Atheists Attending Brigham Young University Are Meeting in Secret

According to an article in The Daily Utah Chronicle, some students at Brigham Young University are meeting in secret to talk about their lack of faith:

Andrew Johnson, a junior in biotechnology at Utah Valley University, founded The Group in October 2010 as a safe place for secular humanists, agnostics and freethinkers in Utah County. Johnson started the group after returning from a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Indiana, disenchanted with the faith.

“I ended up finishing my mission, but I tried to teach as little as possible and instead do service whenever possible,” Johnson said. “When I returned home, I felt like I was the only non-theist within Utah County as there were no gatherings of people like me.”

Johnson’s from UVU, but BYU students are attending the meetings as well. If they’re discovered, they risk being expelled from the school.

“The risks are few, but significant,” Johnson said, adding that no one from The Group has been removed from the university.

The BYU student found The Group during some “rebellious Google searches late one night,” which led her to a blog written by one of the members of The Group, who encouraged his readers to contact him.

She soon became a full-time, active member of The Group, though completely in secret. Although she was raised LDS, she said she slowly became disillusioned with the faith, leading her to look for a different organization more in line with her views.

“I just kind of realized that it didn’t make sense. It just wasn’t logical,” she said. “There is so much going on in the world that you can’t just call pure good and pure evil.”

She also said the LDS Church’s stances on issues such as gender, race and homosexuality caused her to question her faith.

“She” says in the article that she found the group due to some late-night Google searches that led her to a blog run by a Group member.

Godless at BYU is the blog and it’s written by a person whose online name is jdog but whose real name is Joey. jdog is no longer a student at BYU but he says the article got a few details wrong:

The group meets more than once a month, officially, and basically cliques in the group have events every day. Also at the time of the article it was getting close to 190 ppl, though some have left to avoid being caught…

When I got in touch with him via email, he added that he’s done a lot more vetting of members lately (out of concern they might not actually be atheists) and has even rejected a handful from the group as a result.

I know there’ll be some backlash against members of this group. Most notably: Why do they stay at BYU when they’re not religious?

As much as you’d like to see these students just leave the school, it’s never easy. Especially if your family is paying tuition, or BYU is the only college “home” you know, or you started college believing in a god but changed your mind along the way. The prospect of leaving school and starting over somewhere else is daunting. I understand why they stay at BYU but meet in secret. It’s a necessary outlet for them and we should all be thrilled about how they know they’re not alone.

Jdog added a little more to that list:

For most of the BYU students they feel pressured to lie to continue their education. if they are truthful on this one thing it means losing a lot of credits that don’t transfer, like the religion classes (New Testament, LDS church history, Book of Mormon, etc), having questions from family and friends, losing friends who do not wish to associate with former Mormons, having college put on hold while they transfer, and all the wasted time and money. Also, if employed at BYU then you’d also lose your job and most likely you’d be moving away from Provo. It’s a lot to lose so some just lie about their belief to avoid all the drama, wasted time and money, and the massive life change that would occur. Some people in the group have told their parents and some parents have said they are thinking of disowning them, disowned them, or disowned them for a little while before coming around and loving their child again. It’s a really sick atmosphere to live in.

(Thanks to Ted for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.zamecki Joe Zamecki

    Hey. Cool. That’s just the place our people need to be. But it sure is cute, isn’t it? I mean, what’s next? “Study shows that 9% of cardinals at the Vatican are Atheists, and some of them apparently meet in secret for fear of being caught.  With an anonymous blog, punch and pie socials and more…” lol! This is fun! :)

    • Anonymous

      Dan Barker with FFRF and his Clergy Project is way ahead with this thinking. 

  • Grizzly

    BYU allegedly has a fair or better academic reputation but if so many courses do not qualify for credit transfer then you have to question the academic standing of a BYU degree.

    • Anonymous

      I don’t know if they care about credit transfers, you’re in the LDS and likely to work for a business owned by an LDS member.  However, BYU does get occasionally mentioned for its research on NPR’s Science Friday.  So it may be just the Mormon-specific religion classes that doesn’t transfer.

  • Anonymous

    I’d cut the atheists at BYU a LOT of slack. This is why:  if they’re found out, they risk excommunication and it’s entirely likely that ALL of their college credits will be non-transferrable to any other institute of higher learning. BYU will refuse to transfer the credits until you get your life in order, which according to their thinking,  means rejoining the Mormon church (and can mean a year or more of “repentance”). Chad Hardy (chadhardy.com) learned this after he was exed for producing the “Men on a Mission” and “Hot Mormon Muffins” calendars:  his graduation was rescinded.

