One month ago yesterday I walked the stage to pick up a diploma in Religious Studies at a secular institution. And I’m a stronger Christian than ever. In the Religious Studies department at the University of Montana I learned how to study history with careful eyes, how to debate subtle philosophy with gentleness and confidence, how to respect professors and peers with opposing views on foundational beliefs, and, perhaps most importantly, I learned how to critically examine my place in and beliefs about the story that I’ve come to recognize, more and more, as truth.
Because of its students’ deep love for The Beatles and its reputation for encouraging “progressive thinking,” the University of Montana is known by some as “Little Berkeley.” As you know, so-called academic progressive thinking doesn’t include positive thoughts of the Christian God. Overt anti-Christian agendas are not uncommon from the front of the classroom. But, as much as you might suppose that such agendas are destructive for the young Christian, these provided the fuel for the examination of my own deep beliefs. One of the most antagonistically atheist professors at the U of M said this in an email correspondence between us some time ago:
The problem is not when interpretations are challenged, but the opposite – when students simply assume a supposedly authoritative interpretive tradition and don’t think and ask about it.