Posted by: searcygr | March 2, 2009


My grandma, who is learning to use the internet and emails me no less than five forwards a day, recently sent me an email which is relevant to our discussion of atheism. The email recounted the story of a non-believing professor who, through his philosophy courses, sought to disprove God’s existence and influence the belief of his students. However, one particular year, a student stood up to the educated and powerful professor, what some would call a miracle ensued, and faith lived on.

What struck me here, not the sappy email with its message of standing up for God and vocalizing one’s beliefs, was how different this university and our university are. Then I began thinking, how different would our class on the New Atheism be if a larger variety of faith traditions or even some non-believers were our classmates. I have strong feelings about SLU’s lack of diversity, and this is apparent in our classroom of twenty or so Christians from a handful of denominations. In our class, the fact that we are all similar in our beliefs and upbringings makes our discussions one sided and seem unnecessary or childish. However, I think it is important to realize that our discussions do matter, there are many that we will meet later in life who are non-believing, and this class is necessary in showing us what ideas are mentioned in the conversation between believers and atheists.

On a related note, I find our readings to be relevant to everyday life more so than the philosophy and scholarly researching that we engaged in last semester. In this way, I find this course to be vital, probably because I realize that this class will be the culmination of my theological studies. Everyday concepts and the ability to dialogue and explain thoughts seem to be more useful to the everyday believer. Basically, if I wanted to get into a philosophical discussion with an atheist, I am of the opinion that I would simply research what earlier and contemporary philosophers have had to say on the topic and do some quick thinking of my own. However, I find this possibility unlikely because of my future career goals. In this way, as a Christian but not a career theologian, I see great value in the readings and reflections of this semester.

And, for anyone who is looking to avoid studying for midterms or wants a quick break, here is the email that my grandma sent that started me on this rant…

This is a true story of something that happened just a few years ago at USC. There was a professor of philosophy there who was a committed atheist. His primary goal for one required class was to spend the entire semester to prove that God couldn’t exist. His students were always afraid to argue with him because of his impeccable logic. Sure, some had argued in class at times, but no one had ever really gone against him because of his reputation. At the end of every semester on the last day, he would say to his class of 300 students, “If there is anyone here who still believes in Jesus, stand up.” In twenty years, no one had ever stood up. They knew what he was going to do next. He would say, “Because anyone who believes in God is a fool. If God existed, He would stop this piece of chalk from hitting the ground and breaking. Such a simple task to prove that He is God, yet He can’t do it.” And every year, he would drop the chalk onto the tile floor of the classroom and it would shatter into a hundred pieces. All of the students would do nothing but stop and stare. Most of the students thought that God couldn’t exist. Certainly, a number of Christians had slipped through, but for twenty years, they had been too afraid to stand up.

Well, a few years ago, there was a freshman who happened to enroll. He was a Christian and had heard stories about this professor. For three months that semester, he prayed every morning that he would have the courage to stand up no matter what the professor said, or what the class thought. Nothing they said could shatter his faith, he hoped.

Finally, the day came. The professor said, “If there is anyone here who still believes in God, stand up.” The professor and class of 300 stared at him, shocked, as he stood up in the back of the classroom. The professor shouted, “You fool. If God existed He could keep this piece of chalk from shattering when it hits the ground.” He proceeded to drop the chalk, but as he did, it slipped out of his fingers, off his shirt cuff, onto the pleat of his pants, down his leg, and off his shoe. As it hit the ground, it simply rolled away unbroken. The professor’s jaw dropped as he stared at the chalk. He looked up at the young man and then left the lecture hall.



  1. Wow Garrett – I couldn’t agree with you more. Ironically, I was convinced for the first two years of my SLU education that SLU was in fact a very impressively diverse campus, filled with people of different cultural, ethnic, and faith backgrounds. I come from white, suburban Omaha where the majority of people are Protestant (Lutheran…), some are Catholic, a very few are agnostic, and perhaps 1 in a million admits to atheism. Thus, SLU provided a doorway to diversity for me, both through a seemingly diverse student body and through a diverse urban environment.

    Then, last fall I studied abroad in Brussels, Belgium, where the percentage of practicing Christians has dropped to about 5%, while the percentage of practicing Muslims is steadily on the rise. My host moms were the nicest moms ever, I loved my school, and my roommates were amicable, but not one of them could understand my faith. It was a brand new, eye-opening experience for me to be so in the minority and to discover the place of faith and religion in a new culture.

    In all this rambling, I just want to reaffirm your statement that this class is great preparation for outside life in general. Yes, this class is challenging my personal beliefs and forcing me to dive into more theology, but above all this class is challenging me to think outside of SLU and not just Protestantism or Christianity, but religion. I need to keep working on my dialogue skills and open-mindedness, but hey we still have a half-semester left!

  2. Garrett,
    I like how you point out the usefulness of this class in terms of your “future career goals”. I know many of us have looked at our assignments and thought bluntly, “I’m not trying to be a famous theologian here, I just enjoy theology”. I agree with you in that this class has offered theological tools for the belt of life. It has been gearing us up for what will likely come firing toward us when we admit our theology major in the real world (rather than the bubble of SLU).

    However, I believe there is value in the challenging of our faith in the midst of a “safe” environment. While we may lose the benefits of diversity, we are comfortable enough to state exactly what we are struggling with, what we completely agree with, or what we find useless. For me, this type of experience is unique and will give us the confidence to carry our faith into the next stage.

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