Ask Richard: An Atheist Considers Attending a Catholic University

Note: When letter writers sign with their first names instead of a pseudonym or nickname, I randomly change their name for added anonymity.

Hi,

I’m 33 and going back to college. Right now I’m working on an associate’s degree, and I intend to transfer to a university to get my bachelor’s.

There’s a university here that’s got a good reputation, and I can easily meet the entrance requirements. There are a bunch of good reasons to go there — everything from small class sizes to a lack of parking problems on campus. It seems perfect for me — except it’s a Roman Catholic school, and I’m an atheist.

From what I can tell there’s no religious component or requirement for a degree. Graduates of the university — including one Wiccan — have told me it’s no different than a secular school in terms of the education provided. But I’m not sure I want to support a school linked to the Catholic church. Can you give me any advice?

Thanks,

Allison

Dear Allison,

So your only hesitation is because you sense an ethical conflict about supporting the Catholic Church both financially and in its status by attending, paying tuition and graduating from this university.

That’s the common feature of ethical dilemmas: There’s always something very tempting on the “go ahead and do it” side. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be a dilemma. We’d just listen to the “this is wrong” side, and walk away. The school is convenient, it is apparently academically satisfactory, and I’ll assume that you’ve made certain that it has enough credibility or prestige in the field you’re pursuing to be an asset to your career. Like you said, it seems perfect for you.

Except that you have a sense of ethics.

I’ll also have to assume that the other half of the ethical dilemma for you, the “this is wrong” side, is your awareness of the long and far-reaching record of corruption, greed, bigotry, abuse, exploitation, fraud, crime, hypocrisy, social injustice, political meddling, promotion of superstition, spread of disease, perpetuation of poverty and general self-serving ruthlessness that has been, is now, and will continue to be perpetrated worldwide by the Roman Catholic Church.

Now I suppose that your objection could just be because you think an atheist shouldn’t go to any religiously affiliated college, but I don’t think that that would be enough to give you pause. No, I’m guessing that even if you were not an atheist, your ethical sense would be troubled because of the malevolence that is associated with this particular vast, rich, and powerful institution.

So, I guess it comes down to how much wiggle room is there in your ethical principles. Does the university get “off the hook” if you can reassure yourself that the faculty and administrators don’t personally participate in any of that wickedness? Do you get “off the hook” if you disapprove of the Church’s iniquity, even though you know that some of your tuition money will end up in their coffers? Will the good that you do with your education somehow cancel out the evil that you help to support?

Will you wonder the rest of your life if you got a bachelor’s in your major with a minor in hypocrisy?

Allison, I don’t know what you plan to do with it, but a bachelor’s degree is the first level of being a professional. Professionals hold positions of trust. People put their trust into both the competence and the honor of professionals. A professional who is able to rationalize his or her questionable actions can be a dangerous menace. I don’t think you would plan to end up being one of those, but they get there by taking tiny steps, making tiny compromises, accepting tiny increases in their duplicity, in their willingness to be expedient, in their abandonment of principles. Tiny steps add up.

Your ethical sense is a precious and rare trait. It’s far more valuable than your intellectual intelligence. The ability to sense that there is a conflict of your principles is sadly rare among people. Many are smart or talented or hard-working, but what you stopped to deliberate about doesn’t even occur to them.

Preserve the strength of that instinct. It will make your life challenging at times, but over the long run, you will be very satisfied that you have lived an exemplary life of principles lived up to instead of just given lip service, and you have not betrayed the trust that your education brought to you.

Look around. Perhaps there are other colleges with not quite as convenient parking, with slightly larger class sizes and with a bit longer commute, but without that built-in conflict that may pester you the whole time you’re there, or even longer.

Richard

You may send your questions for Richard to AskRichard. All questions will eventually be answered, but not all can be published. There is a large number of requests; please be patient.

About Richard Wade

Richard Wade is a retired Marriage and Family Therapist living in California.

  • Alan

    I am facing a similar dilemma. I’m looking at attending Seattle University, which is Jesuit. The religious aspect of it bothers me slightly, but I think there is a solution. At this campus, and the one Allison might attend, is there a Secular Student Alliance or other atheist group? If not, one could be started. Since religious universities are accepting of people regardless of belief, there are bound to be fellow skeptics on campus.

