Atheism at Wheaton College November 13, 2008

Atheism at Wheaton College

Last year, I wrote about an anonymous girl who became an atheist while she was a student at (evangelical Christian) Wheaton College.

She has since graduated.

One of the people she met along her journey is writing a book about student culture at Wheaton and he has an entire chapter about our anonymous girl.

The draft chapter can be found here (PDF).

It’s especially insightful for Christians who claim to desire open dialogue about faith, but in reality make our anonymous friend feel shitty about having serious doubts.

What would you ask the anonymous girl now that she has graduated?

(via Conversation at the Edge)

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  • Uncle Lester

    I look forward to reading the draft. I graduated from a bible college, and in my last year started to seriously question what I had been taught. That was in 1984. Today, I still believe in some kind of god idea, and beyond that hold to some extremely heretical view which I pretty much have to keep to myself (away from church folk).

  • Gabriel

    I would like to know if she still has to keep her atheism quiet. Now that you are free from the opressive atmosphere of a evangelical college setting are you able to be who you are or do you still feel the need to hide and pretend to be someone else?

  • Rat Bastard

    I’d ask her what it was that led to the doubt to start with. Honestly, for me, I don’t remember the question I asked, but I DO remember the nun’s response- (yes, another ex-Catholic)- “Well, that’s one of “the Mysteries!”. At an extremely tender age, like 10, I realized that this religious stuff was a whole lot of booshwah. My oxometer pegged the dial. But I was a young’un, and bore with the party line. I tried to do the “blue mud in the navel” routine for many years, and finally just gave up on pretending to believe, about 15 years ago. I didn’t “come out” until about 3 years ago, though, and I’m now 56. Folks, do what your REASON tells you, earlier rather than later! Save yourself a lot of useless speculation. There ain’t no god, there ain’t no santa claus. End of story.

  • globalizati

    That was great. I went through something very similar–attending a private Christian college (I wanted to be a missionary) and deconverting over my time there. I even helped organize a visit to my school by Hemant (with the purpose of advancing dialogue/understanding others) while being at least partially “in the closet.”
    One of things I identify with the most is her statement about how it’s not as big of a deal post-college. In the real world you encounter people who are Christians and people who are atheists and (mostly) people who just don’t care that much.

    These are great quotes too: This can create a tension between a student’s beliefs and acceptance of a discipline’s dominant paradigm, which may be inconsistent with evangelical thought….Identifying as an intellectual or preparing for a more academic career (e.g., a biologist) increases the likelihood of becoming apostate during college (Caplovitz and Sherrow 1977).

  • llewelly

    Love this quote from the bottom of page 1:

    Identifying as an intellectual or preparing for a more academic career (e.g., a biologist) increases the likelihood of becoming apostate during college
    (Caplovitz and Sherrow 1977).

  • Aj

    I have a few questions:

    1) How is choice related to belief?
    2) What is “God” to you?
    3) Why do you respect faith?
    4) You wrote that Christianity doesn’t harm followers (not including “fundy” versions), does this include beliefs such as “homosexuality as a sin”, and “many people will go to hell”?
    5) Is there a purpose to life?

    The draft chapter of the book is awful. Lily did say it was a choice, but the author really wants to drive this point home, in one paragraph using the word “decision” six times. Bullshit is it a decision, I don’t want to have to read the same nonsensical statement over and over unnecessarily. In another paragraph the author says Lily didn’t want to convert anyone, but a few sentences later says she wants to have debates, the things you have where you put forward arguments in favour of positions. The author’s meanings of “tolerance” and “respect” aren’t virtuous like the meanings that used to be common, but of an amoral, uncaring, disgusting sort of mindlessness.

  • I became an atheist while at Williams Baptist College, a small conservative college in NE Arkansas. I can identify with what she says!

