“I had been barking for years not against the Catholic faith but against mental figments of physical images. My rashness and impiety lay in the fact that what I ought to have verified by investigation I had simply asserted as an accusation.” –St. Augustine
I came across this quote the other day that I think perfectly sums up the attitude most French students have toward God. Generally, when we asked students what they think about God they were pretty surprised by the question. They often responded that God is not something that people talk about in France. When asked, most students will claim to be either atheist or agnostic, but if you ask them if they’ve ever really thought about or questioned their beliefs they usually say no. For the most part, students there don’t believe in God, not because they have researched all the options and feel that atheism is the best one, but instead, because they’ve never really thought about God at all.
The students in France were raised by a generation that turned away from the church in rebellion against their parent’s beliefs. They were brought up in homes where they were taught that having a belief in God is irrational and outdated. Religion and God were never discussed at home and as a result it has become taboo in France to talk about God at all. For many students, when we asked them what they believe it was the first time they explained their thoughts about God to anyone. A lot of students had a difficult time when we asked them this question, because, although they consider themselves to be atheists, they hadn’t thought about either God or religion enough to explain why they believe what they do.
Before I came to France I expected the students to be very intelligent (which they were) and to have very intelligent and well thought out reasons to explain why they thought God doesn’t exist (which they didn’t). When we asked students why they were atheist, instead of having well reasoned responses to the question, most students stated that they didn’t believe in God because no one in France believes in God. The majority of people we talked to who were atheist believed what they did because it’s what they were taught by their parents and teachers their whole life. Instead of thinking about what they believe for themselves many students in France are content believing what they do because it is the cultural norm.
Although there are not large numbers of students coming to Christ in France and despite the grim statistics (it typically takes seven gospel presentations and a trip abroad before a student comes to Christ), my time in France made me very hopeful for the students of France. I’m hopeful that the ministry we did in France will produce fruit because, even though the majority of the students we talked to did not agree with what we believe, they were very open to listening. Because they rarely get to discuss what they believe, students were very interested in talking about it with us. It’s awesome to think that because we were there, there are so many more people who are now thinking and talking about God. I’m praying that God will use those conversations to bring more French students into relationships with Him.