Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Pull of Christianity at UC Berkeley

I recently read an article from a local newspaper about how many UC Berkeley college students are increasingly drawn to evangelical Christianity. It was a rather long article (around 5000 words) but quite informative.

from the article
It's not a story you might expect to hear on a campus more famous for its Nobel Prize winners, tree sitters, and free-speech advocates. And yet, Cal has increasingly become a place where Asian-American students like Chiu are finding God. Their Christian faith is having repercussions on how they approach their studies, how they think about science, and what careers they pursue — perhaps even the future of academia. In some cases, the changes are already underway. (Richards, K., 2008)

Considering the stereotype of UC Berkeley (and the town it resides in) being a bastion of liberal thought and greater social & environmental awareness, this may be surprising to many. The article provides quotes and analysis for why this influx of Asian Americans is occurring. One proferred theory is that it may be cultural: “Culturally, Asian-American students may relate to the Christian mentality easier than others, scholars say (Richards, K., 2008).” Another suggestion indicates that it may be message-related: “Perhaps most importantly, fellowships preach a message of acceptance. For many Asian-American students who face intense pressure from their parents to succeed academically, Christianity provides a shelter (Richards, K., 2008).”

In part, the way these Christian ministries reach out to attract students has modernized. The fellowships have developed “a pretty marketed approach” undertaking activities such as “give(ing) away candy or gift baskets to incoming freshmen, and stage(ing) skits (Richards, K., 2008).” One group (Intervarsity Christian Fellowship) conducted a survey with clipboards querying passing students ‘What are your issues with Christianity?’ (Richards, K., 2008). Maybe the ministries have learned lessons from advertising and marketing on how to best package their product.

But the increasing involvement in Christian ministry does not come without ancillary costs in other areas. One leader tacks up more than 15 hours officially with his group; the tally doesn’t include his outreach and ministry duties (Richards, K., 2008). So changed by his experience with a Christian ministry group, another student (Matt Huang) left his pursuit of a medical career and is currently unemployed while he searches for a “nonprofit or government sector” position (Richard, K., 2008).

The Christian ministries must also find ways to confront the apparent conflict between some the foundational tenets of Christianity and the realms of academia and science. According to the article, the Veritas Forum

sponsored a high-profile talk by Francis Collins, director of the Human Genome Project and a devout Christian. The event packed Wheeler Hall, plus two overflow lecture halls. Collins eschews intelligent design arguments in favor of a more science-embracing notion of "theistic evolution," or what he calls "BioLogos." In essence, evolution happened but God started it all(Richards, K., 2008).

And while many of the ministry groups don’t posit official positions on the evolution issue, they do offer alternative views on how current things came to be. The students themselves often adopt their own stances on evolution. According to Professor Kevin Padian—curator of the Museum of Paleontology—student “don’t feel it’s relevant” to identify their disagreement with evolution in class or adopt the approach “you teach me science and I’ll believe what I want to believe (Richards, K., 2008).

So I don’t really have a great deal of comments about the article. I am curious as to whether people believe this type of movement in a secular, public university is a good, bad, or non-eventful thing. An in-depth analysis of my previously expressed viewpoints probably indicates where on the spectrum my opinions lie. But I do find it interesting to see how Christian organizations are adapting secular business marketing & advertising techniques to connect with their target audience. Outreach evolved from simply posting flyers to conducting surveys, skits, and giveaway contests. As separate as Christian ministries may desire to be, is it possible that the only thing separating them from secular social groups is subject and material content?