Readers of WORLD regularly see ads from a Worldview Academy showing a devilishly handsome professor/model under a headline like "Who is teaching your daughter theology?" The ad notes the importance of teaching students to be biblically discerning.
If a magazine called Atheist World ran ads portraying its real-life troublesome adversaries, University of Texas professor J. Budziszewski might be public enemy No. 1. He listens well, speaks softly, and carries a big but not arrogant intellect into discussions with both professorial peers and students.
JB-last name pronounced Boojee-shef-skee-has left some atheists gnashing their teeth with his scholarly books and also his hot-selling How to Stay Christian in College. Now he's increased his infamy by producing the second of a series, Ask Me Anything 2 (Navpress, 2008). He amusingly calls himself Professor Theophilus of the School of Antinomianism at Post Everything University, which has its motto, "You shall not know the truth, and doubt will set you free."
The book is made up of email exchanges and also dialogues that with perfect pitch register the speech patterns of many U. of Texas sorority sisters: "Professor Theophilus, since I'm here, would you do me a big, big favor?" When he agrees to look at a paper but then offers a critical remark, she responds, "'I don't feel like I've committed a fallacy. You're just not being fair.' Surprised, I looked up. The flush had reached her nose, and her eyes looked moist. 'I feel you're just looking for things wrong.'"
WORLD: You write about Christian students concerned with the bias of professors such as Muito Egregious, the Spanish and Portuguese teacher, and Peccata Mundi, who teaches about modern Europe and claims that Christianity is responsible for all the evils in the world. How often do students come to you with such concerns?
BUDZISZEWSKI: Any resemblance to actual Spanish and Portuguese professors, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Even so, you'd be surprised how often students do visit with such concerns. When it comes to their anti-Christian biases, many professors practice all the arts of insult, insinuation, and logical fallacy that they teach their students to avoid. Here's a case in point, from a public policy class: "All of you students are too intelligent to be pro-life, right?" The implied threat was plain: "If any of you are pro-life, I'll grade you down." Guess whether anyone spoke up.
WORLD: What's the right way for Christians to talk back to such professors?
BUDZISZEWSKI: Rule one is "Speak up." Even the most bigoted professors often change their tune when challenged. Other rules are "Be logical," "Be respectful," "Keep it brief," "Limit yourself to a single point," and "Remember that you don't have to 'win.'" It's not difficult to ask, "Sir, I understand the insult, but what is the argument?" Nor does it require genius to say this to a professor blathering about "intolerance": "If we had to tolerate everything, wouldn't we even have to tolerate intolerance? Don't we have to use standards to decide what is tolerable and what isn't? What are yours?"
WORLD: Factual or fictional: One student came to you with a vague memory of a remark by the fourth-century Christian writer "Lactose"? Either way, who was that man, and what did he write that's important to recall now?
BUDZISZEWSKI: Fictional-though my students do find those old names difficult. The writer was Lactantius, one of the Fathers of the Church. Against the persecutors, he wrote, "Let them unsheathe the weapon of their intellect; if their system is true, let it be asserted . . . . For we do not entice, as they say; but we teach, we prove, we show." Lactantius' point was that we don't want to shut other people up; we just want our own chance at the mike. He was confident enough to say that the force of good reasoning should be the only force allowed.
WORLD: You reflect on a religion professor who teaches that the two different versions of the creation account in Genesis prove that the Bible is a myth. You tell a student that your house might be mythical as well.
BUDZISZEWSKI: Sure. I can't help reflecting that whenever I give directions to my house, I give two versions-one focusing on the names of the roads, the other on distances and landmarks. Sometimes I even give a third-"Now if you get lost, do this." By the religion professor's reasoning, that seems to prove that my house is a myth too. And may I point out something about this little refutation? It doesn't require expert knowledge; it only requires common sense, which is too often discarded. I am just providing a reminder of the obvious.
WORLD: To a student who asks about the relation of faith and reason, you talk about standing at the window of a burning house.
BUDZISZEWSKI: The fireman calls, "Jump! I'm holding the net, and I'll catch you!" Eyes stinging with smoke and dazzled by glare, you cry, "I can't see you!" He answers, "That doesn't matter! I can see you!" Would jumping be reasonable? Certainly. But does knowing this make jumping easy? Does it spare you the necessity of trust? Certainly not, and so with faith. Nothing in faith is contrary to reason; yet we can't see God any more than you can see that fireman with the smoke in your eyes. So there is something more even to reasonable faith than reason alone.
WORLD: How do you respond to a student contemplating the evil in the world and asking, "Why won't He just fix things?"
BUDZISZEWSKI: Would it be good for us if He did? Sometimes we need to suffer one consequence of sin in order to recover from a different consequence. One pain is medicine for the other. For instance, suppose every wound you gave your relationship with your friend healed instantly. In that case, would you even think about the wound you caused your soul-about the bleeding hole you made in your worthiness to be trusted? Surely not, so sorrow may do you good. This illustrates how suffering should mean something different to us Christians. It can unite us more closely to Christ.
WORLD: In one of your dialogues, your fictional alter ego flopped when giving a talk before a student group until students asked what he meant by "false compassion."
BUDZISZEWSKI: Theophilus recovered by explaining that the virtue of compassion is sympathizing in the right way, for the right thing, and doing the right thing about it-but the feeling of compassion is sympathy period, and it's not always right. False compassion may lead people to stick with bad companions, to fall for inappropriate girls or guys, to approve of things that aren't right, to take sides in conflicts that are none of their business, or to offer "help" that doesn't help but only makes them feel better-indulging compassionate feelings at the expense of other people.
WORLD: When students ask questions about religion or philosophy, is there a question that they often fail to ask?
BUDZISZEWSKI: Yes: "Is it true?" That should be our first question about any proposed belief; instead we ask every question but. A convert to Wicca once wrote to tell me how much she enjoyed being a Witch. I'm sorry she never got to the bottom of her former unhappiness. However, we Christians worship Christ because we believe He is the truth, not because He always makes us happy this side of heaven. He desires final joy for each of us, but it is all too possible to delight in the lie and to sorrow in the truth; that's why false religions exist.