Is there any place more hostile to Christianity than the modern college campus? Two Christian college professors explained why, and how believers can fight for their faith in the intellectual hub of the modern world.
“The university is the single most influential tool of Western Civilization,” Corey Miller, adjunct professor of philosophy and comparative religions at Indiana University-Kokomo and president of the outreach group Ratio Christi, told PJ Media. “We need to reclaim the voice of Christ at the university.”
Ratio Christi (Latin for “The Reason of Christ”) is a non-profit organization seeking to do exactly that — to strengthen the faith of Christian students and professors while preaching the Gospel in an intellectually sophisticated way befitting elite institutions.
“I think the church doesn’t realize what they’re up against when they’re sending our kids to the secular baptismal font,” Miller declared. He argued that the modern college campus has been overtaken by the ideas of “cultural Marxism,” an ideology particularly opposed to faith in Jesus Christ. He laid out six different ways Christians can fight back — not just to keep Christian students from converting to secularism, but to reclaim higher education for the Christian principles which founded it.
1. Understanding the threat: Cultural Marxism.
“Stalin once said ideas are more powerful than weapons: we don’t allow our enemies to have weapons, so we shouldn’t allow them to have ideas,” Miller told PJ Media. He argued that the anti-free speech culture of “safe spaces” where students can go to avoid challenging ideas, “microaggressions” when usual speech can be interpreted as offensive, and “trigger warnings” where any idea which might offend people must be preceded by a warning, comes from the Marxist tactic of shaming any potential dissent.
“The general Marxist approach is to shame or eventually stop any ideas beyond what is politically correct at the time,” the professor argued. “When we think of Marxism, we think economics, but that was his third concern. His second was politics and the first was religion. America’s had its strength in Christianity in the past, and I think Marxism is a philosophy about the state owning everything and it’s got to compete in all the institutions with a Christian presence.”
Miller said Marxism must “marginalize the dominant ideology in opposition to it — I think you’re seeing that take place in a lot of different institutions.”
Carol M. Swain, professor of law at Vanderbilt University, agreed. “The failed ideas of Karl Marx led to the rise of the cultural Marxists who believed that the way you could bring about utopia was to change the culture,” she told PJ Media in an interview. Cultural Marxists came from Europe to American universities in the 1920s and 1930s, but their struggle for power flared up in the 1960s.
“The attempt to suppress other viewpoints started back then, but they didn’t have the power and positions to enforce it broadly,” Swain explained. But over the last 50 years, “they gradually went into universities and started to impose their worldview which involves suppressing anyone who would dissent.” She explicitly referenced “microaggressions” as a tactic of silencing dissent.
Now that these people are in power, they no longer call themselves Marxists. “They have imposed a dangerous space and totally antithetical to the idea of what a university is supposed to be about,” namely the free inquiry into truth and the fundamental questions of the mind.
“When you hear them describe what’s important, it’s in terms of race, gender, sexual orientation,” Swain noted. These divisions create interest groups which clamp down on dissent, claiming the ideas which undergird Western Civilization are racist, sexist, and homophobic. This ideology unravels the long, hard work of reform Christianity has wrought in the West, and threatens to undo the social good Christians have done across history.
Next Page: The goodness of Christianity, the root of Western Civilization.
2. God is behind Western Civilization.
One of the biggest problems Christians face in expressing their faith today is the stigma against the church and the Christian faith in particular. “As a whole, Christians are being perceived now as irrelevant and in a worst case scenario as evil,” Miller, president of Ratio Christi, explained. “We’re being blacklisted as homophobic, as bigots, and as other things.”
He argued that Christians need to do more than argue for the truth of their religion. “In Christian apologetics in particular, we need to shift and focus on goodness and not just truth,” Miller said. “Christianity is good, it’s relevant to society.”
Indeed, Christianity is the bedrock upon which our civilization stands. Miller noted that faith in Jesus Christ is “responsible for creating Western Civilization, the universities, the hospitals — you don’t have Richard Dawkins or Secular Alliance Hospital.”
Miller mentioned many of the institutions begun on Christian principles — not just hospitals, but non-profit organizations like the International Justice Mission, and even the university itself. “American universities, which almost in their entirety in the first phase were all explicitly Christian-driven,” are not alone: the modern idea of higher education launched in the eleventh century with medieval universities, inspired by the Christian faith.
In short, “Christianity is good, it is relevant, it has helped build the civilization that we appreciate.” There are two major reasons why Christianity is good, and those both form powerful arguments for the faith.
3. Christianity provides a basis for charity.
Christianity inspires compassion because of the person of Jesus Christ. Miller put it bluntly: “There’s no worldview that has a character like Jesus.”
Almost every culture has a version of the golden rule, but it’s less than the Christian ideal, the Ratio Christi president argued. “It’s the silver rule — don’t do to others what you don’t want them to do to you, the no-harm principle.” But “that doesn’t do you much good at all when it comes to the Good Samaritan.” It is a huge moral jump to go from “he didn’t kick you in the head so you don’t kick him in the head” to “you should help this injured stranger who is socially unclean.”
“Our worldview comes not form the jungle narrative of survival, but from the incarnation,” from the idea that God Himself, the Creator of the universe, became a man to suffer and die on our behalf. This idea is hugely consequential that it has spawned social movements across the ages, from the opposition to slavery (in the 900s and the 1800s) to the unique creation of hospitals and universities, to a worldwide push for literacy.
