Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Tough audience

Tonight I went to our absolute hardest event of the week - the one that was for people without faith. I can deal with people of any faith so much better than people who think it's stupid to believe in anything.

First this student talked about the ways she's felt let down by religion and religious people. And the big questions that dog us all, theodicy and all that. But it sounds like this poor woman never had anyone with half a brain helping her with this stuff. I felt so terrible for her. I just wanted to wrap my arms around her and tell her that I was so sorry. I did have the opportunity to talk later and I told her she'd been failed and I was sorry and I felt terrible about it. I started thinking that just like J wants to work with students at Christian college to teach them not all Christians are stupid, I want to work with students at secular college towards the same end.

Then a professor gave a talk on agnosticism but really it was just about how stupid faith is. I saw before me that stereotypical liberal hate-spewing kind of academic who just absolutely believes he is so far above anyone who'd deign to have a belief. It was so annoying. He was just like, the Enlightenment happened, Darwin disproved the need for God, so that's it - anyone who believe in God is completely a superstitious idiot.

I didn't want to fight him, but later when I told J about it he came up with some really wonderful things I could have said. Being a philosopher, he's so good at using the Socratic method to get people to break down their own arguments until they realize they're out of ideas. He's good at getting at the kernel behind big statements.

My method of apologetics has always been just living my life. I don't really like to use words. I just preach by living.

But here I was in this room, all these people who adore this professor, all these kids who are so geniunely confused and quite obviously being brainwashed. I started to actually feel pretty scared for academia. I understand now this liberal academic snottiness that people refer to. Ew! He was just so full of himself.

And it hurts the kids, which pisses me off. I love those kids. I don't like people lying to them, or worse, making them feel bad or stupid because they long for God. That's evil.

Anyway, right before I left, one professor (different guy) asked how can any intellectual person who is reasonable actually believe in God (he'd never met one - only people who compartmentalize and turn off their brains when they go to church). I tried to say something about knowing a lot of philosophers who do and that they are a better bunch when you're looking for reasonable faith than, say, a scientist or even a theologian. I recommended USC's own Dallas Willard.

Then a student asked me, in all honesty, how I could possibly be so sure. And I just simpered something about the rituals touching me deeply and connecting me to something greater than myself that I believe is God. But I told them, I don't know the answers, and I'm not perfect. I can't pretend to know it all.

I felt actually pretty good about it (esp when the Rabbi affirmed by answer to the theodicy problem - which was that free will matters too much to let God control everything - but again J told me about what CS Lewis says in the Problem of Pain and it was so much smarter than what I said).

But I got in the car and I just started crying uncontrollably. I felt so terrible for these kids. I felt terrible that I was the only person there to represent faith. What a messed up rep I am! My heart is just broken because I don't know if I said anything right at all, and J knew so much more than me and could have done such a better job.

I guess I have to study harder and be more sure of myself. I'm not good at being on the spot like that. I'm not instant-answer girl. I have to work things out over time in a relationship.

I don't know how I did. I just pray that God took my mumbles and stumbles and somehow made sense of them. All I want is for these students to know that having a desire for spirituality is OKAY. It is not stupid to believe in something greater. And gadzillions of people from all faiths throughout history, many of them really really smart, have believed.

Damn Enlightenment. Why is it so terrible if we were to go back to before when God was an integral part of the worldview? I mean, it's not like it was the total dark ages - people like Plato and Aristotle still form the basis of so much of our thought and ethics, and they were pre-modernism! Why is it like nobody knew anything until the Victorian era? And then, according to this dude, for the last hundred years we've been backsliding into pre-Enlightenment ignorance (which he defines as "the Middle Ages" - with that sneer like it was somehow just the worst time in all history) that defines our country as a bunch of faith-filled nincompoops.

Well anyway I don't have an answer. I'm just really, really shaken up. Not because I feel challenged. But because I don't think - I don't know if I want to - argue with these people

shit! Lost is on!


Paul Wilczynski said...

Just to comment on your first paragraph ...

There's another important category - those who don't have beliefs in the same sense you do, but who don't think it's at all stupid to have them. I expect there are quite a few of those people around.

I put myself in that category.

Dave said...

And there are those of who (used to) just not care one way or the other. If and when the awakening comes, it comes. I haven't found words to express to anyone else why I believe now when I didn't before.

Just keep living the life. Someone, eventually, will observe you, and they will get it.

Anonymous said...

I struggle with this, too. Especially when I read articles like this one:

(with this sidebar):

I have to admit that in a certain way, those arguments make logical, rational, persuasive sense, and I find myself at a loss for how to explain why I am a Christian without seeming stupid or uneducated, or like I'm "settling" for something I can't possibly, rationally believe. I want to say something about "the beauty of mystery" or, like you said, the power of ritual, but I don't know if people really get that, or accept it as a legitimate "excuse" for religion — or if it really is one. Argh. ???

I don't have a good answer for you, unfortunately. I'm not a theologian or a theology student, and I'm sure you have thought more deeply about these things than I have.

Devon said...

I'm a lit grad student at one of the most liberal univerities in the Northwest, and I've run into this kind of thing a lot as well. It's maddening to have the most sacred part of you trodden on by people who are supposedly all about tolerance, and also frightening to have all the artillary of modernism and rationality pointed at you.

On the other hand, in literature classes (as in life, of course) we so often come across problems and pain and questions that rationalism has no answer for. The events of Night by Elie Weisel happened after the Enlightenment and were not prevented by it. I've occasionally been lucky enough to hear from some of the most vehement atheists in my program when they admitted that they too were searching for meaning and hadn't found it.

Because we value education and knowledge so much, intellectuals have a hard time admitting that anything is beyond us. But I think what you said in your more recent post about the divide between educated and not educated is very insightful. Intellectuals have a lot to offer, but they don't have it all.