In a recent article published in Sociology of Religion, sociologists Neil Gross and Solon Simmons use data from a new, nationally representative survey of American college and university professors to test the long-running assumption that higher education leads to irreligiousness. Based on their research, they argue that “while atheism and agnosticism are much more common among professors than within the U.S. population as a whole, religious skepticism represents a minority position, even among professors teaching at elite research universities.” This has been a long-running debate amongst those who study religiosity in higher education and pay attention to trends in societal secularization.
“…the evidence seems to suggest that instead of leaving religion behind, the intelligentsia, like the rest of society, rationally wrestle with ideas, scientific and religious, and attempt to find answers to the big questions that plague us all.” —A. A.
How do these numbers break down by discipline? Gross and Simmons explore how belief in God is distributed among the 20 largest disciplinary fields. In terms of atheists, professors of psychology and mechanical engineering lead the pack with 50 percent and 44.1 percent respectively. Amongst biologists, 33.3 percent were agnostic and 27.5 percent were atheist. Interestingly, 21.6 percent of biologists say that they have no doubt that God exists.
In contrast, 63 percent of accounting professors, 56.8 percent of elementary education professors, 48.6 percent of finance professors, 46.5 percent of marketing professors, 45 percent of art professors, and 44.4 percent of both nursing professors and criminal justice professors stated that they know God exists.
Holy effin’ balance sheets! “Accounting professors” kicking the asses off “art professors” when it comes to knowing God?!? Who knew. Disturbing, really, that creative types are having a harder time discovering the source of all truth, beauty, and goodness than those who revere the work of the Master Mathematician. But then, that may help explain a whole lot of meaningless art being cranked out at the university level these days.
Gross and Simmons also attempted to discover the proportion of professors who think of themselves as religiously progressive, moderate, or traditional. They found that professors in the social sciences and humanities are more than twice as likely identify themselves as religiously progressive (32.5 percent and 35 percent, respectively), while a larger number of physical and biological scientists see themselves as moderate (32.2 percent) as opposed to progressive or traditionalist.
Despite whether professors are progressives, moderates or traditionalists, most all of us still tend to crystallize our science, formulate our philosophy, and dogmatize the truth— because, well, we’re just mentally lazy in coming to grips with the progressive struggles of living. And when you get right down to it: the greatest difference between a religious and a nonreligious philosophy of living isn’t how “progressive” or “traditional” you might be, but rather the nature and level of your recognized values, and the object of your personal loyalties.
Religiosity is certainly evolving. And while this snapshot of academia— the nation’s learned teachers— might be encouraging in a general way, the truth is that most of us still have had a very hard time installing a genuinely helpful philosophy of living in the place of the religious authority of the church. That’s party due to the difficulty we have in understanding the importance of religious philosophy in the first place, especially in the thrall of the heaviest days of the materialistic age. So it’s helpful to break down the evolution of religious philosophy into four recognizable phases:
1. The first phase, and perhaps the largest group, is still resigned to submission to traditional authority; they’re the ones constantly crying about America being a Christian nation, and they’re more motivated than ever to drag us all back into their comfort zone, i.e., being told what to believe by the church fathers, and what’s more, how to believe it.
2. The second phase involves those who are satisfied with slight attainments— just enough to stabilize their daily trip to the box factory and home again—and that’s where they get stuck. These folks believe in letting well enough alone.
3. A third group make it to the level of logical intellectuality, but that’s usually where they stagnate, in consequence of cultural slavery. That’s where nearly half our professors live, and yes, it’s pitiful to see even giant intellects held prisoner in the cruel grasp of cultural bondage. But it’s equally pathetic to behold those who trade their cultural bondage for the materialistic fetters of a “science”— falsely so called.
4. At last we get to the fourth level, and the smallest group— the true progressives. They’re the ones who manage to attain freedom from all conventional and traditional handicaps, and dare to think, act, and live honestly, loyally, fearlessly, and truthfully. These are the men and women at the prow of the ship, cutting through the materialistic bullshit, and making the way more clear for the rest of us.
When it’s all said and done, the “acid test” for any religious philosophy consists in whether or not it distinguishes between the realities of the material and the spiritual worlds— while at the same time recognizing their unification in intellectual striving, and in social serving. And a truly sound religious philosophy will never confound the “things of God” with the “things of Caesar.” Know what I mean? I knew that you could.
Once you’ve become philosophically liberated, truly progressive, you’ll easily transform primitive religion, which was largely a fairy tale of conscience, into a living experience in the ascending values of genuine cosmic reality.
The spirit of religion is, after all, eternal. But the form of its expression must be restated every time the dictionary of human language is revised. That’s why religionists— especially those who teach— must learn to actively keep pace with all the advances in civilization, by making clear-cut and vigorous restatements of our highest moral mandates and spiritual precepts; that’s truly a progressive philosophy of human living, and one destined to achieve the goal of all this striving— transcendent survival.
Finally, even the highest cosmic concepts of true philosophy, even the portrayal of celestial artistry, or our worthy attempts to depict the human recognition of divine beauty, will never be truly satisfying as long as our attempted progression is ununified. The expressions of the divine urge within us may be intellectually true, emotionally beautiful, and spiritually good, but the real soul of our expression is absent unless the realities of truth, the meanings of beauty, and the values of goodness are unified in the life experience of the artist, the scientist, or the philosopher.
The religious challenge of this age is to those farseeing and forward-looking men and women of spiritual insight who will dare to construct a new and appealing philosophy of living out of the enlarged and exquisitely integrated modern concepts of cosmic truth, universe beauty, and divine goodness. Such a new and righteous vision of morality will attract all that is good in the mind of man and challenge that which is best in the human soul. Truth, beauty, and goodness are divine realities, and as man ascends the scale of spiritual living, these supreme qualities of the Eternal become increasingly co-ordinated and unified in God, who is love.
—Divine Counselor acting by authority of the Ancients of Days on Uversa
writing in The Urantia Book