A Survival Guide for Religious Believers on Campus
by Dr. John Zmirak
Originally appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of the Intercollegiate Review. Reprinted with permission.
If you’re an orthodox believer at a mainstream college, you don’t need me to tell you that you feel like an oddball, maybe even besieged. Your professors and most of your peers would treat your most deeply held beliefs with condescension and probably horror, if they knew about them.
So what should you do about it?
If you had asked my advice even a few years ago, I would have told you to be the turd in the liberals’ punchbowl. When I was an undergraduate in the 1980s, I did everything in my power to challenge leftist orthodoxies. I saw offending liberals as a key public service, which I dubbed “insensitivity training.” I relied on, and fought for, the principle of free speech.
That’s long gone on campuses now.
My advice today? Grit your teeth, do your reading, make some friends, get your degree, and then make like Lot fleeing Sodom: never look back.
Sounds depressing, right? Well, I do have some good news, as you’ll see.
Big Mother Is Watching You
Colleges are much less tolerant than they were even back when I was in school. Instead of welcoming free, vigorous debate designed to prepare people for adulthood, many campuses are turning the classroom into a “safe space” where infantilized pseudo-victims can wallow in their phantom pains for four long, pricey years before the college dumps them into the real world and sends the bill. The tenets of your faith, if you stood up for them, might count as “microaggressions,” “trigger words,” or even “harassment.” Citing free speech won’t get you far on most campuses nowadays.
If your creed is anything like mine, it is by any contemporary secular standard “homophobic,” “transphobic,” “patriarchal,” “sexually repressive,” and opposed to “abortion rights.” There is no way to airbrush any orthodox monotheist religion, especially biblical or ecclesial Christianity, to make it acceptable to secular progressives. It would take full-on plastic surgery, and you saw what that did to the Episcopal Church, Bruce Jenner, and every Jesuit college.
As someone who delighted in debating professors and students in and out of the classroom, it pains me to recommend a “covert-ops” approach. But the battlefield has shifted, and you are now deep behind enemy lines.
It is not just campuses that have become increasingly intolerant of religious faith; the whole society is moving in this direction. Look at what happened to Mozilla cofounder Brendan Eich, who was forced out as CEO for a political contribution he had made years earlier in support of a ballot proposition in favor of natural marriage. Now imagine taking a bold stand for positions that are in line with the tenets of your faith but that don’t comply with liberal orthodoxy. If you’re writing articles or even posting on social media, that all becomes part of your “permanent record” and will follow you to potential employers down the road.
So keep your head down, and keep your faith. That last part can be difficult when peers and professors attack your religious beliefs as “retrograde” or “reactionary.” But you can do it. You can do it even if your campus ministry soft-pedals any supernatural aspect of your religion, privileging instead some social justice activism. If that’s the case, go find a local church and pray with the grown-ups at a faithful congregation. You may spot fellow students there. Befriend them.
You can also find like-minded students in organizations like the Intercollegiate Studies Institute-affiliated group on campus, Young Americans for Liberty, College Republicans, or your campus pro-life club. Maybe even a Greek organization, if those haven’t been banned from your campus. Their meetings could be a “safe space” for you.
The Good News
Now that you’re good and paranoid, let me give you the good news: you’re right, and your peers and professors are wrong. They may condescend to your faith and condemn your views, but they are profoundly deluded.
The modern secular mind-set is nakedly self-contradictory. On one hand, it acts as if each human life, and each vagary of every eighteen-year-old, is profoundly significant. Every aspiration, trauma, or sensitivity any student expresses must be honored and respected. The choices of each human being are so important that we must reshape our culture and creeds to remove any obstacles to the full unfolding of each precious, unique human snowflake. This post-Kantian creed is an exaggeration and distortion of the Christian idea of the person with an immortal soul, of infinite dignity and value in the eyes of God.
On the other hand, all those precious snowflakes in chinos and Pink sweatpants learn in biology class that the human species is just another cosmic error, a random genetic mutation that survived because it was fittest. In physics class they learn that our every thought and feeling is the side effect of deterministic subatomic interactions in the neurons of our brains. And so on, in virtually every other class. It turns out that human beings are nothing special, and what happens to any one of them is moot within seventy years, since he/she melts into nothingness, like any snowflake.
Modern secular liberals are like post-apocalyptic primitives, who rely on leftover technology whose workings they don’t understand. So they worship machines as gods. The “machine” that survived the apocalypse was the Christian respect for human dignity, the very idea of human rights. You didn’t find that in ancient Rome or Confucian China. And if we keep regressing to primitivism, you soon won’t find it here. Bereft of an energy source, the machine will stop working altogether. But for now, it’s still generating a warm glow of importance around human beings, so the liberals gather and pray to it.
You know why it works and how it might stop. They don’t. They might not appreciate your telling them—but you should feel some responsibility to take people aside, now and then, and share the truth. But do it kindly. Imagine them as denizens of a Mad Max world who pray to an ATM. And you’re a banker. So share the wealth.
Dr. John Zmirak is author of numerous books, most recently The Race to Save Our Century. Intercollegiate Review is a print magazine and daily site for conservative students that was first published by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute in 1965. The Institute was founded by William F. Buckley Jr. as “a counterattack against the progressive ideology taking over American colleges.”