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"A Matter of Faith" - A Student Reflection of Dr. Martin Marty's Visit to Catawba College

March 16, 2007

Category: Events, Religion & Philosophy, Students


By Drew Hepler, '09

Drew HeplerThe very humble and genial Dr. Martin Marty would not want to be called a genius but for the more than 600 students and community members gathered in the Omwake-Dearborn Chapel for the fourth annual Lilly Center Colloquium, there was a consensus that he should be categorized as such.

Perhaps that is why I bit my tongue as I approached him after his lecture and thanked him for his valuable insights on the world of religion and secular society. My expression of appreciation was an understatement of course. I was truly blown away, not only by Marty's intellect, but also his ability to simplify his points and boil them down to common sense.

Martin MartyDr. Martin E. Marty, the most influential interpreter of religion in the country today according to TIME MAGAZINE, made a lasting impression on those present for his two appearances at Catawba on February 27. The topic of his morning lecture was one that spoke to a concern of many members of our community: "Making your way as a Christian in a secular world." The way in which Marty addressed the topic was like nothing I had heard before. Specifically, he mentioned a word that seems foreign to many religious organizations: "tolerance." However, Marty's definition of tolerance is not the conventional one. He was careful not to suggest that different religions simply ‘deal' with one another's existence. Instead, he used the word ‘hospitality,' promoting kindness and respect to those whose religion and culture are foreign to our own.

"He taught me how to see tolerance from an entirely new perspective," says Catawba student Sheldon Rogers, "and explained to me how to be unapologetic for my own faith while embracing differences in others."

In his speech, Marty expressed frustration with constant conflict between different religions and denominations that hinder their noble cause by trying to destroy or convert one another. At one point, he described religion as ‘the healer that kills," suggesting that religious intolerance can potentially do more damage to people than good.

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Martin Marty
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Catherine Bloodwell, another student who attended the lecture remarked, "Dr. Marty emphasized that people of different faiths should be open-minded because we have a lot to learn from each other, but at the same time, we shouldn't try to hide our religion." Catherine spoke of Marty's point about ‘welcoming strangers.'  According to Marty, people of diverse faiths are strangers to each other, but strangers should exercise hospitality towards one another while maintaining strength in their own beliefs.

Marty certainly exercised these beliefs in his personal life. At dinner, he seemed to find common ground with all the ‘strangers' sitting at the table with him. When he asked me to tell him three things about myself that he would not forget, he established a friendly connection with me, a stranger, regardless of my religion.

The students, faculty and larger community of Catawba feel honored to have drawn the attention of someone of Dr. Marty's stature and to have had the opportunity to benefit from the sharing of his wisdom. His insights have offered us a breath of fresh air in the midst of a world suffocated by turmoil and religious quandary.


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Dr. Marty was the featured speaker of the 2007 Lilly Center Colloquium sponsored by the Lilly Center for Vocation and Values at Catawba College and made possible by a grant from the Lilly Endowment, Incorporated.