    And, added bonus in my case, it can be called Seattle University Secular Student Society, or SUSSS.

    Good luck.

  • Stitch

    I went to a catholic college in the 1970′s because it was the only place locally that had a major I wanted. When I started I was told there was a requirement for Catholics to take religion courses, but not for non-Catholics. But before I had my degree they changed that policy and I did have to take the courses, mostly “comparative religion” but taught in a very biased way.

  • Claudia

    I think Richard is just a bit hard on her in this respect. Certainly look around for a non-affiliated school, even if it’s a little less convenient. However if the sacrifice is too significant, I would like to suggest a third option to abandoning the pursuit or attending with no further action.

    If you can’t find a suitable substitute I suggest attending but pledging to dedicate as much free time as you can spare to trying to undo some of the damage done by the Church. Volunteering at a group dedicated to one of the following:

    - Groups dedicated to support for the victims of sexual abuse by clergy.
    - Groups dedicated to advocating for equal rights for the LGBTQ community.
    - Groups dedicated to fighting HIV-AIDS, both at home and in Africa, especially through education about contraceptives.

    Work as hard as you can for those groups, so that you can think that whatever ends your tuition goes to, you’ve more than made up for it with your work, making your association with the university a net positive for the world.

  • TeddyKGB

    I hate to keep being the party pooper, but that’s horrible advice. If you feel that Notre Dame or Georgetown or DePaul or Xavier have the best program for you, go there. Those are fine universities that are not explicitly religious in the way that some Christian diploma factories are.

    Denying yourself a genuinely good education because of what the Catholic church did in the past isn’t, frankly, very smart. I’m not going to boycott Hertz because O.J. Simpson murdered his wife.

  • Jeff Dale

    I’m in agreement with these other commenters here. The ethical dilemma is real, but if this is a legitimate university that doesn’t compel any religious observance or affiliation, then the ethical cost is too small to justify scuttling your education or changing your residence, and should be offset by good works for humanism like those suggested above. Paying a large personal price for such a small moral victory, one which would have negligible impact outside your own life, would not be worthwhile.

  • littlejohn

    This is a tempest in a teapot. Of course she should attend.
    In my home state, West Virginia, the only good colleges are affiliated with the Presbyterians, Catholics or Disciples of Christ. I went to the D of C college, Bethany, which was actually founded by Alexander Campbell, who also founded the church. He’s buried on campus. Dead, you know.
    I had to take a Bible course. That was it. Otherwise I got a fine education. There were plenty of non-religious students there. The school actually sold beer in the student snack bar, back when the drinking age was 18.
    Go for it. Start a secular student organization, if there isn’t one already.

  • Ron in Houston

    I agree with TeddyKGB – some of these reason that many schools are “Catholic” schools is just some historical anachronism.

  • Twin-Skies

    On the flip side of the argument, I think any skeptic who would think poorly of a fellow skeptic simply because they studied in a Catholic university, regardless of the college’s credentials and the person’s own academic performance, is a very, very shallow person who will need to rethink their priorities.

  • Daniel H.

    “Wickedness”, “iniquity”, and “evil”, all in one paragraph. Careful Richard, you’re going religious on us…

    It’s hard to take his atheism seriously when he can’t just be an atheist.

  • TeddyKGB

    I went to Xavier and DePaul: Jesuit and Roman Catholic schools, respectively. I obviously did not choose them because they were religiously-affiliated; I picked them because they were my best options.

    Like littlejohn, I did have to take a theology course my freshman year. I was dreading it at first, but it ended up being my favorite course all year. It was taught by one of the most prominent Jesuits on campus, it was all-inclusive, and he knew his stuff. I learned not just about Christianity, but all world religions, and the conversations we had in the classes were fantastic.

    You’re not going to get away from churches or religious organizations at a “secular” college, either. Most larger public universities have churches directly on campus.

  • Claudia

    “Wickedness”, “iniquity”, and “evil”, all in one paragraph. Careful Richard, you’re going religious on us…

    It’s hard to take his atheism seriously when he can’t just be an atheist.

