Meet and Greet: Aggie Atheists and Agnostics
By Josh Howell
There was a recent study by the Pew Forum on American religiosity published in both the New York Times and The Washington Post. 3,400 Americans were asked 32 questions on subjects regarding not only Christianity, but other world religions, religious figures, and the constitutionâ€™s attitude towards religion. Questions included, â€œWhose writing started the Protestant Reformation?â€ and Catholic dogma regarding the Eucharist.
Americans, the study showed, failed abysmally. Not only does the evidence suggest that our country, who frequently exhibits its religiosity on its sleeve, knows surprising little about religion, the most knowledgeable group about religion and religious history were the irreligious: Atheists and Agnostics.
The Aggie Atheists and Agnostics however, (whom I had the pleasure of interviewing at one of their Thursday after-meeting dinners at Fitzwillyâ€™s) expressed surprise at the findings though they often cited religious knowledge as a reason they either lost or refused to accept religion when it was presented.
â€œI was fine with being Christian until about high school and then I discussed religion with my friends, most of which were Muslim. I just started thinking, â€˜what does my religion say about that?â€™ and itâ€™s theyâ€™re going to hell… and that didnâ€™t sit right with me,â€ explained the agnostic President, Kristen Rose, who grew up in a Christian home. â€œEventually I told my mother I didnâ€™t want to go to church anymore because it didnâ€™t mean anything to me. But she and I ended up opening a huge dialogue and we grew a lot closerâ€
Shawn Hanrahan, expressed surprise at the news.
â€œIâ€™ve met a lot of atheists who donâ€™t know what theyâ€™re talking about,â€ she said. â€œI would say weâ€™re about average.â€
Unlike Rose, Hanrahan was raised in a secular household. Though his parents were atheists, he acknowledged that they were very accepting of religion.
â€œMy parents would have driven me to church if I had asked them too,â€ Hanrahan said of his early childhood.
However, keeping with the study, Hanrahan is very knowledgeable about religion.
â€œIf someone was following the Bible one hundred percent, things would be a lot of worse off. There would be a lot more problems with some of the lesser known parts,â€ he said. â€œThe Old Testament condones and has rules and regulations for selling slaves for example.â€
The club membership is not solely comprised of atheist and agnostics, however; the club does have religious members. Some of these are Christian apologists, others have a liberal view of Christianity, others are looking for a lively debate, and the remainder simply wish to know more about various philosophies.
It would seem, however, despite this final group, that not only knowledge of religion is at a nadir, but knowledge of atheism and agnosticism â€“ despite its occasional acceptance and the apathy toward it â€“ is at a nadir as well.
The question they get asked most, Hanrahan said, is the question of morality and how one can possibly have morality without religion.
â€œI would argue that basic morality is independent of religion. Most Christians at A&M are not killing other people not because itâ€™s the law, they arenâ€™t killing other people because itâ€™s the right thing to do,â€ he said.
The club hosts many disparate views, especially regarding politics. To some, atheism and agnosticism are considered part of the â€œliberal agendaâ€ but there are atheists on the political right as well (most define themselves as libertarians, turned off by Republican religiosity).
As Justin Wallman explained, â€œThe only thing defining us is a lack of belief in God.â€
The AASG meets on Thursdays at 8 oâ€™clock in Rudder 402. Everyone is invited to attend.