Do You Hate Atheists, Too? Join an Atheist Student Group!

I go through a little process when I write blog posts. Usually, I start by finding some ridiculous bullshit that someone’s spouting, then I decide whether or not it’s even worth my time. If it is, then I have to find a way to 1) make fun of the idiot without sounding unprofessional, 2) denounce the idiot so as to stand up for the individuals the idiot’s trying to hurt, and 3) make it clear that the idiot is for real and our society has a long way to go.

Are you ready? Here are just the first two sentences of Mike Adams’ piece, “An Immodest Proposal” over at conservative site, Townhall:

I can’t stand atheists. And I plan to do something about them.

Let’s take this construction and see how it might be applied to other nouns. If you can’t stand mosquitos, maybe you’ll light some citronella candles. If you can’t stand cigarettes, maybe you’ll work to pass legislation to keep them out of public venues. If you can’t stand Jews, maybe you’ll embark upon some historic genocide. The threatening potential here is of concern, and as absurd as the rest of Adams’ piece is, this is the lens we have to keep in mind.

Now, surely you remember that Supreme Court decision last week, Christian Legal Society v. Martinez? It came up enough here on the blog. A Christian student group was paranoid that it would be infiltrated by gays and was insistent that it be allowed to discriminate so that no one could come in and try to change their hateful condemnations of groups of people. There was no precedent for this fear (there never is), but that didn’t stop them from raising a ruckus.

Well, Mike Adams wants to use the freedom of this decision to attack atheist student groups and create that very precedent of student group takeover. Like a good American, when Adams gets the slightest bit concerned that he can’t defend himself to his own absurd liking, he attacks with a preemptive strike:

So, when I get back to the secular university in August, I plan to round up the students I know who are most hostile to atheism. Then I’m going to get them to help me find atheist-haters willing to join atheist student groups across the South. I plan to use my young fundamentalist Christian warriors to undermine the mission of every group that disagrees with me on the existence of God.

Let’s be very clear, here: Mike Adams is encouraging hostility and hate against atheists.

Now, you might say, “But Zack, he’s clearly trying to channel Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal! This is just satire!”

Except, there was not already a context for rich people eating babies. (There is a context of atheists eating babies, which is a neat little literary overlap, I suppose.) But there is definitely a context of hostility towards atheists, so there is no element of absurdity. Perhaps Mike Adams just sucks at satire, which is possible, but I think it’s very hard to read this piece as satire at all. I’m sure there are many who haven’t, especially on a site like Townhall. The comments confirm this.

Even if Mike Adams is trying (and failing) to be satirical, his language is reckless:

If I see any words like “atheist,” agnostic”, or even “free-thinker” I will know they are a group of godless heathens. Then we’ll move in for the kill.

The kill, eh?

In his dissent, Justice Samuel Alito observed that the Martinez majority has provided public universities with “a handy weapon for suppressing the speech of unpopular groups.” Alito is right as usual. After we get rid of the heathens we’ll turn our weapon on the gays, the blacks, and the feminists. We might even go after the Italians, too.

Hilarious.

Author Craig A. James (The Religion Virus), blogger Daniel Fincke (who was cool enough to link here), and I all agree:

Bring it on.

As James points out, atheist groups would love to have Christians at their meetings!

But here’s the truth: crybaby Mike Adams won’t dare do this. You see, I happen to know Hemant Mehta over at The Friendly Atheist, and Hemant is reasonable, conciliatory, smart, and he happens to be the Chair of the Board of the Secular Student Alliance. I’d be willing to bet that if Mike Adam’s Christian students start attending the Secular Student Alliance meetings, Hemant and friends would welcome the opportunity to talk to them. In fact, I’ll bet they’d organize a national campaign to welcome these Christians into their group!

James’ entire response is brilliant, and I agree this plan would totally backfire for Mike Adams, but I wonder if it hasn’t already.

Adams, apparently an ex-atheist, proudly describes himself as “vocal critic of the diversity movement in academia.” If you look through his columns, you’ll see an incredible list of petty taunts and attacks at all kinds of diversity outreach, including cultural centers, student groups, and any administrator or professor who stands up for diversity. His racism, sexism, and heterosexism are never sugar-coated. This man strives to maintain privilege and loves it.

