Here at The Perspective, we strive to facilitate an on-campus dialogue that is more open, more honest, and more substantive than what the status quo currently offers.
Only by engaging in a fervently candid exchange of ideas can we overcome the social barriers that stand in the way of a full understanding of one another–and thereby a fuller understanding of what it means to be a college student in the 21st century. Where better to start than a tenaciously ineffable subject, about which criticism is the ultimate taboo? Religion – perhaps the most pervasive social force in existence – seems to be inexplicably off the table in polite conversation. It dictates our worldviews, our ethics, and our Sunday mornings; yet any forthright discussion about the nature of our beliefs is routinely eschewed from everyday discourse.
This conversational indolence allows people to trudge along through life without giving much thought to the religion they ostensibly profess. If you claim to be an adherent to a particular faith, or outwardly reject any such faith, you should be prepared to defend what it is you believe. Only then can we begin to know where it is that our friends and colleagues retreat in times of doubt or dismay.
One pernicious roadblock that stands in the way of attaining this understanding is the sheer difficulty that religious and nonreligious people encounter when trying to communicate with one another. The devoutly religious speak in what often seems like a different language; their vernacular rings with divine invocation, their vocabulary boasts theological prowess. No matter the situation, Bible quotes are dropped with ease, almost sounding automated, but not necessarily contrived.
Hoping to overcome that impenetrable roadblock, I brought together two people of radically dissimilar religious views for a discussion. Nothing required either of them to participate, and they were bound by no rules or regulations–just each other.
Craig Hargrove, an active member of the Fresh Springs International Family Worship Church, started off our discussion by explaining what a personal relationship with Jesus Christ means to him. “I began to realize that there was nothing I could do that could save me. Christ died on the cross for me because he knew I was a sinful person and had a sinful nature. He has already paid the ultimate price for me, so just because I believe in him, and I see him as lord and savior, I now can have eternal life with him.”
How does a nonbeliever react to this kind of statement, spoken so definitively and with such earnest conviction? How can he or she convey their disagreement without coming across as insensitive or callous?
Maddie Patrick, a disavowed Catholic who now considers herself an atheist, was handed this task. “I think Craig and I – I think we can both understand where each other is coming from, but still fundamentally disagree. He believes in a god, and thinks Jesus is the one true savior. I don’t believe in a god, but we live our lives the same. I’m not going to try to convince Craig that there is no god. I wouldn’t want him to try to convince me that there is a god. I can’t say that I’m right, because it’s just what I believe – and he can’t say that he’s right.”
In high school, Maddie taught CCD, or the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, to fifth graders every week. As she matured intellectually, Maddie began to grow skeptical of Catholic doctrine, and gradually came to reject the faith outright. And as much as she may want to reconcile her personal affinity for Craig with the underlying philosophical rift that separates them, Maddie was forceful when it came to a subject that was close to her: Christian edicts on homosexuality.
“Christianity’s most popularly-known teachings about homosexuality alienate people. They take away the rights of gay people, and that to me is just wrong.” She continued, “They’re human beings. And a lot of homosexuals have one partner for a long time; they’re good people. Some of them might even go to church. So to take away someone’s right to get married, to raise a child in a loving home, to me is wrong.”
Homosexuality often seems to be a catalyst in prompting frank discussions of religious belief; most nonbelievers are content with a “to each his own” mentality regarding religion, but when the beliefs of others begin to adversely impact their friends, their relatives, or themselves, tensions that would have otherwise been dormant tend to flare up.
Craig responded, “The way I look at homosexuality is, I don’t believe a person is born a homosexual. And I believe that either they have been put through situations that make them think they are that way, or causes have created that. I don’t know how to explain it without going into great detail, but that’s my personal belief. I still don’t believe that affects whether Christ is still the savior, because he loves everyone.”
I couldn’t help but interject. Could Craig see how someone who considers him or herself gay – and doesn’t feel that they had a choice in the matter – would feel alienated by the sort of sentiment he was invoking? “I don’t hate homosexuals,” he said. “I have friends who are homosexuals. But we agree to disagree.”
Very well – but moving beyond homosexuality, did Craig think that Maddie and I, as atheists, could lead fulfilling and meaningful lives?
“Do you think you can?” he asked.
“Do you?” I persisted.
“I don’t know,” he said. There was a pause. “Do you search for truth?”
“Of course I do,” I said. “But I don’t think there is one objective truth to be found in a religious text. I study politics, philosophy, sociology, and things of that nature. My life is a pursuit of knowledge.”
“That’s awesome,” he said. His enthusiasm felt genuine, but I’m still not sure Craig actually believes I can lead a fulfilling life without accepting Jesus.
The conversation ended on a somewhat baffling note: Craig revealed that he doesn’t take medication for religious reasons. Even if a doctor prescribed a pill that could save his life, he would refuse to take it.
“According to this world, I’m crazy,” Craig concluded. But at least now we know where he’s coming from.