From formspring.me: Do you have any advice for surviving college at a very high theist density school?
Start a secular group.
I can tell you from personal experience that it makes life on a religious campus significantly more enjoyable. It’s worth whatever amount of time and effort you have to put into it. While I had made friends prior to starting our group at Purdue, the vast majority of my current friends were made because of our club. It brings like-minded people together. And if you’re feeling overwhelmed by a high theist density school, I assure you other people are too.
But don’t just take it from me. Here’s a excerpt from a review of the Secular Student Alliance conference by Coltara Cady, a new leader in the student freethought movement:
The conservative area of Northwest Arkansas often leaves me feeling alone amidst a sea of indoctrinated blind faith where I rarely find conversations of any depth and often feel hesitant to let people know what I think out of fear of condemnation. I avoid commentary when told things such as ‘bless you’, ‘god provides’, ‘you’ve been blessed’, ‘why weren’t you at church this Christmas’, and other such assertions with a politeness that condones the continuance of their assumptions. I can remember an instance when I corrected a woman on my ankh not being a cross when she happily informed me that she was “also a Christian” and liked my “cross” and was met with almost immediate coldness and disregard: her entire personality did an alarming one-eighty. All I said was “oh, it’s not a cross – it’s an ankh”. I stated nothing more when I easily could have pushed the topic further, such as noting that the symbol was representative of humanism and my love of Ancient Egypt, as well as that it predates the use of the crucifix as a religious symbol by at least five thousand years. It is more likely even older.
…This step into the world of activism and networking with colleagues in critical thinking have filled me with the fire to stand up for myself and evidence-based reasoning. It has given me the fuel to keep my confidence aloft. It has given me the strength to pursue my goals and fight irrationality and injustice. Every penny I spent on this trip was worth it. I feel enriched and stronger as a person, truly emblazoned and full of the drive to make a difference. For some time I’ve considered the thought of leaving the area to more accepting grounds, but now I know that NWA needs me and there are others like me who need the support and assurance I have gotten this past weekend. I will not abandon them in such a time of change and growing awareness that skeptics of all kinds do indeed exist alongside the religious.
Not only is it worthwhile for personal reasons, but you’ll be doing a world of good for your community. Just imagine how many people are too afraid to question their beliefs because of their overwhelming popularity.
Now, I admit starting a secular group can be difficult. It does take a bit of time, so finding at least one other person to help you can be a start. But you don’t have to have particularly lofty goals for your group, especially not at the start. Even five people getting together monthly for coffee is a success. You don’t have to be bringing Richard Dawkins in your first week and have 500 members.
Of course, you may not want to start a group for personal reasons. Maybe you’re not out to your family, and you’d like to keep it that way for a while – totally understandable. Maybe you’re at a religious institution that can’t officially approve your group. Try finding a local non-student group on RichardDawkins.net or MeetUp. That may satiate your non-theist needs, or maybe even network you with another student who can be the figurehead for your group.
You should also contact the Secular Student Alliance. They’ll be able to tell you if someone has started or has thought of starting a group on your campus already. And if not, they’ll be able to help you start your own group. They are a resource you should be exploiting!
And if all else fails…at least you have the internet. Read atheists blogs and be a part of the virtual community. It may not be as good as meeting in person, but it really does help keep your sanity in check.