I currently hold the distinct honor of being the only student at Goshen College majoring in Bible and Religion. Admittedly, the department hosts a number of students who are minoring in Bible and Religion, as well as Theological Studies and Christian Ministries, so I am not completely alone. Still, our numbers are limited.
Because Goshen is a Christian campus, a number of people find our department’s low numbers startling. Personally, I find it all rather amusing. Of all the people on this campus to major in Bible and Religion, I am not most people’s first guess. Or second. Or fiftieth. I have not attended church regularly in a year. I swear a lot. I visibly flinch if someone tries to talk to me about salvation. I’m queer. I try to avoid calling myself a Christian. Despite all of this, I am our campus’s sole Bible and Religion major.
I have a number of hypotheses as to how this happened, but my current theory is that God has a strange sense of humor and finds this just as amusing as I do. Admittedly, our low numbers are more likely the result of a combination of societal trends, rather than divine intervention. Enrollment in all humanities majors has been dropping for a while now. The number of people who identify as Christian, or religious at all, has been similarly decreasing. Much smarter people than me have written papers on why these trends are happening, and I don’t want to bore you with the details. It is enough to say that, while startling, our department’s low numbers are not an anomaly.
I’d much rather talk about why I’m studying Bible and Religion, instead of asking why other people aren’t. To explain that, it may help if I describe exactly what being a Bible and Religion major entails. To put it simply, I read. And read. And read. And then I write papers. Usually, I do this for classes with less than five people enrolled. I also TA for Paul Keim’s Engaging the Bible class, which is a lot of grading. I help run our campus’s Hymn Sing Club, which is only tangentially related to my major. Sometimes, I get into arguments with people about the Bible.
Unfortunately, I have yet to get to any of the really cool parts of my major. I have never performed a miracle, even a small one. I’ve also never heard the voice of God thunder down from the heavens. As of yet, I am unable to recite any part of the Bible at length (excluding a portion of the Sermon on the Mount). I’m also pretty sure that I ought to be able to call upon God’s favor to, say, win the lottery, but that hasn’t happened either. This is not to say it will never happen, of course. Go ahead, ask Keith or Paul. These are all totally legitimate parts of my major.
Supernatural powers are not, however, why I chose to major in Bible and Religion. If I’m being honest, I was drawn to this major because I am naturally inquisitive, and the Bible is the biggest mystery I’ve ever found. I am completely awestruck by the Bible. Our society has been shaped in innumerable ways by a book that no one will ever fully understand. Somehow, knowing that just makes me want to understand it even more. The Bible has caught me in its intricate web, and I doubt I will ever escape.
And that’s just the Bible! There’s so much more that goes into Christianity, and so many more religions than Christianity. Plus, there’s philosophy. Do you know how many people have written on philosophy? I have no clue, but it’s a lot. And ancient languages! Can you imagine being able to translate all of these ancient works from their original language? The possibilities are overwhelming. For thousands of years, people have used religion to make sense of the world. In a single lifetime, there’s no way I’ll ever know everything. I’m not studying Bible and Religion to find all the answers, though. I’m studying Bible and Religion because I can’t imagine not studying this.
I know that not everyone feels this way about religion. Some of us have been hurt by organized religion, or know someone who has. Some of us are still trying to figure out where exactly we stand with the religion of our parents and grandparents, especially now that we’re in college. I can’t promise that courses within the Bible and Religion department will answer all of your questions, but they can give you a framework to start puzzling these things out. Answers are overrated, anyways.