America was founded on the basis of religious freedom. From this freedom, Americans have been free to believe and practice any faith they wish. This includes the freedom of one to choose not to be religious and to firmly state one”s disbelief in any religion or spiritual order.
Our campus is sometimes graced with the presence of evangelists holding signs saying “Obey Jesus or Perish,” or the weekly Diag lecture, “Intelligent Christianity 101” by Dr. Peter E. Payne were he claimed last Monday that without God, society”s “moral system” is destroyed. However, there are many students that do not affiliate themselves with a religious group (agnostics), and those that firmly believe that no such God or higher being exists (atheists).
An observation of this community shows us why and how so many college students drift away from mainstream religion. It”s a story we hear a lot, about kids growing up in their family, and then as soon as they get to college and on their own, they do something rebellious, like throw away mom and dad”s religion. But lying under that motive is many people”s need to find an answer that religion does not provide.
John Freeman, the pastor of the University”s New Life Church, a non-denominational Christian organization, admitted, “Religion itself tends to be one of the greatest causes of doubt.” He went on to say that as a result of this doubt people “give up on organized religion as a source of answers.”
Michael Seider, an LSA sophomore, an agnostic who was raised Jewish, backs up Freeman”s observation. He said, “To me, being an agnostic in no way represents confusion on my part about the existence of God. Rather, it is a conscious and deliberate affirmation, one that I constantly re-assess, that I cannot know if God exists one way or another using logical or experiential evidence. Religion, however, a concept I believe to be completely divided from God, is therefore based solely on faith which, rationally, is an illegitimate form of reason.”
For many people at college, the intellectual environment introduces people to new ideas that one might not have seen before. LSA junior David Lempert, who was raised Jewish and now is now and agnostic, said the switch happened for him two years ago in a discussion in Philosophy 232. “I realized that I don”t believe in a higher power that is involved in our lives,” Lempert said. He went on to sum up his beliefs with a quote from the French, existentialist philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre, “We are alone, without excuses.”
Lempert”s beliefs might give someone the impression that agnostics like him are in no way spiritual, but this is most definitely not the case. Freeman said, “there exists an invisible spiritual kingdom that each of us can interact with and need not have a belief in God or a higher being to do so, because belief is not a prerequisite for experience.”
Matt Hannah, an LSA sophomore, grew up in a Christian household and now calls himself an agnostic, but spiritually associates himself with Buddhism. Hannah said, “I”ve never been really capable of believing or even possessing the desire to learn what one person or religion seems to believe is the definition of God. Nevertheless, I have a strict personal belief in peace, compassion and the ways in which one can attain happiness.”
Of course, there are many in the world and on this campus who get introduced to the atheist ideas and the suggestion that there is not higher being whatsoever. But Freeman believes, “that only a small portion of students do not believe in some sort of higher being but many are not overtly spiritual and prefer to keep their views private or not to practice any specific religion.”
Freeman says that many people who make up the population of agnostics tend to be people who do not choose to study or practice a certain faith, but have the seeds of spirituality planted inside them.
With religion becoming less and less popular among our generation, it isn”t clear that today”s youth necessarily rejects religion as a whole. It may be more likely that they decided to replace the idea of an organized religious institution with personal spirituality.
For example, this Rosh Hashanah, the start of the Jewish New Year, many students who would not have normally attended a religious service flocked to the Humanist Jewish service. Jewish humanism is a growing movement, especially among younger people, who participate in is Jewish spirituality, but does not worship a god. This, along with other organizations like meditation groups have become increasingly popular among young people who want to be spiritual but not religious.
The beef that modern society, and especially the student community, has with religion is dogma. As Seva Gunitskiy, an LSA senior, said, “I am happy with not being certain, and I”d sooner leave things open to contemplation than give up, close my eyes and make a blind leap of faith.” Even Freeman admitted, “A truthful “I don”t know” sure beats a stubborn teeth-clinched “yeah I believe.””