To achieve their purpose of higher education, Catholic universities must choose inclusiveness over a “type of coercion” that is often present among some church teaching, a noted scholar said at Fordham University on June 17.

Rev. Michael Himes, Ph.D., speaking at “Faith and Reason: A Dialogue at the Heart of Jesuit Education,” a conference hosted by Fordham’s Center on Religion and Culture, addressed how faith has been in conflict with reason since the Enlightenment.

Rev. Michael Himes, Ph.D. Photo by Ryan Brenizer

“I suspect that very often the so-called conflict between faith and reason is actually a conflict between church and autonomy, and that the reason faith appears repellant is the [view]of a church that supports, forces and—quite honestly—profits from faith,” said Father Himes, a priest in the Diocese of Brooklyn, professor of theology at Boston College and author whose books include Fullness of Faith: The Public Significance of Theology(Paulist Press, 1993).

“It seems to imply that there is a coercive aspect to faith,” he said, “like, ‘Ya gotta believe this and ya gotta believe it the way we tell you to believe it.’”

Catholic academic institutions, Father Himes said, should nurture their tradition as places “of healthy, full and vibrant conversation” that promotes an inclusiveness in outlook and that fosters the development of imagination.

“Unless we are fostering and enriching the imagination of our students, we make it impossible not only for them to participate in a conversation of faith, but to participate in any conversation,” he said.

Father Himes traced some of the causes of atheism in his lecture, “Faith and its Adventures Since the Enlightenment.” Divisions among religions led to wars, and to the rise of the idea that the use of instruments of reason—mathematics, for example—could act as a unifying force against the more derisive faith.

Throughout history, faith has also been viewed as being socially destructive, he said. Nineteenth and 20th century atheist philosophers saw it as just a “stage of development” to be transcended.

The university, said Father Himes, can act as a “guardian of tradition” of religion and faith against those who would seek to dismiss faith as silly or even dangerous—such as the celebrated evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, or those authoring the recent spate of spinoff books on atheism.

Father Himes spoke on the second day of the conference, which attracted some 130 scholars, and representatives from a dozen East coast-based Jesuit universities to participate in lectures, panels and breakout sessions.


Janet Sassi is editor/associate director of internal communications. She can be reached at (212) 636-7577 or [email protected]