    Yes, they can be vindictive asshats over in Provo. Let’s not be too hard on these young pepole.

  • Tiffany

    I’m actually in a similar situation. I’m a junior at a Baptist college in Mississippi. The only difference is, I’m an “out” atheist. I was not an atheist when I started going there.  It’s very difficult to find others who think like I do. But, as copy editor for our newspaper, I’m actually having one of my articles printed in this week’s issue about being an atheist on campus. Now, I just sit back and wait for the backlash.

    • Steve01

      Good luck, Tiffany. Hopefully, your school doesn’t have punitive or discriminatory policies in place.

      • Tiffany

        Thanks everyone :) The article comes out Tuesday. Hopefully it won’t be as big of a deal as I think it’s going to be. Only a couple of people have read it and all agree that it’s probably going to stir things up. And it’s not even a confrontational article.

    • http://profiles.google.com/jfinite Justin Bonaparte

      Hope it goes as well as possible!

    • Rob Grikmeer

      If there’s anything interesting in the feedback why not send the article along to Hemant along with some of the interesting responses. That way we can commiserate/celebrate along with you :)

    • Annie

      Good luck Tiffany!

    • Drew M.

      Good luck, Tiffany!

      I second Rob Grikmeer’s suggestion.

    • Iain Dalton

      Is there an online edition of this paper? Or do you have a blog where we can read about the reaction you get? We’re there for you in spirit (heh)!

  • http://www.frommormontoatheist.blogspot.com Leia

    I agree that we need to cut them a lot of slack. The fact that anyone living in Utah, going to a Mormon University is brave enough to even admit to themselves that they doubt Mormonism is amazing in it’s own right. But to doubt a deity and then to admit it to others and meet in secret about it is pure awesome.

    Having grown up Mormon, I can totally emphasize with them. It’s tough to shed all the layers of lies that make up the Mormon religion. It’s not just about doubting a deity, it’s a total loss of your culture. You also risk being shunned by your family and friends, which are probably all Mormon. It’s a really lonely path to take and I am so happy they have found a group that they can find friendship and support.

    As much as I can believe it, I am really surprised by it.

  • Dr. Cuddles

    Did anyone else wonder what that cat is doing to the “U” ?

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_JTBMQYMFVZMKNCXIMISICQ3Z6E Anonymous

      LOL!!!!

  • Paul

    Something I have been trying to get an answer on:  I know that BYU requires its faculty live the Mormon lifestyle, and that some have been fired for teaching history that disagrees with the church, but no details were available.  So, my question is, do the anthropology and archaeology courses at BYU teach the Book of Mormon version of early American history, with people from the bible colonizing North America?  

    • Jiw

      I have a friend who was a student in the history department at BYU, and he said that the faculty didn’t teach Book of Mormon-colored history. He also said that they don’t even teach Mormon history in that department. Several members of the department are just as non-believing as history professors at other universities. They just have to keep quiet about their non-belief.

    • Jiw

      I have a friend who was a student in the history department at BYU, and he said that the faculty didn’t teach Book of Mormon-colored history. He also said that they don’t even teach Mormon history in that department. Several members of the department are just as non-believing as history professors at other universities. They just have to keep quiet about their non-belief.

    • Herr_Kichert

      I’m not sure about those departments, but my dad teaches Evolutionary Biology at BYU.  To be an accredited university, they have to teach certain subjects, Evolution being one of them.  However, contrary to popular belief, many  Mormons do believe in evolution, for example, president Samuelson (spelling?), the president of BYU.

      • Paul

        Right, they are not committed to a literal interpretation of Genesis–it’s not really the book they have a heavy emotional investment in.  On the other hand, most of the Book of Mormon takes place in the New World, with three waves of immigration from the Old World: the Jaredites, the Nephites, and the Mulekites.  The first two found heavily populated, literate, advanced civilizations with wheels, horses, roads, etc., and an offshoot of the Nephites became the ancestors of the Native Americans and Polynesians.  If you are going to “interpret” your way around that, call it metaphorical, whatever, you might as well toss out the Book of Mormon in its entirely.  If you are going to take the Book of Mormon seriously, on the other hand, you can’t be a historian, anthropologist, or archeologist.

