Staying Christian in college…
J. Budziszewski has a passion for helping young people maintain a vibrant faith in college. He knows their challenges first-hand. As a student, he himself walked away from the Christian faith of his childhood. Having returned to Christianity after becoming a college professor, he is now deeply committed to helping students who struggle, as he says, “with the same dark influences that I once did.”
In an interview with Marcia Segelstein of Salvo Magazine, Dr. Budziszewski talked about his own loss and recovery of faith as well as his commitment to students. A few excerpts:
What was your inspiration for writing How to Stay Christian in College? Was it related to what you saw happening among your students? Or related to what happened to your faith in college? Or both?
Both. I saw the difficulties many of my students were having with their faith—they would come and talk with me about them. I also remembered how I had lost my own faith in college. During my student years I was caught up in the radical politics popular among many students in the late sixties and early seventies. I had my own ideas about redeeming the world, and my politics became a substitute religion. Because my unrepented sins made me more and more uncomfortable in the presence of God, I began looking for reasons to believe that he didn’t exist. Then again, once I lost hold of God, things started going wrong in my life, and disbelieving in him seemed a good way to get back at him. That may seem a strange sort of disbelief, but most disbelief is like that. I decided that the universe had no meaning, and that I was one of the few who could see that and still go on living, walking the rocky heights where the air is thin and cold. You could call that macho nihilism. It’s more common among young men. Women who lose faith tend to lose it for different reasons.
Based on your experience as a professor, how difficult is it for kids to stay Christian in college?
It’s a challenge for young people to stay Christian in college. One reason is that when they moved away from home, they lost their support group. People talk about resisting peer pressure. That’s a good idea, but it’s a better idea to get better peers. Another problem is that the popular culture of college is hedonist. Not many people in college lose their faith in God and then begin practicing a lot of new sins. What tends to happen is that they get attached to some sin, then look for reasons to lose their faith in God. The third reason is that although the university was a Christian invention, the intellectual culture of the modern university is essentially atheistic. I am not speaking of theoretical atheism, which is believing that there isn’t any God; I mean practical atheism, which means believing that even if there is a God, he couldn’t make any difference to anything—and certainly not to the human mind. It’s really too bad. Having lost God, the modern university has also lost confidence in reasoning itself. Try saying you want to find Truth, and see how far that gets you. “What are you, a bigot or something?” …
Dr. Budziszewski also answered a few questions about his recent book, On the Meaning of Sex.
In your book On the Meaning of Sex, you write that not many of your students look happy, and that each year they have less sense of humor. To what do you attribute that?
They say they’re happy. They tell me things like, “I am having an awesome life!” But when I ask them to tell me what happiness is, the most common answer I get is a variation on “Nothing but the absence of pain and suffering.” In other words, they have no vision of happiness at all. The negative element so fills their eyes that they are completely unable to suggest anything positive that happiness might mean.
My guess is that my students have lived all their young lives in pursuit of pleasure—as the young generally do—but with less restraint from our crumbling conventions than the young who have lived their lives in previous generations. Consequently, even at this tender age, they have begun to experience the hedonistic paradox, which usually kicks in much later. He who makes pleasure the object of his life eventually finds that it evaporates; he who fails to distinguish between good and bad pleasures ends in misery. Although my students don’t formulate the paradox explicitly, they feel it in their bones. …
“Wise Man on Campus,” Marcia Segelstein’s interview with of J. Budziszewski for Salvo Magazine, is available online.
In “Escape from Nihilism,” Dr. Budziszewski gives a more complete version of his loss and recovery of faith.
Dr. Budziszewski’s How to Stay Christian in College is available here.