I see from my social media feeds that Catholic friends of mine are disappointed that the University of Notre Dame, under no government compulsion, decided to offer free birth control coverage to its employees. I understand their distress, but let me tell you some good — no, great — news about Notre Dame.
As regular readers know, I recently spent a couple of days on campus, the guest of the university’s Tocqueville Program on religion and public life. I had a terrific time, and came away extremely impressed by the students in the program. Most of them were (are) faithful Catholics or other Christians, sharply intelligent, and engaged with the big questions.
But here’s the thing: I met one young man who identifies as an agnostic, and another who suggested that he was probably “the first black liberal atheist” that I’ve ever met. We had a laugh over that, but here’s the thing: in conversation, I found that those guys who aren’t sure if they believe in God, or deny the existence of God, took theology far more seriously than most believers I know, and displayed an admirably honest sense of inquiry.
I sat at a table and listened to a conversation between the atheist and a visiting Dominican priest. It was deep and substantive. The Dominican — Father Dominic Legge of the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC — took the student’s questions seriously, and gave him answers. It was thrilling, to be honest.
I learned that Catholic and other Christians students who want to have a serious and sustained engagement with the Catholic intellectual tradition, both in and out of class, can find their tribe at Notre Dame. Yes, it’s easy to find nominal Catholics at a university that big. But if you’re serious about your faith and the life of the mind, there’s a home for you among professors and students at Notre Dame — especially in the Tocqueville Program. It’s important to remember that. There is hope.