    Sorry, I must of missed when the religious took out the copyright on those words. So atheists aren’t supposed to make value judgements on matters like child rape and the spread of AIDS?

  • Rufus

    Allison should do what’s in her long term best interest. If Catholic school gives the best education, it’s probably the right choice.

    She should also consider the people she will meet there though. She’s more likely to meet people who are like her at a non-Catholic school.

  • Peregrine

    If the school will accept an atheist, then there is no reason not to go there, unless you find a better alternative, or would rather go somewhere else.

    As long as believers freely and openly welcome us among them, we should not be afraid to go. We should be there, working with them, socializing with them, encouraging them to open their doors, and their minds even more, so that they are reassured that we are not monsters.

    Refusing to go based on misguided fears, or notions of proselytizing, or the historical record of bigotry, corruption, and so forth is almost xenophobic. We can’t criticize Scientology or the Jehovah’s Witnesses for their record of social ostracism in one breath, and then ostracize ourselves from an otherwise good, accredited institution in the next. We need to interact with believers, whenever possible, so that we can encourage them to overcome past failings. (not to imply that it isn’t a two way street, mind you…)

    Education is about self improvement. And it can’t be done in a vacuum. For them, or for us.

  • Alan E.

    Unless you are going to some hoity toity college, the name of the school doesn’t matter. What matters most is 1) that you actually got it; and 2) what you got out of it. If you can find something that is cheaper, still convenient or relatively so, and will give you a similar scale education, go for it! If you can’t match these requirements, then certainly go to school to finish. Claudia has a great point in working outside to negate the “social damages” done by attending a Catholic school.

  • Miko

    The school is probably Catholic in name only. When a hierarchical structure gets as large as the Catholic church, it’s really hard to blame one branch for the actions of another branch.

    As an example, I don’t think it would be fair to punish U.S. construction workers hired by the government because the government is also torturing and murdering people. The construction worker is performing a vital societal function, the need for which will still exist even after we move beyond having a government. The workers never asked to be affiliated with the government, but due to the monopoly status of road construction current in the U.S. had no choice as long as they remained in that industry, and so we can’t really blame them.

    Likewise, I’d bet that most of the students and most of the professors at that university probably aren’t Catholic. When we move beyond religion, I’m sure the affiliation will be dropped, but, since it is primarily performing a vital societal function, the institution itself will remain essentially the same.

  • SteveWH

    I’m an atheist who teaches part time at two Catholic schools (one Jesuit, one Vincentian). I also attended Catholic schools up until graduate school, so I consider myself a bit of an “insider” regarding Catholic education.

    In my experience, many faculty members at Catholic schools are themselves atheist, while others are “religious” but span the range from devout to apathetic. Some will teach dogmatically, but this is often the result of simply being a bad teacher. All colleges face this problem. You can easily learn who these professors are and avoid their classes.

    You will most likely be required to take philosophy and religion classes. Typically, though, departments offer classes on a wide range of philosophical, theological, and religious topics and perspectives.

    One thing I will say in favor of the Catholic Church is that, historically, as far as Christian religions go, the Catholic Church has one of the strongest traditions of rational inquiry. It often becomes a bit tortured in practice, but there are good effects from this tradition. I can say with confidence that you will be taught to look at Christianity and religion critically, especially if you do some research before selecting classes.

    As others have noted, Catholic schools can be excellent. If the school you are considering is Jesuit, I can recommend it whole-heartedly.

  • http://atheistcamel.blogspot.com/ Dromedary Hump

    Richard’s advise was a tad over the top.

    It would be tantamount to Pat Robertson advising a religionist that he would be violating his principles, and God’s will, if he were to attend Yale or a community college instead of Liberty University.

    As long as there is no forced religiosity, it’s an acredited school of good repute, and isn’t operating as a vehicle to spread the faith, and you’re not being asked to directly contribute to misguided Catholic positions or politics, then getting a good education is all thats important here; the catholic church’s negligible cut of the tuition not withstanding.

    And this is coming from an “aggressive atheist” and anti-theist of impecable credentials ;)

  • Matt

    There may not be any forced religiosity, but there may be other baggage similar to this.

