Different shades of the faith

Bryan Nichols

When I imagined college as a senior in high school, I was expecting the sort of college experience I had always seen in movies and on television.I’d go to a fun, enriching place with an open-minded, liberal student body more eager to accept than judge or condemn. To be honest, once I got here, I realized I would be proven wrong, at least partially. While college at Iowa State has indeed been fun and enriching, and while I have met plenty of liberal, open-minded students, something is very different here. There is a problem.Maybe I was naive, but here is what I quickly ascertained: There are a lot of conservative people here. I guess it was my choice to go to a large state institution in the middle of Iowa; I don’t mind them too much. Anyways, conservatives are always fun to joke about and I’ve managed to surround myself with a community of people who share my own liberal views. So I’ve gotten by just fine.The problem has not been the conservatives. They can keep talking about how great Reagan was all they want. I’ll just laugh. For me the problem has been a different group, one whose members hate and condemn and pass judgment on people, all in the name of God. The members of this group all like to call themselves Christian. They wouldn’t irk me so much if I didn’t call myself Christian as well.A little background on myself: I was raised in the Twin Cities by my mom, a fourth-grade teacher, and my dad, the pastor of Hazel Park Congregational United Church of Christ, a church in St. Paul. So I come by my religious views honestly.My household was never a typical “religious” one: There are no religious symbols in plain view; no one quotes the Bible; we don’t even pray before meals. Friends of mine are invariably surprised to learn, after meeting my dad, that he is clergy. Yet I was raised to believe that the Christian God was a loving, accepting one. I still believe that with devout faith. This is why it shames me so much to listen to the views espoused by “Christians” here at Iowa State.So why have I told you so much about myself? Maybe it’s to build up some “Christian credibility.” I don’t know. Now watch me burn it like tinder.It comes up so often. Mention any of these words in any combination: evolution, abortion, homosexual, morality, sex. A “Christian” jumps out of the woodwork and quickly tells you exactly what God has in mind. They’ll condemn, they’ll quote Bible verses, they’ll jump around and act all sanctimonious and say, “Hey, listen to me. I’m religious.”Maybe these people are religious. But you know something? So am I. I just don’t buy in to the fundamentalist dogma and rhetoric that so quickly turns people away from religion. Maybe I’m in a minority, but I’d like to assume there are many others like me — Christians who are sick of seeing their religion usurped by a few bigots. I know “bigot” is a strong word. I also know its use is deserving. I know I’ve seen Pat Robertson slur all sorts of people on his Christian Bible Network. I know I’ve seen Fred Phelps holding signs that say, “God hates fags.” I know other people see these things too. Reasonable, intelligent, open-minded people see these things and say, “Hey, those Christians sure are mean. I’m glad I’m not one.” I just wish they didn’t have to.While Fred Phelps and Pat Robertson are extreme cases, they are not the only “Christians” who turn people off of religion. Every week here in the Daily, it seems like a “Christian” is eager to tell us exactly why evolution didn’t happen, why four cells is a person or why homosexuality is deviant or unnatural. If you’re a scientist, it’s easy to discredit these people as zealots and not believe in God.So I’m trying to do the exact opposite. I say that just because I am a thinking, intelligent, open-minded, liberal person, I do not have to be an atheist. Just because I’m a Christian, it does not mean I believe a word of what Jerry Falwell says. I know there are other Christians out there who agree with me. It just happens that we’re usually a little less vocal.So this column is a call to all people, not just Christians. If you’ve thought out your spirituality, whether you’re a Hindu an atheist or a Jew, good for you. I’m with you. If you’ve swallowed the dogma of any religion all your life without questioning whether it’s right, take a second and think. If you see a bigot masquerading as “religious,” realize what they are. Most importantly, realize that everyone who believes in religion is not one of them.Bryan Nichols is a senior in genetics from Burnsville, Minn.