Does Higher Education Weaken Faith?

By: Tia Johnson 0 Comments   9/21/2011

When I attended St. Cloud State University and met a professor of high educational degree who was also an outspoken Christian, I felt that he should be sent to a museum. It was just that rare of an encounter.

I'm not the only college student who has felt so, which has led many to wonder if obtaining a higher education is linked to a less passionate faith, or no faith at all.

According to an article on the Association of Religion Data Archives website, "Secular activists have said for centuries that the more people know, the less they will believe in religion."

Here are a few statements from that article regarding higher education and faith:

" the 2006 Portraits of American Life Study, 58 percent of respondents with bachelor’s degrees said religion or religious faith was very important to them personally. The percentage was just slightly below the 62 percent of high school graduates who attributed similar levels of importance to religion."

and "Seventy-one percent of high school graduates, compared to 58 percent of college graduates, told the 2007 Baylor Religion Survey that they have no doubt that God exists."

It would be tempting to think, based on this research, that a higher education is bad for spiritual growth. But even this article states that is not conclusive. I've decided that it's not the education that causes one to drift away from God. Rather, it's the approach to education. The decisive question is this: Who gets the credit for what is being discovered?

If credit is extended to a researcher or teacher, or if we apply the applause to our own clever minds, then we've fallen for pride, which is in enmity with God throughout scripture. As Psalm 10:4 says, "In his pride the wicked man does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God."

Romans 1 explains how this way of thinking progresses: verse 20: "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen..." verse 21: "although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful..." verse 22: "Professing to be wise, they became fools." (NKJV)

However, God created our minds and brilliant researchers, which are tools to bring forth truth in this world. Instead of misplacing our praise, we must give glory to God for knowledge discovered.

As Proverbs 9:10 says, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding."

Approach To Learning

Besides internally asking who is getting the credit, another factor in how a student might fare while pursuing higher education is where he or she places his or her identity. Here's another statement from the ARDA article:

"[The researchers] argued that evangelicals, black Protestants and Catholics would be more likely to find positive effects from higher education because their religious beliefs and tradition are a bigger part of their identity and would tend to buffer them from outside influences."

One's identity plays a significant role in any lifestyle change, but also in our approach to learning.

The state of our identity might be discovered by answering this question: Does God preside in church and periodically elsewhere, or is His work present all around us? Or, is faith segregated to a special corner of life, or is it integrated throughout?

If not just our Sunday worship is in Christ, but our whole identity and motivation for what we do is in Christ, then we're more likely to see God at work when reading books and hearing lectures. The ability for a student to recognize God's work anywhere depends greatly upon where he or she places their identity.

It's important to note that just knowledge of scripture does not necessarily institute a proper identity in Christ.

According to a survey done by Pew Research Center, those who were least committed to religion knew more about it than those who were moderately committed. If you know a lot, it doesn't necessarily mean you are more committed to your faith. (Although, those who have a high commitment to religion generally knew more about it than others.) Also, those who stated the Bible is not the direct word of God in the Pew survey seemed to know more about religion than those who said it was the direct word of God.

So though religious knowledge is important, it does not necessarily point one's mind to glorifying God and recognizing where He is at work. The Holy Spirit can point a mind and heart to Christ.

Parents Role

So what role should parents play to prepare children for college? Christian parents whose children are memorizing scripture are certainly not without hope. Learning scripture is important and should coincide with a faith-integrated life. But it's imperative to teach children that God is not segregated to just the "spiritual" part of our lives but is at work everywhere.

One way of teaching this is to take a glance at your bookshelf. Where do Bible story books sit on a shelf with other children's books? Are they set apart, or mixed throughout?

Children need to know that God's work does not stop when the Bible story book closes and is not segregated to "this section" of the bookshelf. When reading other books, such as a book on insects, try talking about how uniquely God made each creature. When reading a story about children fighting, talk about the importance of forgiveness, and how God's commands really are good for us.

As children grow and encounter difficult situations, point to where God is at work. If they encounter sin, such as a peer who steals from others, discuss how one who is void of Jesus Christ's forgiveness might find satisfaction in other people's possessions, which only temporarily satisfies. Why else would they steal again?

If you give gifts at Christmastime, discuss how toys are fun for awhile, but look at last year's toy shoved back in the closet. Earthly possessions lose their luster and may break. Then read Matthew 6:19: "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy..."

Later on, when watching the news, point out the stories revealing generosity, and how happy the giver seems to be. Discuss how politicians sometimes say things they don't mean, leading to a lack of trust in them from the public. Then talk about Daniel and Joseph in the Bible and how they gained respect by honest living.

If we can teach our kids to see God in the things they are learning, maybe they will give Him credit for what they are learning throughout their education.

If faith is integrated throughout life, and if God's work is seen in the growth of a plant and in a relationship restored, than one is more likely to give God credit for new information discovered, even if it may be at a large liberal university.

Colossians 2:2-3: "My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

All verses NIV unless otherwise noted.

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