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Embracing true interfaith

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.


  1. Jordan Lyseng Jordan Lyseng December 12, 2012

    Melisa: I really don’t think the previous message required that rebuttal. IT was incoherent, and plus a comment that we all have opinions and be nice is not needed in a healthy comment system.

    That said, I am encouraged by this recent secular club incarnation. I am proud of my friends. They are pushing the boundaries, rules and traditions that are assumed to obscurity. Does that make sense? What I mean is they are forcing us all to evaluate the role of the ELCA in a college. What exactly do we mean that Concordia is affiliated with the church? Of course this has real consequences in Board members and administration appointments, but the effects on attitudes and policy are unclear (at least, deciding what are the appropriate effects).

    Should the college be an independent academic institution? I think most would agree that academic conclusions must come before dogma, and Concordia does a good job at this distinction. But what about institutional policies? If Concordia is giving free rein over what is, with out a doubt, the top and sole purpose for its existing, why is there a debate over trivial things like groups, and beer, and sex at night.

    Some people want Concordia to be a seminary, some want a church with a college attached, and others want it to be a college with a church unobtrusive to the academic studies of adults. What’s it going to be?

    • Melisa Barish Melisa Barish December 21, 2012

      I am sorry that you think my comment was unnecessary, but it is my job to monitor and moderate the comments on behalf of the paper’s staff. Recently a number of commentors have been implying that our writers are lying or aren’t doing their jobs correctly. This is unappreciated and shows that the comments are not healthy as you had suggested.

  2. YeahYeahNo YeahYeahNo December 7, 2012

    “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.”

    I’m an atheist and I don’t agree with this. Is it because you are lying about the definition of atheism in order to make your opinions sound reasonable? Or is it more likely that you honestly know more about atheism than me, an atheist?

    I don’t believe in God. If God were to, say, appear right in front of me and perform miracles to demonstrate that he was God, I’d believe in God. Since God hasn’t been demonstrated to me yet, I have no reason to believe in God. My beliefs are not, as you said, “a belief that God does not exist”. That’s a lie about my beliefs and you know it.

    Next time you talk about supporting dogma, think back on what you said and ask yourself, “Did I just lie to prove a point?”

    • Melisa Barish Melisa Barish December 7, 2012

      Please do not attack our writers. They do their best to be honest and truthful in their writings. That said, I believe that each person has their own opinion of what Atheism actually is. Thank you for sharing yours for us to think about.

      • Rose Keeffe Rose Keeffe February 8, 2013

        There is no such thing as an attack on writers…this is the opinions section. Opinions clash, and voicing those clashing opinions is the entire point of a newspaper dialogue, is it not?

        • Melisa Barish Melisa Barish February 20, 2013

          As a writer, I would like you to take my job and then tell me that there is no such thing as an attack on writers. I, personally, believe that suggesting a person ask themselves if they “just lied” is suggesting something false about this writer. Mr. Amos was just trying to express his opinion and if ‘YeahYeahNo’ believes that that opinion doesn’t fully express their own beliefs, that is fine. But to go further and to suggest that Mr. Amos was intentionally lying is rude and uncalled for. That being said, this is not the place for discussion of our rules of conduct. If you have further questions or complaints I would suggest that you read our discussion guidelines page or send us an email at

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