Dreher’s chapter about education in The Benedict Option also addresses university. Here, the idea essentially revolves around young men and women living out the chapter on the church as village. That in order to keep from devolving into the party culture, sex culture, porn culture, drinking culture, hedonism, relativism, and general social disorder that characterises the ‘freedom’ of young people at secular universities, young Christians need to create and seek out intentional community.
He does not call for only sending them to Christian universities, in part because some of these are being challenged in various ways, such as (to use a famous Canadian example) Trinity Western University whose code of conduct includes not engaging in extra-marital or homosexual sex acts. The bar on heterosexual activity doesn’t get you in trouble, but the bar on homosexual activity gets you branded bigot these days (this is not the point of this post, so please stay out of that debate in the comments).
Anyway, this portion of the chapter was, I think, done well. Throughout the book, one of my issues has been the randomness of the anecdotes, most of wish only point to symptoms of the problem, or the fact that the interviews with people simply give their views on life and strategy, rather than showing their success. These even counts for his interviews of monks at Norcia.
However, in this section as well as a few parts of the chapter on community, Dreher actually gives concrete examples of Benedict Option successes. He tells of various groups of young Christians at different universities, some Protestant, some Roman Catholic, and how they banded together to form communities that supported them throughout their time at university and helped their faith grow strong. He even tells of how one such group’s existence contributed to the church’s mission of making new disciples. So for this I am glad.
As a person who works in the university, I want the Christians to come to university to be able to come to secular institutions and get their degrees with a robust faith and even spiritual growth at the other end. There is no reason why the university should erode or destroy your faith. Sure, it will challenge it. I certainly had my share of challenges as a Christian in undergrad, but having the critical thinking skills and resilience to resist should be part of the young person’s journey through university.
I admit that I had good community as an undergrad, and this probably helped, besides my own determination to come to grips with arguments and ideas that challenged what I believed. I belonged to a supportive church community, was active in IVCF, and had a great group of Christian friends who were willing to talk matters of faith and of import.
Speaking about secular universities, the university should resist the urge to become secularist. Rather, universities should be pluralist, creating an atmosphere where the conservative Christian and the atheist and the Hindu and the Muslim and the liberal Christian can co-exist, make friendships, and have respectful, lively debate on topics that really matter. That was my experience as an undergrad 12 years ago, and I hope it is still the case. (I currently hold a research post, so I can’t say for sure, but it looks like my current place of employment would fit this model.)