How can I protect my religious beliefs and still get good grades?

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“How can I protect my religious beliefs and still get good grades?” New Era, Dec. 1971, 40

“In my particular college environment where I am exposed to strong attitudes of atheism, how can I protect my religious beliefs and still get good grades?”

Answer/Lowell G. Tensmeyer

Protecting grades from a prejudiced instructor is usually not difficult if we study a subject with interest and energy and without fear that learning will ruin our testimony. As a great man once told his now famous son, Henry Eyring, “You don’t have to believe anything that isn’t true to believe the gospel.” But some of the things we religiously believe may need some alterations.

One of the purposes of college is to make us aware of what people throughout the world believe and why they believe it. We should learn to weigh evidence and remember its source, to know what we believe and why we believe it. College life and activities can help us get to know ourselves and our potential. They can also speed our fulfillment of the Lord’s command to “seek ye diligently … out of the best books words of wisdom … things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth … the wars and the perplexities of the nations.” (D&C 88:118, 79.)

In state-supported schools, of course, church and state are legally separated, and instructors are supposed to give grades without respect to religious belief. Sometimes, however, a professor will teach a secular course almost as an expression of his own religion or lack of religion. The instructor may feel that a student hasn’t really seen the point of the course unless he loses his faith in God and places it elsewhere.

It may help to realize that intellectually we are not required to believe every theory or explanation that is presented to us. It is always good practice to include in class discussions and test answers such phrases as “fossil remains provide evidence that,” or “Bertrand Russel taught that,” or “We can infer from the similarities in proteins in living animals that.” True-or-false and multiple-choice questions can be answered from the point of view of the evidence presented in the course.

If such questions have a meaning for religious faith, a wise person will weigh all the evidence he has from all sources and patiently seek more before changing his life-style. Religious faith is larger than any college course or series of them.

We must remember, however, that destructive personal behavior is much more dangerous to religious faith than new ideas are. Wherever we are, we must avoid the actions that make us irreligious. Rationalizing wrong behavior can lead a person to “harden his heart.” Then he no longer wants to listen to the voice within that tells him that God is his father. “Live so that you are not ashamed to be in the company of good people, and I’m sure the gospel will seem pretty wonderful to you.” (Edward Eyring again.) So, seek out good companions.

Remember that the gospel is the truth—and there is nothing weak about it. In contrast, though, a person’s understanding of the gospel may only be a tender plant that needs to be fed with information and faithful associations.

Our souls must come to know who we are through meditation and prayer. Only then can faith grow beyond the Junior Sunday School and junior high school levels.