Chasing Candor

Andover actively encourages its students to believe in what they want to believe. Unfortunately, the topics of religion, religious diversity and religious discrimination rarely find their way into campus discussion. While many students are willing to talk about race, class, gender and sexuality, even the most vocal students shy away from discussing religion. As a person of faith, I believe the problem arises within the student body itself: individuals who practice a religion only seem to discuss their faith with those who share their beliefs, and many non-religious students seem reluctant to consider religion with an open mind. Rather than considering current issues like the restrictions on religious freedom in countries like Saudi Arabia, the primary subject of religious debate on the Andover campus often centralizes upon the legitimacy of theology. A disproportionately small number of students on campus believe in some higher power. Worldwide, only 16.3 percent of people identify as atheist or agnostic according to the 2012 Pew Research Center’s Global Religious Landscape; but at Andover, 41.3 percent of survey responders identified as one of the above categories of non-religious, according The Phillipian’s “State of the Academy” survey last spring. The implications of this statistic can, to some extent, be attributed to Andover’s status as an academic institution that prizes pragmatism and critical thinking in its students. Concepts that characterize religions such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam, including the notion of a God and an afterlife, seem antithetical to the academic practicality that Andover students so often apply. As a result, it is unsurprising that almost half of our student body would identify as non-religious. By viewing religion through this purely analytical lens, however, Andover students leave little room to consider the subtleties of global theistic powers. Religions are deeply and crucially connected to various other facets of personal and communal identity, including, but not limited to, our values, family histories and ethnic backgrounds. The practice of dismissing religious arguments as a reluctance or inability to accept and understand facts is offensive, inaccurate and all too common. Although a substantial demographic of any religious population can consist of uninformed individuals — or worse, individuals misinformed by agencies that restrict their access to scientific information — this demographic does not represent the religious community as a whole. In fact, it misrepresents the scores of educated scientists, scholars, politicians and philosophers who choose to maintain a theistic faith in an increasingly secular world. Because our community encompasses a range of religious backgrounds, Andover students are often afraid to discuss religion. Students and faculty, religious and non-religious alike, do not want to offend their peers or have their own viewpoints challenged. Consequently, many students make no attempt to learn about theology with an open mind; however, if students are willing to discuss the intersections of race, class, gender and sexuality — despite the fact that students hold many different viewpoints on these topics and often express them — then there is no reason we should not discuss the issue of faith. Religion is not a taboo topic, and a perpetual fear of discussing it should not run through the collective consciousness of the Andover student body.