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Faith & Reason Lecture Ties Learning to Gratitude

September 21st, 2009

By Sarah Pride

CONTACT:  David Halbrook
Patrick Henry College
(540) 441-8722
OfficeOfCommunications@phc.edu

Friday's Faith & Reason panel -- from L to R, Dr. Roberta Bayer, Dr. Mark Mitchell, Dr. Matthew Roberts, Dr. Gene Edward Veith

The gymnasium stilled as Dr. David Aikman, PHC Professor of History and former senior and foreign correspondent for Time magazine, stepped up to ask the first question of the afternoon during the panel discussion on Friday’s Faith and Reason lecture day.

“Well, congratulations Dr. Mitchell,” he began. “I think this was our best Faith and Reason lecture yet.”

He paused and smiled, “—including my own.”

So seemed the general consensus as students, brains buzzing with an abundance of new thoughts, exited the gymnasium of the Barbara Hodel Student Life Center in small clusters of chattering twos and threes on Friday afternoon. In the morning, Dr. Mark Mitchell had graced the Patrick Henry College community with a lecture based on some of the research he had conducted during his recent year-long sabbatical on a fellowship at Princeton University.

Entitled “Grateful Creatures, Ungrateful Gods,” the lecture contrasted the political and social views that flow from a heart of gratitude with those birthed from an ungrateful spirit. While a soul resting in God’s abundance feels a humble responsibility to steward his blessings of culture and grace for future generations, he explained, a spirit restless for personal glory strives ceaselessly to achieve an impossible Heaven on Earth.

PHC community gathered in Barbara Hodel Student Life Center gymnasium

“When the possibility of ultimate meaning is gone, or at best doubtful, individuals will experience a kind of disorientation as they attempt to ground the meaning of their existence in something stable,” noted Mitchell in his lecture. “Worship of God is replaced in our day by the worship of the future (progressivism); worship of science (scientism); worship of pleasure (hedonism); or even the worship of self (narcissism).”

Mitchell connected the habit of giving gratitude to God, parents, and one’s ancestral past to the ongoing responsibility of safeguarding each generation’s gifts for posterity. Specifically, he mentioned the need to steward the benefits of a “liberal” education, an education intended for a free people.

“…[A] liberal arts education, rightly conceived, helps to prepare an individual for self-government, which is a necessary condition for a free society,” he said. “…In short, a serious engagement with the great tradition gives us the ability to see the possibilities and the dangers latent in human nature. . . . It orients our souls toward that which is highest and best in human history.”

Students absorbed in the lecture

A tradition now in its fifth year at PHC, the Faith and Reason lecture day is an educational seminar that dives deep into the intellectual strains of the current time, employing the two-forked mental weapons of faith and reason. A professor or guest lecturer presents ideas to the entire campus community; students and faculty break apart into small groups to discuss the thoughts and raise questions, and the college convenes again in the afternoon to bring such questions before the original lecturer and a faculty panel. As PHC Provost Dr. Gene Edward Veith says, this day is a “highlight of each semester.”

For a new class of freshmen encountering the tradition for the first time, the experience helped them bring together elements from life and the classroom.

Tyler Stockton, who began his PHC education with a tour in Iraq already under his belt, noted that he’d “been a Christian a long time.” He quoted Dr. Mitchell’s speech: “When we speak of gratitude, there will be those who think primarily of etiquette.

“I had [been taught to say please and thank you], of course,” said Stockton. “But to make gratitude emblematic of my entire life . . . I hadn’t thought of that.”

Similarly, freshman Olivia Snow especially appreciated the reminder that “’Gratefulness’ comes from the word meaning ‘grace’ in Latin. Having grace bestowed on us should make us grateful, and we so often forget.

“[Dr. Mitchell’s] message was not just for the future, but for here, now, today!” she exclaimed. “Christians have always struggled with a lot of the issues he brought up. So we’ll be using these topics for a long time.”

To read the lecture, click here. Or click on the video below for an entertaining visual synopsis.