Thank you for having the courage I lacked at your age.
Northwest Christian University isn’t as strict as my own alma mater, Cedarville, and I’m glad you won’t be expelled for your views. But you’re now a visible minority on a small and overwhelmingly Christian campus, and that means you’re in for a difficult time. You already know that, I’m sure, because this is not a decision anyone makes lightly. You wrote that you’re already the subject of rumors, and after this, you’ll probably lose more friends. But then, you’ve probably been losing friends ever since you started asking questions.
By the time I lost my religion, I’d already spent several years fending off harassment and abuse from classmates and faculty for political views only slightly to the left of center. There were always rumors about my faith, too, and I hated that. Sometimes I think I held onto Christianity for as long as I did just to spite everyone who called me a heretic.
Spite isn’t a particularly good reason to identify as anything, Christian or otherwise, so kudos for making a different choice. You were honest in public, itself a radical act. You used your position as student body president for good. And because of that, Northwest’s non-Christian students finally have representation on campus.
I often hear people, atheist people, mainstream people, characterize anyone who attends Christian college as ignorant and backwards. I hope that because of what you’ve done, people will actually listen when I tell them that these campuses are more diverse than they think. There were atheists at my college, too. There were Christians with doubts and questions. And we stay at these schools for so many reasons. I stayed out of fear: I would have been expelled immediately and I knew I couldn’t count on my family for support at the time. That’s such a common story, and even though yours is different, I want you to know how much you’ve helped marginalized students at colleges like ours.
You’ve showed them that it’s ok.
You’re an atheist and your world didn’t end. There was no lightning bolt. You’ve lost some friends and you’re the target of rumors, but you have supporters, too, and you’ll live to fight another day. I didn’t have that example. I wish I had, because my years at Cedarville wouldn’t have been nearly as lonely as they were. At these schools, doubt’s a fight you have with yourself, not a conversation you share with other people.
Fundamentalism and evangelicalism both encourage followers to compartmentalize themselves. The Christian isn’t really a whole person; she’s continually at war with her ‘sin nature,’ an aspect of the human condition that she can’t hope to discard. Even after salvation, this war with the sin nature continues, trapping the Christian into a dual identity. All my questions, all my objections and concerns, got subsumed into this sin nature, so I fought them. I awarded my ‘sin nature’ an almost supernatural strength and I wrestled with it like Isaac wrestled with God. And also like Isaac, I lost my wrestling match. Doubt pinned me, and when I finally faced it, I realized that I’d just been fighting myself all along.
I don’t think this is something that anyone should ever have to experience on their own, and yet so many of us do because we’re convinced that we’re alone.
So I’ll close with a challenge: keep using your position for good. Be a safe person for your fellow students. When they come to you with their stories, listen. Provide practical, reasonable support, and let them come to their own conclusions. You might be the first person who’s ever treated their questions with respect.
And thanks again for doing what so many of us couldn’t.