Eight students enrolled in Blanchard DeMerchant's first
"Philosophy of Religion" course last semester. The class members
made up a perfect discursive smorgasbord, DeMerchant said - two
"flaming" atheists, two agnostics, two Christians and two
The popular associate professor of philosophy at St. Charles
County Community College warns in his course syllabus that students
should be prepared for dynamic material that could change their
lives and challenge their self-image and place in the world.
DeMerchant delights in arguing the position of the Jew,
Christian, and Buddhist, as well as the atheist. He described
discussions in that first class as dynamite.
"The atheists were older adults. One was a GI who had been
through World War II and who didn't let anybody make him take a
back seat to his view that those who think there is a loving
all-powerful God watching over us are deluding themselves,"
DeMerchant, 52, holds a bachelor's degree in philosophy from
Hope College in Holland, Mich., and a master's and doctorate in
philosophy from Wayne State University in Detroit. He joined the
St. Charles County Community College faculty in 1992 after teaching
at St. Mary's College in Pontiac, Mich.
DeMerchant himself is a veteran and served 14 months in
Vietnam. DeMerchant said that after his discharge, he was
disillusioned, pessimistic and beset by marital problems and delved
into alcohol and drugs.
"I stayed drunk and stoned for about five years while I worked
as a janitor on a night shift," he recalled. "My beliefs at the
time were summarized by Mark Twain, who said the Earth was like a
wart on the universe - nothing good or worthwhile."
Loathe to leave his children with the legacy of a drugged
father, DeMerchant finally returned to his family, teaching and the
religious faith of his childhood.
"I didn't want them to have a father who was not fulfilling the
potential that this society and life had given him," he said.
DeMerchant, who also teaches World Religions, encourages his
students to open up about their own lives and to cross-examine him
about his experiences. He teaches that only through uncertainty,
questions, self-examination and the enlightenment of education can
a person come to a faith with conviction.
"I try to teach my students that you have to make decisions in
the context of a life that has no sure answers and to always go for
the most plausible and reasonable way, but to use your heart," he