Can College Make One Atheist? A Few Thoughts


#1

Just read a thread about how two youngsters had gone away to college, after being raised in a strong Catholic home, and had come back as atheists.

Some people had commented in the thread that probably it wasn't the college experience that made kids atheists, but something else, and college may have fueled the fire, but the fire was already burning.

I'm not so sure.

I attended college for nearly eight years in an attempt to acheive my Master's degree. I remained Catholic - in fact, my religion was strenghtened during the last semester I attended - and I remained a virgin (by God's grace alone).

Do I, who have, through God's grace, retained my integrity, think that the college experience can create atheists? I'd say darn right.

The overall attitude of professors on secular campuses is that you have to encourage kids to think "liberally," meaning getting them to stop thinking about religion as a solid, God-given way of experiencing the Creator, and get them to think of it as a man-made construct. In science and math classes, this is to prevent kids from having thoughts that are "contrary" to science, such as having them protest that Evolution is "just a theory," or what have you. Catholicism informs our everyday lives, including what we think about math and science. We Catholics can see God in all things. We're encouraged not to, if it interferes with what science teaches (or if science profs think it inteferes).

But those aren't the classes where the big guns are drawn. The teachers there are mostly trying to get people to leave their philosophy outside the lab door, and pick it up again on the way out. Anyway, that was my experience as an English Lit major, where science wasn't at all any sort of focus for me. Perhaps kids who majored in science had different experiences.

In English Lit classes, however, pushing the notion that religion is man-made is important, or you get a lot of people either protesting what was written by some of the "great" authors, or you get students who are uncomfortable with the sexualized writings of authors like Virginia Woolf, and then there are all those Native American stories that you delve into, etc. I remember reading "Babbet" and being bored by how selfish the guy in the novel was, and yet this was considered a great work of art. I found it nhilistic, but I answered the essay questions correctly because I wanted to pass and get into something more interesting.

We read a LOT of nhilistic novels.

Then there's the on-campus culture. I lived at home with my parents, so every day after class I missed the "great" parties where they gave away handfuls of free condoms (in case you wanted to slip off to your boyfriend's dorm room or something), and I missed the dances that were such a big deal. I did, however, see some of the aftermaths. People are encouraged to have "safe sex."

No, seirously, sex is "celebrated" on campus. It's encouraged, with signs that say, "I'm not a feminist, but I'm glad I can have sex when I want without being called a slut," etc. They have fish bowls of condoms sitting outside the health works office door. There are
AIDS prevention week parties, and "Days of Silence" for people who are against discrimination against homosexuals. There was the "Queer Zoo" where homosexual and bi-sexual (and sympathetic heterosexual) students gathered behind a "non-violence fence" made from kite string, so that the "normals" could look at them like they were looking at animals in a zoo (boring zoo, most of them were just doing homework and chatting). I got to hear one girl asked if she was religious at all, and she answered that she gave other girls religious expriences.

I was bombarded with this constantly, and was sympathetic to all of this, and then I had a nervous breakdown that lead me back into the Catholic Church.

TELL me that God doesn't have a sense of humor! Naturally, it wasn't funny at the time, but it's funny upon reflection. :)

Can a young person raised in a Catholic household turn atheist after two semesters of college?

When that young person is invited to see "Rent" being performed live, and watches one of his best friends kissing another man open-mouth style on the set, and is hearing people say that religion shouldn't interfere with this kind of love...

When they get girlfriends who are so excited to be out and "free" for the first time in their lives that they want to spead their legs to anyone willing, because they're too young to understand the consequences...

When their professors are trying to convince them that having a Catholic mindset will turn them away from great litearature, and that history is written by the "winners," and that Catholics have always been so darn militant that they've always been the "winners," until now, when it's everyone else with the guns and the Church is expected to finally fade away into the background, because we know better by now, don'tcha know...

Then yes, I could say that the desire for freedom from God is so great after a taste of it, after being exposed to God - and his rules, which are there for our own good - for all our lives, that yes, college can turn someone atheist.

Ironically, I was a wishy-washy Catholic as a youngster, and that saved my faith, because I found Catholicism the best way to worship God, though at the time I had a more New-Agey belief in God. Since I loved the Traditions and the traditions, and since I knew there was a God to love, I stuck with what I knew, and then I got a major wake-up call. Only then did I find my way into more orthodox faith. Had I been a hard-core Catholic exposed to college, I probably would have turned atheist at the first chance to play around and do things my way.


