"I Don't Believe" - The Inclusion of Secular Students at Christian Universities
I'm okay with not believing. But not everyone else is okay with it.
Throughout the Bible Belt, and specifically at my university (Oklahoma Christian University), there is an unfortunate social stigma surrounding non-Christians that still exists even in our widely secular, post-modern society. In my experience, that goes for every non-Christian, including atheists, agnostics, Muslims, and others. I didn’t grow up in the churches of Christ, so when I started attending OC, a church of Christ university, in 2013, I felt a tiny-bit ostracized. Within the past year, when I stopped calling myself a Christian, I felt it get a little worse.
I shrug it off because it doesn’t mean much to me. At the end of the day, I can’t force myself to believe something that I simply don’t believe. There really is no need to shame me, or anyone, for this. Besides the fact that it’s entirely at odds with the restoration and love preached in the Gospels, it’s also entirely counter-productive in a practical mindset. You don’t teach someone by shaming them for not already believing what you’re trying to teach them. You must teach the other person where he or she is at.
That’s something I take very seriously amid political, theological or philosophical discussions. Specific to fellow OC students, I focus on two things: proposing an alternative way of thinking simply to provoke a response and get him or her asking questions, and finding commonalities between our differing worldviews and philosophies. Just a couple weeks ago, I lead a chapel and discussed the theories presented in Richard Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene, and proposed a biological explanation for the nature of morality that many Christians attempt to claim as exclusive to their religion/faith. The commonality, though, is that selflessness is good. The thing is, as Leon Festinger writes in his book When Prophecy Fails, “A man with a conviction is a hard man to change.” It doesn’t matter if God were empirically proven fiction. Fact won’t sway everybody.
Here’s where I am right now: I’m simply questioning. I don’t believe much of anything right now because I’m trying to discover what’s actually true. I simply do not see enough evidence in favor of the Christian narrative for creation, purpose and restoration. The humanist in me wants to believe that we don’t need a God for humanity to prosper and perform justice; the scientist in me wants to believe that life is the result of evolution rather than intelligent design, and that homo sapiens are not special on a cosmological scale; the philosopher in me wants to believe that ethics, morality and truth itself are all concepts that we, as a collective species, wrestle with continuously. Many of the alternative positions offered by other worldviews and sciences can offer a more rational and empirically-based method of living (but are simultaneously not at odds with the core beliefs espoused in Christianity). I really do envy those with faith. But I can’t force it. Maybe one day I’ll return to the Church, but this is where I am right now. I don’t think that makes me a bad person.
All of that to say this: OC (as well as other Christian universities) should become a more receptive and compassionate community for those of different faiths and backgrounds. This can be done in a few ways. One, OC students and staff should be more intentional in their efforts to discuss differing faiths and philosophies, both within and without the classroom. Two, OC leadership should be more intentional to recognize and welcome those students that are not of a Christian background (specifically a church of Christ background). Three, it’s time for OC to end its archaic requirement that professors be a member of the churches of Christ. Diversity of thought is not something to be feared.
Men and women of all backgrounds and religions should be invited to this school to share their ideas in an academic environment that is impassioned towards truth. And for those who fear that undoing that requirement would encourage some kind of liberal, godless crowd to overtake OC and smother the church of Christ roots, I would encourage you to question the integrity of those roots in the first place. Perhaps the greatest thing about diversity of thought is that it breaks the echo chamber. It tends to challenge bad ideas with good ideas. If OC’s church of Christ roots were lost, it may be for the best.
I don’t believe. I’m okay with that. But even if I did, the last thing I’d want is to force my beliefs on those unlike me. We’re all in our own places.
*Header photo courtesy of ShutterStock.