I am an eighteen-year-old British person with an offer to study Philosophy and Theology at the University of Oxford. I have been trying to decide whether to take up the offer or one of the others. The deadline for replying to university offers is coming up pretty soon, and I’m pretty much decided that I am going to go to Oxford (dependent on my grades). There’s only one question left, which is: I’m slightly worried about my faith being challenged too much. The philosophy and theology departments, like with all secular universities in Britain, are to my knowledge quite secular, but at Oxford the tutorial system and rigorousness etc. mean that philosophical, theological and ethical positions that I take on the basis of my faith will be constantly challenged and scrutinised, in a way that is not quite the same at other universities.
This is good thing which, for the most part, I am attracted to, since it will help me to think seriously about my faith and defend it and understand and appreciate it more and more. I’ve also been feeling drawn to the Catholic Church for ages, and there is probably no better place to study early church history and thus help me with my discernment than Oxford. However, I do sometimes feel insecure in my faith and like I don’t feel that my faith would be strong enough to withstand all that questioning and challenging and testing. I’m very orthodox in my beliefs, but I sometimes feel insecure in my beliefs, and I’m often very scrupulous, and feel like I’m doing things, including praying, much more out of a sense of duty than a desire to do them, and that I mainly do good things/avoid wrong things in order to salve my conscience rather than because I really want to. I worry slightly that I would be led astray by self-deception due to finding the more permissive ethics etc. more appealing, or that I would eventually have to accept that God doesn’t exist and then be really depressed because there is no purpose or meaning to life.
In a sense, because Oxford will give me a more rigorous intellectual training than anywhere else, I’m more likely to get closer to the truth, so less likely to abandon my faith if it’s true. (Although, if that’s the case, you would expect Oxford graduates and really intelligent people in general to be closer in agreement with each other, showing that they’re closer to the truth, than others, and in fact the opposite is probably the case.) In addition, I’ll be studying the greatest Christian minds in history to counteract the secular tutors. I feel that I should just go, and the benefits of having a more refined, deeper and stronger faith outweigh the risk of falling away. I’d love to just make my choice and reply to the offer tonight. But this might itself be self-deception and I think it’s a really important question, so I would quite like some of your input before I finally make my decision. Thank you.