#2

I agree with you. We are influenced by what we are surrounded with - and if a young person, still in the process of creating his or her identity, is surrounded with atheism, he or she will most certainly become an atheist.


#3

You see all of those kind of experiences just serve to strengthen my faith because they show me what life without God is like. It always seems that it is atheists who have done more to convince me to remain Catholic and the Catholics who are the biggest stumbling block.


#4

I took math and science courses in college, and religion was never discussed, not once in my whole experience.

I would say it depends on what you study and the kind of people you are surrounded by, it also depends on how strong your faith is to begin with, whether you have been taught to believe blindly or have been confronted with all the objections to faith before.


#5

College doesn't make one atheist, not being prepared for the experiences that often take place at college does.


#6

I was Baptist when I went into college and had given a lot of thought to the idea of becoming a missionary (I’d just gotten back from a mission trip from Mexico). I took the required Introduction to Biblical Literature class at the “Catholic” college that I attended. The professor (who was interesting, funny convincing and went on to become the head of the theology department at this college from what I’ve since heard) spoke constantly about how Jesus had never said that he was the Son of God, that it was simply an invention after his death and that the teaching of an afterlife was completely absent in the Bible (the prof also happened to be a former brother). I didn’t know what I believed by the end of the semester. After a few more classes with my super liberal professors I didn’t believe in anything at all (except maybe communism).

My husband is currently attending another “Catholic” university (in the Master’s of Theology program) and he is constantly penalized and even personally insulted for being a faithful Catholic. It’s been a eye opening experience. I should have given more thought to the bad feeling I had when he asked a priest in the program if the professor’s were loyal to the teachings of the magesterium and he started to laugh. Instead we let the generous scholarships override our worries and have another year and a half to pay for it. I will be so happy when he’s out of this liberal school and onto an actual Catholic college for his next degree.

I think college professors can definitely influence students as they teach and with so many liberal, atheist profs out there this sort of thing is bound to happen.


#7

I lost my faith when I went away to college. I blame it on the oppressively secular environment and the horrible catechesis I received at my home parish. However, my closest friends (one was a revert) from our Catholic Student Association remained faithful to the Church throughout their college experience.

To be fair, I was heavily involved in an extremely anti-theist subculture. However, I was involved in this from the age of 14 until my reversion began.


#8

*I agree with Havard's comment. I don't think that anyone or anything can ''make'' someone an atheist. Maybe influence, but on some level, I am not sure if the person's faith was altogether that strong if going to college, and hearing the views of a handful of atheists, could turn a person from being a practicing Catholic. As a parent, it's my job to help my kids prepare for what they will undoubtedly face in college, at the workplace, in life (as best as I can) ...that Christianity **will be **met with opposition, more often than not. Jesus told us...that the world hated Him first, so it will hate us. I find those words to be disconcerting yet comforting all at the same time.

*


#9

*That is an interesting comment, kib…I think that is what is the case for many people who go off to college. Often, the college experience gets the blame, but I believe that maybe there was a shaky foundation that made it easier for the college experience to be influential. (bolded for emphasis, mine) *


#10

My recommendation for any parent: do a Youtube search for “Dinesh D’Souza debates” and you’ll find a plethora of televised debates between some of the most renowned atheist college professors and the Catholic, Dinesh D’Souza. Watch the debates with your kids (assuming they’re old enough) and discuss them with them!

It’s a great opportunity for them to not only get a preview of the atheism of academia, but also to witness the responses of an equally intellectual debater from the Christian side.


#11

On second thought, I don’t agree with the idea of anything “making” anyone an atheist.

The only way you can say that you were “made” an atheist is if someone used some kind of brainwashing technique on you, or someone deliberately lied to you in order to make you come to conclusions you otherwise wouldn’t.

If you are being presented with atheistic arguments and come to agree with them, I don’t think anyone can say you were made an atheist. You decided to become an atheist.


