Christians and Lions

by Beacon Staff • April 15, 2009

This bumper sticker, slapped onto an LB dorm room door, was my disturbing introduction to Emerson theology.

A few weeks later, when asked what the biggest problem in the world is, a friend of mine answered, "Ignorance.religion," conflating something I held dear with sheer stupidity.

My reaction to this affront was very emotional. I no longer considered that friend a friend. I was scandalized that people-who comport themselves to be civil and friendly-would haphazardly attack Christianity, something so central to the lives of nearly a billion people around the world.

I was raised Catholic. In my early teenage years, I grew apathetic and then switched to Protestantism. Upon enrolling at Emerson, I was concerned my faith would negatively affect my friendships, my social life and most important of all, how much people looked at me. Students here are not what people call "devout."

Turns out, my fears were overblown. After more than two years here, I have discovered that, contrary to the widely accepted view, Emerson is a fine place to be religious. I mean, it's no monastery, but the college presents challenges that can lead to spiritual growth.

When I arrived here, I needed broadening. In my hometown, on Massachusetts' North Shore, there are two religions: Christianity and Quietly Not. During high school, I had only one vocally atheist friend. I knew many more, but they, probably fearing a backlash, kept quiet.

In hindsight, I see how unhealthy that silence is. I am thankful that Emerson embraces free-thinkers, and for how those free-thinkers respect my religion, espoused in a skeptic's haven. At this school, I'm one of a few. They know the feeling.

I am president of Emerson Goodnews Fellowship (colloquially deemed "Jesus Club" by myself and others), an interdenominational Christian group. In our meetings, we sometimes talk about being a Christian at Emerson. Opinions vary, but some of the group thinks the environment here takes you out of your comfort zone in a good way, helping your faith, not hurting it.

At many colleges, there are Christians everywhere, and religion is almost trite, and certainly not a social challenge. I considered going to Gordon College, a Christian college on the North Shore, but it didn't feel right. How could intellectual growth follow when so many people have a similar viewpoint? To a degree, Emerson Christians can simulate the counter-culture of the early Christian church, when Peter and his merry band swept through the Roman Empire asking, "Are you interested in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?" when the question was revolutionary, not televangelist tripe.

Many early Christians were killed-or fed to the lions. Of course nothing of the sort will happen to us. But being part of a modest, not dominant, Christian fellowship is invigorating. It encourages us to grow close to everyone: Christian or not.

Emerson has rooted out suspicions I held toward people with different theisms-and toward people with no theism. Emerson teaches you to hold your own, to be humbled, and that (especially if you grew up in a homogeneous place) the world is filled with many peoples and spiritualities, all equal.

Emerson shows you what it is like to be a Christian in a room full of skeptics-students rightfully angry at religious conservatives for their bigoted obstruction against gay rights and their "holier-than-thou" air-and how to differentiate yourself, and other moderate Christians, from the Pat Robertsons of the world.

Emerson has shown me, a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant, what it's like to be in the minority.

Emerson forces you to articulate why you believe in your religion and your God (or in any religion and any god).

Experiencing bumps along the road helps you gain perspective. While Jesus and many Roman Christians were killed for their religion, the worst Emerson Christians will get is a sneer. If you are resolute in your faith, sneers-and bumper stickers-never hurt for long.

iChris Girard is a junior political communication major and opinion editor of /iThe Beacon.