Russell and Duenes

Four Years at U.C. Berkeley and Never Confronted With Life’s Most Important Questions

with 2 comments

I just returned from U.C. Berkeley with my seniors from Redwood Christian High School. It has become an annual tradition for us to head up to Sproul Plaza on Berkeley’s campus, home of the famous 1960s “Free Speech Movement,” and ask CAL students (and other passers by) their opinions about life’s most important questions. Questions such as,

Can we know whether God exists? To this, the most frequent answer is “no” or “there’s no way to know for sure.” I asked one gentleman why he says that we can’t know, and he simply said, “It’s just the case.” Now maybe he wasn’t able to come up with something right then and there, but certainly this has to rank as one of the most, if not the most important human questions of all, but we treat it as an afterthought, a question we are not equipped to answer at any moment.

Do you think humans are born morally good, morally neutral, morally corrupt? You can probably guess what the typical answer is here. Almost without fail, the respondents answer with “morally neutral.” In other words, man is not corrupt by nature, from the womb, as the Bible teaches, but becomes corrupted by society or family or peer pressure or whatever. This explains a lot about our views on economics, politics, social unrest, and really, every important human issue. If you think people are morally neutral, then you will approach child discipline, education, law enforcement, and public policy in radically different ways than if you believe humans are sinful by nature, from birth. If sin is not inherent in us from the womb, then it stands to reason that we can be “reformed” and achieve “the good society” through education or, as one girl explained, “through story-telling.” I think telling stories is good and necessary, but we need a story with the power to fundamentally change the human heart. We need the Holy Spirit from within, not simply stories or education from without.

Do you think there is an absolute standard of morality that is true for all people, in all times, in all places? The answers to this are almost reflexive, and they are reflexively “no.” Most students don’t even ponder over it. They immediately say “no.” This is simply the narrative that comes down to them through government or otherwise secular schools. But what always fascinates me, and what I saw invariably today, is that students who say that there is no absolute standard of morality that is binding on all people everywhere, then turn around, when asked if racism is wrong always and everywhere, and say “yes.” Same thing when asked if “homophobia” is wrong. So I’ve come to see that your typical university student will say that morality is relative, and then deny it less than 10 seconds later. For humans simply cannot live without moral absolutes. Our hope is that a few of these students will see the contradictions in their statements, and ponder whether they have truly evaluated their own worldview with sufficient rigor.

Do you think science and religion are in conflict with each other? The answers to this are not so one-sided, but there are always a fair number of students who will answer this with a “yes.” Again, this is what they’ve been told in a thousand different ways. Science is what we “know” and religion is just “myth” or “wish-fulfillment” or “your opinions and beliefs.” Science, as we are told, has nothing to do with God, and God is an embarrassment to scientific inquiry. Never mind that we would not have modern science without Christians, and that some of our best scientists: Galileo, Keppler, Copernicus, Newton, Pasteur, Washington-Carver, and Mendel – to name a few – have all been either robust theists or Christians.

Do you think all religions are basically the same? This answer is more evenly divided. I don’t always ask this question, but there is a tendency to believe that there is a general sameness to the major religions.

What do you think the Bible is? Today the answers were: “A way to control the masses,” “a collection of scripts, some historical, some not,” and “a proper moral code.”

Who do you think Jesus Christ is? The answers to this one tend to run along the lines of, “He was a moral teacher or religious figure.” Some gave these answers today. One person said that Jesus was a “symbol,” another said, “a lunatic,” another “a revolutionary. One guy, who clearly did not have any kind of Christian worldview, said that Jesus was “the Son of God,” though I’m not sure what this could have meant, given his other answers.

I was most profoundly struck, however, by one girl in particular to whom we spoke. She appeared to be about 19-20 years old and of Indian or Pakistani descent. She graciously answered all of our questions, but about half-way through them, she said to us that “these are good questions” and that she felt her answers were kind of “weak.” She said this out of a clear sense that she had not considered them with sufficient energy, and that perhaps she should have. And it hit me: U.C. Berkeley is a place where the best and brightest go. It’s a university where students the world over desire to go. But sadly, it’s a place where one can spend four or more years of one’s life and never, ever be confronted with the above questions. They simply aren’t relevant to the task to which the university has set itself today. I believe Jesus might say to the students at U.C. Berkeley, in the academic and spiritual realm, what he said to the church at Laodicea in Revelation 3, You say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked,  I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.



Written by Michael Duenes

April 14, 2011 at 3:09 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Do you think humans are born morally good, morally neutral, morally corrupt? You can probably guess what the typical answer is here. Almost without fail, the respondents answer with “morally neutral.”

    I’m actually rather surprised by this. I would’ve expected “morally good”. At least, that is the view I grew up holding.


    April 14, 2011 at 6:27 pm

    • I get “morally good” as the answer often times as well. Morally corrupt is almost never the answer, unless one is talking to an orthodox Christian or Jew.


      russell and duenes

      April 14, 2011 at 8:55 pm

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