#12

RedSoxWife, I hear you. I am studying Theology right now at a Catholic College and, while it might just be that I got stuck with the worst prof on campus for my two theology courses this semester, my faith was horribly damaged by this man. I left his Biblical Studies class wanting to never look at the Bible again. He turned it into a Historical Lit class with a focus on the Bible. We never once, all semester, talked about its significance as the Word of God. His moral theology class was just as dismal. I’ve had to take a step back to let my faith heal. However, the rest of the college appears to be sane, so perhaps there is still hope :).

And I agree that the Catechesis now is dreadful. I went to Catholic School for 13 years (kindergarten to Gr 12) and not until a stroke of luck in my last year (a teacher who actually had a degree in theology) did I learn a darn thing. It was all “personality quizzes” and “open discussion”. We should be teaching Apologetics right from the get-go. Sure, at the end of it I could sing Kum-Ba-Ya fantastically, but if someone came up to me and asked me why Catholics “worship” Mary I would be just as clueless as they were. I fear that in the Church’s efforts to correct its over-emphasis on rules and legalistic morality from the past that the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction and now the youth have no solid foundation on which to build their houses of faith.


#13

[quote="whatevergirl, post:9, topic:181142"]
*That is an interesting comment, kib...I think that is what is the case for many people who go off to college. Often, the college experience gets the blame, but I believe that maybe there was a shaky foundation that made it easier for the college experience to be influential. (bolded for emphasis, mine) *

[/quote]

:)


#14

I put a lot of the blame on the STUPID "Life in the Spirit" workbooks we had to use every Sunday at CCD. I HATE those books. Fortunately, I have heard that my priest now teaches the 10th and 11th grade confirmation students. Thank the Lord.


#15

Hiyas:)

I don’t know how collage works. Can you tell that Professor how much he/she damaged your faith?


#16

College can make an atheist or a believer, just like any other experience. It ultimately comes down to the choices you make.


#17

I’m pretty sure college can make someone an agnostic.
So much atheistic onslaught with very little time to think and counter and research a response.
I think becoming an atheist results from a conscious act of free will, a conversion experience of sorts. It’s not something that just happens, it is something that you choose…But what do I know? :shrug:


#18

If you go through four years of college, or more, and never doubt your faith, consider other perspectives, or truly examine who and what you are and what you believe to the extent that you are not feeling at times hopelessly lost and want to hide from the world ....then you've wasted your college experience. College should be tough, and painful, and grueling that leaves you tired, sore, aching, doubtful physically, mentally, and spiritually. When it ends you should know who you are and what you believe. And when it is over...you should want to beg to do it all over again.


#19

[quote="Lutheranteach, post:18, topic:181142"]
If you go through four years of college, or more, and never doubt your faith, consider other perspectives, or truly examine who and what you are and what you believe to the extent that you are not feeling at times hopelessly lost and want to hide from the world ....then you've wasted your college experience. College should be tough, and painful, and grueling that leaves you tired, sore, aching, doubtful physically, mentally, and spiritually. When it ends you should know who you are and what you believe. And when it is over...you should want to beg to do it all over again.

[/quote]

When I first read your post, I vehemently disagreed, thinking, well I never doubted my faith. Then I realized that I left the Catholic Church because of the liberal, gay priests on campus. Doh! So much for my Catholic college education. :rolleyes:


#20

[quote="Lutheranteach, post:18, topic:181142"]
If you go through four years of college, or more, and never doubt your faith, consider other perspectives, or truly examine who and what you are and what you believe to the extent that you are not feeling at times hopelessly lost and want to hide from the world ....then you've wasted your college experience. College should be tough, and painful, and grueling that leaves you tired, sore, aching, doubtful physically, mentally, and spiritually. When it ends you should know who you are and what you believe. And when it is over...you should want to beg to do it all over again.

[/quote]

See, this is the sort of thing that causes college kids to think that if they don't become atheists, there is something seriously the matter with them - they haven't gotten everything out of their education that they paid for.

On the contrary - one's faith should become stronger during college - not weaker. But the only way it can do that, is if the kid makes a conscious choice to be with other Catholic friends, and makes a conscious effort to get to Mass at least on Sundays, and to participate in Church activities as well as activities on campus. There is nothing the matter with going out for a beer with friends after school on a Friday afternoon - what's the matter is when that becomes the whole focus of your college experience.


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