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:
- 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 so 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. Truthfully, their provided definition more closely resembles the deistic worldview.
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.