A banner touting Benedictine hospitality greets visitors to St. Gregory's University, a Catholic liberal arts university near Shawnee, Okla. The century-old Benedictine Hall, seen in the background, is a landmark at St. Gregory's, which will close in December. RNS photo by Bobby Ross Jr.

Closing doors: Small religious colleges struggle for survival

SHAWNEE, Okla. (RNS) — Duncan Tiemeyer chose St. Gregory’s University because he wanted a faith-based education that would teach him more than how to succeed in a career.

The 550-student Catholic liberal arts college in Oklahoma traces its roots to French monks who moved to Indian Territory in 1875, intent on developing the bodies, minds and souls of Native American and settler children.

“Here, we are taught not only to focus on our five-year plan but also our 100-year plan and our 500-year plan,” said Tiemeyer, 22, a senior business and theology major from Houston. “What are we preparing for? Are we living our lives in a way that is getting us to the next life? Are we going to be able to go to heaven?”

Duncan Tiemeyer, Student Government Association president at St. Gregory's University near Shawnee, Okla., discusses his future plans. Behind him is the St. Gregory's Abbey church where Benedictine Order monks pray multiple times daily. RNS photo by Bobby Ross Jr.


 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

However, the brand of education offered by St. Gregory’s — where Benedictine monks still pray multiple times daily in a chapel beside a cemetery filled with the remains of their predecessors — will come to an abrupt halt at the fall semester’s end.

“It’s just a tragic and sad loss, and I’m grieving for our students and faculty and staff who are working through this loss,” said St. Gregory’s President Michael A. Scaperlanda.

The financially strapped Roman Catholic institution, 40 miles east of Oklahoma City, is just the latest small religious college to close in an increasingly competitive higher education marketplace.

  • Grace University, a Christian college in Omaha, Neb., will end operations in May, doomed by financial and enrollment challenges.
  • Marygrove College, a Catholic liberal arts institution in Detroit, will shut down its undergraduate programs in December.
  • Catholic-affiliated Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., did not reopen this fall.

“The transition from a mom-and-pop shop to a niche boutique has been difficult for many colleges,” Scaperlanda said. “In the pre-Wal-Mart world, mom-and-pop shops could survive and thrive. In the Wal-Mart world, you need to have a niche market and very sophisticated business practices, and I think that has been difficult for many small Christian universities, including St. Gregory’s.”

Benedictine monks welcome students and faculty members from St. Gregory's University near Shawnee, Okla., to attend the frequent prayers at the abbey church on campus. The monks plan to keep serving Oklahoma's Catholic community even as the university closes in December. RNS photo by Bobby Ross Jr.


 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Roughly one-third of the small private colleges rated by Moody’s Investors Service generated operating deficits in 2016, an increase from 20 percent in 2013, MarketWatch reported in June.

A major reason, according to the financial information website: a record level of tuition discounts, “a practice that’s financially riskier for small colleges that have fewer sources of revenue to rely on.”

More than 60 percent of Catholic universities in the U.S. have fewer than 2,500 students, and most have “very little in the way of financial endowment,” said Paula Moore, vice president of external relations for the Washington, D.C.-based Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.

“Particularly since the beginning of the Great Recession of 2007, many ACCU-member colleges and universities have made ongoing commitments to ensure the accessibility of high-quality Catholic education by holding tuition increases at an absolute minimum and by increasing the amount of financial aid for students,” Moore said in an email.

In 1956, 300 Catholic colleges and universities served roughly 400,000 students across the nation, according to Moore. Today, that total is closer to 200 institutions, but with double the overall enrollment, she reported.

“What that tells us broadly is that there has been a certain level of contraction among our colleges,” Moore added, “but that they continue to innovate and find ways to serve even greater numbers of students.”

Here in Oklahoma, St. Gregory’s had hoped a $12.5 million rural development loan from the Citizen Potawatomi Nation — made possible thanks to federal money dispersed to the tribe — would keep it alive.

To qualify for the loan, the Sooner State’s only Catholic university even de-annexed from Shawnee, a city of 31,000, to meet the requirement of being located in a rural area. However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture denied the loan, saying St. Gregory’s wasn’t in a rural area at the time of the last U.S. Census.

“Once the loan was denied, we were basically out of cash, and we needed to let our students find new homes quickly,” the university president said. “We couldn’t delay. There was really no time to appeal the decision of the USDA,” Scaperlanda said.

As religious colleges die, it’s society that loses out, he added.

