The culture wars of our times have been centered in universities since the emergence of the Counter Culture in the 1960s. University scholars have often taken the lead in progressive stances on ethical, cultural, and religious issues. For many years I have taught at a variety of colleges and universities, including Christian-based Liberal Arts colleges. I went to universities for my undergraduate and graduate education and witnessed firsthand the growing secularism in the academic world.
My philosophy of teaching is based on my faith that God’s will, Providence, is constantly present in human events. The temptations in our materialistic, secular world not to believe in the presence of God’s will are great. In higher education, a belief in the presence of God’s will is considered foolhardy and simplistic. And yet my understanding of human history, as well as my own personal experience, tell me that God’s will is and always has been active in human affairs. One thinks of St. Paul’s statement that he is a fool for Christ. Indeed, Paul faced criticism and derision for his simple belief in God’s will. Such a belief contradicted Greek and Roman philosophy of the first century just as it contradicts science and philosophy today.
In bringing my belief in Providence to students I don’t browbeat nor proselytize, or ever state it specifically; many students would be surprised to know this is what I believe. Indeed, I encourage questioning and doubt. If God’s will is present, which I believe it is, awareness of His will in our lives will shine clearly through doubt and confusion. This happened in my own life, and I believe it will happen in the lives of students as well.
I bring my philosophy of Christian liberal arts education to bear not only in the classroom but in the conference room and world of scholarship as well. I teach courses in religion from a historical perspective and courses in history from a subtle religious perspective. Even at ostensibly Christian schools, I have discovered that it has not always been easy to promote Christian learning in the academy. As Chair of the Task Force on General Education at one college, I worked against much opposition to institute a required Christianity course in the core curriculum. Moreover, in my many books on explorers and scientists, I recognize, though never state explicitly, the role of Providence in their lives.
Thoreau advised people to march to a different drummer. The standards and philosophy of leading centers of higher education, and in academic journals and conferences and publishing, is secular. Christianity has long been removed from the halls of academe. Yet if the tradition of the liberal arts has long been associated with Christian learning, if American education was overwhelmingly Christian for centuries, why should we abandon it based on the spur of the moment, which, in terms of the history of humankind, is marked in decades and centuries, not seconds, minutes, and hours. What is popular and accepted today will not be tomorrow. One must be true to oneself, and not follow along in the arbitrary directions of the winds of change. There is an anchor to truth in the world. And, in my opinion, a person who is supposed to be involved in pursing the truth and helping others to do so as well—a professor in a liberal arts college—should not abandon this responsibility. For as Jesus said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”
I have often been asked how an older person or teacher should respond to a younger person who has embraced atheism or agnosticism. As a Christian scholar in a secular academic world, this is my response:
Atheism is a philosophy that is a figment of the imagination. It derives from a lack of satisfaction, from unhappiness, from feeling unfulfilled, from fear of the many tragedies that befall humans. How can God, if he exists, allow the many disasters that we read about, experience, on a daily basis? How can God allow the random deaths of children, cancer coming to a person who is apparently healthy and happy, tornadoes that sweep through neighborhoods, terrorist attacks, random murders of the innocent, civil wars, fires sweeping through apartment buildings, the attacks of 9/11, and so on, and so on? There are too many disasters and tragedies and chance occurrences that kill and dismember to list them all. Think of the hunger that exists, the poverty, the disease, the drug abuse, the crime. One wonders: where is God in all of this? God, why have you forsaken us?
These questions have been asked for thousands of years by thoughtful and despairing people who question God even as they realize He exists. God is so much a part of our existence that to deny Him is to deny Self, to subject oneself to never-ending anxiety about what was, what is, and what will be. Jesus on the Cross quoted Psalm 22, God why have you forsaken me?, rhetorically, for he knew that God, Self, never forsakes.
We live in times of terror, disaster, crime, racial conflict, economic woes—but of course all times are alike, never has there been a time of peace, happiness, love, plenty, unending fair skies and full stomachs. So, because each moment has sufficient cause for worry, humans–indeed all animals–fear.
Fear, timidity, cowardice, one could say, are the natural state of humankind. For how can we confront each moment of uncertainty with certain courage and faith? It is quite impossible, because the next moment of uncertainty comes, followed by the next, and the next, and the next. It doesn’t end until death. The anxiety of each passing moment convinces some people that there is absolute uncertainty in the world, that is, there is no God.
In Paul of Tarsus’s s second letter to his friend Timothy, Paul, in one sentence, summed the human dilemma, summed Christianity, and summed why atheism is a philosophy that is based on fantasy. He told Timothy that God asks us to be fearless: fearlessness derives from power, love, and self-control. The Greek word for power, dynamis, is the same word used in the Gospels to describe Jesus’ power in healing others. It is the power of love. And a person can only use this power of love by means of self-control, that is, self-awareness, to realize that love is found in oneself. And this love is God, for as John truly said, God is Love.
Love is a universal, a constant throughout time and place, found wherever there is hate, despair, tragedy, suffering. Love is the universal, the transcendent, the eternal, the infinite. The atheist proclaims there is no God, then proclaims that love exists, not realizing the inherent contradiction.
To discipline oneself, to channel love toward others, is a work of great power. It is the means by which love combats hate.
There is much noise in our society: television, movies, videos, cells, tablets, PCs, iPhones, speakers, headphones—the list goes on and on. Humans are constantly talking and listening, though rarely is the communication relevant. If a person retreats to his or her own room, there he or she might find God.