  • martin

    I feel you shouldn’t feel you are giving your money to the church, but you are giving your money to the faculty that teach you and keep the campus a suitable environment to allow teaching to be done. Now if you do some research and find out that 90% of your tuition goes to the church and to some rich big-wig con man, yeah, I would find an alternative, but the truth is, a catholic university usually has the money go to pay wages and the rest to charity, its not like a Baptist university.

  • Jamie

    I second the advice on going if it’s a good fit for you and getting involved in “restorative” efforts.

    Religions and churches don’t change because people walk away or gloss over the wrongdoings, they change because the people in those institutions, or those who just want to for their own reasons, take action.

  • JulietEcho

    Yeah, usually a school being religiously-affiliated means that it accepts money from a church, not that it makes a profit that goes to a church. The tuition goes to on-campus expenses, college programs, faculty and staff salaries, room & board maintenance, etc. And I don’t think that many small schools are making much of a profit right now, regardless.

    I went to a nominally Methodist liberal arts college, but there’s very little Methodist presence left at the school, besides our official chapel being kind of Methodist. Anyway, the Methodist church paid for some faculty positions (like an archivist to preserve the school history and to keep a separate archive of the Methodist files/directories/etc. for our state).

    I would be very surprised to find out that the Methodist church *made* any money from their association with my college. The most they get is the prestige from their association, and even that is small, given that it’s pretty much a secular school now. (Actually, in my book, that earns the Methodist church more respect, since they just support good education without stuffing their doctrine into the curriculum or requirements, like most of the other religious-affiliated schools in our state do).

    So I wouldn’t worry about the money angle, just the association angle. And as far as that goes, I think your problem is easily solved by simply being open and vocal about your atheism – or more specifically, about your disapproval of the Catholic Church’s policies. Volunteer at Planned Parenthood or something. I’d say that *more than* balances out any benefit the church would get from your attendance.

    I guess there’s also the more broad argument that by attending Catholic institutions, students are helping the church perpetuate the idea that their religion is somehow responsible for modern science, important discoveries, great art, etc. and deserves credit for most human knowledge. I mean, if people left their schools empty, they’d get the message that they aren’t taken seriously in intellectual discourse. But I know of no organized boycott, and to be practical it would have to be organized and deprive them of a noticeable number of students.

    So yeah, I think Richard took too strong a stance on this one – there are plenty of ways that (IMO) you could attend this school with a clear conscience.

  • Nic

    I’m a lifelong non-theist, and a graduate of Notre Dame. I don’t know whether to feel foolish for not thinking this is as big a deal as Richard is making it out to be, or annoyed that I let myself feel foolish, even for a second.

    My degree was a transaction, plain and simple: I paid for the privilege of acquiring it, and for having the institution’s name on my resume. Believe me, it hasn’t hurt me professionally. Do I feel like I’ve directly (or even indirectly) contributed to an evil and blighted organization? Perhaps.

    But more to the point, do I feel like every day, in a myriad ways, I’m having a direct and measurable impact on my wife, siblings, family, and friends? Absolutely. And it’s no contest: it vastly outweighs whatever impact my tuition could buy the church.

    And that’s really what matters.

  • jasonorlandohawk

    Sorry, the theist has to jump in on this one at least briefly (& please note, I’m not even Catholic):

    If attending a Catholic school means that you are somehow supporting every horrible atrocity ever done by the Catholic church EVER, does that also mean you are also supporting every generous, loving, & merciful act ever done by the Catholic church, ever?

    I mean, Richard’s feedback sort of implies that even the mildest of associations with an institution somehow equals a universal endorsement of their policies.

    I think it can be demonstrated that the implications of this advice is far from true. I’m a Southern Baptist Pastor, and I’ve been pretty vocal in expressing my disapproval of things the SBC has done. Even STRONG association doesn’t equal a universal endorsement of an institution’s mistakes.

    One more example:

    Since I’m posting on an Atheist site, does that mean that I’m somehow sanctioning every action ever performed by an atheist, ever?

    (Please direct all complaints about the use of exaggerated examples to the first individual to use exaggerated examples.)

    One more thing that needs saying:

    Whatever your education decisions, I wish you the best of luck, Allison.

