Questions from Cambridge and Oxford University Students.

Interested in what kinda questions students at Cambridge and Oxford are asking on the Christian faith? I have been collecting them. I found Pete Dray's post on questions he was asked by Durham students, hugely helpful. In a similar vein, I thought I'd share some of the questions I've been asked by Cambridge and Oxford students as their lunchtime speaker over the past couple of weeks. I was particularly struck by their intellectual honesty and humility. I absolutely loved engaging with these questions (check out the ones on truth!). I have ALL of the questions I was asked in Oxford, so let's start there. Questions from Oxford students: Lunchtime talk: I wonder why success never satisfies me?

  • Why can't every glimpse of sadness be pointing towards a god in which unending sadness is found?

  • How can I be sure that Jesus is enough for me? Maybe he is enough for some people, but how I can be certain for myself?

  • Why should we believe in a Christian God and not of another religion?

  • How can I know God is the only true source of fulfilment and happiness?

  • If we can’t find happiness in impersonal successes, can we not find satisfaction in human relationships?

Lunchtime talk: Climate crisis: are we hardwired to destroy?

  • Why is it the God of the bible that provides the "best" foundations for environmental justice? What about other religious texts/ religions ?

  • If earth and everything on it is made by God then why are humans more important than the rest of creation?

  • If god made this earth, why would he make it in such a way that regularly destroys itself? If you say it destroys itself because it’s fallen, why should we care about a world that is fallen and thus ultimately going to be replaced?

  • How is the Christian approach different from an appeal to emotion? You said "we feel grateful, we just do" - where is the objectivity? Why care about what God tells us? It appears like emotion either way (gratefulness, fear of hell, etc)

  • Do you think that changing social norms surrounding environmental-friendly behaviour is a way we can counteract the selfishness and lack of morality we see?

  • Do you think that if the entire global population became Christians, we would solve the environmental crisis in time? That this 'internal change' you speak of is enough ?

  • I wonder if we create another religion which says "NATURE IS GOD" and try to unite all religions under this....

  • If a flaw is that not everyone shares the emotion (fear/compassion) for the environment and that can’t establish a duty of care for environment, how can gratitude for God’s gift do that when it’s not shared by the whole world either? More people have the former surely

  • If someone’s morals don’t respond to environmental issues how could faith affect if they are not Christian? Does it matter if they don’t?

  • What are your opinions on Systematic change needed for Climate change. It is possible to take a view that part of the reason for Jesus' sentence wasn't just the judgement by Pilot but the inherent paranoia of the Roman Imperial System towards possible rebellion (sic).

  • What can we do to reduce the empathy gap that often inhibits us from changing our daily lives to help tackle climate change? It is people in the so called global south and future generations that are and will face the worst threats of climate change. This is what often inhibits us from acting now.

Lunchtime talk: What does suffering tell us about the world?

  • How can God let 2 day year old babies die before they've even had the time to know God or life?

  • Can we not just have an intersubjective notion of suffering? We know how to point at evil and badness in terms of subjective pain and suffering. Why should we need God to formulate de problem of evil then? We could just as well call it the problem of subjective pain if we were an atheist and there would be no problem of answering it because the universe is blind and mute.

  • How do I give my burdens and life to Christ? I feel so empty all the time even when I try to pray?

  • You say that Jesus gives meaning in suffering. What is that meaning?

  • I think the problem of evil is part of a larger problem. And that larger problem is this: the world just doesn’t look like a world that God would make?

  • Why do some people have to suffer more than others?

  • You talked a lot about why we can see suffering, but I didn’t understand why there is suffering. Why are we sad when people die? Why do mental illnesses exist? Why do we cry when we fall down?

  • Couldn't belief in God just be a projection of our human desire for suffering to have meaning? Do our desires for objective morality really count as evidence for God?

  • Given that there are scenarios with objective moral values outside of religious ones (derived from wellbeing etc.), can we return to the first question and ask why we need a god within the problem of evil/pain/suffering?

Lunchtime talk: I wonder if Truth is even relevant anymore?

  • Are you 100% sure Christianity is true?

  • Can Jesus lie?

