Adam Quinn - Opinion Columnist |
Out of everything you have ever been afraid of, what scares you the most? What keeps you awake at night or forces you to turn on the lights? What monsters exist under your bed?
For a lot of Christians, that fear is atheism. Not necessarily that you and I will become atheists, but that your future children, your best friend from high school or that guy or girl that lived on your hall freshman year will one day “fall away” from Christianity.
We all know the story: a good Christian kid, raised in church, goes off to college and loses his or her faith. For many of us, that concern is part of the reason we chose Samford. The 2008 American Religious Identity Survey found that 15 percent of Americans define themselves as having no religion—meaning atheism and agnosticism is the fourth largest “religion” in the United States. According to a 2007 Lifeway Research Study, a full 70 percent of young twenty-somethings raised in church will fall away from Christianity during their college years. Not even a third of that number will ever return to church.
Atheists and agnostics are living all around us. They are our neighbors, our co-workers and our classmates. We cannot pretend they do not exist. It is ridiculous to think that everyone who goes to Samford is automatically a Christian. In fact, it is inevitable that some Samford students will fall away from Christianity while they are here. They may have come to Samford as strong Christians, or with some doubts. College is supposed to be a time of personal growth and change. For some, that change means leaving the religion they grew up with. One day they might return to professing Christianity, but it is more likely that they will not. As Christians, we have to find a way to deal with that.
However, we do not have to be afraid of atheism or agnosticism. Chaplain Stephen Rankin, from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, told The Christian Post, “even at a Christian faith-based school, the presence of a secularist group permits for conversation and debate about what we believe to be most valuable.” After all, the secular world is the world in which we will all be living after college.
Samford has done an excellent job establishing an environment where Christians can grow and be vocal. The opposite danger we face is that fear of atheism will cause those questioning their faith to hide their doubts completely. Are the only questions we can ask of God really “How can you bless me today?” and “Will you come into my heart as my personal Lord and Savior?” Doubt is not a sin. It is both natural and inevitable. The worst thing we can do is pretend that it does not exist. Any God worth believing in has to be a God that can handle the big questions. Maybe it’s time to start following the example of Job and not be afraid to ask some of them.