I’m glad I’m smarter than this man. I’m glad that I support open inclusion and accessibility for education. I’m glad that I respect even the people whose ideas I have no respect for at all. I’m glad that I understand identity development and the incredible value of creating inclusive campus environments.

Mike Adams is a hate-monger. Unabashedly. Nothing strengthens the atheist message better than having unChristian vitriol like this to quote (hence this very post). If he didn’t have archives full of similarly hateful shit, I’d wonder if this is a Poe. But it’s not a Poe, it’s just dumb.

Good luck, Mike. We’ll see what kind of “warriors” your young Christians are when they actually get to listen to the ideas folks like you work so hard to shelter them from.



A Glimpse Back: The Long Road To Coming Out As An Atheist

Arguably, disclosing one’s identity as an atheist is a coming out process. Like coming out as gay, it is the unveiling of an invisible identity known to be stigmatized by society, so I think it is safe to assume there are similarities in the process. There are significant differences too—most importantly that one can choose to be an atheist (arguably), whereas one can not choose one’s sexual orientation.

Unfortunately, we know nothing about the atheist coming out process. While there have been decades of research on coming out, it has all focused on sexual orientation and gender identity. And while there have been decades of research on spiritual identity development, all such studies continue to be biased toward belief in a higher power with almost none paying any heed to the unique experience of atheists.

One of my professional/life goals is to help fill this deficit of research so that nonbelievers can be better understood in the context of a society that privileges religion. In the absence of the resources to conduct such studies presently, I will instead look back at my own experience as a case study.

When I tell my coming out story (the atheist one), there is a significant milestone. Like coming out as gay, I think coming out as an atheist involves a connecting of past experiences, a revelation of how past inklings and actions demonstrate that one has been on the path to identifying as an atheist for quite some time. The significant milestone I reference in my story is my college admissions essay, which I finished in January, 2003. I was 17, I was participating in Bible youth groups weekly, and it would be another year and a half before I acknowledged I was gay.

I remember being frustrated with this essay. I had a lot to say and not a lot of space in which to say it. The essay got edited a lot. Ultimately, it had to be cut in half. One of the schools I was applying to (Ithaca College, the one I ended up going to) had a max word length of 350 words. I used every single one of them.

At this point, I think I’ll let the essay speak for itself. You will be surprised by what I had to say seven years ago. The prompt was: Please select a topic of personal interest and explain its importance to you.

Having been born into a family of devout Catholics, heavy religious devotion is always knocking at my door.  However, I choose not to answer it.  My case differs slightly from the families of my mother’s eleven siblings.  My parents adopted me at birth after extensive attempts to bear a biological child, some involving medical procedures that the church shunned.

Ignoring the pressure from her family, my mother chose not to raise me in the church.  I was still baptized Catholic, but I never attended more than three Masses a year.  Forever shall I appreciate the prudent way she instilled upon me many of the church’s strong morals and a strong belief in God without smothering me in the prayers, rituals, and long church services.

My academic upbringing led to a great inner debate that continues to this day.  I don’t doubt that God exists, but I question it constantly.  I know there’s got to be something out there, but there are just so many conflicts between the Bible and the world of science.

In addition, almost every conflict in the world’s history has stemmed from dissension among religions, whether it was the Crusades, 9-11 and the Middle East struggle, or even political wars like the American Civil War.

Regardless, I live my life for Him.  I dedicate myself to others through friendship and volunteering and I try never to give less than 100%.  I also believe in abstinence until marriage and I plan never to voluntarily consume or use tobacco, drugs, or alcohol, having lost both my grandfathers to their destructive natures.

As an additional pursuit of music, I play the organ for a local church.  Every week, I overhear Sunday School classes that discuss generalizations in accordance with the strong conservativeness that abounds in my rural community.  Often I want to interrupt and argue, but I restrain myself.  Many churches tend to confine the scope of their congregations’ perspectives of life.

The Constitution grants us not only freedom of religion, but also freedom from religion.  If I can be raised well without intense church attendance, maybe others can too.

Not the Zack Ford you might be used to reading here on the blog.

