“Anyone who dares to voice a religious opinion is regarded as unintelligent,” wrote Carrie Pritt in her column “Diversity for the Sake of Democracy,” published in the Quillette and covered by Jessica Li ’18 in the Tab. In her column, Pruitt makes the bold claim that religious beliefs — presumably implied to mean Christian statements of faith — are not welcome at Princeton University.
The idea that voicing a religious opinion marks a speaker as uninformed and unintelligent is a persistent and dangerous myth on campus. Portraying Christians as disadvantaged in a society that is steeped in Christian tradition and favorable to Christianity equips Christians on campus with a false sense of victimization; additionally, this attitude undermines the fatal persecution that Christians have faced historically and continue to face in parts of the world today.
Looking inside the Orange Bubble, Princeton was founded by dissenting clergymen and once served as a training ground for Presbyterian ministers. Today, the campus is perhaps one of the most religion-friendly Ivy League schools. Murray-Dodge Hall is brimming with chaplaincies, most of which are Christian fellowships representing all flavors of the faith, and a considerable number of faculty members openly and actively engage with students on questions of religion.
As a professing and pious Christian at Princeton, I believe my faith is not an impediment to my academic ability in the lecture hall, but quite the contrary: my faith enables me to engage in academic conversations in a singular and unique way. Friends outside of my faith ask me questions about Christianity for both academic papers and their own spiritual journeys. In my eating club, I’m often called upon to give religiously informed opinions about divisive issues. My professors know about my interest in religion and recommend scholarly articles and paper topics accordingly. At Princeton, my friends and mentors affirm and help me grow in my personal profession of faith, involvement in religious communities, and desire to pursue ministry as a vocation.
And, yet, this myth of victimization of Christians at Princeton exists for a reason. It is nearly impossible for the transformative and emotive experience of faith to carry legitimacy on a campus where logic triumphs over all. But, as Christians, we are called not only to engage the heart, but also to engage the mind: God endowed us with the capacity for critical thinking — would it not be a shame for our faith to lack the cognitive component?
Reason and faith are not as diametrically opposed as many would believe. In fact, Christianity is fundamentally rooted in the academic tradition. Consider the importance of learning and the written word in the Bible: King David set his words of teaching “that men may know wisdom and instruction, understand words of insight, receive instruction in wise dealing, righteousness, justice, and equity” (Proverbs 1:2-3, RSV). Paul, the model evangelist, employed epistles — letters, the written word — in order to encourage and exhort Christian communities throughout the Mediterranean. In fact, in the Gospel according to John, we are told that Jesus Himself is “the Word” (John 1). Christian tradition is passed onto us through text; indeed, those who studied the Holy Scriptures engaged in scholarly conversation and heated debates about which texts to include in the standardized text we read today.
Furthermore, the vast majority of the Daily Princetonian’s readership — save the occasional Princeton Theological Seminary student – does not read the Bible in its original languages, but reads various translations of the text, the history of which brings in centuries of additional scholarship. Just as past Christian scholars reconciled faith and reason, I encourage fellow Christians at Princeton to actively work against the myth of unlearned piety: we must seek further synthesis between our faith lives and academic lives.
Check yourself: are you holding your religious opinions up to the same standard as the arguments you make in precept? Or are you simply claiming something is infallible because it is “in the Bible” or “in the canons?” Move past the fallacious appeals to authority and provide coherent reasoning to support your beliefs. Check your texts: read, and not just the Bible. Pick up substantive theology and read scholars who have studied the Bible more than you have as a guide for your inquiry process. In order to better diversify and nuance your perspective, engage with scholars like Professors Elaine Pagels and AnneMarie Luijendijk, who tackle religion with historic approaches.
And, lastly, check your religious community. Not every religious community demands students to approach faith with their heart and mind. Visit the wide array of Christian fellowships featured on the Office of Religious Life’s website to find a community that values difficult questions, critical thinking, and scholarship. In other words, take full advantage of your religion-saturated Princeton education — generations of Tigers-turned-clergymen did, too.
Carolyn Beard is a junior in the Department of Comparative Literature. She is the Junior Warden of the Episcopal Church at Princeton and the Founder and President of the Princeton University Christian Community Council. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.