Miller cited the philosopher Peter Singer, whose essays are collected in the book Unsanctifying Human Life: Essays on Ethics. “He demonstrates that it was Christianity that changed the ethical world of the West because of” the notion of the sanctity of human life. “But since we know that God doesn’t exist, we can no longer adopt the principle,” the Ratio Christi president summarized.
This enabled Singer to “put forth philosophies where animals are on the same level as humans.” It also enabled him to argue for post-birth abortion and infanticide. He also has the gall to call it “discrimination, speciesism if you have a problem with sex between humans and animals.”
This illustrates a deeper problem with the cultural Marxism on college campuses.
“Marxism and Socialism talk about care for the poor, but if there is no God, why should we care for the poor?” Miller asked. “In the jungle narrative, the lion does not have compassion for the gazelle with a bloody foot, he just eats him.”
“If naturalism is true, then morality and ethics reduces to the jungle narrative of survival and power,” but “in the West, there’s been a great civilization built because we have this notion that God exists, God is good, God created man in His image, and all lives matter,” the Ratio Christi president declared.
“If equality is to be had, it won’t be had on the worldview of naturalism, which is the worldview that Marxism is built on, which is the worldview that Black Lives Matter is built on.”
Christianity, however, is not about survival, “it’s about goodness, it’s about truth, it’s about man being in God’s image.”
Next Page: What the Christian worldview means for the human mind.
4. Christianity provides a basis for rationality.
The goodness of Christianity does not stop at charity, however. Miller explained that “God serves as the basis even for rationality.”
“In the Incarnation you have both the emphasis for compassion and you have the logos,” the Ratio Christi president said, citing the ancient Greek word which the Gospel of John identified with Jesus Christ. Famously, in the opening of his Gospel, John wrote that “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.” The word for “word” is logos, and it means idea, concept, speech. It is the basis for the English word “logic,” and for scientific disciplines like “psychology.”
The identification of Jesus Christ as logos has its roots in Genesis 1, where God created the world through speech. It also emphasizes a connection between the mind that created the universe and the minds of human beings, a connection that derives from the idea of man made in God’s image. “Rationality itself is grounded in God, and what distinguishes human beings from other animals is having that rational capacity,” Miller explained.
Christianity emphasizes the value of logic and reason by providing an explanation for the miracle of science: Somehow, the human mind is capable of understanding the order behind nature. If human beings and their rational capacity only developed by chance in evolution and natural selection, there is no reason to assume that their minds were wired for truth.
But if Christianity is true, people were made in the image of the very God whose words formed the universe. Their minds are made not merely for survival, but for a connection with ultimate reality.
5. Christianity and science.
This Christian view of rationality also helps believers navigate the complex realm of faith and science. As Miller argued, “from a Christian perspective, science is a very good thing.”
The Ratio Christi president noted that “in the history of science most of the major subdisciplines were founded by Christians,” such as Gregor Mendel (father of modern genetics), Robert Boyle (chemistry), Isaac Newton (physics), and Johannes Kepler (astronomy).
“It’s not that science has been opposed to Christianity; It’s the Christian theistic worldview that gave rise to science because we have a worldview that involves a Creator creating an intelligible creation with intelligent beings with rational capacity that have sense perceptions that can attach to the natural world,” Miller said.
Many think that Christianity and science are incompatible, but “the problem is not Christianity and science, the problem is Christianity and scientism.” Miller described scientism as “a philosophy of science that tends to assume a worldview of naturalism,” a worldview that is incompatible with Christianity.
“Some of what passes as science is not even science — it’s a certain philosophy of science,” the Ratio Christi president explained.
“Whenever there is an alleged discrepancy between science and Christianity, it’s really not a discrepancy about the facts themselves … it’s about the interpretation of the facts from a theologian and a scientist,” Miller argued. He quoted Francis Bacon, who said that if God exists, “He has two books, his word and his world, scripture and nature. When those two are properly interpreted, there can be no contradiction.”
Next Page: Tying it all together — How we unite Christianity and ideas.
6. Incorporating faith into our ideas.
Miller explained that his goal with Ratio Christi is not just to prepare students to face the threats of the modern college campus, but also to train Christians at all levels to integrate their faith and their worldview. “We want to embrace not just the heart and the hands of Christ, but the head of Christ,” he said.
Ratio Christi does not just have an outreach to college students (170 university chapters), it also has a high school program (30 high school clubs), and a network of professors who discuss how their faith fits into their disciplines.
“We want these Christian professors to integrate their faith and reason, faith and life, faith and vocation,” Miller said. “We want them to stop being professors who happen to be Christians; we want to develop a movement of missional professors.”
Ratio Christi aims to equip each teacher, leaving a professor “who still teaches well in their field, who contributes to their academic society and their professions, but thinks more intentionally about integrating their faith and reason.”
“I think Christians need to see the university as a mission field,” the organization’s president declared. “I think the church is making the greatest omission of the great commission if they neglect the professor.” He argued that “the university is where the doctors, lawyers, journalists, future political leaders, and future professors all come from. Right now it’s dominated by a secular milieu,” but Ratio Christi aims to change that.
It’s not just professors who should integrate faith and learning, however. This is a call for all believers to delve into the ideas behind their faith, to integrate those into how they see the world, and to become not just better Christians, but better thinkers, speakers, and doers. If Christianity unites faith with both reason and compassion, that won’t just change the world, it will free our minds and hearts to see and love that Good One who is behind every thing thing. That is what life and joy are really about, and the word for it is “heaven.”