senator Joseph McCarthy engaged in witch hunting and since Senator Joseph McCarthy was an anticommunist and a conservative and a Republican we can now reject anticommunism, conservatism and Republicanism. Having happily rejected Christianity and Republicanism we can now proceed to become enlightened educated beings.

A local evangelical congregation brought one of the foremost experts on Jonathan Edwards, Dr. John H. Gerstner, in to give a series of lectures. Gerstner had an earned doctorate from Harvard and was editing President Edwards papers for Yale University Press. Gerstner made fools of those who misrepresented Jonathan Edwards, Christianity and the Puritans.

Thus a local evangelical congregation provided the antidote for those poor freshman who were forced to endure the nonsence taught in first term American Thought and Language.

When there is a clearly identifiable ideological attack like that in a specific class, the approach Thomas mentions is an excellent one, esp. for students who are going to listen.

One thing that has been suggested to me is having students in contact with people who have studied apologetics and extracting a promise from them ahead of time to _make contact_ with this person or one of these people if things come up that they can't answer or feel bothered about. That, however, assumes that they aren't just looking for an excuse to join their friends in hedonism, as some of the comments above imply about some students.

John raises a good question:

Or did they really have it to begin with?

I was using "faith" in a somewhat accommodative sense. Parents and preachers may think that Johnny is part of The Faith (as in Eph 4:5). He's coming to church every Sunday, hangs out with the youth group, etc. Then, when he has to carry the full weight of the cross on his own, he stumbles. He fails to get his little behind out of the dorms on Sunday morning and beg or borrow a ride to worship with the local church. In fact, over the ensuing years, he never darkens the door of a church building except, maybe, when he goes back to visit the old folks. Johnny's "faith" is, and was only ever, skin deep. And so The Faith is one saint smaller than we thought before Johnny left home.

Lydia makes a related comment:

if we're talking about people who didn't even believe anything or have any Christian commitment to begin with, the figures could be fairly meaningless.

It's hard to say what many of these kids really believe. But to answer your question, Lydia, the study to which I am referring did not delve deeply into the beliefs of the kids. In effect, it asked churches to identify kids who were considered members in good standing at the time they graduated from high school. It posed questions about their post-HS academic careers, whether they were still attending church somewhere, whether they were involved in any kind of leadership positions in those churches, whether they married and stayed married, etc.

Under the "etc" is this little tidbit. The survey asked congregations to self-identify on a scale from liberal to conservative. Yes, those are highly questionable terms. Nonetheless, it showed that students attending Christian colleges from center, center-left, and center-right congregations had a higher retention rate than kids from the extremes. My two cents: (a) Kids from the far left are coming out of backgrounds where there is no systematic doctrinal instruction; they have very little to hang on to. (b) Kids from the far right struggle with the spirit of open enquiry and/or greater theological diversity, even at relatively conservative colleges. I have a lot more to say about the latter point, but this comment is getting too long as it is.

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