Tuesday, October 05, 2010

What Is God? -- Part 1

When I was an undergraduate at the University of Notre Dame in 1954-58, we were required to take a theology course every semester for four years. I can't remember the names of the courses, but I assume they were similar to the required courses at Stonehill College during the same period, for which I can find a catalog description here in the college library: Apologetics I and II, Moral Principles, Christian Virtues, Christian Life and Worship I and II, Catholic Dogma, and Christian Marriage. No electives. All good orthodox doctrine taught by priests of the Congregation of Holy Cross.

Sometime during the next decades -- the decades of Vatican II and the Counter-cultural Revolution -- all this went out the window. (John XXIII talked about opening the windows of the Church, but more went out than went in.) Theology Departments became Religious Studies Departments. Required courses were cut back to two, which could be chosen from a broad slate of electives. Catholic faculties embraced teachers from other faith traditions. Today, a student can graduate from Stonehill without ever encountering a course grounded in Catholic tradition. We now have courses in Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism, The Mystery of Evil, Violence and Sex in the Bible, Religion in Film, and so on. Not an apologetics course to be found. Of course, there are ample possibilities for exposure to Catholic tradition too -- if a student inclines in that direction.

Today, it seems there is a feeling among administrators and trustees that maybe liberalization has gone too far, and that a college that calls itself Catholic should at least require some sort of exposure to Catholic intellectual tradition. There has been some push-back from students and faculty, but a compromise appears to be in the works: a single required course, offered from a variety of disciplines and departments, that would "explore Catholic theological questions." Presumably these courses might treat of anything from the stories of Flannery O'Connor to matters of faith and science from a Catholic theological perspective. The college would be careful about proselytizing non-Catholic students, and the proposed requirement would not apply to any present student.

And fair enough.

Want a good Catholic place to start with the God question? How about reading John Haught's little book, What Is God?. Haught is a Roman Catholic theologian at Georgetown University, who has established himself as an eminent American Catholic authority on faith and science. He has been a valuable voice in keeping creationism and intelligent design out of the public schools, and takes religious fundamentalism and the "New Atheism" equally to task. What Is God? makes no mention of all that. It is, simply, in my opinion, a good place for any nominally Catholic undergraduate student, or indeed any student, to begin a religious inquiry.

I'll have more to say about the book tomorrow.