“Students that go to a Catholic or a Protestant or even a Jewish or Islamic university — any of those faith-foundation universities — have a framework for life and can see their role as an accountant or a nurse within the context of a deeper meaning,” he said.

St. Gregory’s monks will keep serving the Catholic community, said the Rev. Lawrence Stasyszen, abbot and chancellor.

“We maintain our commitment to pray for all who have attended and supported St. Gregory’s over the years and will explore new ways of contributing to the culture of Oklahoma,” Stasyszen said in a statement.

News of the university’s closing — announced this month — brought shock and tears on campus, where a Christian cross sits atop the landmark Benedictine Hall, a castlelike structure built a century ago.

“I’ve been blessed with the understanding that nothing is outside of God’s providence,” said Emilia Lilly Bermudez, St. Gregory’s dean of students.

“I have to maintain calm for the sake of the students, but it’s not something that I have to fake,” added Bermudez, an immigrant from El Salvador and graduate of Catholic-affiliated Ave Maria University in Florida.

In its final weeks, the university is focusing on helping students find new educational homes, from Oklahoma Baptist University just down the street to Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, a Catholic institution 1,100 miles away.

Both those universities — and a number of others, both public and private — have sent recruiters to St. Gregory’s.

As life lessons go, this one is heartbreaking for students — but it also can be a faith builder, said Meg Hunter-Kilmer, St. Gregory’s on-campus missionary.

“It’s really a tragic thing for them to lose their home and the future they had planned for themselves, but we’ve just tried to remind them that this is life,” said Hunter-Kilmer, a graduate of the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. “This specifically doesn’t happen very often, but your plans being ruined happens all the time.

“We have to learn how to move on, how to get up, how to trust that the Lord is leading regardless of whether we can see where the pillar of fire and the cloud are taking us,” she added, referring to how the book of Exodus describes God guiding the Israelites’ travels.

Tiemeyer, the Student Government Association’s president, has created a GoFundMe page with a goal of raising $15,000 to help the 110 faculty and staff members losing their jobs right before Christmas.

He’s unsure of his own future.

Tiemeyer has enough credits to graduate with his business degree. But he’s four courses short of completing his theology major. While considering whether to become a priest, he has applied to go to seminary through the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City.

“We’ll see if that’s what God wants,” Tiemeyer said.

Comments

  1. ““Students that go to a Catholic or a Protestant or even a Jewish or Islamic university — any of those faith-foundation universities — have a framework for life and can see their role as an accountant or a nurse within the context of a deeper meaning,” he said.”

    One is clearly meant to think that those who don’t attend faith-foundation universities are incapable of such sensibilities.

    The arrogance of those attempting to justify faith is breathtaking.

  2. Make a universe, kill a son, dump on the creation you love – all in a day’s work.
    Feed a starving child, cure a cancer-sufferer, defeat senility – how trivial do you want the almighty to become?

  3. Yes, almost as breathtaking as those who tell you if you don’t go to college at all you will never amount to anything.

  4. Would to God all the “faith based” colleges would die. It would be the best thing that could happen to both faith and education.

  5. These colleges look great, but the maintenance must be overwhelming,the structures are all oversized. Dwindling enrollment more and more people moving away from organized religion. There are many other factors for these closings. But I wonder if anyone has ever thought that the teachings are the main reason for the exodus.That all we have learned through the centuries has been wrong.What may be needed has to do with one another not in a spirit world that is not part of this world.

  6. I left non-vocational education at 16 – not sure whether that supports your view (with which I agree) or not!

  7. Faithful Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox as well should seriously consider The Catholic University of America in Washington DC. This is the place to get a great education and live the faith in a supporting environment.

  8. Schools like St. Gregory’s are responsible for separating a whole generation of Native American and First Nations children from their parents and ancestral religion, and in many cases they were abused and forgot how to speak their ancestral languages. The kids were forcibly converted by the government to Catholicism, and many grew up to become alcoholics and child abusers themselves.

    Not everyone is sad to see them go.

  9. I only want him to live up to his publicity— or Christians of a certain sort to theirs.

  10. In the 1960’s Christian mission organizations across the nation realized the evil they had done by harming indigenous peoples. Virtually all mission groups now have a core value of protecting tribal cultures including family units. If organizations who did wrong in the past reverse themselves and commit to doing only good — in your mind do those organizations earn a second chance? If not, then to be consistent to your rubric of condemnation schools like Yale must be held responsible as well. Elihu Yale (5 April 1649 – 8 July 1721) was the benefactor of the Collegiate School in the Colony of Connecticut, which in 1718 was renamed Yale College in his honor.[1] Most institutions in this country, including St. Gregory’s are guilty of racial bigotry. Justice recognizes that people and institutions change.

