Sunday, October 11, 2009

On Christian Education

I just finished reading The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University. It is written by a journalism student at Brown who transferred to Liberty University (Jerry Falwell's university) for a semester to see what life at a Christian college is like. It's a thought-provoking and entertaining read. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in how non-Christians view Christians. The writer is not out to make fun of evangelical Christians; he does a good job of recounting his good and bad experiences. He really enjoys the sense of community at Liberty and the sincerity and kindness of his fellow students. However, ultimately he cannot get past what he considers the judgmental nature of Christians. He is especially dismayed by the overt homophobia that is displayed by almost everyone. That is a tough objection to contend with. I think treating all people, no matter what their beliefs or lifestyle, with respect and kindness is a step in the right direction. However, I think there will always be a problem when a religion that has moral absolutes meets a morally relativistic culture. It's a tough problem . . . one that Christians will have to do a lot more thinking about.

The most disturbing part of the book to me, though (as I am already familiar with the overt homophobia and sexism present in the Christian community) is the lack of academic rigor at Liberty. The author does point out that Liberty University is one of the most conservative Christian schools in the nation, which I appreciated. I don't want people to get the idea that all Christian schools are like that. Besides the fact that Liberty teaches some pretty indefensible "science" (namely, young-earth creationism), from what the author says, there is just a serious lack of critical thinking or questioning, skills that are central to a liberal arts education. For example, an examination in the course "History of Life," includes these true-or-false questions.

Evolution can be proven using the scientific method. (False)
Science is the only way to truly know truth about the world. (False)
Noah's Ark was large enough to carry various kinds of dinosaurs. (True)

Those are not true-or-false questions! The second one has some value (if it were worded better), but only as an essay question or discussion. I have no problem with matters of faith being taught at Christian universities . . . obviously, I took Bible classes at ACU. But matters of faith or speculation (such as the size of Noah's ark) cannot be presented as fact in an academic context. If someone wants to disagree, they have to be able to, as long as they can present a well-reasoned argument for their case. Only questions about the Bible that can be answered from the text itself should be posed as closed-ended test questions, in my opinion.

Anyway, when I wasn't busy being outraged, I really enjoyed the book. There are plenty of light-hearted moments, too. Like when the author doesn't know how he will be able to list the books of the New Testament in order for his test, and everyone is shocked he doesn't know "the song." It's fun to think about all the traditions that those of us who grew up in the church just take for granted.

1 comment:

Matt said...

I think the dinosaur question is valid considering that there were many dinosaurs that were quite small so they could fit into say a Volkswagon Bug. I'm sure you could fit a few of those on the ark; therefore, many dinosaurs could fit as well. Checkmate, modern science.