Atheists on Campus

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Good commentary from The Emerging Scholar’s Blog (InterVarsity) on an article that appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education on respecting the rights and identity of atheistic students.

An interesting essay in the Chronicle Review, “Atheist Students on Campus: From Misconceptions to Inclusion,” (link) by Kathleen Goodman and John Mueller, argues that universities ought to do a better job of acknowledging and embracing atheist students. In a secular university, atheism has as much a place as any other philosophical or religious persuasion, I suppose, and I can imagine situations in which Christians on campus should defend the rights and inclusion of atheist students and faculty.

One of the authors’ suggestions struck me as unusual, however. They recommend that universities:

“Ensure that atheists can, like other students, explore their inner development. By inner development, we refer to the process of examining and living one’s values, ethics, meaning, and purpose. Campuses should provide the same opportunities for atheist students that they provide for students who identify themselves as religious or spiritual.”

In my observations, universities today don’t offer much in terms of “inner development” at all. Many historians have noted that a defining trend of American universities over the past 150 years has been a move away from character development and integration of life and learning as an educational mission. There is work being down on campus in these areas, but it is the work of student organizations, including InterVarsity chapters, not of the university itself.

Dallas Willard often points to the decline of moral knowledge in universities in his talks and writings.  Unless you’re fortunate to have one of the rare professors who is willing to address real-life moral and character issues in (and out of) class, you won’t get much help from most secular universities in these areas.

Of course, I agree with the Chronicle writers that atheist students should have the same rights and opportunities as any other student.

I’d be interested to hear anyone else’s observations.

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3 thoughts on “Atheists on Campus

  1. Pingback: Lifestream Digest for April 13th –

  2. This doesn’t make much sense.

    I attended a “secular” (i.e., not overtly religious) university and I saw no instances of the university taking a stance on moral or social development of any kind. It was the responsibility of the student to congregate among like-minded individuals in pursuit of those mores. The only requirement of of the university was that the original charter must be signed by no fewer than five people. Once formed, the organization could freely use university resources. The Wiccan/Witchcraft group had regular meetings in the Journalism building. I’m ok with my alma mater’s very hands-off approach.

    With regards to Atheism, it’s not a belief system. What would they talk about? It’s like forming a club for those who believe that the Steelers are not the best NFL team. There may be a lot of people who agree but their negative positions will never be a uniting bond.

    As the above commenter mentioned, promotion of an Atheist world view is still promotion of religion; something out public/state universities should avoid.

  3. I have to say this doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. I should say that I have never been a student at a secular university. But friends who have inform me that if anything, the average professor is hostile to their Christian faith.

    From what I’ve heard, I would have to agree with the blogger you cited: If atheists have less opportunities to develp their “faith” on campus, this is because of the work, or lack of work, of respective student organizations. In the classroom, it appears that the atheist students have the advantage for development.

    If anything, I think the universities should be reaching out to Christian students. Can you imagine a report coming out from the Chronicle of Higher Education saying that secular schools need to reach out and nurture evangelicals in their faith?

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