Budziszewski, Part I
J. Budziszewski is a professor of Government and Philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin. He is also an outspoken Christain, and sometimes he writes books with titles like How to Stay Christian in College.
He currently has this essay up over at Charels Colson's Breakpoint site. In it he provides some guidance for students afraind of losing their faith while attending a secular university.
A couple of excerpts caught my eye:
In these senses the problem does all come down to worldview. And yet in another sense it doesn’t. Christianity holds all of the intellectual cards. I am convinced that the traditions of Christian faith knock the theories and philosophies of the secular university hollow. Our heritage is not rationally inferior; it is rationally superior. Take naturalism, for example, the common university ideology that “nature is all there is.” Try asking someone who holds this view, “Why is there something, and not rather nothing?”, and he can only change the subject. Or take postmodernism, another common university ideology, which preens itself on its “suspicion of metanarratives.” This mouthful refers to its conviction that nobody ever gets the Big Story right and that every explanation of anything is merely a fiction camouflaging some group’s interest in power. Try asking a postmodernist why he makes an exception for his Big Story, the story about nobody ever getting the Big Story right. Then try asking him what grab for power his explanation of things camouflages—could it be that postmodernists have power interests, too? Though I have often asked these questions, I have yet to hear a straight answer.
I know from experience that a lot of Christians think this is a pretty nifty little argument. For me it represents the total lack of seriousness so prevalent in works on Christian apologetics. I mean, do I really have to point out to a smart guy like Budziszewski the obvious flaw in his argument?
I am a naturalist in the sense Budziszewski has in mind. Ask me why there is something instead of nothing and I will not change the subject. I will tell you simply that I don't know the answer to that question.
But what answer does Christianity offer that is any better? That something exists because God created it? That is no answer at all. You have simply pushed the question back one step. I have yet to meet the Christian who has any decent answer to the question, “Why is there God instead of no God? Where did God come from?”
I carry no water for postmodernism, but Budziszewski's silly criticism is enough to make me give it a second look. It reminds me of the old canard, “If you're such a skeptic, why aren't you skeptical about skepticism?” His caricature of postmodernism is so divorced from anything anyone actually believes that it is difficult to respond to it.
As for Christianity holding all the intellectual cards, allow me to demur. Surely that statement requires more of a defense than a brain-dead criticism of naturalism, followed by a caricature of postmodernism. It looks to me like Budziszewski is more interested in lampooning views he disagrees with, not engaging them honestly.
Later he writes:
The reasons students find it difficult to keep faith in college are much the same as the reasons other Christians have found it difficult to keep faith in other times and places. These temptations are endemic to a fallen world, and the university is no exception.
He goes on to list three reasons:
The first such reason is the search for sensual pleasure, and college provides no shortage of time to seek it.
The second reason many students lose their faith is the distraction of possessions—of “stuff” and the desire to acquire it.
The third reason many students lose their faith—and the one with which I am most familiar—is what John’s letter calls “the pride of life.” We don’t want God to be God; we want to be God ourselves, each of us the center of his universe. Paradoxically, the students most in danger from this infection are the ones least in danger from the other two—we call them “the best and the brightest.” Their form of pride of life is pride of the intellect. Full of intellectual pride themselves, many professors regard it as a virtue, not a vice, and think they are doing a favor by encouraging it.
Budziszewski devotes a paragraph to each of these proposed causes.
Taking reason three first, am I the only one who finds this creepy? It sounds to me like he is saying that if you give serious consideration to the various truth claims Christians make, and conclude that there is no good evidence to support them and ample reason to reject them, then it is you, and not the evidence, that is defective. This is textbook religious arrogance. It is all the evidence you need that Budziszewski was winging it before when he talked about Christianity holding all the intellectual cards.
As for the other reasons he gives, I'm sure they all have their role to play. But he has overlooked the most important reason people often lose their faith in college. It's not that they are constantly being attacked by left-wing professors. It's not they get corrupted by the party atmosphere on college campusses. And it's not that they find themselves coveting their neighbor's possessions.
The main reason is that for most students college is the first time they find themsleves interacting freely with a large group of people that is culturally and religiously diverse. And after you spend some time interacting with happy, smart people with very different religious beliefs from you, you begin to wonder about certain things. It starts to dawn on you that the only reason you profess the religion you do is because of the influence of your parents and your upbringing. And if you are possessed of even the smallest level of modesty it becomes a little hard to believe that your parents were the ones who had it right and everyone else's parents had it wrong.
Faith in irrational things can only survive in a community of believers. Budziszewski admits as much when he writes:
Like all Christians, college students need to humble themselves before God, spend time with Him in prayer, study His Word, tell others about Him, and show mercy to those in need. But it’s hard to do all those things by yourself, isn’t it? I have good news for young Christians. God has not left you all by yourself. He has provided the Church. Seek out your partners in the faith and meet with them often. Humble yourself and pray and study and tell and show mercy, yes, but don’t do it just by yourself; do it with your brothers and sisters in Christ. God made us social beings; that’s why we respond so readily to peer pressure. Peer pressure is good if it’s the right kind of pressure from the right kind of peers. Your true peer group is the fellowship of the saints, the household of God.
There you have it. Surround yourself with people who think like you do and use that as a shield against those who think differently. Intellectual cards indeed.