All my senior classes are kinda driving me crazy these last 2 days... the classes themselves are tolerable, even kinda nifty, but it's the uncannily unlucky assortment of classmates I've ended up with that are the real problem. Now, it must be said that the majority of people at my college I truly like, and consider them friends. But almost all of those people I was close to graduated in May, and now I'm left with this mixture of half-smile acquiantances and squint-at-you strangers. Not that I can't make new friends and still find good conversation and healthy discussion with this other students--but it somehow happened that in two of my most "discussion-heavy, super-introspective" classes, Philosophy of Faith and Learning, and Worldviews, frankly--I'm surrounded by dumbasses. There's no other way to really put it. In Faith and Learning on Monday, the topic of the day was "Your Mind Matters," that is, that no one can get away with riding through life on emotions and instincts and feelings or even the excuse of "I was always taught that..." We've got to use our reason to make sure we know what we think. Why we believe what we believe. Why we have to be prepared and be smart and not just touchy-feeling Christians.
After doing the reading for class, I was thinking, "Cool. I've gotten away with vague gut feelings and 'I just know' stuff for too long. It's about time I get some solid reason-based opinions." Oh, now I despair for my generation. It seemed everyone in the class missed the entire point--all of these people were just talking last week about the importance of one's own experience with God (rather like I was talking). And now... it seemed as though all of them (save one or two people) have completely switched over to the "brain" camp. They went on and on about how "ohhh if you don't say the right thing to people when you're talking about Jesus, you're screwed even if the Holy Spirit would have liked to work in their hearts" and all this stuff. Ummm what happened to all the "God's sovereignty" and stuff from all these so-called uhhh presbyterians? Now they're all about this brain thing and the utter responsibility of people to "save" people. Doesn't this sudden change defeat the entire purpose of using your mind and judgment to weigh evidence and truth to arrive at a sound decision? It seems they let a 60-page book alter all their thinking, because they were still stuck in this undergraduate thinking of "you're here to learn and you can worry about opinions once you've learned." But that's completely not what this class was about! It is trying to get us to take all that learning we've absorbed for 4 years and prove that we can use it to make our own decisions!
In terms of the Worldviews class, I was so upset at the end, I was almost crying. But I was so excited about yesterday's class, so excited about the whole course in general after all the pulse-raising praise from so many of my friends. Yesterday was the day we discussed Christian Theism, the worldview that is the college's official platform and the personal tradition and beliefs of most of our students. Our professor warned us it would probably be the most frustrating discussion of all, because instead of weighing the merits or problems with an alien worldview, like that of Taoism or Existentialism, we would be forcing ourselves to the roots of the beliefs we claimed to hold. He promised that he would be asking all these questions out of love, even though it would seem like he was baiting us and playing too-savvy and too-cynical of a devil's advocate. It was pretty amazing yet nervewracking at first--he'd ask us "tell me something Christians believe." Someone would answer to the effect of "we believe Jesus is the Son of God, and that He is also fully God." Okay, tentatively good start, sound recitation of basic doctrine. But then the professor would look perplexed and ask "wait, who is God? Does he have a wife? How is his son also God if he's God?" And then the original speaker would look generally distressed and try to explain that "well.... God created the world and uhhh we believe he sent his son to die for our sins." Still technically correct. Then comes the question: "How do you know that's true?" "I read it in the Bible." "Why do you believe the Bible?" "Because it's God's word." Then our lovely brilliant professor would look even more perplexed and muse "so... you believe what God says because you believe that God said to believe what God says?"
Then we'd all laugh nervously and he'd smile cheerily and we'd start all over again with another round of "what do Christians believe." So far, so good. He's demonstrating that we've got to get better, more solid reasons for our faith besides "well, my parents taught me to believe the Bible," I thought, while anxiously awaiting the moment he would turn to me and start the vicious quiz at me. So I was cautious to answer when he asked me "why do you believe the Bible, Chelsea?" Feeling just as foolish as my classmates surely had felt, I ventured "Well, in the last few years, I've read alot of scientific and historical research that cross-referenced the texts of the Bible with other ancient texts, putting them in relation with real events and real places and real people, and I've been convinced that on that front, the Bible is accurate. So when I start reading what it says about God and Jesus, I'm more prone to believe its accuracy in that respect. It's not all of my faith, but it's a earthly foundation, right?" Well, I felt pretty impressed with myself and my answer until my professor got a wicked glint in his eye and asked "well, why do you also believe the accuracy of those other ancient texts?" and then "what if some ancient versions of the Bible disagree on some details? For example, in the book of Mark, there are 2 ancient sources (the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Septuagint or something) that don't include the last ten verses. Would you still call it true if you saw inconsistencies?" I was rather sheepish after that, but then one of my classmates jumped in with a "well, maybe God wanted those differences to test people's faith" and then I didn't feel so stupid anymore.
