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There are undoubtedly many essays that offer similar elaborations on an identical thesis: that the integration of faith and learning always prepares one for a life of service, and that service-learning has a positive influence on the mind, spirit, and community, improving them without exception.
Here’s a different take. Hebrews 11:1 describes faith as “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” While these words are true, it is important to note that they are not limited to a faith in God. Consider Napoleon Bonaparte, for example. Napoleon was easily one of history’s most learned military tacticians. His intensive study of artillery gained him the position required to usurp an entire system of government. Still, it took more than knowledge to become an emperor. It was his faith in his perceived immortality that spurred his rise to power. This faith was irrational and fueled by nothing more than arrogance and blind luck. Because he drove recklessly into battle and came out unscathed time and again, he came to believe that he was invincible. Napoleon is a near-perfect example of the integration of faith and learning. Without it, he would have lacked the domineering presence and mindset required to slaughter six million Europeans in battle and rule a recovering French empire for eleven years.
Napoleon’s career is therefore a great example of how an integration of faith and learning does not always prepare one for a life of service. Napoleon did not serve: he was an atheist, and France suffered for many years after his fall. Similarly, a childlike faith can be cheapened when combined with “adult” learning. Often, to learn is to become fluent in the language of skepticism. And while learning is certainly important, academia’s frequent attempts to separate perceived reality from “myth” often lump a faith in God into the latter category. To a “learned” man, service might not make sense. To serve is to unlearn many of the lessons that society implicitly teaches: that men with money and power are the best, that service is nothing more than a burden, and that no one should ever humble himself. Service calls one to put aside worldly teachings and take action based on the illogical rather than the conventional.
Luckily, true learning is not restricted to academic skepticism. An old adage states that experience is the best teacher, and the lessons gained from a life of service reflect that sentiment. When one serves, he or she learns to reject convention and accept a faithful, dedicated role of humility in any situation. Service-learning’s impact on a community’s renewal is often obvious and seen through outward growth and development. Its impact on the mind and spirit, though less obvious, is even more prevalent. Service is a lesson in the right type of faith, and a faithful man, dedicated to the studies only service can teach, is in many ways richer than an emperor could ever be.
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