The abstinence claim was an easy way to closet myself without realizing it. I did eventually start drinking, but I’m still conservative about it. After I left that summer, I never again set foot in the church that had employed me and celebrated my musicianship. Friendship and volunteering are no less important to me today.

But look at some of that language I used!

Forever shall I appreciate the prudent way she instilled upon me many of the church’s strong morals and a strong belief in God without smothering me in the prayers, rituals, and long church services.

That’s right. At one point in my life, I gave the Catholic Church credit for morality. It makes me nauseous to think about now.

I also appreciated that I’d been taught to believe in God. I no longer maintain that sentiment.

I don’t doubt that God exists, but I question it constantly.  I know there’s got to be something out there, but there are just so many conflicts between the Bible and the world of science.

I did not doubt God. At the time, I drew a distinction between religion and beliefs. It was organized religion I despised, not the idea of God. I truly believed God could exist and be worshiped in the absence of organized religion. Religion was the problem, not God. And yet, even then, I knew that there were conflicts between what God was supposed to be and what actually could be. But, for me, my questions were about God; I was not questioning of God.

Regardless, I live my life for Him.

Wow. It still blows my mind that I’d say that. It scares me to think that despite my questions, I had that sense of devotion. I am sure that the inevitable Ford Model of Atheist Identity Development will lend itself to such a phase—a separation from the structure but not the beliefs. That was how I’d explain it: I have my own relationship with Jesus.

My religious identity went pretty latent after that. My coming out as gay journey took over, with its own implications for my worldview, and it wasn’t until really the Fall of 2007 that I started to seriously question again—to seriously think about how I identified. I had already adopted an agnostic point of view with a desire to simply stay away from religious thinking entirely. Everybody else thought it important, so yeah sure, “I believe in God,” but the words meant nothing to me. I started identifying as a Pastafarian, because from a political point of view I thought the FSM was hilarious and brilliant, and I asked for The God Delusion for Christmas (I’ll always laugh about that).

I was a surefire atheist before I’d even gotten halfway through Dawkins’ masterpiece.

How strange to now look back and see how much my thinking has changed. I now call “God” a delusion, a projection only within a person’s own imagination. I say I don’t respect beliefs at all, calling them unfounded ideas without intellectual merit. I chastise the mere idea that morals come from religion, pointing out that religion unfairly claimed moral reasoning as its own to falsely inflate its importance. I no longer abstractly give thanks, but if there is one thing I appreciate in my life, it is the fact that my thinking progressed beyond devotion to invisible deities. I life my life for me and for the people of the world. That, I think, is the most admirable form of devotion I can offer.

Surely, there are more stories to be told. Surely, there is a model for identity development waiting to be formulated so that we can better appreciate and support atheists who are struggling to come out.

But, I guess we first have to recognize that being an atheist isn’t a bad thing. We’ve got a ways to go.



How Long Until We Have Campus Atheist Resource Centers?

In my post yesterday, I argued that challenges to religious beliefs should be pursued despite the emotional defensiveness such challenges often spur. Such self-victimization is really a façade for cognitive dissonance, cognitive dissonance that is never addressed if we allow the defensiveness to sway us. Respecting faith has the consequence of reinforcing dualism and stifling an extremely personal form of cognitive development by allowing beliefs to go unchallenged. Is it possible to honor the racial, ethnic, and cultural intersections of our students’ worldviews while challenging the privilege many have to hold such worldviews unquestioningly? Yes, and I think we have to.

It shouldn’t be too long before the work of evolutionary psychologists like Hank Davis and Gregory Paul are synthesized with our existing models of cognitive and moral development. These are the kinds of questions we need to be asking: Can an individual ever truly appreciate social contracts and individual rights (Kohlberg’s 5th Stage of Moral Development) if that individual still believes that a God who intercedes in the course of events is the ultimate judge of morality? Can our students ever achieve reflective thinking if they still see religious beliefs as being on-par with scientific theories? How can we help students become contextual or even independent knowers if they still believe in divine knowledge bestowed upon the Earth by a deity?

