Saturday, February 26, 2005

Anti-Intellectualism and Conservative Students

The one place on campus that absolutely does not lean to the Left around the university is the student body. I can count the number of students that expressed liberal views in all of my classes on one hand. A part of this is no doubt due to the area of the country I'm in. In my classes it is the students that don't believe in God and aren't conservative, maybe two or three in each class of 55, that probably feel the most uncomfortable expressing their views on things in class.

I'm teaching a section of philosophy of religion now, in which we discuss arguments for and against God's existence, and some of the students clearly feel uncomfortable discussing the possibility that God might not exist. Somewhere along the way, these students have been taught that questioning one's faith in God undermines that faith. They've learned not to ask too many questions and to be cautious of any idea that doesn't obviously fit into their "worldview." They've been told 'to watch out for professors that are out to put ideas in [students'] heads.'

So, they get visibly worried looks on their faces when you start presenting the issues like the relationship between faith and reason, arguments for and (here's the troubling part) against God's existence, and philosophical criticisms of religious belief. They seem to worry that learning this kind of material for its own sake is somehow going to undermine their faith. While I don't attend church anymore (perhaps I'll explain why in a future post), but it is with these students that I have the most in common when it comes to politics.

The fact that I share so many of the same basic values and beliefs as these students makes it especially disturbing to me to see this kind of anti-intellectualism amongst them. Many of the religious students in my classes clearly believe it is a "sin" to consider the possibility that God might not exist, and many conservatives more generally seem to think that pursuing the study of subjects that do not lead directly into some particular career to be "useless." There are too few religious and conservative students interested in the life of the mind because they have been taught somewhere along the line (and to tell you the truth I blame their parents and ministers) that it will subvert your faith and lead to eternal damnation or is useless. So, perhaps conservatives do share some of the responsibility for their poor showing amongst academics.

Now don't you conservatives and religious types out there do me like the black community did Bill Cosby recently. You can praise Rush Limbaugh, Coulter, etc. all you want. But, they are not intellectuals or academics, they're partisans. They'd never make it in the university doing what they do. Conservatives and religious types should step up to their responsibility for having promoted a kind of anti-intellectualism amongst their kids, and correct the situation. There is no reason that pursuing the truth should be thought of as inherently dangerous to religious belief or that an academic career is something that is useless.

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