The National Catholic Review

Michael C. McCarthy of Santa Clara University offers a thoughtful response to Rick Santorum's recent remarks on higher education. From The Jesuit Post:

People lose their faith in college. Or so Senator Rick Santorum believes if his bold and intemperate statements of a few of weeks ago are taken at face value. As (yet another) Jesuit with too many degrees and who teaches at one of these colleges so maligned by Mr. Santorum (Santa Clara University in California), I’m sure it surprises no one that I respond negatively to such accusations.  Yet there is evidence that he is right.

According to a 2006 survey by Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, 62% of college Republicans complained that religion is losing it’s influence on American life. Whether or not Mr. Santorum is adverting to this survey when he says that “62% of kids who go into college with a faith commitment leave without it” is unclear. If so, the senator’s claim exaggerates the issue. Far more significant, in my mind, is the statistic cited in Robert Putnam and David Campbell’s 2010 book American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us. According to a General Social Survey, over the last forty years or so, the cohort of those young people who claim no religious affiliation has risen from barely 5% to roughly 25%.

Such statistics are telling. I’m just not sure how much they tell us. But if Mr. Santorum’s intention was to show that he could “feel the pain” of a demographic whose children don’t go to church, who disagree with the traditional values of their elders, and favor “being spiritual” over “being religious,” then he surely connected.

And he connected because there’s a familiar story here, one that goes something like this: parents love kid and kid grows up going to Church with parents.  At 18 parents pay for kid to go off to high-priced college.  Kid returns with a troubling disregard for what their parents hold sacred. Unpopular opinion alert: I’d be angry too if I had shelled out nearly $200K for my son or daughter to enjoy four years on some neatly manicured campus only to return and smirk when the family said grace before meals.

We should not be surprised that college is the context where such a turn often takes place. On that point I am fairly confident that Mr. Santorum is right. I’m just not sure it is helpful either to blame liberal professors or imply that the godless academy undermines religious values. Much less should we blame the students themselves!

In fact, I would argue that college is not only a place where young people lose faith. It’s also a place where they find it. Maybe the real problem is that this new found, college-influenced faith of the young looks a little different than what their parents were expecting. And that’s a familiar story for at least one reason: it’s mine.

Read the rest here.

Tim Reidy



Chris Sullivan | 3/28/2012 - 2:23pm
I went to university an atheist and came out firmly on the path to God.  It works both ways.

Education and mixing with others challenges and forms our views.

That's a healthy thing.

God Bless
Katherine McEwen | 4/1/2012 - 12:20am
30+ years ago as a Catholic at an evangelical university, my New Testament professor stated that he purposely challenged the faith of students who'd come to college secure in the faith of their childhood.  I suspect he wanted them/us to question what we really believed and why in order to grow into a freely-chosen adult faith.
RALPH BREMIGAN | 3/28/2012 - 5:42pm
The fact that someone has not given up on sharing the beauty of the Mean Value Theorem brings joy to the heart (mine, at least). 
Amy Ho-Ohn | 3/28/2012 - 5:09pm
Considering how atrociously difficult it is to convince college freshmen of the validity of the Mean Value Theorem, ( I can only conclude that either those atheist professors are extraordinarily persuasive or atheism is more intuitively plausible than the Mean Value Theorem.
Jack Rakosky | 3/28/2012 - 4:28pm
 If one reads American Grace a little more closely, it is clear that the Nones remained around 5% in both the 1960’s and 1970s. Yes the young people dropped out of church attendance but they still said they were Catholics. And of course most came back to attending church when they got married and started to raise children. So universities and liberal values did not alienate them from their religion.
 That all changed in the 1980’s and 1990’s as a reaction to the Religious Right, and the marriage of conservative religion with Republic politics. Mostly young people and some central and left leaning older people declared they were spiritual but not religious, i.e. they not only did not attend but no longer identified with churches which they saw as politicized, hypocritical, judgmental and insincere, e.g. in their attitudes toward gays.
 In the 2008 election young people elected Barack Obama. In my own swing county I delivered reminders to committed Obama voters the day before the election in one of the most affluence neighborhoods and in a rural neighbor dominated by right wing, gun partisans of McCain. The committed Obama voters were their sons and daughters away at college, most of whom I was told had voted absentee. They helped put Obama over in my county.
 Ironically the marriage of conservative religion with Republican politics is driving young people out of the churches (but not away from God) and into the Democratic party!!!
 The American Bishops seemed determined to seize the leadership of this marriage. This election  young people will be repelled from the churches and into Democratic voters by pedophile protecting bishops against contraception. A local TV news story on a secular campus feature students rejoicing that they were going to have free contraceptives under Obamacare, a help for cash strapped college students.
Beth Cioffoletti | 3/28/2012 - 4:03pm
"Maybe the real problem is that this new found, college-influenced faith of the young looks a little different than what their parents were expecting. And that’s a familiar story for at least one reason: it’s mine."

that's my story too.  Only the year was 1968.  I had grown up in a "devout", traditional home.  My parents went to Mass daily, and I often went with my father when he joined the local monks at Lauds.  We prayed the rosary together as a family.  We went to Benediction on Sunday evening.  We were the real deal.

I really loved it all as a child, and found much security in it.  But somewhere around my mid high school years, I began to get troubled with it all.  The rules, the dogma, the superstious devotions and indulgences.

So I was sent off to a Catholic college.  And there was one theology teacher (Fr. Harry Heiter, SJ), and one theology class: "Man's search for meaning", that made all the difference for me - and still does!  My faith may not resemble that of my parents or even most Church going Catholics, but it is Catholic faith nonetheless. 

I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to delve deeper into my faith that college gave to me.  I suspect that Rick Santorum, himself, has never had this experience and so does not understand and misinterprets it.  I nominate Fr. Richard Rohr to explain it to him.
JIM MCCREA | 3/28/2012 - 3:51pm
Faith cannot be lost if it has never been caught.

''Faith means doubt. Faith is not the suppression of doubt. It is the overcoming of doubt, and you overcome doubt by going through it. The man of faith who has never experienced doubt is not a man of faith.”    Thomas Merton.

''The mainstay of the Catholic Church appears to be the faithful who refrain from questioning, either because it is of no interest to them or because they have surrounded themselves beforehand with an impregnable barrier.  Anyone who wants to think about religion in a really serious way must inevitably come up with heretical ideas.''    Czeslaw Milosz, A Year of The Hunter (1994), reported in ''Overview'', 12/94.
Vince Killoran | 3/28/2012 - 3:30pm
I offer this observation as someone who teaches at a non-religious four-year liberal arts college: Catholic campus ministry does a lousy job. The local parish priest who shows up on Sunday evening to say Mass is a nice guy but he is out the door right after Mass; the campus minister employed by the diocese does not have the training or aptitude for the job. 

Compared to, say, Hillel or the evangelical Christians, it is a huge embarassment. 
Stephen Murray | 3/28/2012 - 1:18pm
Most probably those students had little authentic faith, or real spiritual formation, to begin with.  College merely shed light on the weakness of their religious life.