Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Remembering the Classroom in College

I am remembering how it was when I was a student at Wake Forest University during 1981-1982. Wake Forest was at that time closely affiliated with the Southern Baptist Conference, but already having some conflicts between academic freedom and Southern Baptist expectations of the school.

I didn't know much at all what was going on in the administration or between the school's administration and the Southern Baptist leaders. But, I can describe my experience of a campus where the classroom was regularly characterized by an "anti-religious," attitude which was deeply committed to a modern scientific philosophy of life. And, I can describe an environment among students where there was a typical mix of very religious, non-religious, and a smaller, but noticable group of anti-religious college students. I was definitely very religious, but always seemed to strike up friendships and acquaintenceships with students from the anti-religious group. I also didn't fit in the organized religious groups on campus though I had some very close friends who did.

But, with the exception of classes in the religion department, involving religion/theology in intellectual discussions was fairly taboo. There was a chilling atmosphere in interdisciplinary humanities classes and in some philosophy and other classes with regard to religion. The implication was that religious reflection had no real place in forming the intellectual outlook of an educated person. So, there I was in my humanities honors seminar when the professor led us in a discussion of the role of science in understanding human emotion and commitment. He was a chemist and a smart man. At one point in the discussion, it seemed to me that the professor and his sheep (my fellow students) had reached a consensus that science would ultimately solve all problems, predict and explain human love, and well, "bring in the kingdom." So, I spoke up and said that there was something deep within us all that could not be probed by the best science, something that was "of God." I added something from Kierkegaard who I was reading very much at that time. Well, the class almost "fell out!" No one said anything, but the professor came alive. He joined me in a debate that went on for the last 30 minutes or so of class. One or two students piped up, and they did seem sincerely interested and took the same side as the professor over against my theological way of viewing human life.

I remember that day, and I remember my professor who spoke to me after class. I can't remember exactly what he said, but it was very nice, and I returned something like that in his direction as well. There is something about speaking from your heart and from your real commmitments that makes life -well, come alive. My professor spoke from his heart and his deep dedication to a way of life centered on science, and I spoke from my heart and my deep dedication to a way of life centered on the experience of a mystery, the mystery of God. I learned something that day that I won't forget. When two people are speaking truth, they recognize and want to hear what the other has to say, even if it is not the truth they really understand.