Words by Adrian Vargas
The stereotype that college is a religion-free void is a rather prominent one, with many believing that entering college will push those with faith into a life of faithlessness. Many see the college area as secular, one where anyone can and will be accepted no matter their belief or lack thereof. However, that idea is a falsity to me. Within the FSU campus, judgment reigns true; from my experience, ideas or beliefs that differ from others have been largely met with animosity and concern. If anything, college is a location in which religion strengthens.
In 2014, a study conducted by Georgetown University indicated that college actually increases religious practices among students. But does this increase cause schisms with those who do not believe in a higher power? Maybe not, but Florida State University is different. The southern location of FSU does impact the religious tolerance levels within the campus. And although students have come from across the nation and even abroad to study here, a large portion of students are Florida citizens, and Florida is nothing if not a heavily religious state. Many students walk onto the campus already having been part of their faith for most if not all their lives. Having a faith is natural and is seen as normal. But what happens when someone of no faith joins the Seminole community? Most would expect a friendly and accepting college welcome, but as someone who doesn’t follow religion, I’ve encountered more judgment than acceptance.
Within the various classes I’ve taken – mostly literature-based ones – religion was a recurring conversation topic, and for good reason. A lot of the literature we read was either inspired or based upon religion, whether it be about the nature of certain characters or, ironically, acceptance. Naturally, discussion occurs, and within those discussions students express their ideals and beliefs and how it has aided or hindered them in processing certain texts. I’ve taken eight literature classes, and of those eight, only two were receptive to my reasoning for my lack of faith. The other six were the opposite. I was chastised for my atheism, being told I lack morals and that no matter what effort I exerted on being the best person I could be, it was pointless without faith, as that was the key to being morally righteous.
For example, I had to make a presentation on an instance in which I felt good and bad on a certain social aspect about myself, whether it be gender, sexual orientation, or religion. I chose religion. Other students gave their presentations and were met with applause and a general sense of support. My turn arrived, and after I gave my presentation, I was met with no applause, only a bombardment of questions. And although many were asked, it really centered on one: why? Why did I lack faith? Why did I not follow any doctrine? I gave the best answer I could: I simply do not believe. And yet that is such a difficult concept to grasp for many of these students. To them, they’ve only known those with faith, so the idea of someone who lacks it is completely foreign. But what if I were to ask them the same question? Why do they believe? What drives them to follow a doctrine?
Most are born into it, they were told from a young age that they had to follow a certain scripture as that is what’s best. I was told the same line by my parents. I was raised in a Christian household. However, my family is Mexican, which is commonly associated with Catholicism. I bring this up because my parents endured poor treatment for being different, for being Christian in a predominantly Catholic country. When living in Mexico, my mother was harassed by the students at her various schools, her neighbors threw water at them when crossing the street, some even threw stones at her and her family’s house. She grew up facing judgment because of her religion, so, to her, raising her children to be Christian was something that had to be done. It was like an obligation to her faith, to show that all the struggles she faced were not all in vain. I sure messed that up.
It was in high school when I was finally asked myself the question: why did I follow the Christian faith? The only answer I could think of was, “because my parents are Christian.” I had no real input on it. I lacked a real reason to follow the religion. After that, I began seeking my own reasoning for following this faith, which was fruitless.
I endured my mother’s disgust, thinking that would be the worst of it, but then came college and I met that same disdain, but this time from students my own age. So why does this occur? Why is it such a deplorable act to be an atheist? Maybe I am just unlucky with my classes and classmates, or maybe they themselves have not questioned their own faith. Maybe everyone needs to be asked why. It just might aid in the acceptance of others.