As the class went on, I was feeling more and more uneasy, but not for the reason I had been warned about. I didn't feel like my own foundations were being tested yet--it seemed like because of the refusal of my classmates to stray outside the response of "Christian-y answers," I was getting vexed and uncomfortable. The prime example came when one girl was talking about how Jesus came to save us and die for us. "Back up now," said the professor, "Why do I need to be saved? I don't think I do." "Because Jesus takes away your sin." replied the girl. "Well, what do you mean by sin? What is sin?" asked the professor. We all looked towards her, and in my head I was trying to figure out what my own answer would be, if I had to explain sin to someone who knew nothing of typical church-jargon. Would I compare it to commiting a crime and needing to be punished, and Jesus came along and said that he'd serve out the prison sentence for me? Would I talk about disappointing a loved one, a parent maybe, and the need to take the punishment for that disobedience? To go more theologically analogous, imagine a clean room in a hospital, and you want to go in to see your beloved grandmother who is sick, but you can't approach her without first removing all the dirt and bacteria and germs from your body.
But the girl broke my heart when she answered, because it seemed like no one in the class understood that our professor was trying to make us think differently. "You see," she began, "there was this man and this woman, and they ate an apple, and then God made them leave..." and I honestly don't remember the rest of what she said, I was so astounded by how far she had missed the point. Luckily, my professor continued his devil's advocate theme and said something like "This just sounds as real as the epic of Gilgamesh, or Beowulf. You expect me to think your Jesus story is any different?" And everyone looked frustrated and he told us we'd talk more next time and we all padded silently out of the class with furrowed brows.
I left class thinking about my morning Biology 101. I thought of how I had high school biology seven years ago, and because I put off this last science credit so long, I had found myself surrounded by freshmen who were 5 years younger and yet knew way more than me. I thought about how I had asked a simple (probably a stupid) question, like "what exactly is a cell?" and then I was more confused than ever when I got the answer, because I was met with even more technical terms that I didn't know. To someone who knows nothing of Christianity, you just cannot explain the concept of, say, predestination, by rattling off some familiar definition filled with "sovereignty"s, "redemptions," "total depravity"s, and a million other words that even alot of Christians can't firmly define. And yet, that's what so many of us still do. Maybe that's why I never try... which leads me to my next point:
Even those those classmates were blindly dumbasses in my view, my own stance is probably just as lamentable. I'm very very guilty of being one of those people that Dante would consign to the vestibule of Hell--those who refuse to have an opinion, for whatever reason. My defense has always been that "I'm not gonna argue with you about issue X, Y, or Z, because I'm not sure which side I agree with." For years, I've considered myself to be pretty great, because I thought I was so wise in not jumping to emotional conclusions. But instead I've ended up never resolving any issues in my own mind. Good for me---I don't know what should have been done with Terry Shiavo. Good for me---I don't know if I think abortion should be legal. Good for me---I'm still pondering if gay marriage should be constitutionally protected. The one (political) thing I'm definitely supportive of is the U.S. military, because I believe absolutely that the soldiers should be supported and respected and honored. The existence they lead, and the sacrifices they make, and the philosophies they adhere to and represent are something I am so proud of (just read Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein and you'll know what I mean). But do I think the war in Afghanistan should be taking place? I really don't know.
Am I so fine and great because I refuse to state an opinion? No. I need to say, definitely, no. Okay, sure, you've got that famous adage of "it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt." But I'm not remaining silent for the sake of being all wise and patient and whatever--I'm silent because I have nothing to say. I want something to say. I've always rambled to my friends that "oh, I never argue about anything unless it's unimportant." Good for me--I'm quaint and precocious. But I'm an adult now. I'm about to graduate, and I need to know. I need to know what is, and what isn't. I need to know what I believe, and why I believe it. I need to know what the bloody hell I think.