Are You There God? It’s Me, Colgate.

Deo Ac Veritati, the motto of our school. It means “for God and Truth”, or perhaps more accurately it conveys the sense that God and Truth are inseparably linked. In the 19th century this motto reflected the mission of our school, which was a place at which young Baptists were trained to be ministers. Today though, Colgate is a very different place and to even find people willing to talk about their faith in God, or lack thereof, is a difficult thing. That’s why I was very happy to read Amanda Fox’s Editor’s Column last week. She did something that is not very easy to do; she talked about her most deeply held convictions, those that inform and guide her life. I hope she started a lot of people thinking about issues of faith, I know she’s spurred a lot of thinking on my part.


My thinking though, follows along quite different lines than Fox’s and before parents start panicking and thinking that Colgate will inevitably turn their children into atheists, I’d like to discuss my own experience at Colgate, which has been one of a growing faith and not a fading one. I came to Colgate very uncertain about the existence of God, and knew next to nothing about the Bible. However, more out of habit than any great zeal for Christ, I went to University Church (the Protestant church on campus). Once there, I began to think a lot about my

own faith.


After all, if I wanted to I didn’t have to go to church anymore. And my reflection upon the world, upon myself and upon the Bible led me closer to God. It wasn’t all rational reflection that led me to God. God’s not just an idea to be contemplated, but an active presence in our lives. There were times of quiet contemplation that I felt his presence, times in church while I was singing that I knew God lived in that building too and times when I had a conviction that I knew emanated from beyond myself. Most profoundly of all I felt a comfort that I knew could only have come from God during the moment of deepest grief in my life.


I also have a wonderful Protestant community to thank for my growth in faith. I’ve had three wonderful chaplains who have helped me explore the Bible and an extremely supportive community of fellow students. With all due respect to Fox, when I read things like, “Faith, after all, relies not on reason or logic but blind loyalty and confidence,” it

upsets me.


Very few religious people can be said to be blind to reason, and certainly the Christians I know here at Colgate are not. Those who think that people of faith believe blindly should check out a University Church Bible Study when they get a chance. I’m always impressed by the depth of intellectual discussion that goes on there. When you see a group of Christians trying to reconcile God’s all powerful and all loving nature with the existence of human suffering your conviction about how students of faith are here at Colgate being blind might change.


I’m also a little put off when I’m told by Friedrich Nietzsche that faith is a narcotic. It’s such a great slogan, it’s so catchy, and it even makes sense if one does not consider it too deeply. However, it only works as an explanation if faith is merely understood as doing something of benefit to the one who believes. One’s faith can of course provide comfort in difficult times, mine certainly did. However, my faith in Christ isn’t just like a drug that makes me feel good when I’m down, it also calls me to think beyond myself. I don’t just mean to consider God – though it does that too – I mean it calls me to think of others beyond myself. The best example of this type of calling out from one’s self that I can think of is from a course I took about Colgate graduates who became missionaries to India, when the school here was still a seminary. For these men and their courageous wives, their faith didn’t just serve as a way to deal with the harsh realities of the world, it called upon them to love their fellow human beings so much that they left their homes and family to journey to a strange and dangerous land to share with the people there the message that had changed their lives. I struggle when I think about the lives of these men and women to understand how their faith functioned as a narcotic.


Though I’m of course evidence that Colgate does not turn all its students into atheists, I will say that religious students are exposed to a lot more material that challenges their faith than nonbelievers are exposed to material that challenges their unbelief. The CORE Modernity course is a great example. We read texts from renowned atheists like Freud, Marx, Darwin and Nietzsche. However, no attention is paid to how people maintained their faith into modern times and reconciled it to the challenges posed by individuals

like Marx.


Religious belief is not just some vestige of the “western tradition,” it’s a huge part of our modern world too. Many people of faith have crafted intellectually sophisticated justifications for their belief which engage with the most profound challenges offered

to belief.


More students should be exposed to these ideas rather than being allowed to sit comfortably thinking that atheism is simply the natural byproduct of modernity. I don’t mind having my beliefs challenged, because I think it refines them and makes them stronger, but it should be a two-way street. If religious individuals are asked to consider whether what they experience as religion might have a purely psychological basis, then those who don’t believe in God should be asked to consider whether a deep conviction they have (to help preserve the earth for instance, or help those in Haiti) might derive from somewhere beyond themselves.


Those that believe that as societies become more advanced religious belief inevitably declines, should be asked to consider if greater material wealth distracts people from considering transcendent reality or blinds them to the evidence of God that is right there for them to see. Or perhaps those who see no evident design in nature should be asked to consider the intricacies of the rings of Saturn or the mitochondria of our cells. Most importantly, students should not take what people, like Nietzsche, say about religion at face value. You shouldn’t trust anyone that much. Read the Bible, the Talmud, the Qur’an or the Vedas for yourself. The little smidgen of the Bible you read in Western Traditions doesn’t count. Before you reject something at least know what you are rejecting! Otherwise you’re just subscribing to atheism without rationally investigating the alternatives, and that’s truly blind faith.