  • Brooke

    I had no difficulty choosing Saint Mary’s in Minnesota for my graduate program. After checking into the required courses (no religion classes required) and meeting the heads of the program (laid-back, potentially religious but not in your face about it), I was ready to go! It has so many benefits over the only other alternative (U of M): small class sizes, lower tuition, evening courses for those working 40 hours, and wonderfull support from teachers. I’m sure the level of religiousness depends on the program, though – mine is more science/technology oriented.

    Allison needs to consider how religious the school “feels,” how supportive the faculty would be if they found out she is an atheist, and how much of her tuition would go to the church. Has that school in particular ever been involved in devious Roman Catholic activities? I would imagine most of the Catholics there feel pretty embarrassed about the church’s behavior and want to reinforce the positive activities the school is involved with.

    And Richard…my ethical sense didn’t collapse when I elected to go to this school. I’ve never had to hide my atheism to anyone there, including the former president/chancellor. The tiny bit of my tuition that goes toward unsavory things is outweighed by the direct contact I make with everyone at the school and letting them know that atheists are good people, too.

  • Captain Werewolf

    Just go there. Regardless of the Church’s social policies, Catholic institutes of higher learning tend to be pretty good. You’re buying education from Catholics. It’s no more hypocritical than buying a car from a Muslim.

    (full disclosure: I attend a religiously affiliated law school and have only had one minor problem with anyone in administration, and that was because I started the Secular Student Alliance here and there was a simple miscommunication that could have happened anywhere)

  • Christine

    Echoing the general “just go” sentiment of most comments. I went to a Catholic university where the two most powerful student groups were the Jewish group and the LGBTQ group. There was a religious course requirement; I took Greek & Roman mythology and religion in the United States. Like Juliet said, the school gets money from the Church; money doesn’t go from the school back to the Catholic church.

    If the school isn’t overtly, in-your-face religious, I say go for it. Very few “religious” higher education institutions are especially religious these days, and the ones that are very religious make that quite well known. And you can balance it out by starting or joining an SSA on campus. :-D

  • Trace

    Richard?

  • Richard Wade

    Yes, Trace, it’s me. I assume you’re saying that you’re not sure it’s me. Well, if that’s the case, then to you and to the other commenters here, I must concede that your well-considered rebuttals are helping me to see that I took too strong a stance on this.

    I talk a lot about balancing principles with pragmatics, and sometimes I go too much to one side. That is why I am glad that this is a discussion and a dialogue rather than a single statement of mine alone. If I blow it, other people can come in and supply the wisdom I missed.

    Thank you all for the gentleness of your disagreements. I’ll be re-reading your comments carefully, and I appreciate your input to help Allison to make the best decision.

  • Trace

    We are cool, Richard. I just wish I were half as wise and considerate as you.

    Peace, Trace.

  • Lysistrata

    I agree this is horrible advice. As an atheist, I am on my third Catholic college.
    The first was for summer courses for my undergraduate, the second for my master’s, and now the third is for my doctorate. I have had fantastic teachers that I did not have at the public university I attend for the majority of my undergraduate.
    Yes, the Catholic church has done some horrible things but so have secular governments. Does that rule out going to the Sorbonne in Paris because of the terror of the French Revolution or the Dreyfus affair? I think quality of education is important and what she does with her time at college. Often these colleges have out reach where she can have the opportunity to show the values an atheist has or as somebody suggested start a secular student alliance.

  • Kevin

    I’d like to echo what I think is the most ethically and pragmatically sound advice: attend the college and join (or start up) a secular student group.

    Any up-front financial benefit that the Catholic Church may attain by your attendence would be more than offset if, by your participation in such a group and your efforts to open the eyes of your classmates, you convince even a single devout Catholic to abandon a life of dogmatic submersivism (and associated life-long tithing) to the church in favor of a free-thinking, rational lifestyle not ideologically enslaved to and perpetually indebted to the Catholic Church.

  • Twin-Skies

    I graduated from a graduate high school and college.

    While we had required theology courses, the proffs were more than willing to debate opposing views on their standpoint, provided that you could prove you had a good understanding of the material.

    And when the RH Bill was a hot topic here, several of our professors were outspoken supporters. The college itself was officially against the Bill, but it was very explicit in saying it wouldn’t impose its stance on the teaching staff.

