James Hoskins offers a useful critique of God’s Not Dead for all of those who find its central conflict—between a Christian freshman and an atheist professor who refuses to teach the faithful—slightly unbelievable. Hoskins writes of his experience going to a state university to major in philosophy. For many Christians unfamiliar with academia, this might sound akin to lathering oneself in steak sauce and jumping into an alligator pit; but, as Hoskins relates it, this is not what happened at all:
. . . not once did my philosophy professors attack my faith or treat me unfairly. In fact, I found all of them to be extremely kind, patient, and generous. Several of them, including the Nietzsche expert, wrote me glowing letters of recommendation for grad school that, I’m certain, included compliments I didn’t fully deserve. I felt respected, even mentored, by them. And all of this despite the fact that they passionately disagreed with my beliefs.
As someone who spent three-and-a-half years in an undergraduate liberal arts program and three years beyond that in graduate school, I can say that this broadly reflects my experience also. While I ultimately decided to move on from academia and pursue a career elsewhere, my beliefs played a very minuscule role in that decision and, in all the years that I spent studying Restoration literature, the closest I came to yelling “Sacrilege!” was upon hearing a professor (under whom I did not study) claim that Shakespeare’s plays were poor art because the author was a misogynist.
As a man of letters rather than philosophy, I know less of my former professors’ religion than Hoskins probably does. (Most did not speak on it, though statistically I am sure that some of them were atheists.) But, if anything, I generally believe that they valued the perspective that I brought, if not for what it was, than at least from the standpoint that it offered a very different point of view on material that they had been reading for years through the same eyes. In my (somewhat abridged) time as a teacher, I could certainly appreciate this aspect, even with the students whom I believed to be wrong about more or less everything important.
What Hoskins does not say (and what the creators of God’s Not Dead presumably don’t know) is that the influence of parents and faith is more likely to be eroded by all that goes on outside of the classroom rather than inside of it. There might be one or two professors hostile to a students’ faith, but they are no match for the peer pressure which is characteristic of dorm or fraternity life. Such erosion has very little to do with the intellectual arguments for or against the existence of God or the reasonableness of Christianity. Rather than attacking faith at an intellectual level, many communities with a high percentage of young people undermine the individual lifestyle through which the premises of faith are made relevant. This is not just characteristic of college campuses; it is common within even the more conservative sectors of millennial society; I recall a young lapsed-Baptist soldier telling me that he would believe in the tenets of his religion, if only they did not mandate that he abstain from alcohol.
This sort of worldview—while not as openly hostile to religion as the Roman emperor Nero, the French philosophes or Professor Radisson, Kevin Sorbo’s tenured anti-Christian crusader—is more threatening to it. Christians (as well as other minority religions such as Hasidic Jews) have often grown stronger as communities as a result of an official policy of persecution. This does not mean that persecution is something that Christians in the West should welcome or that they should envy those in countries like Egypt and China where persecution is all too common; but Professor Radisson will probably win fewer converts to his atheism than will the proximate agnostic indifference to which no one claims to adhere, but which might soon be America’s largest religion.