  • At the start of your talk, you used the analogy of landing a plane to argue there was a correct truth. But just because there is a truth about the material world we encounter (objects, matter etc.), who says there is a truth in any of these metaphysical things like morality? It seems plausible that behaviour that undermines society and violates social norms (like perpetrators in the #metoo movement) is a social construct, isn't it?

  • "ALL truth is relative" is logically inconsistent, but why does that imply "all truth is objective", could we not have that "SOME truth is relative, but not all"

  • How do you define truth?

  • ‘Letting truth embrace us’ - I’m also a Klimt fan but am often struck by the way that the painting is more complex than just an embrace (the woman/nymph definitely seems to be resisting if you look closely eg the hands and neck). Could an objective truth also have the potential to be suffocating, restrictive and unpleasant rather than a truth that we define ourselves and consent to?

  • There are other excellent truth-systems in the world which believe in objective truth, like Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism. What makes Christianity any different?

  • Is the concept of 'meaningfulness' itself not subjective? Is it not possible for life to have different 'meaning' for different people? Why do we need it?

  • What does it mean it expose facts to reality?

  • If Jesus is the truth and wants to reveal that to everyone, how can someone who doesn't have access to the truth, for example in an isolated village, know the truth and Jesus? Will this impact whether they go to heaven or hell?

  • What does it mean to BE the truth?

  • It's not obvious to me that all truth is revealed - doesn't this presuppose the existence of God?

  • hi! you said all truths are learned, but surely that's just knowledge-how? Knowledge-that is not necessarily a learned concept?

  • About Christianity being the most inclusive system - doesn't this hold true for other religions and belief systems? What does this have to do with truth?

Lunchtime talk: In an age of connection, why do we feel so alone?

  • Isn't it better to remain fulfilled and happy without any external dependence (infinite or otherwise) rather than to suggest that we must remain lonely if not for God/Jesus - particularly because dependence on an infinite doesn't actually eradicate loneliness?

  • What do you make of Jesus’ loneliness on the cross? ‘My god my god why have you forsaken me?’

  • Increasing aloneness is a natural symptom of growing up. How do I turn to God and accept him as being enough for me?

  • I was wondering to what extent technology such as dating/ hookup apps take away from meaningful connections? I ask this as I am used to putting people into different categories - sex is so available that those that offer it with ease aren't the type of people that I see a future with. To what extent is my attitude with this sort relationship destroying an ability to establish real connections?

  • The same person who said “what do you make of Jesus loneliness “ also said There’s quite a lot of loneliness in the bible: god hides his face from the Israelites, David sings songs of despair, Job is abandoned by god for 40 chapters, Jesus on the cross.

I'm still trying to collect the questions from CICCU. We used pigeonhole - an online platform for questions, which can then be upvoted. It took a little getting used to, but it was a brilliant way of ranking questions and ensuring the ones many were interested in were answered. Currently, I only have a snapshot of a small sample of questions asked at two of the lunchtime talks. Questions from Cambridge students: Lunchtime talk: Pain: What out response to suffering says about reality.

Lunchtime talk: Being Enough: Why we're not free until we are free to fail.

After the final lunchtime talk on Friday, Vaughan and I engaged with questions for around 45 mins together. We received many questions (wonderfully, more than I thought to screenshot) ranging from the location of Vaughan's hairdresser to questions on the historical reliability of the Scriptures.

I'll share a couple of my thoughts on this soon, but the wonderful Caz Dodds has already said it better elsewhere. Check out her Twitter thread on her reflections from her time in Manchester this year. Finally, here's a big 'thank you!' to all of the members of CICCU and OICCU for loving their friends (old and new) so well. I don't think these questions would have been half as honest if they had not provided a space into which students can enter with heavy hearts and full minds. I haven't even shared the questions I was asked during the many hours worth of conversations I was invited into. Needless to say, they were raw and were asked with such intellectual integrity and humility. Reflecting on my 12 years of engaging with militant atheists, seekers, agnostics and apathetics, I am particularly struck by the current levels of unprecedented openness on University campuses in recent years over the course of that time. So, go for it!

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