While there is a lot of identity development encapsulated in the culture of religious worldviews, I foresee a day when higher education addresses religious beliefs independently as a matter of critical thinking and cognitive development. Rather than continuing to shelter students and helping them continue on the track they were already on with their beliefs, we ought to be encouraging them to consider not just what they believe, but why they believe it, how they came to believe it, and any implications that result from their believing it.

We’ve seen some very slight movement in this direction with a few (countable on one hand) campuses offering humanist chaplains. This seems like more of a blind accommodation for atheist students because the field of student affairs has done  little to even recognize atheists on campus (ask me for the Goodman & Mueller PDF), let alone research any conception of atheist student development. The focus continues to be on “spirituality” and “spiritual development”, which by word choice alone assumes there is such a thing as spirituality and also assumes that all students experience spiritual development. The latter claim is blatantly wrong, and the former sets a foundation for enshrining religious privilege in a field that so often prides itself on supporting social justice. We have a long way to go in unraveling this mess.

This all leads to the question I ask in the title: How long until we have campus atheist resource centers? Your first reaction to that might be to say it will never happen, because that would be “promoting religion.” Well, no, it would not be. Atheism—or perhaps more accurately skepticism—is not a belief system; it’s an approach to knowledge. Based on my understanding of skepticism juxtaposed with my understanding of student development theory, it’s quite a good approach too. In fact, many academic disciplines (the natural sciences, as an obvious example) already encourage and demand skepticism. It’s the foundation of inquiry! Why shouldn’t we promote it beyond the bounds of specific academic curricula?

Maybe the word “atheist” is making you uncomfortable. Check your religious privilege! A 2006 study from the University of Minnesota (ask me for the PDF) found that “atheists are more distrusted and despised than any other minority.” Just this past week, a new city councilor in North Carolina is trying to be removed from office just for being an atheist, because North Carolina is one of many states with laws still on the books prohibiting atheists from elected office. Clearly there is a case to be made that atheist students could use some support on campus. But, to be pragmatic, let’s call it a Skepticism Resource Center for now.

A model already exists for a Skepticism Resource Center. The parallels it would have with an LGBT Resource Center are uncanny. It would need to provide support for coming out (though it would probably help if we did some research on the atheist coming out process first). It would need to provide a library of resources. It would need to provide social opportunities. It would need to function as a safe space (for challenging questions!). It would need to providing enriching development opportunities for students who identify as nonbelievers (once we actually collect some research on atheist development). There would also be a need to educate the greater campus about these identities and why it’s important to respect skepticism and understand what we can all learn from it. Education and advocacy—yeah, we should know how to do that.

The only obstacle is our own unease with these issues. Education has lost its critical edge, with a recent study showing that undergrads majoring in education tend to be more religious. While the field of student affairs seems more and more eager to blindly subscribe to spiritual development, higher education takes a hands-off approach to religion in general. (The exception, of course, is religiously-affiliated universities who bend over backwards—even to the point of compromising ethical standards and academic credibility—to cater to religion.) Important opportunities for cognitive growth are lost and our own field flounders to truly understand the students we are serving and how to appropriately raise the level of challenge.

What will it take for us to recognize that atheism, skepticism, critical thinking, and cognitive development are all linked? What will it take for us to welcome such conversations at our conventions or on our campuses? Can we start to uncover the religious privilege we maintain by our silence or subscription to spirituality so that we can truly serve all of our students and maximize their potential?

How long until we have campus atheist resource centers?



Why Higher Education Should NOT Promote “Spirituality” or “Spiritual Development”

Higher Education is abuzz with the notion of promoting spirituality, and lots of research and writing has come forth.  Everyone seems to think it’s a good idea.  Lots of different researchers have defined “religion,” “faith,” and “spirituality” in a number of different ways so that everyone feels like spirituality is something we should be promoting in all students.

I disagree.

When people talk about spirituality in our field, they use lots of great terms to describe it: awareness, meaning making, sense of purpose, community, equanimity, consciousness, transcendence, potential, philosophy of life, compassion, appreciation of diversity, authenticity, and the list goes on.  There’s a quite a bit involved.  Some of it, to me, sounds great.  Some of it sounds like a blatant reinforcement of faithism.

