Dennis Prager is one of the most level-headed conservative talk show hosts out there, but here he is repeating the tired rubbish about universities waging an “undeclared war” on faith:

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 responds:

This beggars belief, especially if you’re someone like me who attended Catholic school for 14 years. The institutional structure was expressly designed to turn out practicing Catholics, and given more than a decade of our most formative years and formal religious instruction they didn’t manage to hold onto most of my peers. Do the university professors know something they didn’t? I just never understand it when conservative critics of academia presume it is so single-minded, effective and powerful in its impact.

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.

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David Sessions

David Sessions is the founding editor of Patrol, and is currently a doctoral student in modern European history at Boston College. His writing has appeared in The Daily Beast, Newsweek, Jacobin, Slate and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter here.

0 Responses to College Isn’t Turning Your Kids Into Secular Leftists

  1. jmj says:

    The problem is not education itself, but how a student enters his/her post secondary institutions. Conor is half right.

    Can he/she handle questions? Can he/she find good mentors with whom he can discuss ideas? How was he taught in highschool and before? Was it an “accept this without question” kind of teaching? or was he taught to ask questions, taught how to dig for himself to find answers?

    Fortunately, I was taught these things. But now as I am in my 30s, I see all too much of the former, both in my time in university, but also as I interact with teens and youth more and more.

    This problem, also, is contributing to make the Evangelical church in America very, sorry to say, stupid, and unlearned in matters of faith and doctrine; unable and definitely not “ready always to give an answer”. We tend to teach that only certain people, (the pastors, or those “led” to go into ministry, need to learn and study Biblical principles). The rest of us should be taught practical “how to live” christianity. We don’t need none of that doctrine stuff.

    Anyway, I rant too much. thanks for the forum.

  2. Chris M says:

    of course one could turn the argument around and say “For many of these students, it turns out that their left wing views are driven more by desire for community, or social and peer pressure, than by….”.

    I think there is a correlation between the type of education one receives and the resulting belief structure it produces. However, it would be simple minded to assume a quid-pro-quo formula. That being said, most government universities are stacked both systematically and socially towards left leaning views both academically and socially

  3. peter c says:

    it does appear that at least some college professors have an agenda to separate students from the faith they grew up with:

    • jmj says:

      Peter, peter, peter….

      Don’t you know Albert Mohler is anathema on these pages? SMH.


      • Peter, I think it’s fair to call that anecdotal evidence. There’s no doubt some professors would enjoy taking a crack at opening the mind of a conservative kid from the hinterlands. But I think it would be more accurate that a liberal professor, such as the one in the Mohler piece, would mostly want to see a conservative student’s mind opened, not necessarily to see them embrace a particular set of dogmas. Anyway, as Conor points out earlier in his post, most professors have a pretty limited opportunity to have much effect on any single student.

        • peter c says:

          JMJ, I was going to include a disclaimer but ultimately decided to leave it out 🙂

          I don’t think it’s a big deal whether colleges are trying to make students turn away from their faith or not. Of course I would prefer they don’t (if that is actually the case). Zach and David make the point well in their comments below. It’s more about the student and his or her beliefs and how they respond to the situation at hand. The world is antithetical to Christianity. Christians just have to deal with it.

          I also agree that Conor make a great point – and in my observations the point can even be applied to students at a secular college who are deeply involved in a christian fellowship and after graduation find themselves untethered from a christian community. Quite a few of them turn away because their behavior was based on a desire for community, not because of strong personal belief.

  4. Zach Nielsen says:

    I could be wrong, but I think we might be making this a bit harder than it needs to be. All universities have a worldview through which they make decisions and promote certain people and ideals. Neutrality is a myth and it is naive to believe that I or anyone else can obtain it.

    The worldview that most state universities hold is antithetical to Christianity as affirmed by the Apostles and Nicene Creed. That’s a bit of a no brainer.

    Not sure why we would expect any different though. I know that I want to prep my kids to engage different worldviews and not run from them. My experience at a state college did nothing but make my faith stronger because I was forced to ask hard questions that need to be asked and am thankful that I did.

    • I think you make the point rather well. It’s not about the school and its perceived “agenda,” even though it’s fair to say no major university has a “Christian worldview.” It’s about where the student is as a person and a thinker, and what he/she will become in a new environment further away from his/her comfort zone.

      I completely agree with Conor’s theory that it has to do with being uprooted from one’s community. My time at a far-from-home right-wing Christian college pushed me more toward religious doubt and political leftism than my days commuting from my hometown to a “liberal secularist” state college ever did.

  5. It seems to me like it’s one of those how you look at the data what answer you end up with sorts of lines of reasoning.

    Does the fact that there’s correlation between education and atheism/secularism mean that it’s waging an undeclared war? I’m not sure, but there’s another answer that seems simpler to me.

