Is Higher Learning Incompatible with Religion


“See to it, then, that no one enslaves you by means of the worthless deceit of human wisdom, which comes from the teachings handed down by men and from the ruling spirits of the universe, and not from Christ.” (Colossians 2:8, TEV)

The above scripture, quoted from the Today’s English Version of the Bible, has been indelibly imprinted on my mind. I have heard it hundreds of times and grew up accepting, without question, it is teaching. That is, the philosophy of man is dangerous to one’s faith. Anyone pursuing or entertaining such things will only experience “shipwreck of their faith” (1 Timothy 1:19).

I learned the lesson so well I saw no need to apply myself in school. I had no desire to seek secondary education. I had a hungry, active mind, but secular education was dangerous so it was not for me. I became a janitor after high school and have done the same thing, off and on, for the last 20 years. During that time I was able to apply myself to my faith. I read and studied the Bible vociferously and was engaged in the full-time ministry for a number of years. I excelled in whatever I applied myself to for I had such a ravenous desire to learn. Once I had reached my zenith of spiritual pursuits, I realized I wanted something more. My career as a janitor was not fulfilling. In fact, it was hard on me physically. I had developed a love for massage and decided, at the age of 27, to go to school and get my license.

I loved college! I had been a C student in public school and my attendance was dismal. But I was an A student through college and never missed a day. I graduated with High Honors and never felt prouder than when that gold cord was placed on my shoulders on graduation day.

How College brought Damage to my Spiritual Life

Unfortunately, the college had definitely wrought some damage to my spirituality. Not because of the teachings, but because of the time required to fulfill assignments. Other things fell by the wayside. Needless to say, however, I love being a massage therapist. I have continued my education in the ten years since I got my license and love being a part of a career in which I can continue to evolve.

I cannot do massage full time, however. It is also hard, physically. So I have been supplementing messages with janitorial. Since the economy has taken such a dive, we have lost about 75% of our cleaning work. I have no desire to go out and find more janitorial accounts. People are cutting one another’s throats out there and I don’t feel janitorial is so imperative that I have to be a part of it.

I found I had extra time on my hands and decided it was time to go back to school. Why? Was I looking for a new career? No, I will always be a massage therapist. But I have recently discovered a love for writing which revealed to me various shortcomings. I never saw the need to pay attention in English and can’t remember how a sentence should be constructed. Have you ever noticed some writers are easy to follow and others aren’t? I began to realize my prose wasn’t great. I longed to write effectively. So, I am going back to college to learn to write.

Which brings me back to my initial words of this article: is the philosophy the death knell of religious faith? That question first arose in my mind when reading one of my textbooks in preparation for my writing class. In discussing college papers, it says,” Readers of college writing expect any claims made by a writer to be supported with evidence. Furthermore, readers expect to be able to check the sources of facts, statistics, and other information…” (Faigley, Lester. Backpack Writing 2nd ed. 51) I remember when I read that I thought, ‘It’s a good thing religion doesn’t have to abide by those same rules.’

Why Conservative Christianity frowns on higher education?

Suddenly, I had an epiphany. Is that why conservative Christianity frowns on higher education? Is it because philosophy forces you to question and analyze and search for evidence? I was reminded of something I read in a book some time ago.

Harville Hendrix, Ph.D., (author of Getting the Love You Want), was relaying his own personal account as a spiritually talented youth. He was found to have a gift for oration at a young age. He presided over his own congregation and was a speaker at numerous revivals. He thought he had found his calling…until he went to college and took a philosophy course. His speaking changed. He started to question things he had always accepted as truth. His converts diminished. Finally, he was pulled aside by a minister who asked, “You’ve started college, Harville, haven’t you?” At Harville’s affirmative response the minister said, “College has ruined you.” (212)

Does college destroy faith?

So my question is: Does college destroy faith? Or is it only philosophy that has a corrosive effect? Does it corrode beliefs because of its analytical reasoning? Is it impossible for faith to stand up under careful scrutiny? Warren A. Nord in his book Religion & American Education asserts that” The conventional wisdom among educators is that religion is irrelevant to virtually everything that is taken to be true and important. (1)” He later states, “The truth is that intellectuals are much less religious than most people, and it is intellectuals who write textbooks, shape curricula and teach teachers. The great majority of scholars view religion as irrelevant to their subjects, and a few regard it as a superstition to be combated (4).” So it would appear that religion and education are at odds. History would even affirm them to be combatants.

Is it inevitable that faith will wither as higher learning grows?

Yet, is it inevitable that faith will wither as higher learning grows? Will we all turn into characters like the madman in Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Gay Science, loudly proclaiming, “God is dead. God Remains Dead. And we have killed him!”? Are we no longer creatures of free will? Or are we rudderless boats, tossed by whatever wave of influence comes our way? If religion is so unsteady how has it managed to last for so many thousands of years? All adherents to faith can’t possibly be ignorant! To say only the ignorant believe in God is to forget all the extremely gifted, learned, and intelligent who profess belief. Was not the Apostle Paul an attorney who learned at the knees of Gamaliel?

I prefer to subscribe to the words of Garry Wills, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, author, and journalist, “Religion does not shift or waver: the attention of its observers does.” If our faith dies due to outside influence, it is because it was already sick.

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