No congregation’s median age ever increased when I walked in. (I’m twenty-two.) The churches I visit aren’t exactly replete, you see, with people under thirty. Holy Communion on a Wednesday brings out a congregation in which I’m two decades younger than the next oldest worshipper. This attendee – the priest – is under contractual obligation to be present!
Researchers began to consider the theological commitments of us emergent adults quite some time ago. Books like Tim Clydesdale’s and Kathleen Garces-Foley’s The Twentysomething Soul (Oxford University Press) are part of an ever-growing literature attempting to study patterns of religious belief across my age demographic. I too thought I would scramble onto the bandwagon and attempt a definitely-not-scholarly piece on this topic…
Where to gather my findings? An idea presented itself as I scrolled on social media from the comfort of my bright red armchair one afternoon. Confession pages on Facebook are places where undergrads post all manner of observations from university life, religious musings included. I decided I would explore a few confession pages to see what students in Britain think about religion – Christianity, to be specific.
I soon detected, on the pages I perused, a frustration with individuals who conspicuously display their fondness for scripture. We know the type: ‘Lecturers [at Stranmillis University College, alleges a contributor to QUB Love (Queen’s University Belfast)] push their bible views on top of you and also hint at their disapproval of LGBT students and their rights’ (#QUBLove4019).
Another contributor complains, this time in Hullverheard (Hull University), ‘Can you not listen to a scripture speech in the damn library at 11:30pm without headphones? Go away. I’m trying to write an essay’ (#Hullverheard10829). Who knew trumpeting a sermon from one’s iPhone in the study space half an hour before midnight isn’t a good way to win friends?
But our holy book does also generate moments of levity, from time to time, on campus. As a poster for Durfess (Durham University) narrates, ‘We hid condoms in our Christian housemate’s room as a prank and he responded with a scavenger hunt of bible quotes’ (#Durfess6989). An inspired retaliation, I have to say. This easygoingness is a good way for believers and agnostics to co-exist in peace without Durham’s denizens erupting into fisticuffs on the city’s viaduct-ribboned streets!
Universities attract students of all faiths and none – from the strident evangelical to the staunch atheist. A veritable smorgasbord of outlooks. Who would have it otherwise? Being able to joke about our differences, then, is a sure way to prevent antipathy from boiling over. Bury John 3:16 in the cornflakes and exact your sweet retribution for the condom stockpile! A little banter keeps our interactions amicable.
We can turn our laughter inwards, occasionally, too. ‘Wearing a Durham Christian Union jumper is the most effective form of contraception’ (#Durfess22719), states a true scholar of religious anthropology. Well, if this is true, then that’s the condom stash redundant.
It isn’t always possible to lean on humour, however. Tensions can fray with emotive issues. One Hullverheard submission addresses perceived religious hypocrisy, ‘Some of you will happily drink, go clubbing and [f***] around but when it comes to LGBT you hide behind religion’ (#Hullverheard10815). It’s a classic tug-of-war scenario: the Gays vs. the Religious – with religious gays presumably caught in the middle.
The mere existence of LGBT Christians illustrates how the Gays vs. Religion binary doesn’t reflect everybody’s reality. Some straddle both camps concurrently, which isn’t straightforward. A QUB Love submission taps into this, ‘A growing number of us Christian youths (at least for my side) are pissed with our church refusing to acknowledge the changing norms of the world today’ (#QUBLove2706).
Within Christianity there are such a breadth of ideas on all socio-political matters under heaven. Forget our interactions with non-believers and adherents of other traditions for a second; how do we first establish a way to get on with other Christians? It’s impossible to function as members of a pluralistic society when we can’t accommodate our own brethren.
Obviously, the responsibility for pleasant relations – interdenominational or interfaith – is a shared onus between two parties. Cordial dialogue is a non-starter where there are lazy generalizations about religion, such as this: ‘I’m very thankful for the fact that I was not brainwashed with religion at a young age. Religion is basically a tool to keep us all in line’ (#Hullverheard9718).
It's too bad some hold unfair views. But on QUB Love I found a more balanced assessment: ‘I know some Christians use their religion to justify bad things (e.g., homophobia). However,’ (s)he continues, ‘this is only a small portion of Christians, not all of them, and yet the vast majority of non-Christians will hate on the whole religion due to this small minority’ (#QUBLove3690).
This appears to be the consensus. Generally, students – in Britain, anyway – can find a way to get on with a person despite religious or ideological differences. Trying to live by Jesus’ teachings on care for others, for our part, always helps maintain goodwill. An item from Hullverheard applauds Christian tenants who look after their fellow lodgers…
It’s a male student stereotypes list. In this rollcall is, inevitably, ‘The Mature Lead Tenant: longsuffering but noble leader of the house; totally dotes upon his childish flock with love and is firm but fair; staunch Christian; leads his boys with God’s guidance’ (#Hullverheard27058). Everyone admires the Mature Lead Tenant!
A hundred miles north, a helpful Christian also helped a Durham student out, right when help was needed: ‘Shoutout to the Christian Union guy wearing a red Puffa that made me a tea with one sugar after a rather interesting night out in Klute’ (#Durfess11142). Actions, not words – neighborly gestures, not angry rhetoric – are how respect is won.
There is also a necessity to see that our Christian organizations keep an open door for curious newcomers: ‘They [the Christian Union] say they want to be welcoming… but instead they’re the opposite and EXTREMELY cliquey – 100% won’t be back’ (#QUBLove16410). This is only one viewpoint, it has to be said, but it’s a scandal when someone genuinely feels unwelcome in a Christian space.
Religion is, and always will be, part of educational environments to some degree or other. ‘Anyone else don’t believe in God but take Christian flyers from the sweet old lady at the bottom of library hill?’ asks a participant in GlasKnow 2.0 (Glasgow University – Britain’s most Hogwartsian campus). This may be the full extent of a Glasgow student’s involvement with Christianity – sheepishly being proselytised on the way to borrow books – but it’s a faith encounter, nevertheless.
And so, students – as we discovered above – are diverse in their opinions towards Christianity. Does our behavior switch our colleagues off or on to religion? Some have experienced us as narrow-minded and authoritarian. Others, I hope a majority, find us warm-hearted and open-handed. After all, whatever impressions a person forms as a younger adult are likely to remain over the course of a lifetime. God send us wisdom to carry this responsibility.
9/12/2022 2:52:15 PM