I'm probably not going to be the only person commenting on your article about the protest at Pacific Union College regarding the cancellation of a talk by an Adventist minister-turned-atheist, along with the firing of the psychology teacher at the school who had invited him to speak (“PUC students march over academic freedom," May 12).
Besides the obvious questions about freedom of speech, as well as the principle of academic freedom, this decision also brings to mind a couple of other matters. The first is, it seems safe to assume that university students are obviously bright people and able to think critically for themselves. Sitting in on a talk by an atheist is not going to automatically convert them to atheism (a term difficult to define in a universally accepted way). It may contribute to such a change in their thinking, to be sure, but attendance at such an event is not going to cause such an alteration in and of itself.
It might cause some of the students to look more critically, perhaps, at whatever indoctrination strategies might be at work in Angwin (if any). That, to some of us, would be a good thing, as it would be for members of any religious faith who are subject to indoctrination efforts.
I'm not certain if any of the student protesters may have phrased their questioning of this administrative decision in exactly this way, but I'm willing to declare that they have a right to feel downright insulted. As an over-simplified parallel analogy, would the administration cancel a talk by a Buddhist monk if he were invited by a professor to offer insights about Buddhism? There's a part of me that shudders to think: maybe so.
The second matter this administrative move brings to light is the rarely celebrated value of scrutinizing more closely one's personal history when it comes to understanding how we come to support our religious and/or philosophical beliefs. It would not, for example, be difficult to demonstrate that in many cases the beliefs that we accept as true and reliable were simply handed to us by our family, our local religious community that influenced our family, and a larger cultural influence that stems from the country in which we were born.
In the United States, clearly, you stand a much greater chance of being raised as a "Christian" or "Jew" than you do of becoming a Muslim or Hindu.
Have any of us, I wonder, ever met a person who can say that his parents taught him to investigate at least all five of the major world's religions before arriving at a faith decision to accept only one? I cautiously submit that someone raised in a non-dogmatic atheist family has perhaps the best chance of having such an experience.
On the other hand, I have met plenty of persons who claim to have had a personal conversion (usually while attending an emotionally-charged church service) into the beliefs they hold today. I wonder what might happen if they considered the possibility that regularly attending services at a very different church on Sundays (or Saturdays!) might yield the same results.