A Fish out of Water

A few months ago, some of my classmates got into a discussion about whether my college is really all that Christian. I’ve talked before about how I go to an oppressively Christian school that teaches Christian values, has mandatory chapel services, requires a letter of recommendation from a pastor for the undergrad application, and looks down on atheists and those of other beliefs. During this conversation, my Christian friends mentioned that it really wouldn’t be a big deal for a non-Christian student to attend. After all, other than attending chapel, we aren’t required to fast, read the bible, or go to bible study or church. “How bad can it be?” says the Christian student attending the Christian college.

My professors have acknowledged that my school doesn’t require students to be Christian, right before preaching about why all other worldviews are wrong. They know that there are non-Christian students, yet they aren’t afraid to bash these students’ opinions, because they know that we are in the minority and we won’t speak up for fear of being made outcasts. Recently I had a class assignment in which we had to visit a worship service of a religion or denomination that is culturally different than our own. One girl visited an “atheist church,” which I find to be oxymoronic in and of itself–if anything, I would call it a secular congregation. Anyhow, the teacher made a joke in which he accidentally referred to the girl as an atheist. He immediately apologized for fear of being written up for so horribly insulting someone that way.

A recent article written about my college clearly had the intent to market the school to prospective students from all beliefs or religious orientations, or those with no religion at all. It went on and on about how while students must attend a certain amount of chapel services per semester, students are not required to be Christians in order to attend these lectures that involve religion to be forced down their throats. The article goes on to explain at length how the school is nondenominational and includes students and faculty from varying faith traditions, including Jews, Sikhs, and atheists. Of course, I can personally attest to the fact that it is physically possible for an atheist to attend this school, but if someone had warned me how exclusively Christian it would be, I wouldn’t have attended. It’s articles like these that give prospective students misconceptions about how religious the school really is, and how miserable it would make the lives of non-Christian students.

Recently, my school sent out a survey to its students to get a better understanding of the religious demographics of its student body. Ready to deliver sarcastic and bitter responses, I was more than willing to oblige and help them discover their true religious demographic. To my dismay, however, one of the first questions of the survey went like this:

“I consider myself a:

  • Christian
  • Atheist (There is nothing beyond what we see and touch)
  • Non-Christian (I have spiritual or religious beliefs but they are not Christian)
  • Agnostic (There is something or someone beyond what we see but we can’t know or touch it.)
  • Mixed (I have a mixture of spiritual or religious traditions.)
  • Unsure (I don’t know what to believe about anything spiritual or religious.)
  • Other (please specify) ___________________________________________”

First of all, after reading about how this school is so open towards students of varying religious orientations, I was surprised to see that none of them were options; it was either Christian or not religious at all.

Secondly, it doesn’t take an expert on godlessness to see how incorrect these definitions of atheist and agnostic are. This school whose professors try to hard to find flaws in atheism and agnosticism, and whose president tries so hard to recruit atheists and agnostics, can’t even define the terms. Being the nitpicker that I am, naturally I chose “other” and used the “please specify” to specify that I am indeed an atheist, but not the kind that they incorrectly defined.

This definition of atheism more closely defines the entire worldview of naturalism. I have clarified before that naturalism is a worldview, but atheism by itself is not an entire worldview, as the only aspect of a worldview that it addresses is the existence of deities. Moreover, atheism doesn’t even state that there are no deities, but rather it is merely a lack of belief in the existence of a god or gods. This is a point that I feel as though religious people are rarely ever able to grasp: atheism is nothing more than a lack of a deistic belief. It says nothing about a positive belief that there is no god, and it certainly makes no claim about the supernatural world at large.

While this definition of atheism was way off, I found their explanation of agnosticism to be even further from its correct definition. Agnosticism far from makes any claims about there being anything supernatural. How anyone would get that impression is beyond me. Agnosticism doesn’t even make a statement of belief, but rather it merely says that we don’t have enough information to make a claim either way. It’s not that there is something supernatural that we don’t know about, but we don’t know enough to say whether or not there even is something there in the first place.

Before my school tries to attract, teach, or insult nonbelievers, I believe that it would be in their best interest to try to see things from their perspectives. They need to imagine what attending this school as a Jew, Sikh, or atheist would really be like, and they can make themselves more welcoming by at least making an effort to know what it is that we do and don’t believe.

