From February 2005:
Walking down the hall during my night class’ break last week, a poster caught my eye. It was advertising a lecture about religion and law that a professor from another school is going to give. I thought, Hey, wait a minute—I had that professor at the first college I attended. He’s coming to Wheaton?
Seeing that poster—and my reaction to it—reminded me of the attitude I had toward many of my professors at my other school. In fact, I had sort of an autobiography due today for my senior capstone, and I ended up reflecting on the differences between my faith at my former and current schools. Here’s roughly what I wrote in that section of the paper:
During my first year of college, I attended a secular university. Most of the professors at my school were politically liberal, and many faculty members who identified themselves as Christians tended to water down Christianity to some sort of bland philosophy, afraid to use the word “God” and to refer to Jesus. Therefore, I immediately involved myself in two Christian campus organizations, one the largest parachurch organization in the world, the other affiliated with the largest denomination in the country.
I still consider as dear friends many people I met by being involved in these organizations, so I do not mean to criticize any of them as people. I think it is safe to say, though, that both groups tended to have a “those-evil-professors-will-taint-your-mind” mentality toward the university. They were simply diametrically opposed to the university, and the prevailing attitude was that of blanket rejection of anything not explicitly conservative, evangelical Christian. I kept my same mindset from high school. No one challenged it; in fact, they encouraged it. In our Bible studies and Friday lunches, we were taught systematic, carefully laid-out answers to the criticisms that “those professors” were going to level against our faith. When I read Noll’s description of anti-intellectualism, I have a pretty clear picture thanks to those experiences.
So, I hunkered down in political and theological conservatism in my first year of college, holding tightly to my beliefs. I was certain that I was biblical and right, and my faith grew into a reactionary one. I sought no real dialogue with professors or students who were not Christians—and I could have had great discussions with my friends there, some of which were atheist, gay, Wiccan, and many of which were wounded by the church. Instead, things were black or white, good or bad, Christian or non-Christian, a characteristic that my later experience studying anthropology has helped me to see as unhealthy to my faith.
...so can you see why it took me by surprise to see that one of “those evil professors” is going to give a lecture here? Before, mired in my binarisms, I immediately labeled as non-Christian anyone who didn’t fit my conception of “Christian” (meaning conservative, evangelical...Republican). Therefore, I blocked off any learning from people I had labeled, building up my defenses so my faith couldn’t be jeopardized. I wonder what I missed out on during my first year of school.
I also discussed in my paper something that I find kind of...funny. I grew more conservative when I was studying at a secular university, but when I transferred to an evangelical Christian institution—one that has produced the likes of Jim Elliot, John Piper, Josh McDowell, mega-church founders, and a Dubya speechwriter—I began to question if I want to be an evangelical. Some family members have even commented on this, wondering, since they “sent me up to that Christian school,” how I turned into the dirty L-word (funny, I disagree with liberals on many issues). I suppose it’s easy to see why I “hunkered down” at my former school, so to speak, considering the attitude that some fostered there. But I don’t really know any reasons why I have changed since I came to my current school, because students here have experiences that run the gamut. Probably because I didn’t feel the need to label professors here, thus not building up my defenses against any brainwashing…
Having realized that I may have missed out on a lot things as a result of labeling, and also having been labeled by others (mostly because of the college I attend), I hope I'm more careful in the future not to do so.