Tom Krattenmaker: Is God silenced on college campuses?

Posted by Kendall Harmon

From the Ivy League to the brainiac liberal arts colleges to the major public universities, God has been silenced — or so conventional wisdom tells us.

The conventional wisdom, as it turns out, is not quite right.

From the pollsters come recent data showing that religion and spirituality are alive and well at colleges and universities. A recent study by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA finds that more than half of college juniors say "integrating spirituality" into their lives is very important. Today's juniors also tend to pray (67%, according to the UCLA study) and 41% believe it's important, even essential, to "follow religious teachings" in everyday life.

In these and similar measures, the college population tends to lag behind the population at large, but not by much. Other new research suggests that one's experience in higher education is not the cause of any falling away from faith. Survey results from University of Texas researchers find that students are less likely to be secularized than others ages 18-25. In other words, navigating the working world takes a larger toll on a young person's faith than braving the nation's supposedly godless college campuses.

It's not just trendy Eastern or New Age religions to which students are gravitating. Christianity is holding its own, too, in part because many campus Christians are showing a different side of their religion than the one that has lent irresistible fodder to comedians and given it a bad reputation in some quarters.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchEducationReligion & Culture

Posted March 31, 2008 at 6:04 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

It’s significant that the author of this article in USA TODAY is an administrator at the highly secular college mentioned here, Lewis & Clark in Portland, Oregon.  So naturally, he has a vested interest in making the college look less secular; it’s good PR.

But it’s notable that many of the statistics he cites are about nebulous things like if “spirituality” is important to college students, or if they “pray.”  That is, Tom Krattenmaker is trying to counteract the usual idea that college campuses are places that abound in promoting secularism and atheism, when the real challenge today is that they are promoting paganism and relativism.  They aren’t so much anti-religious per se, as anti-orthodox Christianity.  Of course, there still are the Richard Dawkins types around, i.e., the militant atheists, but it’s the dominant worldview of pluralism that I worry about as the main temptation and spiritual threat for students going to college.

But colleges are also a tremendous mission field, as Campus Crusade for Christ, InterVarsity, and the Navigators have shown us for decades.  Alas, the usual TEC version of campus ministry, the innocuous Canterbury Club, which is all too club like, simply doesn’t cut it.

David Handy+

March 31, 7:02 pm | [comment link]
2. Br. Michael wrote:

I always cringe when I see or hear the word “spirituality”.  That can be many things.  I want to hear about “Christian spirituality”!

March 31, 8:01 pm | [comment link]
3. John Wilkins wrote:

I was pretty amazed when I visited my Alma Mater - a place where free thinking was so prevalent that the “freethinking” organization disbanded.  When I returned there were a variety of Christian organizations, ranging from progressive to InterVarsity.

March 31, 9:36 pm | [comment link]
4. Alice Linsley wrote:

Is God silenced on college campuses?  No.  Is open and honest discussion of the Christian faith silenced in the classroom?  Oh, yes.  Let me count the ways!

A course on Existentialism that completely ignores Soren Kierkegaard is an example.

March 31, 10:30 pm | [comment link]
5. MargaretG wrote:

It has long been known that christian belief tends to increase with educational status ie it is the poorly educated who are disporportionately lost to the faith. So I fail to see that this column has any news value in it.

I think though the mechanism may well be the other way around - Christians tend to believe in education—they see it as opening the world to them. Their families on average are more stable, and children are on average given more support. So that being from a christian home increases your chances of going on in education for both religious and socio-economic reasons.

March 31, 11:43 pm | [comment link]
6. physician without health wrote:

This is an interesting piece.  In spite of what has been taught in classrooms, Christianity has always been present and an acative force on college campuses.  As David said, there is a tremendous mission field there, and many wonderful groups are ministering to the students.  One concern though is that I am sensing the emergence of a “Christianity lite” (to borrow a term from Paul Zahl) among many students who otherwise claim to be Evangelical Christians.  The best service we can provide to college students is a thorough grounding in Scripture through good, solid preaching and teaching.

April 1, 9:41 am | [comment link]
7. phil swain wrote:

I attended college from 1968 to 1972, so I’m familiar with the student in tattered jeans speaking “truth to power”(stupid is as stupid does).  However, my college experience led me to a religious awakening in an indirect way.  I became so embued with the spirit of critique that eventually the critique critiqued the critique and by doing so made room for faith.

April 1, 11:07 am | [comment link]
8. Jeremy Bonner wrote:

#6. Is the problem of “Christianity lite” so new? In an interview a couple of years ago, Peter Moore made the same criticism of Sam Shoemaker’s approach to college ministry in the 1940s and 1950s (and he admired Shoemaker, when all is said and done).

April 1, 11:15 am | [comment link]
9. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

Jeremy (#8) and physician without health (#6),

You are both correct.  The problem of trying to woo people with a toned down and domesticated version of Christianity (“Chritianity Lite”) has been with us for ages.  Basically it’s a problem as old as Constantine, if not older still.

The irony is that it’s not just the liberals who do it.  All of us are guilty of it to some degree, I’d guess.  But there is a big difference between evangelism and discipleship.  The real issue is what is the goal you are striving for: bringing people to saving faith in Jesus Christ or “making disciples who make disciples?”  There is all the difference in the world between the two. 

And as a long-time admirer of Samuel Shoemaker, whom I consider the greatest Episcopal evangelist of the 20th century, I would like to stand up in defense of that immensely fruitful man of God here.  As his strong influence on the AA movment shows (as Bill W.‘s pastor and spiritual director, the famous “12 Steps” of AA basically go back to Sam’s teaching that Bill absorbed), Shoemaker+ was willing to start slowly, and let people just acknowledge their need for a “higher Power” at first; but he never lost sight of the eventual goal, a deep spiritual maturity and health that leads to sharing your faith with others in life-changing ways.  Would that TEC had more like him today!

David Handy+

April 1, 1:36 pm | [comment link]
10. Alice Linsley wrote:

Phil, It sounds as if critical thinking brought you to a religious experience or recognition.  The colleges have been so into political correctness in recent decades (especially in hiring teachers) that they are only now returning to critical thought. It will take 2 or 3 more decades to expose all the false assumptions of sloganistic education.

(BTW, I left a you an email message at SF.)

April 1, 2:39 pm | [comment link]
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