Finding big answers

Published 11:16 am Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The University of Montevallo recently held a “Is There a God?” debate. Faculty panelists presented evidence for and against the existence of God.

The program was an example of the educational experience we hope to create at a small liberal arts college.

Students in the audience participated in a difficult dialogue with civility. They were able to get a glimmer of what it means to live an examined life.

Most importantly, the debate helped illustrate how much more powerful an argument is when it comes from both the head and the heart.

However, the most interesting part of the evening for me wasn’t the actual debate but the questions students asked panelists in casual conversation after the event.

What they seemed most concerned about was not whether there was a God but rather, how do we know what is right and wrong?

All of us know of people who engage in unethical behavior who claim to be religious. We also know people who don’t claim a religious faith, yet do the right thing.

To truly take into account how our actions impact others requires empathy, the ability to understand the experiences of someone else.

Developing this perspective takes work. As a result, most of us fall somewhere in between, basing our decisions about right and wrong on what looks good to people like us, which sometimes can be bad as well.

For example, consider legalized segregation. We now understand the lasting negative impact of this practice on our society but for quite some time it was the socially acceptable way that good people lived their lives.

Needless to say, I was very pleased to hear young adults grappling with this big question.

I wonder how future debates on topics such as health care and financial regulation might be different if they are able to find an answer.