Archive for Saturday, October 5, 2013

Faith Forum: At college, is it OK to bring up religion in my dorm, scholarship hall, fraternity or sorority?

October 5, 2013


Yes, but be gracious about it

Justin Jenkins, lead pastor, Velocity Church, meets at Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire St.:

It’s OK to bring up God in conversations, but it’s better to be concerned with “how” you do it, not “if” you do it. Nobody likes an arrogant person, no matter what point is being argued. Sometimes well-meaning believers in their zeal to share their faith present God in a way that leaves a bad taste in someone’s mouth. Does this mean we shouldn’t share our faith? Absolutely not, but we need to make sure our words express God’s grace.

For example, most of my friends in school were not Christians. I learned through those friendships that a lot of what kept them from coming to Christ was the way that Christ had been portrayed to them. Their impression of God was that He was all about rules and limitations. Now I’m not putting people down who might have given them that impression, but it’s wrong when we try to take the boundaries that we feel God has given us and then enforce them on people that aren’t even yet Christians.

Yet, on the flip side of that when my friends saw how God loved me through a weakness, the love of Christ started to compel them toward a relationship with Him.

So here is what I think is the best verse in the Bible if you want to know how to present God to friends who don’t have a relationship with Jesus Christ:

Make the most of every opportunity. Be gracious in your speech. The goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation, not put them down, not cut them out. (Colossians 4:6)

If we do this, God will use our lives, conduct and speech to demonstrate His goodness.

— Send email to Justin Jenkins at

Yes, we should learn and share

Rev. Dr. Ira DeSpain, university minister, Baker University, Baldwin City:

Yes, it is. A discussion of religion and faith issues is always appropriate. It’s important for each of us to make spiritual connections with others of the same religious backgrounds. Religious conversations can be difficult and awkward. That doesn’t mean we could avoid them. It’s not necessary to speak only from our comfort zone. If the person to whom you are talking tells you they do not wish to discuss religion, stop. It’s a matter of respect.

In my college fraternity, Christian religion and prayer are a part of the fabric of the national fraternity. I assume other greek organizations are similar.

Beware, not all college students come from your religious background. Diversity of all sorts is one of the blessings of college life. Meet people of a different religious background from yours. Explain your religious positions. Ask others to explain theirs. Learn from each other in an atmosphere of mutual respect. You may find threads of common belief. Surely, there will be religious pluralism and diversity in your neighborhood once you have completed college. College is a great place to learn how to live in a religiously diverse world.

Religion is also an academic subject on most campuses. Enroll in a religion class. Learn about Christianity, Judaism, Islam, etc. In many instances it is also OK to bring up religion in an academic setting.

In scientific fields, remember that sacred writings are not science and that scientific writings are not faith-based. For instance, do not read the Bible to learn science. Do not read a scientific text book to expand faith. It is OK to discuss science and religion, as long as you understand they are two different subjects and not in competition with one another. You can be both scientific and religious.

Religion is alive and well on college campuses. Jump in!

— Send email to Ira DeSpain at


Bailey Perkins 4 years, 6 months ago

That's until fellow students turn against you for reading about Secularism. Do know that KU offers a wide variety of religion courses and they're a great opportunity for students to understand more about world religions! :-)

Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 6 months ago

The library is full of books about different religions, and the internet has all of the resources you could possibly need, so it's not necessary to enroll in a class to learn about different religions. What is required is the desire to learn.

parrothead8 4 years, 6 months ago

You assume that all we need to learn is in books, and that our own interpretations of these books is all we need to lead fulfilling, informed lives. Often, the perspectives and interpretations of others (about the books we are reading or the topics we are discussing) can be more valuable than our own.

Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 6 months ago

The library is also full of books that interpret other books, the subject is endless. If you only take a class, the only direct interpretation that you will hear is that of the instructor. But, a wise instructor's guidance in which books to read would likely be very valuable.

Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 6 months ago

I believe that the line between religion and philosophy is very vague. In fact, you could make a very good argument that many or most religions are a philosophy. Philosophy has always been considered to be a valid subject to discuss, and so religion should be also. But, any proper discussion of philosophy is always open to the consideration of opposing viewpoints, and therefore any discussion of religion should be open to them also.

IraDeS 4 years, 6 months ago

Ron - Philosophers and Theologians have been arguing for centuries about which came first - it's a kind of chicken-egg debate. You can also make the argument that many or most philosophies are religions. I agree that proper discussion of philosophy (or religion) needs to be open to opposing viewpoints. In fact, religious scholars would demand such openness.

jafs 4 years, 6 months ago

The responses are good, as far as I can tell.

But, I have to comment on the conflation of God and Jesus in the first one. This is a Christian view, and not even shared by all Christians.

People can believe in God without believing that Jesus and God are identical, and people can even believe that Jesus was a remarkable human being, prophet, etc. without believing it.

fiddleback 4 years, 6 months ago

I think the first response suggests a sort of passive proselytizing, trying to attract others towards your religion by exhibiting the more humble ideals of your faith. I agree with the means but not the ends. We should all try to offer the best of ourselves and demonstrate our values rather than feel compelled to preach them. But expecting or even merely hoping that people are brought to your brand of faith is a stealth version of spiritual arrogance. Until evangelicals accept that there are multiple paths to the same "god" (or reconciliation with the infinite for us non-theists), then there is no use pretending to be truly tolerant of the vast spectrum of human beliefs and dis-beliefs.

jafs 4 years, 6 months ago

Well, I don't know.

It certainly can be as you suggest. But, also, it's understandable that people want to share things that they've found meaningful and helpful, including religious faith.

I agree that the best way to do that many times is simply to live your best life, and share what you've learned with people who are interested in that.

fiddleback 4 years, 6 months ago

Yes, such sharing is totally understandable, and indeed part of the cliched undergraduate experience is having pseudo-intellectual rabbit-hole discussions about religion, philosophy, and virtually anything else with willing cohabitants that last into the wee hours. I think the question about the appropriateness of "bringing up" such matters is adorably laughable, since having these sorts of open discussions is part of the point of attending a university. However, I take minor issue with Mr. Jenkins' implied end goal of bringing people "who aren’t even yet Christians" towards a relationship with you see a way to interpret that as other than a tacit presumption that we all should and likely will ultimately embrace Christ, because that's the only means of salvation? I read this as subdued/sublimated spiritual exclusivity, whether intentional or not.

jafs 4 years, 6 months ago

People who believe in Christ want to share that with others, and they want others to join them.

It's part of pretty much all religions as far as I know, as well, and other things too, like living healthfully, being vegetarian, etc. When we find things that work well, or seem morally good to us, we naturally want to share that, and we hope that others will adopt those things.

So of course he wants others to have a relationship with Jesus - he sees that as a very good thing, perhaps the way to salvation, perhaps the only way, but not necessarily so.

Just as I would like for people to become vegetarians, since I am one, have been one for over 25 years, and find killing animals morally objectionable if/when we don't have to.

fiddleback 4 years, 6 months ago

Yes, it's a very natural, deeply-rooted human desire to find others with your values or else help to convert them, and this is usually excusable, even in matters where you feel a distinct sense of moral superiority like vegetarianism. Where I draw the line and admittedly have particular sensitivity is with regard to eternal salvation/damnation. You may conclude that your dietary morals are far above those of others, but obviously you don’t further presume that their eternal destiny is to be roasted in hellfire. Evangelicals and certain other denominations often presume the latter. While I certainly couldn’t extrapolate that Jenkins has such ugly presumptions from his statement, his regard for others as “not yet Christians” and focus on more subtle spiritual seduction (vs. exchange of ideas or learning) still suggests the Evangelical imperative of conversion in order to save eternal souls. Then there's the obscure corner of the Velocity church website that spells it out:

