The Real Reason Many Christian Kids Want To Attend A Secular College

Apr 19, 2022

Student: I know how you feel about the matter, but I’m thinking about going to a secular college next year.

Gibbs: How come?

Student: I don’t want to live in a bubble. If I don’t go to a secular college, I’m worried I’ll go through my whole life without ever knowing anything about other people’s views.

Gibbs: Huh. You think college is your last chance to encounter “other people’s views”?

Student: Sort of.

Gibbs: What a strange life you must have planned for yourself after college. Be that as it may, I guess I should ask what you mean by “other people’s views”?

Student: I mean, I don’t know anything about Islam. I don’t know anything about Buddhism or Hinduism. Almost all the books we read at this school are written by Christians.

Gibbs: What about all the Homer, Virgil, Plato, Aristotle, Sophocles, and Aeschylus in the curriculum? What about the Steinbeck, Hemingway, and Kafka that you’ve read just this year? The Rousseau you read last year?

Student: It’s all taught from a Christian standpoint.

Gibbs: Why does that matter if you want to know about “other people’s views”?

Student: I don’t know. I guess it doesn’t. Still, I feel like I could get to know other people’s views better at a secular university.

Gibbs: Are you planning on taking more classes about Plato and Aristotle in college?

Student: Probably not.

Gibbs: About Virgil?

Student: No.  

Gibbs: Then you are happy with the knowledge of Plato, Aristotle, and Virgil which this school has given you. Good to know. What do you plan on majoring in?

Student: English.

Gibbs: And what sort of classes are you planning on taking that will acquaint you with Islam, Buddhism, and so forth?

Student: Aren’t there classes about Islam and Buddhism at a secular college?

Gibbs: Sure. But you don’t have to go to a secular college to take classes on Islam and Buddhism. They offer such classes at small Christian colleges, as well.

Student: But those classes are taught from a Christian perspective.

Gibbs: So before you take a class on Islam at a secular college, you’re going to check and make sure the teacher is Muslim.

Student: I would assume that only Muslims teach classes on Islam at secular colleges.

Gibbs: Gracious, no. Why would you assume that?

Student: Look, even if I don’t take any classes on Islam, I think there are other ways of encountering new points of view in college.

Gibbs: What did you have in mind?

Student: Just talking with people. With fellow students.

Gibbs: Do you anticipate having a lot of conversations with Muslim and Hindu students while in college?

Student: I could.

Gibbs: Look, there are plenty of teachers at this school who went to secular colleges, myself included. Why don’t you ask them how well a secular college acquainted them with “other people’s views”?

Student: Fine. Did you become acquainted with other people’s views in college?

Gibbs: I wouldn’t put it that way, no. I had several intelligent, compelling teachers in college, but I wouldn’t say they acquainted me with “other people’s views.” Similarly, I wrote essays and poems and short stories for them, but I didn’t acquaint them with “my views.” Some of my teachers had rich personalities, but they were teaching poetry and fiction, not agnosticism or Jainism.

Student: I want to meet those people, though. Those people with rich personalities.

Gibbs: There are rich personalities at this school. There are rich personalities at my church—at your church, too, I would assume. It’s not like secular universities have a corner on rich personalities. Very few of my college teachers were Christians, not even the good ones, but I was already familiar with most of the non-Christian views they put forward. I daresay you’re already familiar with most of the “other views” you’re going to encounter at a secular college.

Student: What do you mean?

Gibbs: While there were a few exceptions, most of my college teachers embraced the sort of tolerant, relativistic, progressive ideology that was common at the time. I didn’t need to go to college to encounter that ideology. It was the same ideology constantly preached in popular culture. The same is largely true today. Most of the “other views” you’re going to get in secular college classrooms can be encountered by watching a few episodes of The Rachel Maddow Show.

Student: That seems awfully reductionistic.

Gibbs: What exactly have you seen that suggests otherwise?

Student: You can’t believe everything you hear on the news, Mr. Gibbs.

Gibbs: Do you think the secular college campus a place where a broad diversity of ideas is allowed and encouraged?

Student: The fact that someone is a secularist doesn’t mean they don’t understand poetry or novels, Mr. Gibbs.

Gibbs: That’s entirely beside the point. You said you wanted to attend a secular university to encounter “other people’s views,” not to get a good education. If you really care about encountering a range of other people’s views, I think you’re better off at a small Christian college.

Student: Come on. At a Christian college, it’s all going to sound the same.

Gibbs: There’s far more uniformity of thought at the average secular college—at least so far as the student is concerned.

Student: What makes you say that?

Gibbs: I’ve known a good many graduates from Christian schools who quit the faith at secular colleges, and most of them leave Christianity for the dominant, default ideology of the day.

Student: Which is?

Gibbs: Oh, you know, the sort of soft Marxism that teaches Christianity is inherently exploitative, every relationship boils down to power, good feelings matter most, and everyone is entitled to their own truth. You don’t need to attend a secular college to encounter such views, though.

Student: Don’t tell me you’ve never seen someone graduate from a secular college with a broader view of the world.

Gibbs: Don’t tell me you’ve never seen someone graduate from a small Christian college with a broader view of the world—actually, you’re young enough that you might have never seen such a thing.

Student: What broader views is someone picking up at a Christian college?

Gibbs: Where do you go to church?

Student: First Lutheran.

Gibbs: Wisconsin Synod? Missouri Synod?

Student: What? Neither. It’s Lutheran.

Gibbs: Yes, but which denomination?

Student: Lutheran is the denomination.

Gibbs: Have you never heard of the different synods in the Lutheran church?

Student: I mean, I might have.   

Gibbs: This might seem unrelated, but I have to ask… How much do you know about Islam already?

