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What it is like being an atheist in college

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Markell Braxton-Johnson

Being an atheist in college can sometimes be difficult waters to navigate. I have been an atheist since I was a freshman in high school, but before that I was a faithful Christian. I won’t bore you with the story as to how I became an atheist, but what I will say is that it was only after I came to Midwestern State did I truly feel comfortable telling others about my lack of belief.
It wasn’t that I was embarrassed about the decision I came to, nor was it because I feared I had the wrong answer. The main reason I found it difficult to “come out” as an atheist, especially in college, was because I never wanted to be militant about my atheism. I never wanted to be that guy that used every chance he got to let people know that he didn’t believe in god. It’s a fine line to walk, but it is critical that us minorities let others know we exist.
With anything that is contrary to the status quo, there comes many misconceptions. This is no different with being an atheist. There’s the unfortunate misconception that atheists only reject god because we had some past traumatic experience that led us to turning away from god. While that may be true for some atheists, this wasn’t the case for me, or was it the case for the atheists I know.
Most atheists become nonbelievers simply because the evidence for god(s) is/are insufficient. We can’t be angry at god because we don’t believe in god. Another misconception is that atheists are immoral. This misunderstanding about us comes from the assumption that god gives humans morality and tells us what is right and wrong. I’ve always found this one strange because it’s a tacit admission that without religion, people would rape, steal, and kill one another without a second thought. All I can say to refute this is to ask my fellow religious peers if there was a foolproof way to disprove the existence of god, would you go out the next day and kill someone you didn’t like? Would you steal things that did not belong to you or spread malicious falsehoods? Of course you wouldn’t. Believe me, you can be good without god.
As an atheist, I take great pleasure in increasing the good will and human solidarity that happens in our country and on our campus. I don’t need religion to feel this way. I don’t need religion to see other students and the community-at-large (regardless of their faith) as brothers and sisters—siblings who all share a common humanity and a healthy desire for good to triumph over bad.
Being an atheist in college you come to accept that the majority of people around you are religious. More specifically, in America, in Texas, and at MSU, most people are conservative Christians. This makes things a little more uneasy for me.
I am a black atheist, which means I’m a minority within a minority. According to Pew Research, “less than one-half of a percent of African-Americans identify themselves as atheist,” and while I haven’t run a survey of students at MSU, I would imagine the numbers are the same here.
Even though atheists may be a small part of the college community, I know there is room for us here at MSU. That’s the great thing about being an atheist in college. Despite being a vastly outnumbered group, we can engage in open-minded discourse and make our voices heard.
Markell Braxton-Johnson is a sports and leisure sophomore. 
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26 Responses to “What it is like being an atheist in college”

  1. Sean on February 15th, 2017 10:50 am

    I’m surprised at this, because my impression is most accredited secular colleges are largely dominated by non-religious people (or even when people are religious, they are what the bible calls “lukewarm”).

    I guess it depends on which college you are talking about, but I think it is fair to say that most of the Christian conservatives do not hold college-level education (many are homeschooled and sent off to private Christian “college”)


  2. Miss Wendy on February 15th, 2017 3:07 pm

    Psalms 14:1;53:1 – the fool says in his heart “there is no God”…


    Freethought Reply:

    The wise man knows it in his head!


    PalmPete Reply:

    So your ancient rule book is really stupid and abusive.
    Grow out of it please, it’s nasty and wrong.


    Chris Weiss Reply:

    The only “proof” of any god is the words in holy books written before the arrival of modern science and technology. More knowledge have been accumulated in the last 200 years than in all of human history prior to this period combined. In the last 200 years, there have been no major religious revelations. Hmmmm…. is there is a connection? What is more likely to be true – bronze and iron age mythology or modern science and clear thinking?


    SkepticNY Reply:

    Yep even fools are smart enough to realize gods do not exist.


    Ermine Reply:

    Even the devil can quote scripture…


    Eli Calvillo Reply:

    1 Timothy 2:11-15
    Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing.


    No One Reply:

    If even the fool can understand that, why can’t you?


