How College Changed My Faith

How College Changed My Faith

Since I came to SPU four years ago, my faith has certainly diminished, but that’s not because of SPU. I did not choose SPU because it was a Christian University, but because it was an academic institution that threw a hefty scholarship my way, and I had friends who wanted me to attend (and going to the UW seemed daunting, since it’s such a huge campus). I would say that my reasons for believing in God were well-founded, I knew all I felt that I needed to know, all that I wanted to learn, and everything else was just icing, and to some extent I was right. This might take some explanation, so here goes.

When I first came to SPU, it was my intention to major in theatre, become an actor and probably work in some theatre around the Seattle area. Part of the deciding factor for attending SPU is because I was impressed with the theatre program that SPU had, which looked very much like other professional theaters that I've seen; much more impressive than the theater in my high school, mostly due to the catwalks, the underground labyrinth, and the nearby wood and metals shop to supply them with everything they'd need to make an amazing show like the one I'd seen. But by the end of the first year I gave up on being involved in theater, deciding that acting is a talent-based field, and that an English degree could be substantially more applicable to other forms of employment. I won't lie, a lot of this influence was due to my parents advising me against acting, but to me it didn't matter much whether I got my BA by acting or creative writing, so I went along with it. It was still a slow transition though, and it wasn't until midway through my 2nd year that I switched from Theatre-int to English.

It didn't bother me that SPU was a Methodist University, I was raised Lutheran and could relate fairly easily. I've got a lot of experience dealing working with other Christian faiths, as well as Mormonism, and learning a bit more about the Bible wouldn't be such a bad thing. I didn’t feel it was necessary for me, I knew what I needed, but being more knowledgeable about the parts of the Bible I hadn’t explored much would be good for me. Somewhere along the four year trek though, my interest in God and faith faded out. Maybe I'd just got so sick of debating and thinking about my faith, but that's only partially due to SPU, and it would be unfair to say that SPU caused it. My focus shifted somewhere near the end of my second year, where I didn't care at all about my faith, I simply wanted to focus on my academic life and be done with it all. I didn't come to SPU because it was a Christian college anyway, It was mostly due to the scholarships that they tossed at me right away. It's left me a little bitter when I'm constantly being asked about God, and where I am spiritually, not because I hold any grudge or lost love for God, but simply because it isn't as important to me as other things in my life. It's the big reason why I didn't turn in this paper last quarter, because I didn't have an answer then, and anything that I had to say I really just didn't want to. I just don't care anymore. Maybe in my mind I’ve tied my faith to my academic life, and am just in burnout mode. But the rest is for the third paper, let's talk about the required Christian courses we all know and love.

I found the Ufnd classes fairly interesting, I liked Ed Smyth's manner of teaching and the way he asked us to question our own faith foundations, to see why we believed what we did. Nienhuis' ability to cover the books of the Bible and relate them in an understandable way was extremely useful, and I learned quite a bit, some of which I still remember. I didn't enjoy Ufnd 3000 as much though, for while the concepts were interesting, I pretty much already knew the standard Christian answers to such gems as "why does God allow bad things to happen?" The tests were half-comprised of remembering dates of extremely important theological councils which nobody outside of the field of Theology cares about. Luckily Castelo had essay questions too.

Ucor seemed fairly superfluous, and while I enjoyed learning a lot more about Art history and eastern world history, which is hardly covered in High Schools (finding out about the Opium War was fascinating), I didn't really see why it was special required curriculum. It seemed more like a history class that could be included in General Ed, rather than wrapped together with these faith-based courses.

I haven't got anything bad to say about the English Major at SPU, I think it works pretty well. Literature isn't my thing, which is why I went toward the creative writing track instead, but for my part I found the balance of workshops and literature courses understandable. Writers favor workshops, but you can't learn anything about your craft if you don't know what other people have tried before you. You may find some authors horrible, boring, a waste of time, but others may be really speaking to you and how you write, and there's no way to simply weed out the bad ones, as it's an art form, and therefore subjective to the reader. I'd never heard of Flannery O'Connor, and never would have read her work if it weren't required, but I love her writing. Likewise, Johnathan Swift isn't relative at all to the way I write, but I found his work entertaining and insightful. Yes, I hated plenty of the authors, and sometimes the entire class put me to sleep, but I don't regret taking them (well, maybe one).

I think part of my reason for shifting into English as a major was due to some of the authors I came across in literature courses. I’d never read C.S. Lewis outside of the Narnia chronicles (and I always hated how people only focused on how Christian they were, not the fantasy aspect of the stories themselves), but Til We Have Faces really moved me. In fact, all the books we read in my Literature and Faith Class, led by Suzanne Wolfe, really helped me identify what it is about Christianity that keeps me from leaving. At this point, I can’t say that I don’t believe in God, but I can’t say that I’m a Christian. It’s a paradox, I know, let me try to clear things up. There’s something intangible, something about Christianity, about my history with God, that keeps me from being able to dismiss it as nonsense. The closest I could ever come would be agnostic, if I were to attach myself to an identifying label. Despite the eyerolling I get when I tell this to my atheist friends, I think there’s a lot of great things that the Bible has to teach, especially when it comes to Christ’s example. Grace, self-sacrifice, nobility in pacifism, valuing humanity above anything else in the world, these aren’t messages that secular society tends to be able to instill in people, but it is what draws people to Christ. I owe a lot to Christianity, and whether God is real or not, much of who I am today is thanks to him. My faith has never been something that I’ve held particularly close. I looked to every opportunity to skip Sunday school as a kid, tried to sleep through church, and when I was old enough to go myself, I never did. Sermons have never moved me, or perhaps I’ve never paid enough attention. Even still, every time I’m in a church there’s something that keeps me quiet, and keeps my eyes looking around.

So, yeah, my faith has taken something of a U-turn since I came here to SPU, but despite the way that appears, it really has very little to do with SPU. In fact, most of the courses I’ve taken at SPU helped foster my faith in Christianity, even if my faith in God dwindled.