Christian undergraduates at elite universities often feel forced into a troubling dichotomy: They may go “all-in” for a secular education, by examining their opinions under the tutelage of an irreligious faculty; or else they must withhold something of themselves from rational inquiry, erecting a barrier between the performative requirements of their research discipline and their beliefs about the way the world actually is.
But there is also a third option—one that appreciates the primacy of faith in the order of human thought, recognizes the role played by tradition and authority in all forms of inquiry, and understands that the work of the university is ultimately dependent upon several démodé beliefs about the dignity of mankind and the existence of a Creator. Sadly, for most undergraduates who have been raised in the Christian faith, this third option is not a live option. It is simply never presented to them.
As an Evangelical at UC Berkeley, I was smart enough to sense that academia had me cornered—that I was being forced to decide between fundamentalism and secular Enlightenment—but not smart enough to see beyond the dichotomy on my own. Disappointed that higher education could not resolve my moral and theological concerns, I considered dropping out on more than one occasion.
Fortunately, I did not have to grapple with these concerns alone. At The Berkeley Institute, I chanced upon a group of professors and graduate students committed to living fulfilling intellectual lives amidst the disarray of the academy. With their help, I began cobbling together the scattered fragments of my college education into a coherent whole. And then I picked up a copy of First Things.
For me, First Things was more than a political journal. It was a field guide to the ideological chaos that I encountered every day on campus. By laying open the unspoken assumptions and assessing the basic principles at play in public discourse, it gave me my bearings in the life of the mind. Above all, it renewed my hope that the Christian tradition contains all that is necessary to nourish and sustain a flourishing human life and a prosperous public square.
Should I have been surprised when I found out that The Berkeley Institute’s director was once a junior fellow at the magazine?
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Connor Grubaugh is a junior fellow at First Things.