Thursday, October 12, 2006

Less Godless Than Previously Supposed

Yesterday, a friend of mine sent me an AP report on this survey of college professors, which finds that the majority are religious believers of one sort or another -- or, at least, don't devoutly disbelieve in God.

Gosh. You mean I'm more mainstream than I thought?

A few years ago, I had a grad student who was doing some very cautious church-shopping, but also felt very self-conscious about it. She said that the attitude of most of her fellow students was that "smart people don't go to church."

My church is chock-filled with folks affiliated with UNR in one way or another. I've occasionally heard people in my department make statements critical of faith (usually specifically of Christianity), but they're a minority. We don't talk about it much, but my sense is that most of my colleagues, even if they're not religious themselves, are sympathetic to those of us who are.

I very rarely talk about my faith in the classroom, for obvious reasons -- it's a state school, for one thing, and most of the time the subject is simply irrelevant -- but last spring, we had some very loud protesters on campus who were yelling through bullhorns about how all gays would go to hell, waving placards about sin and eternal damnation, and so forth. It was horrible. I'm a free-speech fundamentalist, so I reluctantly conceded that they had a right to be there, but many people on campus were angry and on edge. Even if the content hadn't been so hate-filled, the heckling would have been unbearable just from the standpoint of noise pollution. While that stuff was going on, I did tell my students, "I'm a Christian, and I hope all of you understand that the people with the bullhorns don't speak for all of us." I also told at least one student, "If they're going to heaven, I'll take hell: the company will be better." The student giggled.

I think the obnoxious bullhorn-waving people were there because they thought that a university campus would be full of non-believers, ripe ground for saving souls. If so, I hope they read this survey and stay away from now on.

Do read the survey, if you're interested; there are all kinds of intriguing statistics about which fields, and which kinds of schools, have the highest and lowest number of religious professors. One has to take all of this with a grain of salt, of course, statistics often being statistically indistinguishable from spin. The bickering comments in response to the article are, in my experience, more typical of cyberspace than of academia. But then, I'm in an unusually civilized department.


  1. Hi Susan,

    Thanks for linking to this. I have a feeling that it will be helpful in my studies.

    I can't believe the obnoxious way in which people practice Christianity, though I'm forced to admit I'm not perfect by any stretch of the imagination! It is sad to see that we still have so far to go in assuming an attitude of Christian love.

    Also, my email is down for sending out messages, but I wanted to say yes, you can use the post you asked about. Sorry I can't send it through email right now! :(

  2. Hi, Nickie! Thanks for permission to use the post!

    As for being an imperfect Christian: I try really hard not to be one of those people who gives Christianity a bad name. I know it doesn't always work, though!

    I take comfort from C.S. Lewis' observation, in Mere Christianity, that if you're wondering how someone can do X and identify as Christian, the proper question to ask is how much worse they'd be if they weren't Christian.

    Although in the case of the bullhorn-wavers, I'm not so sure that applies.

  3. I agree people have a right to protest and free speech, but I couldn't help wondering if UNR has a GLBT group on campus and if so why didn't they counter protest, and I don't mean go get their own bullhorns, but just by making their presence known and by being approachable goes along way towards changing peoples pre-conceived notions of what and who GLBT people "are".

  4. Hi, JSD! Yes, we do have a GLBT group, and as I recall, they and other people were indeed waging quiet counter-protests off to the side. Certainly many people made their unhappiness known; I think there was some kind of official complaint, too, although I didn't follow it closely enough to remember details. I found the entire thing so upsetting that I tried to limit any exposure to it.


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