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Thursday, October 02 2014 09:17
       One experience in my college career stands out in memory more than any other. That was an
            encounter in the natural Science course of my sophomore year. That was a course intended for students like             me. We did not intend to go one in science, nor were some of us capable of doing so.          

The physics and chemistry courses I had taken in high school demonstrated my basic incapacity in me for learning in those fields.  Nor was my teacher up to coping with my inadequacy in those studies.

In the collegiate Nat Sci course, we had not just one professor, but several.  One of them, surprisingly, was the president of the university, a man famous in his field.

But the one I collided with was a member of the faculty at Wabash College who had come east as a visiting professor. With the brashness of a young man not knowing much, I assumed he had little to offer us Easterners.

That may have been one reason why I took him on in the middle of a class.  My biggest reason, however, was that I felt him to be attacking my religion.

What he said was “Jesus was not in favor of organized religion.” His words startled me, first because they had nothing to do with physics.  Secondly, he seemed to be misinterpreting what Jesus said.

So I interrupted him in the middle of our class of some one hundred students. I told Professor Roller that he had no reason for asserting what Jesus thought about belonging to a religion.

After some efforts to protect his position, Roller’s response was to say that he had papers at home proving his thesis and that he would be glad to bring them into class. This seemed to me a very weak rejoinder to my objections.

I do not remember how my fellow students felt about the open clash between the professor and me. They must have been as surprised as I was that the subject matter ever came up in a science class.

To my astonishment I found out last year that Professor Roller was still alive. This I discovered from a ninety-year-old professor who had collaborated with Roller on a textbook.

Ironically, I now have some sympathy for what Roller said. Yes, Jesus is quoted in the New Testament as being very critical of the ways of religion as practiced by some leaders of his Jewish faith.

But when I was an adolescent I was less capable of dealing rationally with others who might challenge my religious practice. And I felt wary of others who might disagree with the teachings of my church.

Those were the days when young members of that church were warned to be on guard about the teaching we might face in secular colleges. What Roller had said seemed to justify that point of view. 

One of the advantages of later life is the capacity to judge more broadly views different from one’s own.  These days, I readily sit down to talk with friends who may not only disagree with my religious views and practices but who may consider them thoroughly undesirable.

Were Professor Roller and I to meet again, I imagine we would enjoy trading views.  The arrival of advanced age would almost surely have made it easy to us to find common ground.

However, looking back on my brashness in that science class, I also feel happy about having spoken out boldly to a teacher. I wish that kind of response had marked more of my college experience. 

On a single day I had felt free to express my views in the classroom. Would that this had been more characteristic of my young manhood.