  11. So you’re for academic genocide? The killing off of institutions that fail your belief tests? How are you different than the Christian missionaries who wished to God that the traditions of pagan Indian cultures would die?

  12. Other than Yale itself, what atrocities was Elihu Yale responsible for?

  13. Unfortunately it’s like a medium – all it needs is the occasional co-incidence and all the indisputable failures are forgotten – or worse, accepted as being the believer’s fault.

  14. It’s funny that a person like you would read this website. you must be looking for something, but it looks like you are a naysayer in hiding behind this post, hoping to be found. you have found this supporter who will pray for you

  15. I assume, since you are going to pray for me, that you believe in some form of supernatural deity.

    I don’t; I can find neither valid evidence nor rational argument as to why there might be such a being (other than the old god-of-the-gaps) let alone something that proves the existence of “god(s)”.

    Since you put your imaginative thoughts down I’ll tell you what I think is the real reason I’m here – you may feel vindicated or you may not.

    I read this website because I have, for many years, been fascinated by why and how people believe things that are clearly untrue/likely to be untrue/unevidenced maybes.

    This may have something to do with having grown up in a very religious household. I have family who are convicted Christians and I see the harm it has done to them and their descendants without apparently leading them to question their beliefs. I see increasing opposition to the scientific method and the growth of anti-intellectualism, both rooted in the need for some to promote/embrace irrational belief over logic and simple deductive reasoning. I find this preference for the ignorance of the past rather than the pursuit of future truth to be troubling.

    At age twelve it became apparent that some of the things I had been taught were entirely at odds with the reality of the world I inhabited. In such circumstances some people learn to compartmentalise their life and their religion – thus avoiding the inevitable cognitive dissonance that results from not doing so. Others seem able to view either one (religion or reality) through a filter which absorbs the conflicting thought and protects their preference from uncomplimentary comparison.

    For some reason I was unable to deny the obvious conflict and this lead me to understand that the beliefs of my parents (1950s evangelical CofE/Salvation Army) were untenable. I therefore started to explore alternative views, from Roman Catholic and Baptist christianities through to reading such popular books as Lyall Watson’s “Supernature”. Along the way I invented (as have many others) a form of Solipsism which I instantly rejected on the basis that I couldn’t possibly prove it wrong – early shades of applying the scientific method?

    By eighteen i was completely removed from religious belief and, fifty+ years later, still am. The lack of valid evidence or rational need for the supernatural seems absolute.

    So why here – I suspect that I’m constantly testing my lack of belief – that I’m still aware of the tendrils of my childhood belief and need to challenge them. If you like I’m daring someone/something to provide that which will defeat my rejection of superstition – despite my utter confidence that such a thing is impossible.

    That and the, perhaps forlorn, hope that if others venture here who have lingering doubts they can find that they are not alone in rejecting the tyranny of irrational fear and the personal debasement that comes with submission to immoral nonsense.

  16. I think he’s wanting to remove superstitious belief – they sought to promote it.

  17. Yes He will. If you repent of your sin, He will forgive you through Jesus. Never fear, Ben.

  18. Couple of great religion based schools in Philadelphia. Great basketball teams too.

  19. Beautifully articulated and very eloquent. Once again supporting my generalization and bias that contemporary religion tends to stifle the intellect (and communication skills with it) while rationality and objective perception of the world fosters perspicacity. The believers will say faith has nothing to do with intellect or reason, and they are right. It has everything to do with emotions and self-delusion.

  20. As a “Fellow Okie” please allow me to say, “BYE FELICIA”!!!

  21. Thank you.

    I agree that believers – in religion or in other faith based concepts such as alternative (i.e. of unproven efficacy) medicine are responding more to an emotional appeal than to a logical one.

    I suspect that delusion, whether self-induced or pre-packaged by external forces, is rarer where education moves beyond rote and into investigative skills. The combination of extended scholastic instruction and the internet, whilst a double-edged sword, is probably the game-changer in this respect.

    The evidence is clear that educational attainment is inversely related to religious belief – with plenty of exceptions to what is a very sweeping generalisation. I take some encouragement from the knowledge that the CofE’s avowed intent to fill it’s future pews by capturing present children’s minds whilst they are attending state-funded schools is, based on the Irish experience, doomed to failure – and possibly even counter-productive,

    I do appreciate that I have the good fortune to live in a country where over half of the population claims no religious allegiance and the most requested music at funerals is “Always look on the bright side” from “Monty Python’s Life of Brian”!

