February 11, 2009

Tale of a Good Christian

Christian Atheism - Happiness in a bad worldImage by David Maddison via Flickr

I attended a Christian college not because I was Christian at the time (I was far more public about my atheism then as compared to now) but because the school had a great reputation in the region. I encountered my share of religiously-motivated bigotry, certainly more than I would have at one of the state universities in the area, but this ended up being good preparation for life in Mississippi. In fact, there is not much I would change about the experience. It wasn't always pleasant, but it helped to make me who I am today. In this post, I'd like to tell you about a particularly outstanding Christian professor who I admired and respected a great deal. If nothing else, this may serve as a reminder that even devout Christians can be wonderful teachers and good people.

The professor in question had his appointment in the departments of philosophy and held degrees in both religion and philosophy. The course I took with him was an upper-level philosophy course, the philosophy of religion. I ended up minoring in philosophy after being unable to figure out what I would do with a philosophy major.

I went into the course as a fairly rabid anti-theist with a chip on my shoulder. I suppose I expected to be penalized for expressing what I really thought about religion. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Well, that's not entirely accurate. You see, I did take plenty of shit from the other students, nearly all of whom were Christians. But the professor was nothing but accepting, encouraging, and genuinely helpful.

As we studied the various arguments for and against the existence of gods, focusing on classic and contemporary Christian apologists, the professor was clear about what he believed but equally clear that we were to arrive at our own conclusions. He never preached or attempted to impose his beliefs. Students were expected to wrestle with the material and critically evaluate it.

In hindsight, this was probably my favorite class from my time in college. It was quite difficult, both intellectually and emotionally, because it forced us to fully engage the material. I saw more than a couple Christian students break down and cry in class when one of their cherished arguments was effectively demolished. I remained an atheist but certainly became more thoughtful and mature about my atheism.

Best of all, I experienced support and guidance from someone who clearly did not agree with me but was nevertheless committed to helping me. Whenever I am tempted to lump all Christians together and apply categorical statements, I recall this professor as the exception that shatters my stereotype.

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