How Atheism Kills Students

How Atheism Kills Students March 22, 2014

I’m sure that got your attention. I mean only a certain kind of atheism. I will explain.

I have finally finished the first volume of my A Tapestry of Witches. Next I convert it to PDF files and upload it to CreateSpace. I’m going to release it only as a paperback. It has hundreds of footnotes, which an e-book would screw up.

I have the overall structure for volumes II and II plotted out. II will cover from about 1975 to about 1984, and III will go to about 1995, at which point the Internet transmogrifies the history into a problem I will leave for others to cope with.

I’ve recently had the pleasure of long conversations with Patrick McCollum, Mike Nichols, and Marybeth Witt (Lady Pythia Sidhe), filling in gaps. I’m looking forward to talking with Bob Clark, with whom I share much intellectual turf, about the history of Sabbatsmeet. Fascinating to know of a branch of the tree that links Don Wildgrube, Rhiannon Bennett, and Joyce Rasmussen.

I’m also going to get back to creating more bite-sized chunks for my future theological autobiography. Been musing about different combinations of roots. Be nice to get something analogous to Theoddysies and Paradoxologies, as I titled my collected poetry.

Many stimulating bits of information have been crossing my screen, from FB and Later On and AlterNet, especially one on the moral turpitude of higher education in America, Marshall Poe’s “Colleges Should Teach Religion to Their Students,” available at

Poe became aware of the disaster that faces many college freshmen, especially the brightest ones, because he was dragooned into taking on a role as advisor to many students, and learned that that the school did virtually nothing to protect them from depression, addictions, or even suicide. The belief that high school or college is a gloriously happy time for teenagers is a myth as pernicious as what Scott Peck labeled the “myth of romantic love.” Instead, university is often the biggest disappointment a bright student faces in life—except for maybe, later, marriage.

Consider this scenario. A kid with a 4.0 GPA, 2400 on the SAT, student body president, captain of a sports team, active in community charities—and I’ve known people like that; as Lewis Terman proved a century ago, they’re the ones with the highest IQs—matriculates at Harvard or UC Berkeley or an equally prestigious school famous for the brilliant research done by its world-renowned scholars, expecting finally to learn some answers to life’s most important questions, but soon learns instead that not only are no such answers offered, but also that no one will even discuss the questions. The famous scholars might as well be on the Moon. They obsess on their research, hate teaching, refuse to undertake administrative tasks, and at most give lectures to auditoriums filled with hundreds of students, who are allowed to speak only with graduate teaching assistants and adjunct instructors who, like me, struggle just to feed their families and have no time for research. The kid is lonely, frustrated, isolated, and has nowhere to turn for advice on how to cope.

That is what UC Berkeley was like in the 1950s, and Poe’s description shows me that nothing has changed. It was like being a cow in the Chicago stockyards. For my second semester I transferred to San Francisco State, primarily, I thought, because, being a conscientious objector (much to the amusement of my career military intelligence father), I could not tolerate the mandatory ROTC. However, SFSC had begun as a teachers’ college and still focused on teaching, not research. Several of the professors there became my friends for many years. My special mentor, the late Mark Linenthal, advisor to the Hillel club, had survived a POW camp in WWII, earned a Ph.D. at Harvard on the GI bill, and went far beyond the call of duty in the advice and help he offered me. He was truly one of the most remarkable people I have ever known.

What Poe proposes is that colleges should teach the content of religious traditions, not the articles of belief, but the very practical guidelines for how to lead a healthy and productive life. Every adequate faith community in the world has such guidelines. They are the bedrock for that community’s culture and lifestyle. They are, fundamentally and independently            of intellectual beliefs, what enables families to raise healthy children and thus ensure the survival of the human race. They are also what can provide college students with a support system and tools to cope with life problems—and not commit suicide, a leading cause of death among college freshmen, with the very brightest students being the ones most at risk. They can be taught, not what to believe, but how to live.

Now, does that not sound like a reasonable proposal? If such an agenda could save students’ lives, would any compassionate person oppose it? Unfortunately, Poe reports, he did immediately face vehement opposition, from professors, especially at a state university, who claimed that such content teaching would violate the principle of the separation of church and state. My response is that such professors are as ignorant of the meaning of the First Amendment as they typically are of the contents of the Bible.

One can observe that some people believe that only members of their particular faith community are “saved,” and all other humans (that is, 99.99…% of the human race) are “lost” unless converted. Now, let’s stipulate that closedminded atheistic materialism is the party line for much of academia in European-style countries (I’ll get into more details about that later). Poe points out that people with such a philosophy (whom he estimates to constitute about 6% of the population in such countries) typically believe that only they are “sane,” and that the other 94% of the human race lives in a state of total delusion. He then points out that neither belief is realistic, given the amazing talent humans have for surviving in the face of even the worst scenarios.

My own period of militant agnosticism extended from age 14 to about age 23, when, partly because of my own experiences, but mainly because I had completed a major in cultural anthropology, I realized that one can consider all religion to be false and useless only by ignoring most of the experience of most of the human race. All humans must have a set of values that enables them to make important life decisions and therefore must have a religion or some belief system equivalent to a religion. That is, religion can be not only beneficial, but also essential, although obviously a religious organization can become corrupt and lethal (I’ll skip mentioning example). At that point, I began thinking about how religions actually function within cultures and, even more so, about how religions are created and evolve. Having successfully carried out an experiment with the cooperation of a great many friends in creating a local version of a new religion, I entered my doctoral program with a set of questions I hoped to answer, which I did (all that’s for later).

Poe implies, as I have observed, that many academics live with an unexamined assumption equivalent to a belief in the Divine Right of Kings; that is, “I am so special that God wants me to be a tenured college professor.” Of course, it is hard to examine such an assumption if one denies the reality of any sort of divinity. Now, not all college professors are atheists, of course. Catholic professors at traditionally Catholic schools don’t usually face such a dilemma. But those at secular schools (where they are twice as prevalent as in the general population) must often say, “Oh, sure, with a name like Kelly, of course I was raised Catholic. Yeah, I take my kids to Mass. We figure they need some sort of spiritual basis, and I’m used to that one.” But they never discuss theology or how they feel at the moment when they receive the host in their hands.

I have a good friend who is a well-respected and well-published scholar in his field. What is not publicly known is that he is also an internationally respected Elder in his faith community. If that were public knowledge, all his work would be immediately rejected as being contaminated by religion and therefore lacking in scholarly merit. Hence everyone else in his community voluntarily keeps his secret; he is genuinely well-liked.

The recent well-publicized debate between Mr. Bill Nye as a “science guy” and the Creationist gentlemen was much like observing two teenagers argue about which end of the egg to break first. When asked what information might cause them to change their beliefs, the Creationist replied, “Nothing,” whereas Nye replied, “Evidence”—which certainly made him sound like a winner. However, the problem here is that “science guys” (maybe not Nye himself) demand “evidence” of a sort that cannot possibly exist, while denying the existence of the very copious evidence that points toward a concept of “religion” utterly different from what they think religion is. Also, not perceiving the difference between Creationism and a theory of Intelligent Design is intellectually equivalent to not understanding the differences between Judaism and Hinduism.

So, if pride, arrogance, and lack of compassion, if thinking that the First Amendment requires hostility to all religion, leads one to fight against implementation of support systems that could protect students from being overcome by social and psychological problems, then, in that sense, atheism can definitely kill teenagers. Deal with it.


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