Given the large numbers of Catholic students who compromise or even abandon their faith while in college, especially at secular institutions but even at many historically Catholic universities, Catholic families no doubt appreciate good advice on “keeping your faith at college.” We recently noted one good piece at First Things by editor R.R. Reno.
But Michael Pakaluk, professor of philosophy at Ave Maria University, makes an argument which has the full agreement of The Cardinal Newman Society: it’s a rather poor goal for Catholic families to hope that their sons and daughters stay Catholic while in college. If the danger is great, better to stay home. But families can make choices to ensure that Catholic students grow in the Faith while in college – ideally by choosing one of the faithfully Catholic colleges in The Newman Guide.
“The best way to avoid losing your faith in college is to avoid those well-intentioned columns and books about how to avoid losing your faith in college,” Pakaluk writes in The Boston Pilot. “All of this advice is based on misguided presuppositions which, if granted, already spell the doom of the enterprise of ‘not losing the faith.’”
As he points out, not every reader of a diet book is thin and not every subscriber to a golf magazine shoots par.
Pakulak warns against students going to school that are a danger to their faith. He suggests that descriptor would encompass most colleges today. Pakulak urges parents and students to find colleges that don’t see faith and reason as mutually exclusive.
College after all is education. Education is supposed to build up, not attack. The Catholic faith is a fundamental human good. So what is wrong with this “education” which has the tendency to tear down the most important human goods?
Furthermore, faith and reason are in harmony, so that if an institution has the tendency to attack or undermine faith, it simply cannot be doing right by reason. Its graduates might turn out clever, trained, or skilled in a narrow technical sense, but not reasonable in a broad human sense. There is more than enough evidence for this conclusion.
And as for the ambition of getting students into the most competitive school possible and steering away from “less competitive” faithful colleges, he argues that it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that ends in the faithful college not being perceived as competitive and students losing their faith.
As for those colleges being “second rate”, I deny that they are inferior in education to the vast majority of institutions which are regarded as more prestigious. Also, obviously, what makes an institution “first rate” is competitiveness, and those truly Catholic institutions would become the most competitive in the country if Catholic parents generally made them their first choice. We Catholics foolishly fulfill our own prophecy.
So a student finds himself placed by his parents in an institution thought to be “prestigious” but which everyone knows (but is afraid to say) will work to undermine his faith, and he is not supposed to draw the conclusion that success means gaining prestige there, regardless of what happens to his faith?
Pakulak has much else to say including the fact that if your goal is to not lose the faith you will most certainly lose it. Faith, he says, only grows if we’re progressing in the faith. And it’s difficult to progress in the faith in an environment inimical to the faith.
You can read his entire piece here.
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