Student: Nothing. Isn’t that crazy?

Gibbs: You’ve never read a Wikipedia article on Islam?

Student: I might have, but I don’t remember it.

Gibbs: How about Buddhism? Hinduism? Atheism? How deeply have you looked into these things already?

Student: Again, I know nothing, that’s why I want to go to a secular college.

Gibbs: If you actually wanted to know about other views, you would have already begun doing a little digging. You’re sure that every teacher at a Christian college is going to say the same thing, but you’re not even aware of the other views within your own church. If you don’t care enough about “other views” now, what’s going to make you start caring in college?

Student: You seem like you’re beating around the bush. If I don’t want to go to a secular college for the reasons I’ve given, why do you think I want to go to a secular college?

Gibbs: Before I tell you, let’s take a quick survey of what we’ve covered so far. You said you wanted to go to a secular college to become acquainted with “other people’s views,” but you failed to show that you’re all that interested in other people’s views right now. You’re not even aware of key differences within Lutheranism, even though you’re a Lutheran. You claim that this Christian school only lets you read Christian books, despite the several thousand pages of non-Christian material in the high school curriculum. You claim that you can only become acquainted with Islam and Buddhism in a secular university, even though Christian universities teach courses on those religions, as well. Despite the fact that secular universities are widely known to be violently intolerant of anything which contradicts the prevailing ideological trends of our day, you’re convinced that going to a secular university is the key to encountering a broad range of opinions. And beside all this, you believe that college is your last chance in this life to encounter “other people’s views,” and unless you go to a secular university, you’re going to be helplessly cloistered away from the diversity of the world until the day you die—in which case I would have to assume your cloistered state was self-imposed. Did I miss anything?

Student: No, you nailed it. So, what’s my real reason for wanting to go to a secular university?

Gibbs: After all that, let me say I think your real reason for wanting to go to a secular university is somewhat respectable. It’s based on faulty premises and entirely wrong, but I get it.  

Student: I’m dying for you to tell me what I’m thinking, old man. What’s my real reason?

Gibbs: You don't want to go to a Christian university because the Christian version of things usually sucks.

Student: Wrong, that’s not… Aw, who am I kidding? Yes, that’s it.

Gibbs: Respectable. But wrong.

Student: What are you talking about? I know you. You listen to Radiohead and Brian Eno. You like Sofia Coppola movies. You’re not into Casting Crowns and Kirk Cameron and all that trash. You know the Christian version always sucks.

Gibbs: Not exactly. When you think of “the Christian version” of anything, you think of Castings Crowns and Kirk Cameron, but I think of Dante, John Milton, Constantine, Charlemagne, Jane Austen, Boethius, Charlotte Bronte, El Greco, Macrina the Younger, Bach, St. John of the Ladder, Josquin des Prez, John Paul II, not to mention the pious old women of my church who stand for three-hour prayer vigils. And when I suggest you go to a Christian college, I don’t mean any Christian college, but the sort of Christian college that takes Dante, John Milton, and Constantine seriously. When you think of “Christian architecture,” it’s not unfair to think of gawdy, wretched megachurch stadiums, but neither is it unfair to think of Notre Dame and the Hagia Sophia. If you’re afraid of going to a Christian college because you’re fed up with the sappy, soundtrack-to-apostasy pop they make you sing at youth group, I don’t blame you. But if you think the difference between a Christian college and a secular college is like the difference between Chris Tomlin and OK Computer, you’re sadly mistaken. When you think of secular colleges, forget OK Computer. You’re going to be lucky to get the Black Eyed Peas.  

Student: Oh, come on. You’re not going to convince me that every teacher in every secular college is incompetent.

Gibbs: I’m not trying to do that. I know there are good teachers at secular colleges, but your impression of the difference between Christian colleges and secular colleges is wildly inaccurate. I don’t like pop Christian culture any more than you do, but the sort of Christian colleges I would recommend to you are small, traditional, and can offer you a greater range of views than a secular college can. That is not the primary reason I would recommend them to you, but it is nonetheless true.

Student: What’s the primary reason?

Gibbs: When Christians complain about Christian culture, they tend to compare the worst examples of contemporary Christian culture with the best examples of secular culture. But for every Radiohead, there are twenty Smash Mouths. For every There Will Be Blood, there are a hundred Project Runways. And there’s absolutely no secularist equivalent of Paradise Lost or Bach or Dante… I could go on.

Student: Okay.

Gibbs: I get it, though. You don’t take contemporary Christian culture seriously, but some of the adults in your life do. This worries you. You want to trust adults, but it’s hard when so many of them can’t see that contemporary Christian culture is often just a trite, hackneyed imitation of secular culture with a “Gospel message” tacked on. Adults have shown you ridiculous, preachy Christian films and told you they were good. Adults have asked you to treat banal, simple-minded worship songs like significant musical accomplishments. You’ve heard about Christian kids giving up the faith in secular colleges, but you’re not worried about that happening to you. Why? Because even though you’re a Christian, the preachy Christian films and silly songs never really got to you. They didn't change you. And you’re convinced that none of the preachy anti-Christian culture in college is going to get to you either. At the end of the day, though, the idea of spending four years and a hundred grand on Veggie Tales College is terrifying.

Student: It is.

Gibbs: And I’m sure there are Christian colleges out there which would give you just that. But not all of them.

Joshua Gibbs

Joshua Gibbs

Joshua Gibbs teaches online classes at GibbsClassical.com. He is the author of How To Be UnluckySomething They Will Not Forget, and Blasphemers. His wife is generous and his children are funny.

The opinions and arguments of our contributing writers do not necessarily reflect those of the Institute or its leadership.

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