In a quiet classroom tucked in the halls of Bishop Whipple, a new student organization has been meeting: a secular club. Despite the administration’s failure to bestow official recognition on the group, the Concordia Student Secular Community has already made its mark by helping bring in Chris Stedman last Sunday, and has plans to continue a vital presence on the campus. This is not the first time a secular club has been proposed. Previous secular clubs have been organized but have failed to garner administrative approval. However, this group has adopted a more moderate approach than the previous venture, which wanted “to separate the academic program from the affiliation with the ELCA,” Bruce Vieweg said in an email.
There is more to that moderation. More than to provide a counterweight to the prevalence of Christian organizations, members want only to see more inclusion of the non-religious perspective in the interfaith dialogues that have become all the rage at Concordia. That is why they helped sponsor Chris Stedman, whose book “Faitheist” advocates a milder approach to discourse on faith. They have also discussed hosting a “hug-a-secular day”.
Unfortunately, such events and plans have little chance of materializing without the official recognition of the college. It has been two months since Andreas Rekdal submitted the constitution for approval. Such a time lag, some speculate, indicates that the administration is stalling.
Certainly, such assertions are mere speculation, but there may be reason for reluctance. The school is owned by the Concordia College Corporation, which is wholly comprised of ELCA congregations from Minnesota, North Dakota, and Montana. There may be reason to believe they will not find the club so appealing. Alumni and donors could be of the same persuasion.
Rejecting this new secular club because of such hesitation would do the college a disservice. Colleges benefit from different perspectives. A class on “Christianity and Religious Diversity” fails to breed enough of that diversity to expand student population’s understanding of other ideas.
Allowing an organization that breaks the mold posed by the many Bible study groups and Christian worship services will prove productive. Students struggling to find a faith that meshes with their beliefs will have a home in an organization that breeds discussion and attempts neutrality. If it is objectivity one seeks, a group that seeks to persuade to one side or another will be unpalatable.
Furthermore, the question becomes one of fairness and equality. The club provides a place for the many students on the campus that have already decided their beliefs do not align with Christianity, or of most religions. Many Cobbers identify as non-religious or secular (whatever that may mean to them). They would finally have the same home that the school’s Christians have in the many Christian organizations recognized on campus.
Ultimately, it all becomes a matter of practicing what we preach. As a school so enamored with interfaith dialogue, a school that not only brought in Eboo Patel to speak but also made his book a required reading, allowing different faiths to be recognized in the community is incontestably important.
To be sure, atheism and agnosticism are indeed faiths in the same way as are the Abrahamic ones. Surely everyone has faith in what they cannot know for certain, whether in the presence of God or in his or her absence. Atheism is not the absence of a belief in God, but rather a belief that God does not exist—it is a positive rather than negative belief.
Recognizing and legitimizing that belief as one that many Cobbers hold, and giving them a community of like-minded students to discuss and flesh out those beliefs, requires approving the Secular Student Community’s Constitution. Truth-seekers of all colors should have a home at any college of merit, regardless of mission statement. For anyone that went to Chris Stedman’s talk, it will be perfectly clear that Christians are not the only ones capable of leading a Christian life.