Keeping Faith

October 24, 2006


Source: The Harvard Crimson

“Are you religious?” Christians like me often feel uncomfortable when asked this question, especially when it happens at Harvard. Perhaps they’re nervous that if they answer yes, the questioner will immediately think of them as a naive, sexually repressed, narrow-minded Bible-thumper.

At Harvard it’s considered cooler and more intellectual to read Nietzsche than C.S. Lewis, to engage in intellectual discourse grounded in secular thought rather than the religious dimension. Of course, it is incredibly valuable for a religious person, who may not understand how someone can be an atheist, to read great secular thinkers to understand the alternative point of view. And Harvard students get this exposure through the current Core, which requires every student to read secular moral thinkers. But, likewise, atheists who don’t understand how someone can be religious should be required to take a class about religion.

The logic behind the Reason and Faith requirement proposed by The Preliminary Report of the Task Force on General Education is thus similar to that behind studying a foreign culture or language; it will allow students to dialogue with a religion’s believers and understand the diversity and depth of religious beliefs. What does “jihad” really mean? What views on sexual morality do different faiths hold? What is nirvana, and why do Buddhist monks meditate for days on end? These are all common questions that classes in this field could address.