Religiosity vs. Academia
This is a topic that I’ve been interested in posting on for quite a while but never quite got around to it. To me, the idea of religion seems somewhat counter to the idea of being highly educated. I realize I’m going to offend a number of people, so let me preface this post with the following note: this is not intended to malign the religious nor is it an attack on personal beliefs, it’s just a thought that I’ve been meaning to get out to see if anyone else is on the same page.
The LSE hosted an event a while back discussing this very notion; broadly, the idea of academics as atheists versus academics affiliated with some religion. Though I can’t recall the content exactly, the general topic started me thinking once again. Can you be educated and be religious? Now, I am (clearly) not referring to those with PhDs in Divinity, etc., but rather scholars that have excelled in fields of scientific and social scientific research.
I have found, on a personal level, that as I rose through my education, I gradually began to question religion. I was raised Catholic and attended a Christian school as a child, making religion a foundational element of my youth. However, I found at a young age (around the age of seven or eight), I began questioning religion. Eve was made out of Adam’s rib? The heavens and the earth were created from nothing? The Tower of Babel is the explanation for the myriad of languages spoken throughout the world? Moses parted the Red Sea? I could go on forever about the far-fetched nature of some of the tales in the Bible.
Dan Brown’s novel, Angels & Demons, famously portrayed a character that gained great success in the sciences while maintaining his religion. I think that the notion that a person can somehow reconcile the two is a bit fantastic. The basis of undertaking a PhD is, of course, engaging in original research; in critically analyzing and questioning existing knowledge. Even as high schoolers, undergrads and Masters students we are taught to look at an idea from different perspectives. For a hypothesis or theory that we propose, we must test it. How would religion stand up to this test? How would the Bible, the Torah or the Q’uran hold up? Religion (and faith, generally) is a weird thing. For those of us that are taught to question and to be critical, we are taught with religion to just believe. That there is no test, there is no proof, there is no data but we are to take the teachings as truth regardless. What if someone tried to do that with science? What if I were to make outlandish claims without proof? If butterflies were to live long enough, they would turn into birds. No — don’t question it. It’s true. I’m telling you that this is the way that it is and I expect you to take that as truth. Furthermore, I would appreciate if you would tell everyone that butterflies turn into birds in due time. But wait. That doesn’t make sense… it’s not possible. How would a butterfly turn into a bird? Well, probably the same way that water would turn into wine. No more questions.
Many of us enjoy believing in God and in Heaven; we take comfort in knowing there’s something greater. In fact, I have rarely met a true atheist. Rather, I come into contact with many agnostics who question religion, believing that existence of a deity is relatively unknowable, versus atheists that believe there is absolutely nothing. I maintain faith, but I would not consider myself a religious person. While others may find it possible, I find it hard to reconcile academic learning and religion. I grew up reading the Bible and while I find the stories to be far-fetched, I don’t take them literally. I don’t think Jonah really survived in the belly of a whale, I don’t think Samson’s strength was accredited to his long locks and I don’t really think that little David killed Goliath with his slingshot. I do, however, appreciate the value that these stories hold and I think that there are lessons and moral implications underlying each of them. For that, I think they have value. The tales defy logic though. I realize that trying to make sense of religion or look at it ‘logically’ is a surefire way to fail, but it’s difficult to not analyze the readings. After all, as we become educated, we are continually taught to analyze and think critically. For every idea we come across, we are taught to look at it from a number of perspectives and find fault.
With that kind of mind set, I truly wonder — can a person be a true academic and maintain his or her religion? What do you guys think? Any (anomalous) religious academics out there?
xoxo from London,