    Anon Reply:

    1Timothy 2:12 says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man; she must be silent”.


    Andy Reply:

    “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.” 1 Timothy 2:12


    Matthew Stephenson Reply:

    What’s the point in quoting the Bible? I can quote extremely similar quotes in a lot of other biblical texts.


    Andrew Reply:

    Quoting a religious book to defend that religion as being real is, well, kind of stupid. Shall I start quoting Harry Potter to prove that wizards are real? Or maybe some ancient Greek or Roman religious books. Or *gasp* the Koran! Would you accept those passages as proof of those gods? If not, why does your book of mythology hold any more significance?


    Bea Reply:

    Man created your god. End of story.


    Miss Wendy Reply:

    1 Timothy 2:12 – “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.”


    Aden Reply:

    You just called him a fool. What kind of “good Christian” are you supposed to be? You actually think leaving a snarky comment embedded with a bible quote will change his mind? The poor guy is going through a social issue and you decide to leave that comment there? You are the reason religion shouldn’t exist in the first place. All it brings is discrimination and hate.


    Markell Braxton-Johnson Reply:

    I’ve seen that quote before, but I don’t think it applies to me. I never said “there is no god.” I said, I don’t believe in god.

    Thanks for the reply, though.


    Pete Arnsworth Reply:

    Looks like you should have read more of that Bible, Miss Wendy:

    “And whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.” Matthew 5:22


  3. Killerbee on February 16th, 2017 5:19 pm

    I can’t help but notice the arrogance in Miss Wendys comment.

    Her assumption that the bible should be THE reference point when it has been continually demonstrated to be mainly a work of fiction and her assumption, without a shred of evidence, that a god exists.


  4. Mike on February 18th, 2017 9:58 pm

    Miss Wendy – true to form your religion apparently does not teach inclusion, manners or to not cast the first stone.

    “Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain.” — Schiller


  5. Cody on February 18th, 2017 10:00 pm

    Miss Wendy, you ignorant piece of crap. Have some more Bible quotes while ur at it.

    Anyone who blasphemes the name of the LORD must be put to death. The entire assembly must stone him.
    Leviticus 24:16

    Happy shall he be, that takes and dashes your little ones against the stones.
    Psalms 137:9

    Slaughter old men, young men and maidens, women and children, but do not touch anyone who has the mark. Begin at my sanctuary.” So they began with the elders who were in front of the temple.
    Ezekiel 9:6

    This is what the Lord Almighty says… ‘Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.
    1 Samuel 15:3

    I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.
    Isaiah 45:7

    Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it. (Brainwash a child on religion).
    Proverbs 23:6

    “I permit no woman to teach or have authority over men; she is to keep silent.” Timothy 2:11

    “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.”

    To the woman [God] said, I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you. -Genesis 3:16

    And because your name is Miss Wendy. A woman like you has no right to even preach the word of god. If ur a faggot, ur going to hell immediately.

