Chemical Faith 9/15/22

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

More than once, I’ve dealt with teachers in primary and secondary school whose actions, frankly, would not be tolerated in today’s society.  In middle school, I had a sociology teacher point me out, explicitly, as an example of an individual who simply did not, and probably never will, belong.  Today, a professor pointing out an awkward student in such a personal way would not be permitted.  But, it wouldn’t be the last time I’d have to deal with a teacher overstepping bounds, and, frankly, at least the sociology teacher was making a valid point (although I really cannot recall what that point was).

In advanced chemistry, my teacher tried to make a very different point.  He was one of those militant Christians who sees his mission as converting others, one of those that gives a bad name to all Christians.  Frankly, he’s the kind of guy that true Christians probably struggle with as I do.  And, yes, he did invite me to go to his church, even as I was his student.  Something else that wouldn’t be tolerated today.  I make this point so my Christian friends realize that I’m not making a blanket statement in an attempt to encompass all Christians, most of whom, by the way, I do respect as I do their faith. 

The point of this blog, however, is of something he did say in class.  During a chemistry class, and how this could possibly relate to any topic in chemistry I will never understand, he made the bold statement that you cannot be Christian if you believe in evolution.  And, yes, during class.  After class, one of my classmates, no older than I, was very upset.  He asked me if I believed what the teacher said was true.

In his faith, he had come to terms with both his identity as a Christian, and in evolution.  Basically, he explained that he believes that God created evolution, which, in my opinion, is a pretty clean and simple resolution of the debate.  I’m not going to try to argue the validity of his argument or those of the creationists, but the point I do want to make is that he has the right to believe what he chooses.  For a teacher to say otherwise is simply unacceptable.

The position of teacher is one of authority and respect.  Students look up to teachers, and as such, must be careful what they say.  Most teachers and professors understand this, and despite exceptions, I generally have trust in teachers and professors.  While this particular teacher was one of those exceptions, most teachers do not have a hidden agenda.  I’ve been affiliated in one way or another with a lot of institutions, including private Christian colleges, and outside of a few rogue teachers and professors, the goal of education is to expand minds and teach critical thinking.  I trust my colleagues far more than I trust school boards and private groups with their own agendas. 

There was a time when I would defend Christians who would proselytize.  If they truly believed that people were heading to hell, then maybe they were trying to do the right thing according to their own beliefs.  Lately, I’m not so sure I still believe this.  One of the greatest gifts God gave to us, at least as I was raised to believe, was our ability to choose.  If the opinions of these Christians is known to their intended recipient, then it is up to the recipient to decide if that is something they choose to believe, and the job of the Christian, then, is to step back.  It’s up to God to judge, not the Christian. 

Unfortunately, today, with the extreme politics interfused with messages of faith in the extreme Evangelical churches, it seems as if the message has all too often strayed from one of faith to one of politics.  I find it ironic when people accuse the educational systems of “indoctrinating”.  It is true that more highly educated individuals tend to lean liberal, but that has nothing to do with “indoctrination.”

The goal of higher education is to introduce students to different cultures, philosophies, and to be more aware of the human condition.  As people understand the plight of others, it tends to increase sympathy for the struggles of others.  There’s a distinct difference between introducing people to the philosophy of religion, as I had taken in college, raising questions about the existence and nature of a God and having a teacher tell you flat out that you’re wrong if you don’t believe in creationism. 

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