Don’t limit definition of faith

n Alexander Lavy’s recent editorial ‘Examining Religion on Campus’ he says that he has “come to believe that theology, and religion in general, is allowed little public voice on campus.” I take issue with this for a number of reasons. First of all, he says this while sidestepping the existence of religion and philosophy departments, not to mention a history department, where religious texts, histories, primary sources and witnesses to faith are discussed and analyzed in just about every context one can imagine.

Beyond this, however, I object to his characterization of faith on this campus. I myself have heard expressions of faith and issues applicable to religion throughout my time at Williams. This goes for structural geology (GEOS 301) as much as for the numerous candlelight vigils and Catholic masses I’ve witnessed.

Lavy says that “we claim to be tolerant, and yet we seek to put religion in a closet.” How is religion in the closet? Religious clubs and events are advertised weekly. Many people pray at dinner before eating. There are churches all over the place. I’d wager that most people have debates with friends about morals and tenets of faith. Why shouldn’t we characterize other things, outside of Bush calling himself Christian and the recent chastity talk, as professions of faith?

Why should we assume that no religion or faith, and a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy towards religion, are implicit in the events sponsored by non-religious clubs? Lavy says that “religious privatization should not be advocated.” I completely agree. For example, we should not assume that lives and classes organized in pursuit of chemistry, dance, literature, football, crew, economics and Russian are divorced from religion or faith when they are not labeled as associated with some privatized religious club on campus or some organized religion.

I don’t think people on this campus say that “religion is only ‘true’ when not contradicted by science or politics.” Contradictions between science, politics and religion demand that we ask hard questions of ourselves, such as if it is morally wrong for us to genetically modify human organisms. I don’t think one will find that in the public sphere, let alone any classroom of genetics, religion is left out of debate over this question. At all points, religious faith probably serves as a guide to citizens, as politics and science are practiced by at least some moral people. As nearly worldwide bans on landmines and chemical weapons show, moral beliefs often hold sway over science and politics.

Lavy says “Look at the religion and sexuality talks we have had over the years. . . the participants often do not have the means necessary to force people to think about [religious] issues.” Outside of hosting Vatican III at Williams College, how are we supposed to “force people to think about these issues?” Does Lavy imagine that we will know when we have achieved religious dialogue and discussion on this campus when there are prolonged public demonstrations of faith on campus?

If so, look no farther than groups associated with Lehman Service Council or MinCo. These organizations do the best that proponents of a moral or faith position can do: actively and peacefully living their beliefs, whether these be the importance of recognizing and promoting diversity on campus or of sharing experience and helping others. Look to people saying the rosary in the morning with the Newman Association. All of the above are living examples of faith, in my opinion. While we probably need more similarly motivated groups, I assert that this campus is well aware of these groups and their works and —here’s a shocker — actually overwhelmingly approves of this behavior, which is quite possibly based in faith. Such groups are recognized year after year by our College Council and Activities Office.

Actions of such student groups or any groups possibly guided by faith seem well contained in the “religious expression” Lavy seeks on campus. Living a life of faith and talking about a life of faith are two different things. It is easy to talk about one’s life of faith, in my opinion, and much more convincing to defend talk with action.

We do have discussions of religion on this campus, however. I went to a lecture couple of weeks ago, featuring Thomas Friedman, a self identified Jew, which had huge religious implications and references. At least two students asking him questions prefaced their remarks by mentioning their faith affiliation.

The night’s discussion was not just a history lesson in religion, and it was not religious preaching; it was a demonstration of political analysis reflecting the application of the morals of one man and those who responded to him. What more can we ask of faith?