Usually, when I write about my Christian college experience, it’s about coming out to friends or classmates, or about insane Christian teachers who would probably have gotten fired if the college had actually known what they’re teaching to students. Only once before have I dedicated a post to the atmosphere itself of my private Christian college.
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.
The Closet Atheist, A Fish out of Water
In my post, I wrote about an article from my college where its president boasted about welcoming students who are Jews, Sikhs, and atheists. He said that while students must obtain a fixed number of chapel credits, they don’t need to be Christian or even spend time in the actual chapel! That’s every atheist’s dream, right?
Well, that’s easier said than done. It would be very, very hard to obtain all of the necessary chapel credits without ever going into the chapel building, although that’s beside the point. I don’t know if the school president is under the impression that non-Christians have some ailment that makes it impossible for them to enter a house of worship, but forcing your religion on someone is much more than what building you’re in. My colleges forces Christianity on every student through almost every aspect of campus life.
Obviously, being affiliated with a religion is perfectly fine for a private institution such as this, but there’s a difference between being a Christian school and forcing Christianity on everyone in a way that a non-Christian student would be marginalized and isolated from the student body at large. Especially if you haven’t read my other post on this topic, you might be wondering why a Christian college should be worrying so much about non-Christian students. Why am I complaining about being an atheist at a Christian college, when, to put it bluntly, it was a dumb choice for me to attend in the first place, knowing full well that it was a religious school filled with Christian students, professors, and classes?
I’ve mentioned before that I chose this school thinking that I’d been entrenched in Christianity for my whole life—through my Lutheran family and church and even a Catholic elementary school, so what were four more Jesus-filled years? I knew it was Christian–when I was considering this school, I imaged each class title with the word “bible” in front of it to put it into perspective: “psychology” became “Bible-psychology,” and “biology” became “Bible-biology.” But I looked past it because I liked virtually everything else about the school: I liked the academics, the price, the location, the campus, and the size of the student body. Little did I know that the overwhelming influence of Christianity would penetrate everything.
If I’d known how much religion would make me hate my college experience, I wouldn’t have gone here. Something that would have opened my eyes to how widespread Christianity is on my campus would have been a required statement of faith for students and faculty.
Many Christian colleges and organizations require a statement of faith from its members, whether it denotes loyalty to a specific denomination or just that everyone be Christian. My school requires no such commitment. As I’ll later explain, they essentially force you to be Christian, but without a statement of faith, they’re left with non-Christian students on campus who just have to suffer through the motions since the lack of a faith statement gave them the false hope that it was okay to be different.
During the application process, the school really makes it seem (even with the “Christ-centered community where you can constantly feel Jesus deep within you” statements littering brochures) that being a Christian is greatly encouraged but optional. For example, on the application, there is a section asking for your denomination and what church you attend, but a response is not mandatory. The essay portion includes a response to a Christian quote but doesn’t require you to agree with the doctrine. A letter of recommendation from a pastor is encouraged, but it can also be from a “counselor”. This is all fine, but when you arrive on campus, the religion is suddenly not so optional anymore.
If you’re a student here, you are required, as I said before, to attend chapel services or else you don’t graduate. You’re locked in for the duration of the service, which can sometimes consist of anti-gay or anti-secular hate, and just being there isn’t enough: you can be reprimanded if you even look at your phone because it’s disrespectful. You have to take bible classes and science-and-religion classes which dismiss atheistic worldviews as insufficient and sometimes even sinful. While they don’t have to sign a statement of faith, every professor is required to incorporate a biblical worldview into every class.
English class? Read Christian literature. Marketing class? Learn how to incorporate biblical principles into your marketing ethics. Communication class? Write a paper on how you can survive in the public sphere with your faith intact. Band or choir? Be ready to play and sing hymns upon hymns upon hymns. If you want a job, you had better be prepared for an entire career fair of seminary schools and ministry jobs. If you want friends or to be a part of the “tight-knit community,” don’t miss hall bible study or the campus-wide worship services. Sure, they’re not required, but if you want to see your friends, or make friends in the first place, good luck doing it as an atheist. You should also be prepared for everyone to assume that the entire campus community is Christian: I can recall only two specific times that a professor acknowledged that there may be non-Christians in the room.
I think that the best way to eliminate this isolation and marginalization is to require a statement of faith. That’s right, it would make the school even more Christian that it already is, but all the hidden and closeted atheists that are undoubtedly here but forced to live a lie wouldn’t be here to witness the madness. If we knew that after we set foot on campus, our lives would be a clown-house of religious madness and forced fake worship, then I could have made an informed decision and attended the secular school down the road with my fiance.
The school says that it doesn’t require a signed statement of faith because it is non-denominational and doesn’t want to enforce any specific set of beliefs on anyone. On the contrary, they certainly could have required a non-denominational statement of Christian belief. As a matter of fact, I don’t know why a Christian college wouldn’t have one. If my school had had a statement of faith, then it would be set apart from the nearby private colleges that are “Christian in name” and affiliation, but where faith is hardly detectable on campus.
Most colleges with statements of faith do comply with a specific sect of Christianity and often a rigid set of rules, which can include:
- No abortion
- No homosexuality
- No premarital sex
- No swearing
- No porn
- You must attend a nearby church (this wasn’t explicitly stated, but it was implied)
- No drinking for the duration of enrollment whether or not you are on campus
Most of the items on this list are either prohibited or at least frowned upon on this campus, so adopting a statement of faith would allow them to enforce it if they so choose. In my eyes it would turn the school into even more of a Christian prison, but at least those who comply don’t have to follow the rules of a religion that they don’t believe in.