The word “spirituality,” itself, is a problem for me.  I do not identify with it.  I believe in no spirits or souls.  This is not simply a pedantic concern with a word.  Many people have defined it many ways, but I have not yet found a way that makes it inclusive of atheists and non-believers.  My concern on this matter is not one I expect to address in one blog entry, but I hope to begin today.

With some help from Richard Dawkins and other research, I am going to begin identifying inherent religious privilege within the concept of spirituality, starting with this post about a large research project simply called “Spirituality in Higher Education.”

This research project is headed up by Alexander Astin and the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, which makes it seem respectable enough.  But… surprise, surprise!  The project is financially supported by the Templeton Foundation, which Dawkins describes in The God Delusion as being fond of supporting scientists who are “prepared to say something nice about religion” (2006, p. 19).

Rather than delve into the whole study today, let us simply consider the article Astin wrote shortly into the study:  Why Spirituality Deserves a Central Place in Liberal Education (2004).  Give it a read; it’s not too long, and I’m about to cite it a lot (all bold emphases are my own).

Before explaining the assertion put forward in the title of this essay, let me first try to clarify what I mean by “spirituality.” Since the term covers a lot of territory and means different things to different people, there’s little point in trying to develop a precise definition. Instead, let me simply lay out the general territory and range of things that the word suggests to me. (Astin, 2004, p. 34)

That’s right, the Templeton Foundation gave almost $2 million dollars to support the study of something the head researcher thinks cannot be defined.  One wonders even at this point what value such a study might have.

You’ll note that in his lovely description of interiors, consciousness, and affective experiences Astin does include “our beliefs about why we are here.”  He then concludes quite ostentatiously:

Within this very broad umbrella, virtually everyone qualifies as a spiritual being, and it’s my hope that everyone—regardless of their belief systemscan find some personal value and educational relevance in the concept. (p. 34)

In other words, “Whether you like it or not, this is what we’re calling it, so deal with it.”  He presumes to tell me that I am a spiritual being, because he knows how I make meaning in my life.  Well, I’m not a spiritual being and he doesn’t.  And then here’s the blatant faithism: he defines “everyone” as people with belief systems.  I do not have a belief system; I have a worldview that includes no beliefs.  In one sweeping statement, he has forced an inaccurate identity upon me and excluded me from the norm.  You can already see that the concept of spirituality is not going to be very inclusive of nonbelievers.

Now, as I prefaced, there are a lot of concepts within this “spirituality umbrella” that I think are great things we should be promoting.  Here’s a full paragraph that I think is just wonderful stuff for us to be considering as educators:

Putting more emphasis on students’ interior development has enormous implications for how we approach student learning and development.  In most institutions today the primary focus is on what students do: how well they perform on classroom exercises and examinations, whether they follow the rules and regulations, how many credits they receive, and so on. And while we invest a good deal of our pedagogical effort in developing the student’s cognitive, technical, and job skills, we pay little if any attention to the development of “affective” skills such as empathy, cooperation, leadership, interpersonal understanding, and self-understanding. The reality of human consciousness, of course, is not simply that we can think and reason; on the contrary, the essence of being a sentient human being is that we can feel, that we can experience joy and contentment, frustration and excitement, curiosity and love. (p. 36)

Rock on.  That’s great stuff.  None of it has anything to do with spirituality.  It can, but that does not mean it should.

Astin goes on to describe what he calls “spiritual” questions that need to be considered.  I like the questions, but I do not think there is anything spiritual about them:

  • How do we achieve a greater sense of community and shared purpose in higher education?
  • How can we provide greater opportunities for individual and institutional renewal?
  • What are the causes of the division and fragmentation that so many academics experience in their institutional and personal lives?
  • What does it mean to be authentic, both in the classroom and in our dealings with colleagues?
  • What are some of the practices and traditions that make it difficult for us to be authentic in an academic setting?
  • What are some of the disconnections that higher education is experiencing in relation to the larger society? How might we better serve the public good?
  • How can we help our students achieve a greater sense of purpose in their academic and personal lives? (p. 37-38)

Astin then claims that “such questions make it clear that ‘spiritual’ issues cover a wide range of questions, and that each person will view his or her [hir] spirituality in a unique way” (p. 38).  Astin sure is stating his view, and he is trying to impose the word “spirituality” to encompass certain aspects of identity development that require no spirituality at all.

