Spring is rolling in and acceptance letters and scholarship offers are going out. As students seek to make their college decisions, it is a good chance for all of us to reflect on the advantages of a Catholic liberal arts education at an institution like Thomas More College.
Theology courses are a distinctive feature of, and a compelling reason for, attending a Catholic liberal arts college. Some may think theology at the collegiate level is not a sound investment of time and money. Required theology courses are sometimes seen as annoying hurdles that must be cleared in order to get the other cultural and educational benefits from a private Catholic school. Today I offer you a different view: three reasons why theology is not only important but also essential to the complete education of the person.
First, theology offers answers to our deepest human questions. What is my identity? What is my purpose? Is there a God? Does God care about me? These are questions that science, while extremely valuable, cannot answer. Science aims to explain how the world works through observation and empirical analysis. What lies beyond the material realm is by definition outside of science’s scope. As C. S. Lewis said in Mere Christianity, even if “science ever became complete so that it knew every single thing in the whole universe. [I]s it not plain that the questions, ‘Why is there a universe?’…’Has it any meaning?’ would remain just as they were?” Theology uses the truths that God has revealed to us throughout salvation history coupled with human reason to discover the knowledge about ourselves that we all desire.
Second, our theology influences our ethics. Everyone has a theology – a conception of who God and man are – whether or not we explicitly recognize it. These ideas directly affect the choices that we make. For example, if you believe that people are exceptionally intricate aggregates of atoms produced spontaneously through the processes of evolution, you are going to treat them very differently than if you think they are created out of love and endowed with an inalienable dignity by an almighty God. Your ideas will shape how you do business, law, medicine, politics and how you live your personal life. It’s worth taking time to make sure you have the right ideas.
Third, theology has been a part of university education since the beginning and eliminating it from our curricula would be a classic case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Universities were first created in Catholic, medieval Europe to educate clergy and America’s own Harvard, Princeton and Yale were all founded for the study of theology. While forming priests and ministers is not the primary aim of most schools any more, the complete education of the person is. “University” comes from the Latin word universitas, which means “the whole.” Theology gives you a chance to study “from the inside” the faith that millions of people – like our own St. Thomas More – have lived and died for in a way that no other discipline can*.
Here at Thomas More College, we tackle the deep questions head on, inviting students to reflect on their beliefs, dialogue with each other, and to encounter Truth through the study of theology. In so doing we are achieving the ultimate goal of education, which is not – contrary to popular belief – just getting a job. The aim of education is to become a better person, a fully flourishing human being. How can we do this if we ignore the questions that are most important to us? Honestly, how satisfying can a job be if you don’t know who you are and what life is all about? A Catholic liberal arts education at Thomas More not only equips students to thrive in the workplace but also gives them a confident understanding of their identity and purpose as they go out to serve the world.
*Burton, Isabella. “Study Theology, Even if You Don’t Believe in God.” The Atlantic. October 30, 2013. Available at: https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2013/10/study-theology-even-if-you-dont-believe-in-god/280999/