Critical Issue: Religion on Campus

How do current University of Michigan students view the role of religion on the modern college campus? And what are their own experiences in that regard?

The Art Lounge on the first floor at the University of Michigan Student Union on the central campus of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Joseph Tobianski |
The Art Lounge on the first floor at the University of Michigan Student Union on the central campus of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Joseph Tobianski |

Some of the adults from my church worried that their children’s faith would be broken once they come to college, what with all the rampant faith shattering atheistic professors that apparently burned icons in class while sodomizing men. But if a Christian college student is worth their salt, like myself, there is no way their faith can be broken by such individuals. Because honestly, we’ve gone way too far down the rabbit hole for logic to change to our minds.

This became all too apparent to me when I tried to explain Christianity to a muslim friend of mine. “So basically, Christians believe that God is three different parts but is also one part at the same time. God is beyond space, time, dimension, and existence itself. Now, after creating the world, he eventually impregnated a virgin who gave birth to Christ, who is a part of God… but also all of God… but also 100% man… but also entirely God. At the same time.”

“After about thirty years Christ is murdered via crucifixion. But it’s okay because he got brought back to life by himself… but also God… at the same time… after about three days. He then went up to heaven, and humanity learned an important lesson about being merciful and loving to our fellow man.”

“Also we eat him and drink his blood every Sunday. That’s a thing we do too.”

He seemed taken aback by this but, then again, his prophet rode up into the sky using a magical horse to talk to God.

My point, however, is that religion isn’t something I feel the need to defend on campus. None of it makes any sense and I recognize that. That’s why religion is based on faith and not science. The key word of religion is believing in God, not knowing God. So I’m honest about my religion, and if anyone asking any obvious questions like, “Why do you eat Jesus?” I simply give the classic Greek response of “Mysterion!” Which translates roughly to, “It is a mystery.” And what a mystery it is.

Ryan Shinkel 

Before college students proclaimed in 1969 the slogan, “The Personal is Political,” the late Christopher Hitchens recounts, the old left required a “claim to speak and intervene by right of experience and sacrifice and work.” When identity replaced action, “Speaking as an X…” was enough “to qualify as a revolutionary.”

Mainline Protestantism’s collapse – when 60s theological, social liberalism declined their membership from 50% of Americans in 1960 to 10% today – explains this standard subsisting among student radicals now. Nature abhors a moral vacuum, so a post-Protestant culture with inherited sentiments, beliefs, and mores desire new contexts. “I was raised as a Protestant,” author Jonathan Franzen admits, “and became an environmentalist.” Left-wing issues pursued with religious zeal at colleges provide homes for the concepts that Protestant religion contained.

Religious beliefs survive after the passing of their original the context, institutional churches, that grounded and moderated these values. Shattering “a religious scheme,” G.K. Chesterton pines, “not merely” lets loose “the vices” to “wander and do damage.” The “virtues are let loose also” to “wander more wildly” and “do more terrible damage. The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad” when “isolated from each other.” Left “wandering alone,” the individual values grow singularly wild and wasted.

Consider the “sustainability” movement at American colleges: its protests functions like a religious revival, while climate science truth seems inconsequential. “Thus some scientists care for truth; and their truth is pitiless,” Chesterton continues, while “some humanitarians only care for pity; and their pity” regrettably “is often untruthful.” He wrote that one hundred years ago, and it still seems accurate today.

A “set of spiritual concerns” (like original sin, salvation, and atonement) now “let loose” were “once contained and channeled by the churches,” Joseph Bottom says. But with the collapse of mainline Protestantism, these concerns have found “new homes in our public conflicts.” White guilt is an original sin, personal political belief assures salvation, and humans are sinners in the hands of an angry Atmosphere. To rephrase the slogan, the political is spiritual.

Excesses of liberalism and Protestantism feel, Franzen describes, that “simply to be human is to be guilty.” How can anyone be saved? If salvation is not to be sought in the world-to-come, then it is to be found in this one. The result is that the politics of the personal, like feeling pity and believing in the progressive truth, save.

Aayushi Madani

I am one of those million students who have fallen prey to the first line of this question: I identify as not having any religious affiliation whatsoever from before I came here. Which made me wonder, is there anything that I really have to say about this critical issue? The answer was pretty simple: I most definitely do. Although I do not have any sort of a religious affiliation, I most definitely do have a very strongly built cultural affiliation. Being an Indian brought up in the Middle East, I have always been inclined to celebrating a multitude of festivities with very less significance to my religious affiliation. I have been exposed to the Hindu and Jain cultures because of my family, to the Gujarati culture because that’s where in India I’m from, and to the Arab culture because that’s where I’ve lived all my life. And I have wholeheartedly celebrated each of the associated religious festivals to these cultures. Coming here, my association with each and any of these cultures has reduced to basically zero. As much as the University celebrates diversity, there’s not much I can see that is being done to celebrate and revere any of these cultures, and by extension, the religions. While I may not have directly navigated my personal religion on campus in any manner, I sure have navigated my cultural identity on campus.

Deion Kathawa

The fun thing about being Catholic is that you never fit in. (Continue reading at your own risk.)

The Protestants think you’re totally off base with the whole pope thing, not to mention Mary and the saints.

The Democrats want you to get on board with their environmentalism and socially conscious, compassionate agenda … but to also ignore their horrid ethic and track record on life and the family.

The Republicans want you on board with their, admittedly, less-than-stellar ethic and track record on life and the family (but many times better than that of the Democrats’) … but to ignore the ways in which their economic vision is in many ways deeply flawed and insufficiently humane for large swathes of people.

Even within our own Church, there is divide between theological liberals/progressives and conservatives and traditionalists on critically important issues: the dispensation of Holy communion, the status of so-called “divorced-and-remarried,” and ecumenism (i.e., how the Church ought to relate to other faiths).

With respect to the culture, you are completely hung out to dry, though this is not wholly unexpected: Christ promised, after all, that the world would hate us because it hated Him first. The hook-up culture, drugs, the selfish pursuit of pleasure to the exclusion of most other things, a destructive libertarian “hands off” outlook on moral issues, a coarsening and savage diminishment of bonds of fraternal communal love, deadening libertinism, a denial of anything transcendent, and the list goes on. All of these are entirely antithetical to the Catholic tradition.

Knowing that so many around you fundamentally disagree with you makes persisting more difficult, sure. But, anything ever worth pursuing is never pursued along a rosy path, nor was anything worth possessing secured without a hard fought, bitter the struggle.

In any case, our job is to struggle with and challenge the world to rise above its sin and turn back to God. This begins with each of us personally recognizing our own need for radical conversion and dying of self to Christ. The call to deny oneself, take up one’s cross, and follow Christ extends even to the teens and twenty-somethings on this campus. We are not excused from this spiritual war, even if the world sees us as immature and feeble. Our God has great plans for us, and His ways are not those of bureaucrats. (Thank, well, God!)

It is a task I accept with great joy.

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