    As someone who used to be a youth pastor I’m familiar with the other statistic about how most people who become Christians determine to do so before turning 18. For many that meant that we need to pour all our efforts into youth and children’s ministry.

    I’d offer between this and the issue of education and belief that maybe there’s another possibility. Namely that the church does a horrible job of engaging intellectuals in any sort of convincing way. That we don’t know how to deal with people who have been trained how to think for themselves.

    This seems as likely to me as some sort of undeclared war.

  6. Ann says:

    I went to college in Israel, and while there learned that Israel is a villian.* Does that count?

    * It should, of course, be noted that I understand that the situation is incredibly complex and problemmatic, but Zionist settlers and Hasidim settlers are, in fact, villians.

  7. Matt S. says:


    Thanks as always for your sanity on these issues.

    I have a thought too add. Frankly, I think the Christianity taught to the vast majority of young people who go away to college deserves to be lost. Its indefensible, outmoded, and when pushed against by a smart professor, inevitably crumbles. Most evangelicals and fundamentalists, and “conservative” Roman Catholics, aren’t taught to think, wonder, and love, but to absorb dogma.

    Another way of considering this is the enormous amount of time and resources connected to “apologetics,” i.e. trying to prove that science justifies Christianity or that all morality is dependent on faith or whatever other debating tricks one can come up with. Think of that nasty book, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. The premise is that religious meaning is on the same “level” scientific facts. The is one mode of knowing, in other words, and we can apply the same categories to Christian belief as we do scientific fact. When this way of reasoning leaves the protected sanctuaries of Bullshit Evangelical Church X, and actually gets tested in the context of a “secular” university, it gets exploded pretty damn quick.

    Anyway. If we actually taught our young people Christianity, they’d be fine. But we teach them idolatrous, patriotic, anti-science, anti-thinking, brittle dogmatic nonsense. Good riddance, I say.

    • David Sessions says:

      I couldn’t have said it better.

    • Justine says:

      If by absorbing dogma you mean absorbing the teaching of Jesus, then yes, that’s exactly what I was taught. In high school, my youth pastor taught the Bible… simply, Jesus. Once my time in college came, I knew what I believed and why… Jesus was the truth. If I ever disagreed with my professors, it was taken as an attack on their intelligence and I was most often called ignorant. If you really don’t see that our universities are full of secular leftist professors attempting to indoctrinate young minds, then look again.

  8. Matt S. says:

    First, apologies for all the typos in my comment. I fired that one off pretty quick.

    Second, Justine: you seem to be exactly the type of person (though I really and truly am open to amending this on the basis of learning more about you) that is not well equipped to confront a “secular leftist professor.” It is impossible to just teach someone “the Bible.” There always is an interpretive framework involved. And my point, or one of my points, is that if you get taught “the Bible” in such a way that you think Genesis is a scientific treatise, then sure, college will feel pretty damn antagonistic to you. I contend that if you understand Genesis that way (I’m not saying you do, but am holding this out as an example), at some level you deserve to feel like a secular leftist professor is attacking you, because, frankly, such a belief is stupid, doesn’t deserve to be respected, and rightly draws the ire of thinking people everywhere.

    • Justine says:

      I have a feeling that we view God’s Word as two different things. I do believe in the Bible as being God’s Word. Sure, interpretation is part of studying it, but one can interpret it so that it aligns with itself.

      Therefore, I do believe that God created the universe. Yes, the earth has “evolved” since then, but in my research evolution as a means for creation is not a viable theory. You can call me stupid if you’d like, but the research is faulty and the proof just isn’t there.

      Lastly, if I felt attacked while going through college for my beliefs, is that wrong? The Gospel is offensive because Christ is the only way; it isn’t a teaching about feeling good about yourself. Even Jesus said we would be persecuted for it. Now, I wasn’t one of the people on a street corner shouting at others to repent. I picked my battles and was respectful, but the bottom line is that I’m not ashamed of the Gospel, and if I’m not being persecuted, then I’m not being bold enough.

  9. Eric Hetvile says:

    Oh, colleges certainly do! But it actually starts in high school with their “earth goes around the sun”, their “earth is more than 6000 years old”, and their “plate tectonics nonsense” whenever God gets mad at the gays.

  10. […] on the heels of this, Dennis Prager has something even more irresponsible to say: This is important to note because it […]

  11. […] Mag:…  This article is a short response by David Sessions that explains why he thinks colleges […]

  12. Nicole says:

    I know I am rather late on the subject, but I am at a very religious university and I have to say they do are not leftist leaning, but they certainly are not religiously leaning either. There is a cross in every classroom and random biblical scriptures around campus, but they also encourage religious exploration. Every student must take two theology classes that force you to look inward and really examine your faith… anywho what I am trying to say is while there may be particular teachers that have an agenda the whole point of college is to explore and understand. If at the end of it someone have lost their faith then so be it, but it is not the objective of institutions to create God hating atheist!

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