Oliver Eldridge attended the very-Christian Azusa Pacific University in California… which is a strange thing to do when you’re an atheist.
We sometimes hear about non-religious people who attend religious schools because they discovered they no longer believed in God during college and it was too late to transfer. It was much easier to just suck it up, get the degree, and get out. That, I think, makes a lot of sense.
But Oliver knew he was an atheist before he even applied. So what gives?
I’ll be the first to admit, there’s no particularly special or interesting reason why I began attending APU. I was born and raised into a very conservative, Christian family and have attended private, Christian schools for nearly twenty years (when I wasn’t homeschooled). After applying to other universities for the fall of 2013, my dad voiced his disapproval of my attending a “secular” university, even though he’d known I hadn’t been a Christian since I was seventeen years old. After much discussion, he eventually gave me a choice: I could either attend a secular university, receiving no financial support from him whatsoever (or moral support for that matter), or I could attend a Christian university where he would use his GI Bill (government-paid tuition by way of my dad’s 30 years of service in the military) to essentially make my years at the university tuition-free, leaving me subsequently debt-free by the time I graduate.
Given the choice between having a lot of debt at a secular university or going to a Christian college for free, I don’t blame him at all for picking the latter option.
But what was that like? APU is very serious about faith, with students required to attend chapel at least three times a week, take Bible classes, talk to pastors, etc.
Oliver wrote a long piece on his website about life at the Christian college. He was there for two and a half years and finally graduated this past December, which is why he can talk about the experience now.
The whole thing is fascinating because he clearly used the opportunity to challenge himself. After all, if you’re surrounded by people who claim to be very serious Christians, that’s perfect for an atheist who enjoys debating religion.
In sum, It was never easy being the only atheist I knew of at APU, but it certainly made the experience more interesting and it made for some lively conversations. And though the argument could be made that perhaps I’m not in a good place to offer advice to anyone, the advice I would give regardless to the students who are just starting, are in the middle or are finishing their time at APU (or at college in general) is: keep searching. Keep asking questions and pick apart every answer you’re given. Don’t seek to confirm what you already believe, seek to disconfirm it and see if it passes the test. Read books that support what you believe. Read the reviews of those books. Read books that argue against what you believe. Read the reviews of those books. In the simplest of terms, know what you believe and, more importantly, exactly why you believe it. This is something all Christians and non-believers alike can and should agree on.
It’s great advice for anyone who ever ends up in that position.
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