  • llewelly

    Gotta love this frank expression of Wheaton xenophobia (pg11):

    This call for detente is a call to change the college community. To not challenge
    atheism (or any other belief system) would require either that students recognize
    non-Christian beliefs as acceptable and put aside one of the defining characteristics
    of Evangelicalism. In advocating toleration, Lily is challenging the boundaries of
    Wheaton student culture.

  • llewelly

    In case it is somehow not clear from two bits I have quoted above – the draft chapter is prejudiced against atheism in big ways and small. The author seems to think they are being neutral and objective – but their xenophobia shines like 50 mw laser through thin cellophane.

  • Larry Huffman

    In advocating toleration, Lily is challenging the boundaries of
    Wheaton student culture.

    Wow…what a blantant admission. I wonder if they quite realize what they are saying.

    And that is a serious speculation. Everything is relative, we all know that. Small issues can look huge depending on your circumstances. As example, I would say that the gay marriage battle in California has way more meaning to a gay man in LA, then, lets say a mormon family in Murray, Utah. (The point in that example is on purpose)

    So here we see christians, who I am sure think of themselves and kind and tolerant on an individual basis. I am quite sure that the parents and families of the kids attending this university, along with their christian trappings, feel they are tolerant and loving and understanding, etc. Their relative viewpoint is most likely from small towns and communities where they hardly know what an atheist is, let alone have to deal with one of us in their midst (at least knowingly).

    So…how many of those people now would read the above quoted statement and agree? How many christian parents would approve of sending their children to a university that claims to be christian and then states plainly that they are, in fact, seeking an intolerant atmosphere at their school. They are stating that being intolerant IS the culture of the school. Very plainly.

    And…as a corallary…how many of those parents who are OK with that, would still consider themselves tolerant and loving and kind, etc. And feel that intolerance is just fine for their kids to elarn. (I am thinking a lot…which says so much about this more and more unamerican group of people on the religious right)

    The perspective that religion causes people to see things from is quite different from the American perspective. The american perspective would be for inclusion

  • Eliza

    What would you ask the anonymous girl now that she has graduated?

    Pet peeve alert: She’s a college graduate, thus likely older than 18. Biologically, she is almost certainly no longer a “female child” but instead has matured into a “female adult”, also known as a “woman”.

  • Grant

    Thanks to everyone who read the chapter. It’s just a draft, and I appreciate the comments.

    I’m not sure how to take the “chapter is awful” comment. It’s an academic chapter, and so I’ll accept that it’s writing can be worse than you find in a book in Barnes and Noble. But I do want to know what the problem is with using “decision”. That’s how Lily sees it, what’s the problem with that term? Have another one? I’m open to suggestions.

    The one comment that I do care about is this: “the draft chapter is prejudiced against atheism in big ways and small.” There’s a difference between Wheaton being prejudiced and me (the author) being prejudiced. Wheaton is not accepting of atheism or an atheist student. But I hope that I don’t come across that way. There is a balance between respecting how people see their own choices and how I see them. For the vast majority of evangelicals at Wheaton, they would not be true to their faith (as they understand it and value it) if they did not try to re-convert “Lily” back to Christianity.

    On another comment: “They are stating that being intolerant IS the culture of the school. Very plainly.” Yeah, that’s right. And Wheaton is ok with that label, too–as a college, they will not accept certain beliefs and insist that everyone in the college, from grounds crew to the trustees to every student, must believe and practice certain things. It is part of the student culture. Even neutrality is drastic change for the culture, and is a challenge–everyone at the school MUST be a Christian, and a conservative one at that. If you’re not, you can’t attend. To say, “I’m an atheist” means risking expulsion. So, when she says that and wants to be accepted, it’s a threat to the status quo.

    I’ll add that one reason that I don’t include any statements outside of her blog is because when I met with her, she didn’t need to be interviewed. She needed someone to just listen, without an agenda, and understand her. So, we just talked. Fortunately, she had enough written on her blog to make the chapter work.

    Anyway, it is not a small thing to read someone’s work, and I appreciate it.

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