Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Rise of the Liberal Academy is the Conservatives' Fault

I think that the rise in the academy of liberal seminary professors and students is almost entirely the fault of conservatives. Why? Very simple -- every hard-core liberal (especially the ones bent on attacking conservatives) often have one of two stories:
  • They came from a conservative family/church. They were alienated from their own Church for asking tough questions. The finally found a group of people who were willing to allow them to ask the tough questions in. This was a liberal group, and forever they then view conservatives as dumb, close-minded people and liberals as open-minded freethinkers.

  • They came from a conservative family/church. They were extraordinarily conservative or extraordinarily vocal about their conservatism. Then, usually in college, they get exposed to criticisms of the Bible. Then, it goes in one of two directions. Either:
    • They get embarrassed and vilified by their liberal professors. This greatly affects their self-esteem. Because they have never faced tough faith questions, they are completely unable to respond, and then become militant liberals in an attempt to save their own faith, and to never feel embarrassed for being stupid. They feel (and their professors justify them in this feeling) that because they are now liberal they are "smart" and all their old conservative friends are "stupid".

    • They feel betrayed by their home church for "keeping the truth from them", because they had never heard these questions before. They assume that their church has been lying to them, and then uniformly reject nearly everything they were raised to believe as a bunch of lies.

Anyway, this is the fault of conservative churches. I don't think that conservative churches necessarily have to change any of their beliefs. However, they absolutely must interact with the beliefs and questions of others. I understand the reason for not wanting to teach the best arguments against the faith or against a church's doctrine within a church -- it is viewed as an unjustified risk.

The question is, though, which is riskier:
  • Having children and students struggle with questions of the faith and the arguments against the faith in college surrounded by professors who often would prefer they simply give up their faith.

  • Having children and students struggle with questions of the faith and the arguments against the faith in the church and surrounded by other people of faith who have struggled through these same issues and can help them through it?

Especially in today's world, they are going to hear the issues. Isn't the best place for that to happen in the church where they can be lifted up by people of faith rather than when they are alone against the world?

If you want conservatism and fundamentalism to survive, the best thing you can do is introduce criticisms of the faith as a standard part of school-age curriculum. And not straw-man versions, either. The real thing, with the best arguments. At the end you will have students who are both more faithful and more knowledgeable, and even better -- if you have done a good job teaching about how presuppositions affect the way that evidence is viewed -- you have also given them a good background for understanding new arguments in the future.

So, if you are a Church member, encourage your kids to ask questions, and help them find good answers. Don't assume that just because an answer matches your preconceived notions that it is a good answer. Take the time to really search the issue out. Try to prove yourself wrong. This is tough to do, and it takes a bit of courage. But it is well worth it, because in the end you understand both yourself and those who disagree with you better.

And the children of the Church won't grow up thinking that you lied to them and turn away.