27 thoughts on “A Fish out of Water

  1. Really good post here; I especially like that you clarified their faulty definitions. After having a long conversation with my mother (who is a believer) today, she said, “I’m really glad we had this conversation. I realize now that I had no idea what an atheist really is.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hmm…I very much appreciate the sentiment, but I would just say that from my point of view, Atheism is very much a belief that there are no gods, based on assessment of evidence, which shows that the non-existence of gods has been proved beyond reasonable doubt. I would say that religious groups annex words like ‘belief’ and ‘faith’ which have their own meaning within the English language, for their own use, which causes confusion. Us secularists need to reclaim these words. Why should we be denied the right to say ‘I believe that…’?

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    1. I see what you mean. I’ve always heard that atheism in its simplest form is the lack of a belief in a god. However, I know that a lot of atheists do purely believe that there are no gods, and I might be one of those atheists, too. I like to refer on the definitions in this post . For example, if you disbelieve in gods, then you’re just an atheist, or a negative atheist, but if you do have a believe that there are no gods, then you would be more specifically a positive atheist.

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      1. I don’t hold with the idea of atheism being negative. I think we’re putting too much emphasis on the word ‘belief’. It’s more about making sense of the world around us. Religions are like scientific theories (in that they are explanations of the world). Testing a scientific theory and finding it to be wrong isn’t a negative – by ruling out an incorrect theory, we take another step on the path to finding out how things really work. The difference is that most scientists can cope with their theories being disproved!

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  3. I don’t know how far you are in your studies, CA, but if you are just a couple of years invested in this college, you might consider going to a secular college–again, depending on where you academically and how your family would feel about you transferring. I’ve found that so-called Christian colleges and universities are really a mixture of enough academics to keep them accredited and an adult version of vacation bible school, which, in the end, becomes a contradiction for the critical thinker. Secular colleges and universities have a much more broad perspective of all religions and in general and the evolution of mankind’s need for religion specifically.

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    1. I’ve actually given transferring serious consideration before. Unfortunately, I’m too far in to transfer at this point. And I don’t hate everything about this place, just the religiousness, it’s just that is such a huge part of it and it infiltrates everything.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. If someone believes something (or many things) that are demonstrably false, our association with them should not cease. Children, for example, believe many things that are not true. They will believe a wolverine is called a “cat” because both are furry. They will believe that the closet door must be shut to prevent monsters from escaping. They will believe that if they close their eyes, you can’t see them.

    But when children believe these things, do we shun them? Or refuse to affiliate? What about a group of children? Do we abandon them in the playground to sort out reality alone?

    There are pockets of people who believe differently than we do, and when we enter those areas, it is in everyone’s best interest to have conversations about values and what is true.

    In physics, waves in a system oscillate at certain frequencies. Even electricity can propagate through a wire, such that the reflection coefficient (the echo) can entirely negate the progress of the electricity. Basically, if the echo is perfectly aligned, nothing happens. Many of these “pockets” of people have the echo effect and none of their ideas propagate. They sit, stagnant, unchanging.

    It is important that atheists involve themselves in these communities, if churches have any hope of survival. Likewise, it is important for atheists to investigate the depth of our experience (including religion) to test their own mettle. Either of those prospects don’t sound very comfortable, do they?

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    1. I agree. It is important for Christian colleges to integrate their (non)religious minorities. It looks like my school is starting in that direction by trying to market themselves as being open to students with other views, but they need to practice what they preach and make us more welcome once they get us here.

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  5. I’m so glad I didn’t have a mouthful of my morning coffee when I read those descriptions.

    On the subject of your Christian classmates who think that it wouldn’t be a big deal for non believers to attend. I wonder if they have stopped to think about what the impact of the school culture would be or if they could name anyone in the school who is a non believer. Have they been asked how they would react to one if they found out?

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    1. Probably not, but that would be interesting. They should consider how they would feel if they were misguided into going to a Jewish college, and live as a closeted Christian in an all-Jewish community where they were forced to go to Jewish chapel and pray to a Jewish god. Saying it’s easy enough is a lot easier said than done.

