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Are College Students Losing Their Religion?

Yes. The question is...why?

Conservative talk radio personality Dennis Prager thinks that God is not doing so well in our society. Why? The chief reason he cites is that college students are losing their religion.

Over at National Review Online, he writes:

Increasingly large numbers of men and women attend university, and Western universities have become essentially secular (and leftist) seminaries. Just as the agenda of traditional Christian and Jewish seminaries is to produce religious Christians and religious Jews, the agenda of Western universities is to produce (left-wing) secularists. The difference is that Christian and Jewish seminaries are honest about their agenda, while the universities still claim they have neither a secularist nor a political agenda.

The more university education a person receives, the more likely he is to hold secular and left-wing views. The secular Left argues that this correlation is due to the fact that a college graduate knows more and thinks more clearly and therefore gravitates leftward and toward secularism.

But if you believe that the average college graduate is a clear and knowledgeable thinker as a result of his or her time at university, I have more than one bridge to sell you. A radio talk-show host for 29 years, I long ago began asking callers who made foolish comments what graduate school they had attended. It takes higher education to learn that America and Israel are villains, that men and women have essentially the same natures, that human nature is good, that ever-larger governments create wealth, etc.

Conor Friedersdorf, a writer who attended Catholic school for 14 years, is skeptical of Prager's argument.

Writing in The Atlantic, Friedersdorf thinks:

To me, there are better explanations for the fact that "the more university education a person receives, the more likely he is to hold secular and left-wing views." One is that people who attend college leave home.

That is to say, they leave their church, the community incentives to attend it, and the watchful eye of parents who get angry or make them feel guilty when they don't go to services or stray in their faith. Suddenly they're surrounded by dorm mates of different faiths or no faith at all.

For many of these students, it turns out that their religious behavior was driven more by desire for community, or social and parental pressure, than by deeply held beliefs. Another reason education correlates with secularism is that secularists are more likely to seek advanced degrees, partly because they're more focused than their religious counterparts on career.

Maybe it's a little bit of both: maybe many students abandon religion at college both because they are away from home and because they are in an environment that does not value religious belief. That, at least, is what I observed when I was a college student.

One last thing…
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