I was planning to attend Grove City College* since I was young. My mother knew it would be perfect for me with the Christian atmosphere, rigorous academics, and the location. I knew that there was a heavy Christian foundation here, but I figured that it wouldn’t be too bad and the good would outweigh the negatives. If I could choose schools again, I don’t know if I still would have come here, although the atmosphere and the coursework have grown my interest in atheism and influenced this self-discovery immensely.
My college has a series of six Christian-worldview-based core humanities classes and one Science and Faith course. As it turns out, these classes have become some of my favorites because they can infuriate me, make me consider what Christians believe and what I believe, and show me the good and bad of both sides.
The class here that I am the most truly grateful for deals with different world views and their implications. My professor was one of the most humble Christians that I have met, and it showed in his teaching. Being from the philosophy department, he taught the class from a philosophical manner. He compared the worldviews of theism, deism, naturalism, nihilism, and existentialism. I began the class with an open mind, and I was excited to learn about these worldviews and hopefully identify which one aligned with my beliefs. I ended up enjoying learning about naturalism the most, and I decided that of these five perspectives, I would consider myself more naturalist than anything else. It was this time when I started using the word naturalist to describe myself; I wasn’t quite ready for the word “atheist” yet, but I was getting more comfortable with admitting to myself what I believe and don’t believe and how I answer life’s big questions.
All six of these humanities classes require a big term paper near the end of the semester. It is at the professor’s discretion to decide what the paper can cover, and for this class, we had to write something persuasive that related to anything we had discussed in class all semester. He said it should leave the reader legitimately questioning their beliefs if they went into it with the opposite view of what the writer is arguing. I didn’t want to take on the task of trying to convince a religious philosophy professor that God doesn’t exist, so I decided that I could argue against some points made in one of our textbooks. For the most part, the class had regarded naturalism fairly; it was honest about the ups and downs of a Godless worldview, but this textbook made the bold claim that all naturalism leads to depressing, meaningless nihilism. I took on the task of spending ten pages arguing why naturalism does not inherently lead to nihilism.
This paper was one of those times when a project starts off as homework for a grade and turns into something a lot more personal. I think that the process of learning and writing this paper really changed my life and the way that I think. It may not be perfect, but it is an accomplishment that I really hold dear. I did more than try to make a compelling argument for the sake of a persuasive paper; being in this delicate time of self-discovery, I wanted a fool-proof argument in which I truly believed everything I was saying. I wanted something that I was really proud of and that I could stand behind. You can read it here.
(Keep in mind that I wrote this paper about eight months before this post, before I had ever heard the word “humanism.” It was my first time breaking the ice and learning a lot of ideas and arguments that went for and against my claims. There are some claims that I made that I no longer entirely agree with, and I would identify as more of a humanist/atheist than a “quasi-agnostic optimistic naturalist.” Some sources in the paper have been edited in order to not disclose the name or location of my college.)
*At the time this post was written (and long after that) I was keeping the name of my alma mater private. I’ve since shared that I attended Grove City College and become pretty public about it. I edited the name into the opening sentence of this post for clarity.