Monday, December 24, 2012

Are College Campuses Atheist Factories?

While digging through some old paperwork I discovered some old essays I wrote when I was a freshman in junior college for my philosophy class. Some of these papers I had not read in ten years. It's amazing to read that even back then I was a fervent atheist. In one paper where I was to write a Socratic dialogue, I create a mock trial where I am being accused of being an atheist in a system where it is illegal. I write:

I myself am an Atheist, I don't think religion is evil, I understand it has many good aspects of it, but I just do not have a place for it in my life. Let us say for example I didn't live in this era and place of religious freedom. I probably wouldn't be an Atheist, but lets say I was in a time and place where Atheists faced punishment or even death. I am accused by the authority for not believing in God. My devotion to Atheism is so that I am willing to [face] whatever punishment they have for me, even death.

Wow. This was written on September 30th, 2001, when I was nineteen. Even back then I was devoted to atheism enough to the point where I could imagine myself perhaps dying for it. The following mock trial dialogue that I wrote in the paper contains some interesting justifications I made for my atheism. I write:

Pros [Prosecutor]: So you began to question the very existence of God. Was there a particular moment in your life when you began to question God, such as a traumatic event or was it a gradual process? 
Me: It was a gradual process. I didn't wake up one morning and say "I don't believe in God." I guess as I got older I just didn't except the explanations religion gives you. I mean it's so vague. 
Pros: So you weren't convinced from what you were taught as a child. And I;m assuming you have your own theory and beliefs of how the world was created. What is it that you believe in?
Me: Evolution. 
Pros: Evolution. I see. I've heard of this theory. Something about how we humans, are descendents from Monkeys. 
Me: Yes, and it was the Apes not the Monkeys. 
Pros: And this is what you believe in? You are positively sure that evolution is true. 
Me: From the evidence I have see, yes, and it makes a whole lot more sense to me than religion had.

It's funny how I justify the world's existence through evolution, which not only does it not address the origin of the universe, it doesn't even address the origin of life itself. At nineteen, I wasn't as knowledgeable about the cosmological arguments or any of the other ones which theism uses. That didn't stop me from getting an A on the paper though.

In this introduction to philosophy class, I do remember us students having our beliefs challenged. Most of the students I was with were people who believed in god and I remember that many of the assignments and reading we did on morality were challenging to the idea that morals come from and are grounded in god.

So, when conservatives argue that colleges are really just liberalizing, atheist factories, they do have a mild point. Theistic beliefs and assumptions are going to be challenged in college, as well as long-held stereotypes of different people. College is the time to experience real diversity, and to have your beliefs challenged. Colleges are mostly liberal because it is the liberal point of view that is almost always on the right side of history. Conservatism is almost always on the wrong side of history, and we have plenty of examples of that. Furthermore, liberalism is more inclusive, whereas conservatism is more exclusive. For example, liberals are a lot more accepting of gays, immigrants and people with alternative lifestyles than conservatives are.

Conservatives have their own private colleges where they can spew out their creation "science" nonsense and teach kids that homosexuality is a choice. Fine, but public universities at least should steer clear of those non-scientific and religious based views. With religion aside, a university can still hold onto conservative politics. What we should have is debates with students participating from all points of view. College is suppose to be the time where beliefs are challenged, and if that means that someone with a conservative moral philosophy or someone with a liberal moral philosophy is going to be put in the hot seat where they will have to justify their beliefs, all the better.

Many conservatives do not want to have their student's beliefs challenged. They'd rather live in a box, where they can sometimes impose their beliefs on others without having them challenged back. And liberals are sometimes guilty of the same thing. I've met many liberal atheists over the years who I disagree with quite a lot on morality. One thing I hate to hear atheists say is that there is no such thing as morality, or good or evil, that we are all just products of our culture and families and that morality is all just an opinion. These atheists have to have their beliefs challenged too, as we all do.

So if colleges are the place to have one's orthodox beliefs challenged, does that necessarily lead to a more liberal way of thinking? I would think so. Since many conservative beliefs are religious based, and since many religious based morality has little to no secular justification, this means that morality that is ultimately held up by dogma is unlikely going to be able to withstand a torrent of secular critique. Thus, a conversion to liberalism can take place. If proper critical thinking usually leads to a more liberal or atheistic approach towards morality, then I have no problem with that in our college campuses.

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