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  6. “…the teacher made a joke in which he accidentally referred to the girl as an atheist. He immediately apologized for fear of being written up for so horribly insulting someone that way.”

    Ugh.

    That kind of self-righteousness is a reason why I often avoid associating with fellow Christians.

    Sure, anyone can be a jerk. But some of the biggest jerks I’ve come across were Christians. Which is ironic because their entire worldview is, basically, built around the command “Don’t be a jerk!”

    “Be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves.”
    ~ Matthew 10:16

    There are times where talking to Christians can feel as frustrating as trying to squeeze water out of a rock.

    “…after reading about how this school is so open towards students of varying religious orientations, I was surprised to see that none of them were options; it was either Christian or not religious at all.”

    Isn’t that what the options “Non-Christian…” and “Other (please specify)…” were for?

    After all: Not every single religious or spiritual, or non-religious or non-spiritual, worldview can be on a single survey — the survey would be hundreds of pages long then.

    Still: It’s an awful-sounding survey.

    And: Thank you explaining what exactly an atheist and an agnostic are. I hadn’t heard the words defined in such detail before.

    Keep fighting the good fight, The Closet Atheist.

    I appreciate all that you’re doing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “There are times where talking to Christians can feel as frustrating as trying to squeeze water out of a rock.” You just summed up my entire life in a nutshell. But thank you for being one of the few Christians that is willing to get to know others and have conversations with people who disagree with you without arguing with them.

      I know that they couldn’t have fit all religions, but since they are trying to market themselves to students of differing religious orientations, like Judaism and Sikhism, I thought it would be more considerate of their demographic to include those as options, maybe adding some of the other most popular religions, like Islam and Hinduism. Instead, they allowed students to choose Christianity, then they went into so many (incorrectly) detailed options of “Not Christian.” I think they could have put Christian, then a couple other religions, Atheist, Agnostic, and then a space for writing in your own.

      And I’m glad that I was able to clear up atheism and agnosticism for you. It was a pretty rough and quick definition, so if you want to look more into them, I recommending reading more from other sources and experts, but I’m glad I can help!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “…thank you for being one of the few Christians that is willing to get to know others and have conversations with people who disagree with you without arguing with them.”

        You’re welcome. I just do my best to treat all people with the love and respect that I want to be treated with.

        And, lately I’ve found myself bored with my fellow Christians — hearing my views repeated back to me for years and years stirred in me a desire to learn about life from different points of view.

        “I think they could have put Christian, then a couple other religions, Atheist, Agnostic, and then a space for writing in your own.”

        I agree. Your school can definitely do a better job when it comes to making non-Christians feel more welcome.

        “…if you want to look more into them, I recommending reading more from other sources and experts…”

        Thank you for this advice. I’ll do more research.

        “…I’m glad I can help!”

        Your words have always been helpful. 🙂

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    1. If they hadn’t included useless and incorrect descriptions, I would have definitely chosen “atheist.” But if atheism is what they think it is, then you’re right, that’s not what I am. I don’t know if you are atheist or agnostic, but if you are either, I assume that you fit neither of the descriptions they gave. I always have the constant urge to correct people, especially with grammar and misdefining any word, so this drove me crazy, and I felt obligated to add my own correct definition of atheism that I could choose. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I think unfortunately, most people who have experience with atheists who are not themselves atheist have encountered the militant type, who are not only certain there are no deities, but will attack anyone who believes there are. Sort of like with people incorrectly defining feminists due to their encounters with female supremacists operating under the feminist umbrella.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Religious representatives are very keen on applying the terms ‘militant’ or ‘aggressive’ to Atheists, but I’ve never come across an atheist that meets either of these descriptions. They think that if they say it enough, people will come to believe it’s true (isn’t that the basis of religion?) – us Atheists shouldn’t help them with this campaign.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I’ve met some. Those who bash anyone or anything who dares to hope in something that hasn’t been proven as stupid. Or the ones who blame all conflict on religion, rather than motivations of specific religions. Those are the aggressive ones, in my opinion.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Really? I hope I never meet anyone like that – it’s hard enough trying to stand up to the religious bullies (whilst all the while trying not to offend anyone) without having to deal with Atheist bullies too. Mind you, at least you can tell them what’s what without fear of disturbing their world view (only their ego!)

          Liked by 1 person

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