  • VLK

    Not attending a college because of its religious affiliation is rediculous. Unlike a religious elementary or high school, a church-affiliated college does not shove their beliefs in your face and force you to follow them. I’m an atheist and go to a Lutheran college. There was a question on the application asking to state your religious affiliation and I marked atheist, and I still got a full scholarship because of academics; religion had nothing to do with it. A Bible interpretation class is required, and my teacher knew I was atheist and all my essays clearly stated my position and I still got an A in the class. If the Catholic school is the best option, then go for it. Sure, my first choice was a secular state school, but the college I’m at now had everything I was looking for, plus gave me a full ride. Don’t let the fact that your university of choice is Catholic sway your decision.

  • Sesoron

    I suppose Catholic university experiences vary a good deal. One of my best friends, also an open atheist, is graduating tomorrow with her Master’s from a Catholic school (she went to the same state school as me for undergrad), and some of her reports to me seem to indicate sour treatment — from some profs, not all — due to her personal beliefs. She told me that religion classes were only mandatory for undergrads there, so I suppose the degree of church affiliation does vary a fair bit.

    In principle, I find it distasteful to take any assistance from an organization with which I have a fundamental ideological disagreement. I suppose that principle may be pushed when I find myself hunting for jobs: as a Latinist, I may find a greater proportion of openings in Catholic schools than otherwise, and I really can’t say whether I’d take such a job when pressed. I’d like to think that, offered a decently paying secular school job versus a very well paying Catholic school job, I’d follow my principles, but who can be sure in this economy?

  • Demonhype

    I graduated from a Brethren Church-affiliated university as an open atheist. I recall seeing an article in the school paper about how many atheists and agnostics were on campus, and the article’s tone was positive about such diversity existing in the school. You had to take one religion class, but if you took World Religions or History of Christianity it counted as both a religion and an international perspectives credit, which was great. I missed out on WR and took the history one, I wrote “atheist” on the card he handed out to everyone to find out what the range of beliefs were in the class, and when my teacher began touting the Nazis as atheists–well, I wasn’t trusting enough to come out and call him on it in class, but I called him on it on my paper on the subject, citing examples of religious justifications from the Nazi manifesto we had studied in class. Shortly after I turned in my paper, he began calling the Nazis “neo-pagans” with not a whif of atheism-accusations–still not accurate, but it was satisfying to think I’d had an impact of any kind! :) I also got a field trip to a Greek Orthodox monastary–yes, they exist in Ohio, apparently! That was a very interesting class, and I wasn’t once proselytized or asked to give praise or admonished that my papers weren’t “reverential” enough–it was nothing more than a survey of the history of the church, and I learned a lot. My artist statement for my senior show openly acknowledged my atheism and the great impact it has on my artwork, both stylistically and in terms of subject matter. I felt this was fair, because every year at least one or more students openly touted their devout faith in their artist statement, and since my atheism had a profound impact on my work I saw no reason I couldn’t do the same.

    Of course, on the other hand…

    The school had a motto explicitly emphasising Judeo-Christian values, which really only had the practical effect of “under God” in the pledge, until they tried to take a stand with a hiring policy requiring employees to be Christian. That did not last long and it cost them even after they dropped it. They had spent a lot of effort to get good profs for the U and the profs themselves began leaving as a protest to the unethical nature of the new hiring practice–knowing full well that the policy would only apply to “new hires” and not themselves, they were still taking a stand. A year later, they were still overcoming the flack on that one, as some teachers were still looking for a new job and others had difficulty getting good visitors from their particular fields to come in and work with the students to give them valuable experience–all due to their little stand for Jesus Only. So there’s that…

    Plus, when I put in my first draft for the artist statement, I got an e-mail from the teacher in charge of reviewing the art students in my particular focus. She wanted me to drive down to school on a day I had no class for “a talk” about my statement–a 60 mile round trip on $4 gas, no easy feat for a full-time student/part-time worker who also had to pay for private health insurance. For some reason, she couldn’t tell me what the problem was over the e-mail.

