What Secular Society?

Yesterday in the senior Seminar we were discussing Plato's Apology, and I was pointing out that Socrates saw learning more as a process of "unlearning" old ideas rather than acquiring new ones. The goal was to take already existing ideas out of your head, examine them for consistency, logic and evidence, and then to make an informed judgement about whether they were ideas worth keeping. So I asked the students if there was any idea that they once held as accurate or true that they have since revised after four years of college.

To prime the pump, I gave the example of nursing students revising their ideas about anatomy after taking A&P or business students who have come to realize that marketing is more than a catchy jingle. You'll note that I steered clear of religion on this one. Painful experience has taught me not to try to make the point I was trying to illustrate on religious grounds.

There was a long silence after I put the question forward. At last, one thoughtful young woman volunteered that she was a dyed-in-the-wool Lutheran and came to college assured that her belief system was the absolute truth. Then, she said, she took a comparative religion class and was struck by the degree of similarity among the world's major faiths. She said it made her wonder how she could be so certain that hers was superior in every respect. She was still a Lutheran, but she had many more questions and had lost her idea that everyone else was just in error. Another student volunteered that she took that comparative religion class and it only made her realize how "stupid those other faiths were." By the time the class ended, still another student had asked how there could be any right and wrong without God? I kept trying to steer clear of theological minefields, but we keep circling back.

Sometimes I wonder why I just don't start every class with the question "Is there a God?"

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