Professor Walsh's little book, Campus Gods on Trial, is a compact champion of Christianity against the secularism of the modern college. Unfortunately, like a competent lawyer with a speech defect, Walsh gives poor expression to a persuasive case. Even the ideas of Pascal sound pretty shallow in the childish lisp which the author conceives as "the language of the student." Analyzing Existence as "a three layer cake," the book abounds in silly metaphors, terming Christ "the penicillin of Salvation" and the Incarnation "God's rescue operation." His attempts at jazzy writing are equally dismal, whether describing a "Warm Fire" home (one in which "the smallest children pray as naturally as they reach for the peanut butter") or declaring that the Israelites, with "breaks. . . went through all the red lights to the Promised Land."
In spite of its Primer style, Professor Walsh's book is an ambitious and worthwhile effort. Like those who rail against "our godless campuses," Walsh recognizes a religious vacuum in most colleges. Putting the point differently, he declares that the campuses have in fact a plethora of gods, false gods with no effective challenge from the true, Christian Deity. With Christianity under the wing of a lame-duck Department of Religion, under no formal wing at all, or ludicrously capsuled in the binge of a "Religious Emphasis Week," the field is abandoned to haloed secular gods, like relativism, materialism, and "scientism." In Campus Gods on Trial, Walsh tries to prove the inadequacy of the varied isms as philosophies of life and, more important, to answer the criticisms of Christianity which the isms breed.
Professor Walsh aims his arguments at a number of quotes garnered from his students at Beloit College. Drawn from essays on the assigned topic: "Why I Hesitate to be a Christian," the quotes range from doubts of Christ's divinity to condemnation of Christian hypocrisy. The essay topic is effective in bringing out indiotmens gods rule the campus. But I wonder whether it doesn't skirt the attitude towards religion most common among college students simply that of apathy. I think most students have surrendered less to an ism critical of Faith than to a vague or abstract interest in religion hard to distinguish from disinterest.
However, Walsh's conviction of the emptiness of life without religion is, of course, inherent in his answers to the students' doubts. Throughout the book, he draws on his personal faith to preach beyond the limits of the questions raised. He bases most of his arguments for Christian doctrine on three familiar pillars: "X is not enough," free will, and the Scriptures. The first he uses largely to combat over weening faith in science. Invoking by implication the Prime Mover, he argues that science can not penetrate the world of the spirit.
Walsh argues free will to students who see evil dominant on earth or who abhor the concept of Hell, answering that God gave Man freedom, a freedom which has no meaning unless Man may choose the path of damnation as well as that of righteousness. Finally, though he pronounces Genesis allegory, he defends the "credentials" of the Scriptures.
Campus Gods on Trial is interesting because of its application of these familiar arguments to specific doubts about Christianity, doubts commonly expressed by people rationalizing a general lack of interest in religion. But if Walsh's writing were less of a burden to his faith and logic, the book would be far more persuasive than it is.