    Call me paranoid, but something smelled fishy to me. So I replied quite firmly that if this had anything to do with the professed atheism in my statement, I was not going to be happy, nor would I back down, and I asserted my right in that respect, citing the many believing students who professed faith as a major creative influence and that as my atheism is a major creative influence to me, I had the same right.

    She wrote back, assuring me that that had nothing to do with it and I needed to come down there to talk about…something else. When I got there for the meeting, she merely said that the tone of my statement was too apologetic and the statement was too long and needed to be a page tops. The latter criticism was already a given, as we had been told to just write anything we wanted for the draft and pare it down to a page for the final. That wasn’t even news to me. And there is no reason she couldn’t tell me over the e-mail that my statement’s tone was too apologetic and made me seem to be apologizing for being an atheist.

    I was not very happy to have to spend 60 miles worth of gas on a limited budget just to be told something I could have been told over the e-mail. To this day, I have a feeling that I was, indeed, going to be “discouraged” from including atheism in my statement, and when I immediately made it clear that I wasn’t going to back down, she had to come up with some excuse because there was no way the U was going to back her on it and take even more flack for intolerance–they were still recovering from the last one!

    What I’m saying is, a church-affiliated school can be great and have great education, and the teachers themselves are often great teachers with liberal ideas and a respect for diveristy. But you may still run into a snag or two and you may still have to make a stand to defend yourself. If it’s in a class setting, such as the teacher teaching that atheists were nazis, if you make a good case using the material in the course they’re usually pretty good about it. (I had a similar one with a Catholic Analytical Philosophy teacher regarding Anselm’s ontological argument and Descartes, among other things.) If it’s a situation like with that other teacher–more personal in nature–remain firm but be gentle and just make it clear that you know what your rights are. In those cases, it’s often the teacher him/herself and they’re relying on intimidation. Once they know you’re prepared to stand up for your rights, they tend to back down fast.

    And I suggest that whenever possible, make a paper trail. I didn’t call out the atheist nazi guy in class because I didnt’ want to make a scene or give anyone a chance to screw me over on “he said, she said”–even the best of people still often have the idea that the believer’s word is worth more than the atheist’s. So I always made sure that any headbutting that happened happened in some way that there would be a record of what actually happened or what was actually said–and of course I made sure to comport myself properly!

    I would be very surprised if much money from Church-affiliated schools went to the churches. That was never my concern, because I realized schools are very expensive to run and maintain, and it seemed to me that every cent they got probably either went to running the school, maintaining it, or into some kind of reserve fund for emergencies.

    Regarding the statement–I found it amusing that in the signature book for that show, the girl who touted Jesus as her influence got a wacky amount of support and I was studiously avoided, receiving only one comment about how cool my one mad scientist portrait was. This wasn’t about the school, though, but more about the students, and not one student confronted me or was even rude to me, and while I got only one positive comment, I got absolutely no negative comments or abuse written about my position. Everything was friendly, even with the Jesus-statement girl who I talked with at the end of the opening, and I didn’t feel it was a strained politeness from anyone. I’ve always been very nice to people (my online anti-military vitriol notwithstanding!), and if you’re nice to these people most of them will respond well to that, and if your atheism is open then that’s also a good way to change the negative perception of atheists, even if you can’t change their minds about religion.

    Thought I’d put that out there before I sign off! :)

  • oldfuzz

    Resolve your dilemma by attending one of the schools formed by Methodists.

    Most are no longer affiliated with the church so you are free of nagging doubts as to where your fees might be going. Boston University, Northwestern, Southwestern, and University of the Pacific are worth considering.

  • Charon

    (This is a double post, but seriously… I waited over a day for moderation, have seen other comments go up in the meantime, and my comment looks like it died.)

    Allison (and Alan!),

    I taught at Seattle University for a year…

    If it’s the best place for you, go for it. You’re not talking about Liberty University (with crazy religious requirements), you’re talking about a good school with Catholic associations.

    I read The God Delusion while teaching at SU… one day the head of the physics department saw it, and I was a bit embarrassed… until he said, don’t worry, everyone in this department is atheist.

    There are religious schools that require the faculty to be believers. Do NOT go to them. Many Catholic schools don’t have that requirement, though, and are perfectly fine places if you can stand seeing a few more crosses and crucifixes than usual.

