This is a post from Pastor Matt Rawlings’ blog.
[...]When any eighteen year old walks on to a secular university (or even many so-called “Christian” ones) they immediately feel pressure. When a “cool professor” emerges trashing everything the eighteen year old has been taught by his or her parents to hold dear, the pressure intensifies. If the eighteen year old dares to speak up, the professor will often ridicule the poor kid like a seasoned stand-up comic dealing with a heckler. The other eighteen year old kids raised in Christian homes will see (or hear about it) and will feel even more pressure to conform.
Here is his recommendation:
We need to continue to train our kids in apologetics but we also need to prepare them spiritually for the battle they will face on college campuses. They need to know how to engage the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting, etc. They also need to be connected with a community that will have their back. I would not advise anyone to attend a secular university without making sure there is a strong Christian campus presence. For example, I live in the Buckeye state and many of the young people I know want to attend Ohio State University (excuse me, The Ohio State University). I always remind them to check out strong nearby churches like Xenos and groups like Ratio Christi led by the fearless Eric Chabot.
Everybody wants to be liked and everyone has a desire to fit in. The pressure to be accepted is even stronger when a person is younger. We need to train our young people to be apologists but we also need to recognize basic human nature including our ability to justify our behavior such as ignoring their training in order to sit at the cool kids’ table. We need to train and prayerfully prepare. Let’s get to work.
Pastor Matt had a quote from an article by Paul Vitz in his post, and I found the article. It’s on Leadership University, which is the web site that got me through college with my faith intact.
Here’s a bit of it:
I am not going into this to bore you with parts of my life story, but to note that through reflection on my own experience it is now clear to me that my reasons for becoming and for remaining an atheist-skeptic from about age 18 to 38 were superficial, irrational, and largely without intellectual or moral integrity. Furthermore, I am convinced that my motives were, and still are, commonplace today among intellectuals, especially social scientists.
[...]An important influence on me in my youth was a significant social unease. I was somewhat embarrassed to be from the Midwest, for it seemed terribly dull, narrow, and provincial. There was certainly nothing romantic or impressive about being from Cincinnati, Ohio and from a vague mixed German-English-Swiss background. Terribly middle class. Further, besides escape from a dull, and according to me unworthy, socially embarrassing past, I wanted to take part in, in fact to be comfortable in, the new, exciting, even glamorous, secular world into which I was moving. I am sure that similar motives have strongly influenced the lives of countless upwardly mobile young people in the last two centuries. Consider Voltaire, who moved into the glittery, aristocratic, sophisticated world of Paris, and who always felt embarrassed about his provincial and nonaristocratic origin; or the Jewish ghettos that so many assimilating Jews have fled, or the latest young arrival in New York, embarrassed about his fundamentalist parents. This kind of socialization pressure has pushed many away from belief in God and all that this belief is associated with for them.
I remember a small seminar in graduate school where almost every member there at some time expressed this kind of embarrassment and response to the pressures of socialization into “modern life.” One student was trying to escape his Southern Baptist background, another a small town Mormon environment, a third was trying to get out of a very Jewish Brooklyn ghetto, and the fourth was me.
[...]Another major reason for my wanting to become an atheist was that I desired to be accepted by the powerful and influential scientists in the field of psychology. In particular, I wanted to be accepted by my professors in graduate school. As a graduate student I was thoroughly socialized by the specific “culture” of academic research psychology. My professors at Stanford, however much they might disagree on psychological theory, were, as far as I could tell, united in only two things-their intense personal career ambition and their rejection of religion. As the psalmist says, “. . . The man greedy for gain curses and renounces the Lord. In the pride of his countenance the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 10:3-4).
In this environment, just as I had learned how to dress like a college student by putting on the right clothes, I also learned to “think” like a proper psychologist by putting on the right-that is, atheistic-ideas and attitudes.
I blogged about Paul Vitz before. If you have not seen his lecture on the Psychology of Atheism, you really should watch it.
Natasha Crain at Christian Mom Thoughts had some practical advice for dealing with this, and in a minute I’ll give you my advice, because this peer-pressure thing was never a problem for me.
[...]I do believe there are things we can do to help lessen our kids’ concern about coolness:
- Make sure they have Christian friends. No, not just the kids they interact with each Sunday at church. Please don’t assume your kids’ “church friends” are a primary influence just because they rub elbows each week (and don’t assume that church friends are truly Christian friends). Look at who they spend time with on their own. Meaningful peer relationships with other believers make a big difference.
- Give them perspective. By and large, the most well-grounded Christian kids I’ve encountered have been heavily involved in service. When kids have built houses in Mexico, served their local homeless, or come to the aid of disaster victims, they are more likely to have a level-headed perspective on why the perceived “coolness” of their beliefs doesn’t matter. Faith becomes a living, breathing part of their identity.
- Be a family that is comfortable living counter-culturally. In the book Revolutionary Parenting, George Barna analyzed years of research data to determine what common factors exist in the child-rearing efforts of parents whose children remained strong in their faith into their adult years (he calls these kids “spiritual champions”). One major finding was this: “Parents are more likely to raise spiritual champions if they accept the fact that from day one their parenting efforts will stray from the norm and will put them at odds with parents who are pursuing a more conventional approach.” When kids are raised in a home where they become comfortable living differently than the world around them, they are prepared to carry that confidence into adulthood.
- Give them Christian heros and role models. Our kids need to know that the world is filled with amazing people who love the Lord: athletes, scientists, missionaries, actors, writers, government leaders, business owners…the list goes on. Wherever your child’s interests lie, introduce them to Christian role models in that area and the stories of how they’re making a difference for God’s kingdom.
Now my turn. Peer-pressure wasn’t a problem for me growing up. We were poor, so we had much more immediate problems! But I had an answer to the problem of being different from the other kids – I was going to grow up faster than they did and be more mature by out-earning them. I always tried to be working at least one job, and I worked summers too – kept it up through high school and my undergraduate degree. That was my plan. So that’s my recommendation to young people. Get yourself the best job you can get as young as you can. Never let a summer go by when you are not working to earn money.
I also recommend listening to this Veritas Forum lecture called “Giants in the Land“, by the famous professor of mechanical engineering, Dr. Walter Bradley. My favorite lecture of all time. When you are young and it occurs to you that you are not like other people, it’s a wonderful thing to have the words of Dr. Bradley in your mind. Here is my favorite part- he says: “Sometimes we protect our reputation too hard. And what we really need is to get our reputation absolutely destroyed so we don’t worry about it any more… On the other side of a very ruined reputation is real freedom… to do what God wants you to do… It’s the ripping the reputation off that’s a little hard, right? But once it’s gone, it’s gone. And then you have real freedom.”
I value my freedom and I know that caring what people think of me takes my freedom away! I really recommend that young people read or watch the French “Cyrano de Bergerac” (1990) (or the older black-and-white version) to learn the value of being who you are. If you are being good, you don’t have to care what people think of you – although you may need an alias now, since people on the secular left have gotten so intolerant. You can be yourself and be a hero. And that’s something. That’s a lot!