In case you didn’t know, secular universities are all pro-atheist and anti-Christian, at least according to an interview published in Christianity Today. (I took special interest in this piece, considering I became a Christian at one of the most liberal party schools in America.) CT readers can rest assured that “Christianophobia” is a very real, very threatening phenomenon happening across campuses all across America.
Mary Poplin, a professor at Claremont Graduate University in California and the author of Is Reality Secular?, has taken it upon herself to educate the magazine’s readers about the phenomenon:
…the purpose of the book is to make explicit that secularism is a sort of umbrella of ideologies defined by its exclusion of religion, primarily of Christian voices, certainly in the US and Europe. Secularism defines itself by what it is not; it has no agreed-upon moral compass, so it’s an umbrella for anything from the far right to the far left and everything in between — as long as it’s not religious.
This quote makes it sound as if Poplin doesn’t know many secularists in real life. I have never met an atheist who does not acknowledge that empathy — an instinct of all humans, unless you’re a sociopath — is the driving force for caring about others, even when there is no gratification for doing so. Furthermore, many atheists I’ve known don’t particularly care if people are religious or not, so long as they are not using their religion to impose on the civil rights of others or trample on the Constitution.
Poplin goes on to provide a list of problems that are “bankrupting” the spiritual well-being of Christian students at secular colleges:
First, the university used to think of itself as the free open marketplace of ideas, especially after it left its Christian origins. But it’s the free marketplace of certain ideas and the closed marketplace of other ideas.
She doesn’t mention specific universities here, so it’s hard to know which schools she thinks are unfairly shutting out ideas. It would be one thing if she were talking about her own experience, but she’s not. She’s treating all secular universities as if they are the same — something Christians generally hate when critics do it with churches.
Second, the university says it is pluralistic, but it has lost that pluralism.
Again, which university? As a former college student and current graduate student at two different secular universities, this is news to me. I saw, and continue to see, chalk advertisements on sidewalks for all kinds of Christian clubs — Protestant and Catholic — as well as flyers for an interfaith council group, of which I am a member. Religious students aren’t being shut out of these conversations.
Third, it sends students out who are unprepared to face a world that is still primarily religious in one form or another, with Christianity being the largest religion. It treats everything so secularly that students are getting a distorted picture of the world — they don’t see it the way it really is.
This just begs for a citation. It also completely invalidates my experience taking a comparative religion class as an undergrad, where I actively engaged with students from religious backgrounds I wasn’t even familiar with.
As to “The distorted picture of the world” and “the way it really is,” Poplin doesn’t elaborate. Does she mean, for example, that students are being taught that America isn’t a Christian nation? Is she concerned they’re not being exposed to Creationism? Just because conservative Christians espouse certain beliefs doesn’t mean there’s any validity to those ideas. It’s not dismissive of Christians to say that. We know those beliefs are wrong because we can evaluate them the same way we do every other theory. They just don’t hold up.
Fourth, it creates speech codes. You can say this but not that.
Because of her vagueness, it’s unclear what kind of speech she’s talking about.
Is she referring to Christian voices? I walk past preachers on campus all the time who hold signs with lists of all the sins that will get students one-way tickets to Hell, including having premarital sex, practicing homosexuality, embracing feminism, and having abortions. They aren’t liked on campus — students argue with them all the time — but their right to free speech is always protected, and the university never asks them to leave if they’ve followed the protocol that applies to all non-students.
If she’s talking about the ongoing debate over political correctness on campus, she’d be wrong too. While many conservatives, and some liberals, believe that certain viewpoints (pro-Trump, anti-feminist, ex-Muslim) are being censored on campus, the obstacles usually aren’t campus administrators, whose main goal is to create a safe environment for students to live and learn. If student protests get out of hand, or there’s a fear that a talk may descend into harmful hate speech, school officials may feel the need to step in, but the content itself isn’t the issue. It’s the circus surrounding it. And it’s often spurred by self-described “provocateurs.” It’s not like Christian theologians are being kicked off secular campuses just because they’re advocating for belief in the biblical God.
Fifth, what the university has done to placate religious groups is they’ve created these interfaith spaces, and in these spaces, they all just go out and do good social work together. It dilutes the idea that religious frameworks are actually distinct. Nobody really gets to work within their own frameworks.
Poplin is spouting off nonsense about a topic she clearly knows nothing about. As I said, I’m a member of an interfaith student alliance at my school. Last year, we hosted a coffee hour, in which we set up a tent in the student center plaza, had large containers of coffee, and offered them to students who were willing to take a few minutes of their time to explain their religious views (or lack thereof) to those of us volunteering. Even beyond that, our group created an environment so that all believers and non-believers could share their beliefs — and educate others about them — without feeling like they were being judged or condemned for it.
Interfaith groups don’t take different beliefs and average them all together to find some happy medium. They embrace everyone’s open differences — even when two views are radically different — and find a way to co-exist. That’s not dilution.
(And why on earth is shared social work considered a bad thing? Isn’t that part of being Jesus’ hands and feet, as the Bible says Christians ought to do?)
Poplin’s points can be summarized as follows: Most of her students have not been indoctrinated with a “Christian worldview,” despite the fact that Christianity is the majority religion in the United States, and that means anything secular must be treated as a threat to her faith.
For someone who thinks Christianity holds the Absolute Truth, she should have more faith that her religion can withstand a few years of a school not giving it the royal treatment. If college classes that don’t validate your religion can destroy your beliefs, maybe your faith isn’t worth holding onto in the first place.
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