Take a look at the sidebar with the preliminary study of student spirituality.  Here are quantitative measures using the word that no one can define, so what do these numbers mean?

…more than two-thirds report that they have had a spiritual experience. (p. 38)

How were they defining those experiences?  What does that mean?  Do “spiritual experiences” that happen under the influence of drugs count?

Here’s the part that really chaps my hide:

Significant numbers of students are experiencing challenges and struggles in their spiritual and religious development.

  • Two-thirds (65 percent) report that they question their religious/spiritual beliefs at least occasionally (18 percent frequently), and a similar number (68 percent) say that they are “feeling unsettled about spiritual and religious matters” at least “to some extent.”
  • Three-fourths (76 percent) of the students have “struggled to understand evil, suffering, and death” at least occasionally (21 percent frequently) and nearly half (46 percent) have at least occasionally “felt angry with God” (6 percent frequently).
  • One-third (38 percent) of the students report feeling “disillusioned with my religious upbringing,” at least “to some extent.” (p. 38)

The context of these statistics is that they are a concern.  We need to help students because they are struggling.  They are angry at God!  They are disillusioned!  We need to help them!

What if helping them is actually helping them cast off their beliefs entirely?

You know there’s a problem when Astin starts invoking Einstein as a reason to support exploring the “mystical” aspects of human experience (p. 39).  Dawkins takes plenty of time to demonstrate that Einstein was an atheist and that his ideas of anything supernatural were merely poetic.  Dawkins also points out, when discussing the “Worship of Gaps,” that “Mystics exult in mystery and want it to stay mysterious.  Scientists exult in mystery for a different reason: it gives them something to do” (2006, p. 125-126).  As we shall see, Astin seems to portray himself as the former.

Astin falls into another of Dawkins’ pitfalls: the “Argument from Beauty.”  He dreadfully asserts that creativity is closely linked to “the mystical and the spiritual.”  Perhaps he is so blinded by his spirituality that he leaves no room for natural explanations for creativity, or perhaps he hasn’t read any of the research on creativity, such as that done by Sternberg (2001).  Sternberg, perhaps without irony, cites Charles Darwin as one example of creativity, but unlike Astin, Sternberg needs nothing mystical to make sense of creativity.  Quite to the contrary, creativity can be explained as a decided application of intelligence in the context of a system.  This actually makes me wonder if Astin is suggesting that spiritual development is so important, it is, in fact, worth compromising cognitive development to promote.

For my readers who have not read Dawkins, here is a bit of what he says about the “Argument from Beauty”:

Obviously Beethoven’s late quartets are sublime.  So are Shakespeare’s sonnets. They are sublime if God is there and they are sublime if he isn’t. They do not prove the existence of God; they prove the existence of Beethoven and of Shakespeare. A great conductor is credited with saying: ‘If you have Mozart to listen to, why would you need God?’ (p. 86)

and

If there is a logical argument linking the existence of great art to the existence of God, it is not spelled out by its proponents.  It is simply assumed to be self-evident, which it most certainly is not. Maybe it is to be seen as yet another version of the argument from design: Schubert’s musical brain is a wonder of improbability, even more so than the vertebrate’s eye. Or, more ignobly, perhaps it’s a sort of jealousy of genius. How dare another human being make such beautiful music/poetry/art, when I can’t? It must be God that did it. (p. 87)

Point in fact, Astin is not at all concerned with rationality. He invents a new word to suggest that he is, but he’s really still just harping on mysticism and the Argument from Beauty:

While some academics may be inclined to view the mystical and the spiritual as “irrational,” the processes of intuition and creativity are, in fact, more transrational than irrational. The point here is that the mystical or spiritual aspects of our conscious experience are by no means contrary to, or otherwise opposed to, rationality; rather, they transcend rationality. (p. 40)

Really? “Inclined?”  How insulting is that to atheists, skeptics, and academics in general?  Seriously, he just disregarded every point of view that doesn’t fit in with his touchy-feely, self-serving, belief-biased, subjective generalizations.  Furthermore, I’m pretty insulted as a student affairs professional! Are we not academics? Is the standard lower for us? He goes on to say that “inspiration… is a trans- or nonrational process.”  It doesn’t really make any kind of sense, but apparently that’s that.