There is a certain arrogance and intolerance embedded in such theologies that I think should be called out at every opportunity, as it seems totally incompatible with a modern pluralist society. And I think the growth of what we might call "positive-spin" Evangelical congregations in Lawrence, such as Velocity and Vintage (, suggests the need for their theologies to be more publicly and fully explained rather than let them keep hiding the damnation side of the coin.

jafs 4 years, 6 months ago

Well, interestingly enough, I don't actually go around feeling "morally superior" because I'm a vegetarian - I do think it's a better choice in many ways, including morally, though. I wonder what the distinction is.

There is absolutely plenty of arrogance and intolerance in all religions.

But, it's compatible with our modern society for people to believe whatever they like religiously, isn't it? After all, we have the 1st amendment. So, people are free to believe that gay and lesbians are going to hell, etc.

And, they're free to want to "save people's souls" as well. Everybody else is also free to form whatever ideas/opinions they like of that attempt.

Since none of us knows for sure who might be right about the ultimate stuff, I have a lot of tolerance for many different beliefs about it.

When it comes to kids, it's a different story, and I find it problematic that parents are allowed to indoctrinate their kids from a young age, and scare them.

fiddleback 4 years, 6 months ago

"I do think it's a better choice in many ways, including morally, though. I wonder what the distinction is." The distinction to me is that you don't presume eternal torture for those who continue to eat animal flesh. Yes, arrogance and intolerance are manifest in many/most religions, and the first amendment absolutely protects Americans' right to hold, express, and try to propagate arrogant or intolerant beliefs. My point is that the concept of damnation and exclusive salvation is of more emphasis in fundamentalist Christian and Islamic sects (, and that these theologies, if more fully articulated, would deservedly lose most of their remaining favor in the modern marketplace of ideas.

And heck, if you don't like parents indoctrinating their kids, just think of all those parents who admit to their inquisitive children that all non-believers are destined for the lake of fire.

jafs 4 years, 6 months ago

Possibly, although many people believe in hell. Did you know it's originally an Egyptian concept?

That's just what I meant - I have problems with parents indoctrinating their kids and scaring them with religion.

fiddleback 4 years, 6 months ago

Yep, it's Egyptian, which helps explain its unfortunate continuation by 2 of the 3 Abrahamic faiths.

And yes, such parents will continue to instill fear and intolerance insidiously until our society admits that such theologies are damp dark corners and that this black mold of intolerance, rather than being allowed to grow because our own erring towards tolerance, needs the disinfecting light of reason and basic humanist values shone down upon it.

jafs 4 years, 6 months ago

Well, again I don't know.

It's ok with me for adults to believe whatever they like, and that includes intolerant religious beliefs.

It's not ok to scare and indoctrinate kids by instilling the fear of hell in them at a young age.

We don't have to outlaw the first to prevent the second, and I think it would be a mistake to try to do that, for a few reasons.

All it would take is some sort of court case concluding that planting the fear of hell in kids is a form of child abuse.

fiddleback 4 years, 6 months ago

I understand that it's a more precise battle you would rather pick regarding children. But again, I'm not saying adults shouldn't have that freedom; I'm just saying they should be open and willing to defend their draconian theology rather than evasive and insidious. And given that we can't even outlaw spanking, much less police what concepts parents teach their children, I'd say it seems much more practical and conceivable for secular humanists to deploy their logic persuasively against these antiquated tenets rather than try to outlaw their instillment in children

jafs 4 years, 6 months ago

Good luck with that.

Religion is for the most part not a rational exercise, so logic isn't very effective.

