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.