If by this point in this short article you are still convinced that the pursuit of spiritual development is an objective, inclusive consideration, Astin doesn’t let us down.  He thinks the academy itself should be more spiritual.  He speaks about reformation through great things I can agree with like “communities” and “connectedness” and then says:

The people involved in these movements are natural allies for those of us who would like to see spiritual issues given a more central place in our institutions. (p. 40)

Is Astin a creationist?  That might be too harsh, but his argument sounds a lot like Intelligent Design, because he offers a conclusion first.  Let’s promote spiritual development and then do research to find out how!

Much as creationists limit their understanding to one possibility, so too have those in favor of spiritual development developed tunnel vision.

Perhaps atheists aren’t worth our attention.  Perhaps atheists have no sense of meaning-making at all.  Perhaps we should only focus on spirituality and what that already means to the student, because that’s the ideal touchy-feely student affairs way.  Perhaps atheists have no sense of development themselves because they’ve obviously just given up on spirituality, which is clearly the ideal!

I am all about making students feel supported and respected, but encouraging them to merely pursue the path they were already on seems to me a horrible approach.  It’s all support and no challenge.

That explains why everybody seems ready to jump on the spirituality bandwagon: because we refuse to challenge beliefs or recognize the religious privilege that protects them.

That’s not good enough for this student affairs professional.



*GASP* There are atheists in our universities!

This week’s Chronicle of Higher Education has a feature commentary entitled, “Atheist Students on Campus: From Misconceptions to Inclusion” by Kathleen M. Goodman and John A. Mueller.  Goodman and Mueller are in the process of publishing a more in-depth research article about atheists in higher education (that I’ve had the privilege of already reading).  It’s very exciting to be on the cusp of this rousing paradigm change!

Since the Chronicle is a pay-site, I thought I would excerpt some of the article here.

People who follow trends in higher education are aware of a renewed emphasis on religious plurality and spirituality on college campuses. But all the articles, conferences, and campus activities surrounding religion and spirituality rarely, if at all, acknowledge one group: students who are atheists. If colleges are to be truly inclusive, they should embrace atheist perspectives as well.

Embrace!  I like that word.

Few scholars, for example, have focused on atheist students…

For the most part, however, atheists have been neglected as a topic of student.

As a result, misconceptions about atheism and atheist students abound.

These are incredibly important conversations to be having!  Obviously, making these same kinds of points is one of the goals of this very blog.

For example, the research shows that many students who identify as atheist — or related designations, such as humanist or free thinker — are, in fact, quite thoughtful about their purpose, morals, and values. They suggest that being good for the sake of goodness is equivalent to, or perhaps better than, being good to follow Scripture or to get into heaven, because it comes from a more personal and authentic place.  They state that their life purpose is to use their skills and talents in service to the environment, humanity, and all living creatures.  Their purpose and morality are less about personal salvation after death and more about celebrating and contributing to the human condition.

Yes!  Yes!  Yes!  It is so validating to see these truths being published widely.  So many people do not understand just how much thought atheists have put into their worldviews!

Atheist students, however, tend to be cautious about whom they share their perspective with because they do not want to offend others or make them uncomfortable.  Nor do they want to be put in the position of having to defend their worldview.  To avoid being thought of as people with no morals or life purpose who are destined for hell, they choose to remain invisible.

That is one of the biggest reasons I write this blog.  I want to create visibility.  Instead of always having to react and defend myself, I want to be proactive and educate and advocate.  Simply being an atheist should not be offensive to people who believe.  That such offense is taken speaks to the root of religious privilege and “undeserved respect.”

Making the changes that we’ve suggested offers obvious benefits for atheist students, most notably the chance to affirm their beliefs and openly communicate their perspective with other students.  The benefits to nonatheist students are substantial as well.  The challenge of accepting atheism as an alternative outlook can help them continue their own inner development and broaden their worldview.

That is what is most important, I think.  We all need to learn how to be more inclusive and understanding of difference.  I hope the work of Goodman and Mueller really raises some eyebrows in the Higher Education community.