They Would Call Me An Atheist: Being a Nonbeliever at a Christian College

They would call me an atheist if I was honest about what I think. To be clear, it’s not that I’m dishonest or disingenuous in my speech; but more like I simply don’t present my views in full. And it’s not that I remain silent in conversations; I regularly voice my doubts and make people quite frustrated with me.

You might ask, “So what’s with all this cloak and dagger business?”

Simply put, I’m an atheist attending a Christian college. For all the other gods that have ever been believed in, my peers are atheists. “I simply go one further,” is what I would say if I were open and honest. But the reason I do not is because I’m attending a small, Christian, top-ranked liberal arts college in the northeastern United States.

Image credit: Shutterstock

Image credit: Shutterstock

I have had doubts for a long time now. They started back in high school after reading the works of the “New Atheists” (Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, and Hitchens). I was raised in a very conservative, fundamentalist Christian home. My indoctrination and brainwashing into my parents religion started the day I was born (OK, maybe a bit later than that). I “got saved” and was baptized by 5, was homeschooled, learned creationism, and was taught that having doubts and thinking critically about my faith were temptations from the devil. I was in deep, real deep. But this all changed in my early teens when I convinced my parents to let me read some of the “satanic” literature so that I could learn how to combat the devil; to learn how to defeat him at his own game.

The devil won. Thank goodness! I will forever be in debt to The Horsemen for luring me to the Dark Side with their seductive words, facts, arguments, reasons, and critical analysis of the religious world. Over the next several years I began to embrace reason, rational arguments, science, and evidence as the only valid epistemological tools. The faith-based dogma and tradition of my youth has no place in my life anymore. For that, I am forever thankful.

So how did I end up here (attending a Christian liberal arts college)? Well, after a stint in the military I decided to use the GI money to finish my education. And at the time I was still open to the validity of religious claims; though very skeptical. I figured that if good reasons and evidence for God existed, they would surely be found at a Christian college. So I’m two years into a Philosophy degree and, well, God lost. I’ve studied epistemology, logic, history of philosophy and religion, arguments for and against God’s existence, etc. I’ve done all of this at a Christian college, and somehow managed to come out a stronger skeptic and atheist. But this position I’m in is one of privilege (from my perspective). I get an insider’s view, if you will, as to what the most intelligent, thoughtful, and intellectually honest theists are thinking and saying about, and in defense of, God these days.

Besides the fact that there is simply no reason to believe in a god (besides faith), the most challenging topic for a Christian is what has been called the problem of evil. If God is all powerful and all loving (as Christians claim he is), then why is there such terrible suffering and evil in the world? Christians have yet to come up with a satisfying answer to this question. Sure, they try, but the “best” attempts to form a coherent account of this contradiction is simply to appeal to “mystery”. At least these Christians are honest enough to admit that there is a problem and that they don’t know the answer. I’m not giving them a concession — appeal to “mystery” is not a real answer. I’m simply saying that the problem of evil is still a big problem within Christians circles. They are not unified on this issue (or any other for that matter); the problem of evil can (and indeed was for me) be the straw that breaks the camel’s back of faith. Maybe sometime soon I will feel bold enough to openly denounce the faith of my peers. But until then, I plan to be the secular voice in their ears, reminding them that all is not as it seems in the castle of faith.

If reason and critical thinking could open my eyes and break the chains of dogmatic and tradition-laden fairy tales, then maybe, just maybe I can help others step into the light. For now, that is my mission.

About Matt Young

Matt grew up in a conservative, evangelical, Christian home. After high school, he served in the U.S. Army, got married, and is now father of two toddlers (both boys). He is completing a B.A. in Philosophy from Houghton College, and plans to do graduate work in the field. Though he was raised as a Christian, he no longer believes in any gods, and self-identifies as atheist and secular humanist.

You can find more from him on his personal blog, www.TheHumanGadfly.com and connect via Twitter and Facebook.

