Normally I’ve been writing a new post every weekend. However, last week I was on my honeymoon so I skipped the blog. Yep, I’m a married woman now, to a wonderful atheist man :)
I remember a previous huge step in my life was in University, where I learned things I’d never dreamt of before, and found my view on life to be entirely different than when I went in. The most striking thing I found to be changed in this period of time were my views on religion. I had a discussion not long ago with a Christian family member about the influence of professors on my views. I think it is just par for the course for professors to challange their students to see the world from a perspective they have never considered before.
In contrary to the urban legend of the “atheistic professor” who tries to humiliate the student who stands up for God, the challenges to my faith in school were very subtle and unavoidable. The challenges didn’t come directly from the professors (who were as a rule respectful of the religious views of students) and usually had nothing at all to do with the personal beliefs of those professors. In most cases the challenge came from the very information that I was learning in the classes. Three specific cases of this stand out in my mind from the University of Louisville. And I’m not even mentioning my learning at Trevecca Nazarene University, where I learned about the early history of Christianity and of the Bible–which was enough already to put me in the agnostic camp about Christianity before I started at UofL.
- Learning about cosmology and the Big Bang in Introduction to Astronomy. I’d been homeschooled or in a Christian University since I left middle school, so predicably I knew very little that was not total misinformation about the Theory of Evolution. Now, of course, cosmology is not the same as biological evolution, but the two theories dovetail together beautifully. Learning about cosmology and the enormous timescales involved inspired me to go to the library and read of everything I could get my hands on about both astronomy and evolution. And it was also in this class that I was first exposed to the idea that the very elements we and the earth are made out of were fused together from the original hydrogen left from the Big Bang in the stars and in huge supernova explosions. This took one more thing about the origin on the universe (where matter came from) and showed me the sensible natual scientific explaination. I also learned how, due to the speed of light, looking billions of light-years out in space is essentially looking billions of years back in time! I learned so much about the natural origins of the universe in this class and it was better than anything I’d be taught in Sunday School, or had read in creationist literature.
- I took a women’s study class to fulfill a general education requirement. A discussion started on religion and women’s rights and a student on the class pointed out that the Bible was written by men and degrading to women. I was shocked and tried to argue with her. She came back with a list of references from the Old and New Testaments–and that was essentially an end to that conversation. I learned later that it is a historical fact that the Bible has been used over and over again to fight against women’s rights, and I found this fact to be deeply, deeply troubling. And it was a problem for me regardless of the fact that most Christians I knew didn’t believe women were subservient to men. Just that the Bible could be used–so easily!–to degrade women was a huge problem for any Christian belief I had left.
- The other major event was in my class on Business Ethics, from the discussion on different models of ethics. We discussed several different ethical models, including Divine Command theory. I’d never heard of Divine Command theory as such, but I sure knew the concept. It is the idea that the moral duty comes from what God commands–whether it is “do not steal,” “obey your parents,” or “kill your heathen neighbors.” When viewed in light of the other ethical theories it is just oh so backward and superstitious. This isn’t what the professor said–this was my own conclusion. And when people say the Bible is a book of morality that is the morality they are talking about — “Divine Command” morality. In this class I also learned about the following dilema (I forget what it is called): “Is it right because God commands it, or does God command it because it is right?” In the first case ethics/morality is totally arbitrary, and in the second case ethics/morality comes from a source outside of God.
There were other events I could mention, but these are the ones that stick out in my mind. There are people out there I know who think that students should not be exposed to information like this that can adversely affect their religious faith. As for me, I do not regret learning about this stuff, and think I am now a better and more informed person for it. We should not deny that learning opportunity to others, whatever conclusion they come to as a result.