In yet another inane statement from the field of Republican candidates for the presidency, Rick Santorum this past week attacked higher education for killing the faith of young people. Never mind that his own daughter is enrolled in a Catholic liberal arts university, the statement conveys the mindset of many in the conservative Christian community. In this insightful article, blogger Dianna Anderson argues that the failure is not the result of the universities, colleges and their “liberal” professors. As she states:
“the Church needs to be aware of its own complicity in young adults' loss of faith.”
I think she is spot-on when she highlights the underlying issue, that churches are afraid to allow people to think critically.
“We're afraid that if we allow people to question, that they will walk away from the faith....In reaction to this fear, we have created an environment where questions are not welcome,...where we are told that our brains are 'addled' if we dare question something outside the essentiality of Scripture.”
Many churches respond to the process of change in society—something that has naturally occurred throughout history—by trying to build a defensive wall around their doctrine, what they will normally label a “biblical worldview.” They then give all the “right” answers to their youth (and adults) so that they will be prepared to deal with the hostile secular world, especially the “liberal” world at the university. But in so many cases this doesn't work, because we don't really teach our youth (or ourselves) how to think, how to ask critical questions and seek understanding among the competing ideas in the marketplace. Then, when they are confronted with alternatives to the answers they have been taught, they don't really have any basis on which to evaluate them. Some may hold on to those ingrained answers, while others may recognize that the world is asking good, valid questions and in embracing those questions they will appear to “fall away.” Some do leave their faith behind, whereas others may leave it for a time as they ask questions and seek understanding, only to come back to it in a deeper, fuller, more personal way after a period of time.
What would it look like for us to create an environment that encourages and invites questioning and exploration within the walls of the church and particularly within the youth and young adult events?
Is God not big enough to handle tough questions, or do we need by our own efforts to make certain that our young people will get the “right” answers?
Is it not possible that in trying to do this we in fact lay the groundwork for future spiritual struggles?