Don’t Let Your Kids Major in Philosophy and Religion
My son, Michael, graduated from high school this year and is now formulating plans for college and his vocation. I recently told him that if he decided to become a Christian apologist, I would give him all of my choice Power Point presentations in such subjects as philosophy, logic, theology, and apologetics.
His response was a polite, “No thanks, I want to pursue a college major that will make me rich.”
“How rich?” I asked.
He replied, “Stinkin’ rich!”
In light of this conversation, I began thinking my son may hold a practical view of life quite similar to the one my father held. I remember telling my dad, in the late 1970s, that I planned to major in philosophy and religion. My father, who had been raised during the Great Depression and had served as a frontline combat soldier during World War II, bluntly asked, “How much money does it pay?”
I said, “I don’t care about money; I just want the truth!”
He said, “You can’t handle the truth!” Okay, that last line might be from the Jack Nicholson movie A Few Good Men—but it captures the essence of my dad’s response.
A recent Yahoo! article listed five college majors parents ought to dissuade their kids from choosing. Sure enough, philosophy and religious studies made the list. The author of the article, Danielle Blundell, writes:
I think, therefore I am. Too bad Descartes’ famous ditty doesn’t carry as much weight when it comes to snagging a job with a degree in philosophy or religious studies. Get ready to sweat if your son or daughter chooses one of these heady courses of study.
The article goes on to state that young men and women graduating in these fields face a higher than average unemployment rate (10.8 percent). Blundell comments:
And unless you plan on continuing on to grad school and working as a philosophy professor, Reynaldo [a college admissions consulting and major matching specialist] says that the problem with philosophy is that the principles behind it—questioning existence, thinking about knowledge—are perceived as “useless” in the workplace.
Education, Jobs, and God’s Calling
There is, of course, a lot of truth in this article. In academic fields like philosophy and religion it is virtually essential that a person attain a doctoral degree in order to compete for employment—even with an advanced degree the job market is challenging. A lot of talented Christian apologists I’ve known with degrees in philosophy and theology struggle financially. Even when someone lands a job in these fields, the comparatively modest pay can make it challenging to provide for a family.
Nevertheless, it is tragic and painful to hear people say that the philosophical and logical skills of thinking clearly and carefully about the big questions of life are viewed as “useless” in the workplace. I know that a person with an ordered and critical mind can make important contributions in almost any employment field. However, to its detriment, our society continues to devalue the life of the mind. Many people view philosophers and theologians as irrelevant “eggheads.”
Yet, as I told my father some 30 years ago, National Socialism and Communism are, at their core, philosophical ideologies—and as C. S. Lewis so eloquently stated in his book The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, “Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.”
Yes, Christian young people who are considering philosophy and theology need to balance practicality with reflective spiritual discernment. But let’s not forget that Christ’s church needs committed and well-trained pastors, theologians, philosophers, and apologists—and as many of us have experienced, where God guides, God provides.