It’s hard enough to begin an atheist group at a secular school, but it’s even harder when you go a “religious” campus. The hoops you have to jump through and the stigma from other students and administrators can be overwhelming.
But when such a group exists, it’s amazing how many students flock to it.
There’s a positive article about the Secular Student Alliance at California Lutheran University in the Chronicle of Higher Education. (The article may only be available for a few more days).
The gist of it? It’s a great place to talk openly about your religious views, no matter what your personal story is:
Most of the early members identify themselves as atheist, agnostic, secular humanist, or some combination thereof. But over time, the group has attracted members who are wrestling with religion, and some who continue to be religious and just enjoy being a part of the club.
Having a group like the Secular Student Alliance is important because it can help students sort out who they are…
One group member, Skyler, made the transition from being an “easygoing Lutheran” to being an “easygoing secular humanist” since beginning college. At first, he says, he was nervous about being active in the Secular Student Alliance, since not all of his friends knew he had moved away from his childhood religion. But he says the club has given him moral support.
How wonderful to have an oasis like that when you’re stranded in a desert full of religion?
Just as atheist groups tend to be stronger in Bible Belt states, I would imagine that groups even at religious-in-name-only schools would have higher, more loyal attendance than groups at secular universities. Groups like this are unique and a haven for so many students coming from religious backgrounds.
The students who began the group at Cal Lutheran, which is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, see it as tied to the university’s mission, which “encourages critical inquiry into matters of both faith and reason.”
The club at Cal Lutheran was formed by a small group of friends who shared similar views and were looking for a sense of community. “When we got started, I think it was very much to create a community for nonreligious students,” says Evan Clark, a senior and one of the group’s founders, whose experience in student government helped him navigate setting up an official club.
“I think we’re blessed to be on such an open-minded campus,” says Mr. Clark, laughing at himself for using the word “blessed.” But, he says, there is a flip side: “We also had a lot of fear to be anything other than how we were when we started out.”
The existence of the CLU group also says a lot about the school itself: This is a place where questions are encouraged and “heretical” ideas are allowed to be discussed. Shouldn’t every religious school be like that? They should be, but so few are.