    (I was only at SU for a year because I was adjunct faculty while working on my PhD. I would have happily stayed there permanently.)

  • Charon

    And now it shows up immediately? WTF?

  • Ibis

    I actually attended one of the few Pontifical Institutes for my graduate degree, so it was one of the more overtly Catholic institutes for higher learning out there. Fantastic academics & atmosphere. Only one slightly disgruntled prof (who also happened to be a cleric) when I did a major paper on religious eroticism in mediaeval theology. He didn’t care for that, but my other profs were cool with it & I don’t believe there was any real fall out. Even though I was taking courses in theology, philosophy, and history for example (all required for the degree I was doing), I always felt and still believe I was getting good, unbiased, scientifically rigorous (in the sense of ‘based on facts and evidence’) information. As far as I am aware, religion or lack thereof of both students and professors were never discussed and never intruded on the pursuit of knowledge. I’d say, if this is the school that suits your needs, go for it.

  • Jen

    I went to a Jesuit college. I went for location and major, mostly, and I enjoyed my time there. I think, as with anything, there were positives and negatives.

    Positives:
    It was a great school in a great place with fantastic classes and very few lecture halls. It’s a small enough school that I knew a ton of people but not so small that it was high school redux. I had to take two religion classes (There were dozens of options). Both ended up being taught by priests who were not pushing a world view, merely teaching (in my case) about the New Testament- and mostly about how there are a ton of problems with them, using Ehrman’s text book)- and Prophets and Prophecy. I had one Philosophy teacher who was religious and would argue with me, lots, but I got an A in both his classes because I did the work and engaged in debate. Most teachers kept religion entirely out of class unless it was on topic, and most never gave any indication where they stood on such a question. Most people at the school were pretty liberal, and the Jesuits have an excellent education philosophy. Also, we performed The Vagina Monologues every year, though some people whined, and there were people attending from all religious faiths.

    Negatives:
    There were a few. We tried, and were constantly rebuffed, from having a pro-choice club. There was a GLBTQ group that apparently was recognized by the school but had trouble with the admins getting their financing and other things. There was no secular club, though I have no idea if anyone ever tried to start one. The on-campus health center was not supposed to give prescriptions for birth control or tell pregnant girls about abortions (Though the doctors, in my experience, rolled their eyes and did what they had to do for the patients, as far as I heard). There were chaplains living in the dorms, though I never talked to them and they never tried to seek out those who didn’t knock on their door. There were crosses in every class room. Also, our priestly head of the school was drunkard and loved getting new and shiny living accommodations. And the school was involved, at least in part, with the homogenizing of the surrounding diverse area.

    In the end, I am not sure I would go to another Catholic school, if I go to grad school one day, but I wouldn’t rule them out either.

  • Jamie

    One thing many have said indirectly is that college is a time for challenge. I especially think that’s an important part of returning to school. That’s the idealist in me speaking.

    The pragmatist says that at 33 you need whatever advantages you can take to get through your program. Every college situation has stupid things about it and wonderful opportunities as well. Your choice of college should support your needs.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    That sounds exactly like my college! Allison wouldn’t happen to be in the San Francisco Bay Area, would she? At the time I attended, the idea that the tuition I paid would go to support the larger Catholic church never occurred to me. Truthfully, I hadn’t even thought of that until just now. Does that indeed happen? I was under the impression that tuition costs go to support the school itself and the salaries of the professors. I don’t think that they’re sending the students’ money off to Rome. My college was a private university, and as far as I know, it’s never been part of the local diocese.

    We did have a chapel on campus that advertised weekly masses (I never attended) and there was a small campus ministry group, but aside from religious icons (statues, crucifixes) on the grounds, it might as well have been a secular school. I got a solid education and was very comfortable as an atheist there. The priests and nuns who taught classes were very liberal, and I had at least one atheist professor, too. The only religious “requirement” was taking one course on the Old or New Testament and one on world religions, but the classes were taught in a secular way. The professors never tried to convert us.

  • Mary

    I went to a Catholic grad school with good parking, very convenient and with an excellent reputation in my field of study.

    At the time I was a fallen catholic but still believed in god. Some of my profs were nuns and priests and some of my classmates were too.

    It was a great education. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.