The Similarities Between Education and Faith The Similarities Between Education and Faith

The Similarities Between Education and Faith

by Nikhil Swaminathan

February 20, 2010
Michael Roth, the president of Weslyan University, penned a poignant essay on The Huffington Post last Friday in response to a Washington Post Op-Ed on liberal condescension, written by University of Virginia political science professor and American Enterprise Institute scholar Gerard Alexander.

In the essay, he argues that education and faith should lead to a similar end: a realization of how little we understand and thus an openness to other points of view/belief systems. Condescension, as he sees it, is an unfortunate byproduct of both extensive learning and a full grounding in a particular faith.

[L]iberal learning is, after all, supposed to make us aware of how little we know. That's what Socratic insight is all about: we need to learn because we understand so little. Education should lead to intellectual humility as we become more aware of our own ignorance. Conservatives also prize education, after all, but they do so because it should deliver the lesson of intellectual humility. Education should prevent us from thinking we can solve our deepest problems with science, technology or political structures.

There is a parallel here with faith. Some believers, infused with confidence in their own righteousness, display a spiritual arrogance that is offensive to those who don't share their beliefs. But many people of faith discover a deep humility through their spiritual life-a humility that leads to openness to others rather than a proud sectarianism.

I think there's some truth to this, and Roth's ideal is absolutely something to aspire to. As he notes, condescension is more a factor of "character" than one's relative value of education vs. faith. However, is Roth's point valid within the political arena, where faith is not supposed to be a part of the discussion?

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The Similarities Between Education and Faith