  • https://www.facebook.com/app_scoped_user_id/1155020979/ Tim Fromla

    Hey Doubting Hedgehog, nice piece. I too am an atheist, but not in a traditional sense. The key word here is faith and I still would be a Christian if it weren’t for racism. Do I believe there is a God? I don’t know, because, logically, one cannot prove a negative, therefore, I personally cannot say there isn’t a God

    So why am I an atheist?

    My people immigrated from Japan to seek a better life. Between 90 to 95 percent of the Japanese people in Japan are Buddhists or Shinto. Christians (the Abrahamic religions) make up 1 percent of the population. Yet when the first generation immigrated from Japan, many of the second generation (children born of immigrants) became Christians. After December 7, 1941, 120,000 Americans and Japanese immigrants were placed into concentration camps and according to the Manzanar Committee (www.manzanarcommittee.org/), more than 50 percent were Christians. Still to this day, Japan’s Christian population is 1 percent.

    So why the increase in the U.S.? Is the U.S. a Christian nation? No. Many became Christian out of fear and for their safety. In order to be a part of the U.S. many gave up their former religious life in order to be assimilate…look how that turned out. There were assaults, vandalism, violence on Japanese and Japanese Americans. so the best thing to do was to be like the oppressor. This is what happened to my family member. White Christians were abusive so they assimilated.

    When I learned about this and coupled the Canadian rock band Rush’s song Manhattan Project, I became an atheist. Not because of some strange superstition, but because as Neil Peart penned in the song BU2B, I too was brought up to believe…but it was out of fear.

    So if there is a God, I am on my way to Hell, because, I do not want to be associated with a religion or a faith that promotes racism…or still harbor the hate of the past, when their Bible states in Psalms 23 vs. 4:

    Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

    Yet they still hold their prejudice, even though their God says, He will protect them., I want nothing to do with them. I too am an atheist but it’s based upon not associating with hatred. Good luck out there and study hard.

    • Doubting Hedgehog

      Thanks for reading, Tim! I can resonate with your testimony about how Christians (the religious) are often defined by their hatred and discrimination of outsiders. Unfortunately this is a common aspect of religion. When our early evolutionary ancestors turned to religion for guidance and explanation of the natural world, this served to create a cohesion among those who believed. And this in-group cohesion was a good thing for survival. But there is another side to this coin; with in-group cohesion comes out-group discrimination, which is what you are describing. Biases like racism, sexism, and also religious ones were necessary for the survival of earlier members of our species, but we have grown up. We don’t need them anymore, and not only do we not need them, they are actually harmful to our global and pluralistic society. Again, thanks for the read. Best wishes, Hedgehog.

  • Stephanie

    Thank you for your piece. 6 months ago, after finally leaving an abusive marriage after 16 years, the outer shell that I constructed finally fell, and I couldn’t live the b.s. anymore. So, to the devastation of my parents ( I was raised in a fundamentalist Christian church) and hopefully not to the destruction of my children, I cannot make myself believe in god anymore. Why would I want to? It’s so strange, to be able to see things so clearly from both sides, yet be so disgusted and embarrassed for believing such nonsense.

    • Doubting Hedgehog

      Stephanie, thanks for the read! I can not relate on a personal level to your experience of being in an abusive marriage. But I can only try to imagine how hard that must have been for you. I’m glad that you were able to escape and move on. But I do want to offer a word about your concern for your children being raised in a non-religious home. While an understandable concern (coming out of a religious background) it is ultimately unfounded. If we teach our children to think critically, to be open to new and challenging ideas, and refrain from indoctrinating them with our version of the “truth”, they will be in a very good place. Ultimately it will be up to them to decide whether or not they believe in magical people in the sky; but for now, I think the best you (or I) can do is to raise them free from abuse, fear, and indoctrination. If we do that, we’ve already done better than our parents.

      Best wishes,
      Hedgehog

  • https://www.linkedin.com/profile/preview jfiatoblog

    Great piece. It never ceases to amaze me how religious institutions require individuals to check their brains at the door before entering.