Have you had any success arguing religious believers, especially fundamentalist ones who believe in hell, out of their beliefs yet?

fiddleback 4 years, 6 months ago

I didn't really mean directly confronting individuals so much as more public discussions of hell and damnation as theological constructs. That said, I've discussed these subjects with Christians in anonymous forums like this, and many will acknowledge multiple paths to spiritual salvation without thinking such pluralist tolerance violates their Christian faith. Even the current pope has expressed this view. But it's indeed a very awkward and fraught undertaking to challenge someone's beliefs in person, especially someone you know or worst of all a family member. I have a younger cousin who just finished his "masters of divinity" to become a fundamentalist minister. Broaching his tenets will be an incredibly delicate matter, and I'll want to wait until he's mature enough to truly consider my words without defensively recoiling. But I do think the tide is turning against mindsets like his, at least among younger generations.

Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 6 months ago

jafs - Your comment: "It's part of pretty much all religions as far as I know" was preceded by a statement about proselytization that implied that most religions claim exclusitivity. That is not true of two religions at least, Buddhism and Judaism. Neither one of those two claim exclusivity.

And from the Koran, The Cow 2.62:
"Surely those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabians, whoever believes in Allah and the Last day and does good, they shall have their reward from their Lord, and there is no fear for them, nor shall they grieve."

"There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but the view is always the same."
- Ancient Chinese proverb, origin lost in antiquity

jafs 4 years, 6 months ago

Well, it's a bit more complicated, of course.

But Buddhists believe that they're on a path towards enlightenment - some may believe it's the best, or only path there. But, either way their view is that nirvana is the end goal. That kind of leaves out people who are seeking "salvation", or "getting to heaven", etc.

And, Jews (or some Jews) believe that they're the "chosen people", which by definition excludes others.

That's a nice passage, but I'm sure you know that many Muslims aren't as open-minded.

The fact is that people like to draw groups, and put themselves into them, and others outside of them, and that tendency is marked with religions, in my experience.

Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 6 months ago

One school of Judaic thought is that Jews were "chosen" to bring the Torah into the world, and to provide an example of morality to others. But, as with any other religion, it is not difficult to find bad examples. It is clearly stated in the Torah that the Jewish people were chosen not because they were the greatest nation, but because they were the least.

And yes, it is true that many Muslims are not open minded enough to follow clearly stated things in the Koran. Instead, many follow the teachings of their Imams, many of whom are leading them astray, in my opinion. Although this is more of a problem in the Middle East, where literacy rates are much lower than they are here.

There is another factor, succession, in common Islamic interpretation of the Koran. Meaning that later passages take precedence over earlier ones, in the same fashion that Christians believe that the New Testament supersedes the Old Testament.

jafs 4 years, 6 months ago

The question I suppose is what one means by "religion" - I mean religion as practiced by human beings, not in the abstract.

By definition, groups that identify as religious do so on the basis of shared beliefs, and those beliefs separate them from other similar groups. In some ways, it's kind of impossible not to do, otherwise what is the point of forming a religious group in the first place?

Then, when you add in the ultimate nature of religious belief, it gets even worse.

Liberty275 4 years, 6 months ago

People are free to discuss their religion anywhere and anytime in America.

asixbury 4 years, 6 months ago

Why is only Christianity discussed on this faith forum? It would be great to hear views from other religions. Buddhists, by the way, can be any religion they want. Buddhism is more of a way of life, which can embrace any religious view the person likes. It does not concern itself with the afterlife, gods and such. It is about how to live this life we have now.

Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 6 months ago

Faith Forum: What do Christianity and Buddhism have in common?

Zen Buddhism, Sufism and Judaism are discussed here:
(Note: Sufism is a sect of Islam.)

Faith Forum: Do Jewish people give gifts for Hanukkah like Christians and secular people do for Christmas?

There were others, a complete list would be tedious. Use Google.

Several 'Faith Forum' columns were written by Jewish rabbis, but only a few by Sufis. But as far as I can remember, none were written by Sunni or Shi'ite Muslims.

"It does not concern itself with the afterlife,,, It is about how to live this life we have now." That is a perfect description of Judaism!

Commenting has been disabled for this item.