    A wife is a man’s property: You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. Exodus 20:17
    Daughters can be bought and sold: If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as male servants do. Exodus 21:7
    A raped daughter can be sold to her rapist: 28 If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, 29 he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives. Deuteronomy 22:28-29
    Collecting wives and sex slaves is a sign of status: He [Solomon] had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. 1 Kings 11:3
    Used brides deserve death: If, however the charge is true and no proof of the girl’s virginity can be found, she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. Deuteronomy 22:20-21.
    Women, but only virgins, are to be taken as spoils of war: Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, 18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man. Numbers 31:17-18
    Menstruating women are spiritually unclean: 19 “‘When a woman has her regular flow of blood, the impurity of her monthly period will last seven days, and anyone who touches her will be unclean till evening. 20 “‘Anything she lies on during her period will be unclean, and anything she sits on will be unclean. 21 Anyone who touches her bed will be unclean; they must wash their clothes and bathe with water, and they will be unclean till evening. 22 Anyone who touches anything she sits on will be unclean; they must wash their clothes and bathe with water, . . . 30 The priest is to sacrifice one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. In this way he will make atonement for her before the LORD for the uncleanness of her discharge. 31 “‘You must keep the Israelites separate from things that make them unclean, so they will not die in their uncleanness for defiling my dwelling place,[a] which is among them.’” Leviticus 15: 19-31
    A woman is twice as unclean after giving birth to girl as to a boy: A woman who becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son will be ceremonially unclean for seven days, just as she is unclean during her monthly period. ‘ 3 On the eighth day the boy is to be circumcised. 4 Then the woman must wait thirty-three days to be purified from her bleeding. She must not touch anything sacred or go to the sanctuary until the days of her purification are over. 5 If she gives birth to a daughter, for two weeks the woman will be unclean, as during her period. Then she must wait sixty-six days to be purified from her bleeding. 6 ” ‘When the days of her purification for a son or daughter are over, she is to bring to the priest at the entrance to the tent of meeting a year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a dove for a sin offering. Leviticus 12: 1-8
    A woman’s promise is binding only if her father or husband agrees: 2 When a man makes a vow to the LORD or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said. 3 “When a young woman still living in her father’s household makes a vow to the LORD or obligates herself by a pledge 4 and her father hears about her vow or pledge but says nothing to her, then all her vows and every pledge by which she obligated herself will stand. 5 But if her father forbids her when he hears about it, none of her vows or the pledges by which she obligated herself will stand; the LORD will release her because her father has forbidden her. . . . . A woman’s vow is meaningless unless approved by her husband or father. But if her husband nullifies them when he hears about them, then none of the vows or pledges that came from her lips will stand. Her husband has nullified them, and the LORD will release her. 13 Her husband may confirm or nullify any vow she makes or any sworn pledge to deny herself. Numbers 30:1-16
    Women should be seen not heard: Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 1 Corinthians 14:34
    Wives should submit to their husband’s instructions and desires: Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Colossians 3:18
    In case you missed that submission thing . . . : Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Ephesians 5:22-24.
    More submission – and childbearing as a form of atonement: A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. 1 Timothy 2: 11-15
    Women were created for men: For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head. 7 A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 1 Corinthians 11:2-10
    Sleeping with women is dirty: No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. 4 These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they remained virgins. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among mankind and offered as first-fruits to God and the Lamb. Revelation 14:3-4


  6. George Wolf on February 19th, 2017 12:52 pm

    I always feel so postive when I read accounts like Markell’s. Great going!

    I too became an atheist in my first year of high school — in 1964. I did it in spite of the reaction of my parents and like you felt freer to speak out once I got to college. I guess it’s become old hat for me to hear the same tired arguments by christians against repeated ad infinitum. So many of them sound surprised when their ideas are refuted so easily.


    Markell Braxton-Johnson Reply:

    Thanks, George! I can’t begin to imagine what it was like being an atheist +50 years ago – as I assume people were far less accepting of disbelievers then than they are now. That’s why I felt it important to give an atheist’s perspective. Theists should know that atheist are all around the country, in every walk of life. Our voices matter, and we ought not be afraid to let them be known.


  7. John Phillips on February 19th, 2017 5:34 pm

    Great essay; thanks for writing it and making your voice heard. And the fact that you’re a Rush fan is just further evidence of your good judgment.


    Markell Braxton-Johnson Reply:

    Thank you, John. And – yes – I’m a huge Rush fan!! Glad someone noticed.


  8. Laurie Hall on March 12th, 2017 7:52 pm

    Great essay, thank you!! I came into my atheism much later than you, and I’m so glad I don’t have to pretend something I don’t feel anymore. I too had a very religious upbringing, to the point that when I was a child back in the 60s I worried that Madeline Murray O’Hare would kidnap me! That came of hearing my parents and church members going on and on about how horrible she was. Then years later when I finally read some of the things she said, it made sense. Over time, I read more atheist authors, and the more I read, the clearer it got. I also agree completely that we atheists need to speak out. To support other non-believers, and to show our communities that atheists are just like them, except we’re good without a god! We don’t need the reward of a heaven or the threat of a hell to be good people.

    Thank you again, it’s you and young people like you that give me hope for the future!


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What it is like being an atheist in college