  • http://www.mstrum.com Matt Strum

    I became an atheist while I was at BYU, thank goodness I transferred to the University of Utah where I am now!  I did attend two meetings for closeted mormons-who-don’t-believe back in 2009.  If anyone is interested, here is my story: mstrum.com/docs/LLC.pdf

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_JTBMQYMFVZMKNCXIMISICQ3Z6E Anonymous

    So, my niece is a newly minted atheist and she was going to BYU-I…. a few things, tuition at BYU is seriously discounted if you are active LDS. So, that’s a pretty good answer to the people wondering why they are still going there if they are atheist. She also says that the peer pressure is ENORMOUS. When she went atheist, she didn’t tell anyone and was sick to her stomach about it. She finally left BYU-I and told her parents it didn’t have the degree program she was after.

    I feel bad for kids that are stuck in any religion, but Mormon/JW are the worst because you really run the risk of some serious ostracism from your family and the entire peer group that you’ve been brought up with since they are so friggin’ insular. For kids climbing their way out of that kind of community, having a group like this is priceless. Kudos to those who put it together and are running it and keeping everyone safe.  

  • Anonymous

    I definitely feel for ex-mormons, especially in the beginning.  I finished reading a good book online called Ex-Mormon http://ex-mormon.net/supplement/foreword.php

    Even though I didn’t grow up Mormon, a lot of things were similar for my childhood in the church of christ.  Its a good read if you have the time for it.

    • http://theresedoucet.wordpress.com/ Therese Doucet

      I really liked Ex-Mormon, too!

      For anyone interested in reading more on this topic, I’ve just published a novel that also deals with atheism and unbelief at BYU. I think y’all might enjoy it! It’s called “A Lost Argument: A Latter-Day Novel” and is up on Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com/Lost-Argument-Latter-Day-Novel/dp/0983748411/)

      I’d be happy to provide a free review copy to A Friendly Atheist, by the way, if anyone would be interested – I’ll shoot you an e-mail!

  • Grady

    I have successfully outed two atheists.  I want it out in the open.  I want to know who they are.

    I have another one in sight, a guy at work who keeps hassling me.  He shouldn’t have.  The owner does not like Christian bashers.

    I’ll keep you posted.

    • ACN

      Obvious troll is obvious.

  • Kevin

    Jiw– Yep, pretty much. I’m at BYU and though not an atheist per-se, I don’t believe in organized religion (I’m fascinated by reincarnation, but that’s not the point). Anyway, you can get by okay if you aren’t too vocal about things. “Doubting” can’t get you kicked out of school, but breaking the Honor Code can. Part of the Honor Code says that if you are already a Mormon, you can’t have your name removed from the Church and still have your ecclesiastical endorsement (which is necessary to continue your education here). Anyway, most Mormons are really nice people. Most, anyway. There are a fair amount of douchebags as well, though. Overall, I don’t hate most things here anymore, I just wish I could just be a little more open than I am. 

  • pat

    hello parden me for intering here — i am not an atheist nor have ever been, have no intension of becoming one.  i was in a family of 5 generations of methodests, 3 were preacher on my fathers side. i never cared for the church myself,ifound it dull but i had to go.when i was about 15 my aunt and uncle invited me to attend church with them.they told me about a preacher in a meeting they had attended. nearly all the people he prayed for were healed. it was a very lg.meeting and there was hundreds present. while was preaching, a light actually appeared over his head becoming a halo. i thought that was a bit much to believe but she had a picture of him. i learned latter from other people the same story, his name was william branum,i think thats how you spell his name. anyway i was curious about it and wanted to go to her church with her.this man was not at her church but they believed the same thing.it was quite an experiance. i never knew you could really feel the presence of god in a service.anyway when my father found out i had attended church with them,he forbid me to ever go again.after that i quit going to church with my father after that. many yrs later i met a friend that asked me to go to churchwith her.she told me it was a penticostal church,that was the same kind of church that preacher belonged to.when i went it was unbelieveable.the presence of god was there like it was at my aunts church. i have attended churches in that org. ever sinceand i feel sorry for  anyone going to churches that do not have the real power of god.its the united penticostal church if you want to know. you really need to at least ask god, even if you dont believe in him.many people have been known to be wrong before .ask himto show you the truth.read the bk. of acts for yourself. it is the only bk. where the ch. was started.find out if what you were told lines up with whats there. the plan of salvation is very plain in ch 2:38.god never said he was going to change things untill he comes back,and he hasn’t arrived yet.best wishes    pat.

  • Sm-1111

    I’m going to BYU-I in January, I wouldn’t consider myself an atheist entirely, but i am in no way religious, how can I meet other non-memeber or those who doubt like me?


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