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Think For Yourself

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Jul. 15, 2013

College is an exciting time in our lives.  It is a time of newfound freedom, building friendships, challenge, growth, and academic rigor.  Of course, being in a new place surrounded by new people can be overwhelming, but ultimately, most students consider it a truly unique, enjoyable and rewarding experience.

One aspect of college that I particularly enjoyed was the opportunity to take classes of my choice, especially world religion classes.  Although, I was initially disappointed by all of the general education requirements, I soon realized that I encountered religion even in these classes.  Since I was attending a Protestant school, it surprised me to hear that most of the comments from professors and students were about Catholicism. 

As a freshman, I knew a decent amount about Catholicism.  I knew plenty of the conclusions about the faith, but I knew few philosophical, theological, or historical reasons for Church teachings.  I quickly learned my lack of knowledge about Catholicism was a major problem.  I cannot remember hearing a single positive thing about Catholicism in my classes.  Professors, who professed to be Catholic or claimed to have “grown up in the Catholic Church,” told the class that the Catholic Church “invented” purgatory, hated homosexuals, didn’t understand the needs of today’s societies or individuals, and was anti-woman.  I distinctly remember a philosophy professor, identifying himself as Catholic to an auditorium full of students, stating he believed abortion to be the only moral action to pursue in many instances.  I learned in my introductory theology class that God only loves minorities, the oppressed, and the poor.  I was learning liberation theology, which stands in stark contrast to the actual teaching of the Church. 

Just as often as a professor would incorrectly identify a teaching of the Catholic Church, I found myself infuriated, offended, and in disagreement.  But I did not know how to defend what I knew to be correct.  I didn’t even know where to start.  At the same time, I found many students and friends adopting the positions of our wayward professors.  It wasn’t that they intentionally dissented from the faith. Rather, they turned away from the actual teachings of the Catholic Church and toward the faith as taught by college professors.

Unfortunately, my experience seems to be a common one in college.  It’s difficult to know the reasons behind all Church teaching, let alone knowing where to even start learning.  An important life skill and the first step toward understanding and defending your faith is to develop critical thinking.  Many younger people think this is synonymous with “thinking outside of the box.”  It’s not. What I mean by critical thinking is to challenge people’s positions and propositions by asking questions.  Do not accept everything at face value especially from your professors, the media, and celebrities.  I am not advocating becoming a radical skeptic of everything…  I am advocating learning your faith for yourself.  Understand why the Church teaches what it does.  Learn why people dissent and disagree with the Church.  I am advocating that you adopt the truth and make it something you intellectually grasp, as well as live.  

The Catechism is a great place to start learning.  Reading groups can be helpful.  Your parish priest can also offer great insight.  Programs offered by your Newman Center will be enriching.  Be active in your faith.  The Church has a 2,000-year-old intellectual tradition that spans the humanities and sciences.  No professor can defeat this rich tradition with a few oversimplified arguments about their own issues with the Church.  Get involved, think for yourself, ask questions, and become a knowledgeable Catholic! 

About the Author

Jeremiah Doyle is a freelance writer for Newman Connection.