  22. Great posting. Bang On.

    I have embraced and rejected religious belief several times in my life, the last time being nearly 50 years ago. When I left it the last time, it was with the understanding that it held no value for me.

    At this point in my life, I don’t particularly care about it. We all have our metaphors to deal with and understand the universe. As I have said many time, if it makes your life better, and you a better person, I’m all for it.

    My issue is with what people do with it— really, what harm they are willing to embrace in service to those beliefs. I’m opposed to the harm, whether it is attacking gay people, pretending that birth control isn’t a health or economic issue, or flying airplanes into buildings.

  23. God moved on to Liberty University…God doesn’t like the small potatoes schools.

  24. Thanks.

    I differ with you only in that I see harm in all the various hosts of religion – from the personal through the family, the village/town/city, and the workplace to nationally and internationally.

    It seems to me that the baleful influence of superstitious belief (of which religion is but a part) permeates the entire structure of our society, if only because it offers a false problem-solving process. If the world could be made a better place through prayer it surely should be showing signs of it by now!

    But the prayer option is also an excuse for inaction. I go along with Terry Pratchett “If we stop telling people it’s all sorted out after they’re dead, they might try sorting it out while they’re alive.”

    The unevidenced hope of a better next life stultifies innovation and subverts the desire to improve things now, for ourselves and future generations, whilst diverting resources (time, effort, money and materials) which could benefit mankind. I’m not against fun and happiness but I have extended family who believe that we have a god-given right to damage the earth for our short-term selfish gain, and that we can’t destroy it because that’s Jesus’s job and he’ll need it to be around when he returns. This, it seems to me, is pure blame-avoidant, conscience-salving wishful thinking sanctified in an outsize tub of religious clap-trap.

    At the personal level – yes, some people do find comfort in their beliefs but I wonder where they would otherwise have found that comfort had they not been taught that religion was a real option.
    “I wouldn’t have survived without my faith” is a common post hoc fallacy that is often greeted by sagacious head-nodding when rational minds might be expected to question the assumption behind it.

    “if it makes your life better, and you a better person”.
    I question whether anyone has a better life (other than the vendors) or is a better person because of superstitious belief. Good people do good things and bad people do bad things – whether the good or bad is wrapped in faith, family or flag seems to make no difference.

    I do understand that those who have been encouraged to belief in a false solution may attribute it greater effect than it has – heck, we know that the placebo effect sometimes occurs even when the subject is fully aware.
    We need to realise that creating a false market and then selling the solution to the fictitious problem is never morally acceptable. Superstitious belief seems to get away with actions that are regarded as unacceptable in secular situations. When a ponzi-scheming fraudster preys on the elderly we call him a con-man or a scam artist, when a religious leader takes money for uttering promises he cannot back up society tends to see him as a saint.

  25. I certainly don’t disagree with you in principle. But I have known many good Christians in my life, without my usual sarcastic editorial Good Christians (TM). As I say, we all need our metaphors. Even mine will probably not stand up to rational analysis. But I dont reify my irrationalities into reality, but recognize them for what they are.

    Like everything else humans produce, religion is a mixed bag. (Look at Mel Gibson!) I also think it is pretty much inescapable. (I’m the perfect example). It seems to be a part of our DNA, from the research I’ve seen. I remember seeing one of the Star Trek movies some years ago, where even the hyper-rational Vulcans had a religion, which they celebrated en masse. Spock would say that was illogical, but there it was.

    Where I agree with you the most is here. Back when I studied Max Weber and Emile Durkheim, and was terribly interested in the sociology of religion, it became clear to me that despite all of the social Cohesion and organization which religion contributed to, it was equally well a socially destructive force, as god could easily become the justification for what could not be justified by any other means, creating in groups and out groups, and lots of antisocial consequences.

    The culture wars in this country are the perfect example. They don’t unite our society, but divide it, becuase they are not about faith, morals or culture, but about dominion and domination— in short, power and money.

    Thanks.

  26. “I have known many good Christians in my life” – and so have I (assuming you mean morally good rather than dogmatically orthodox!). I wonder though whether the juxtaposition of goodness and Christianity is any more than co-incidence – it can’t be simple cause-and-effect can it?

    There does seem to be an evolutionary benefit to belief. Those children who heed the instructions to not go near the fire, play in the sea, peer over the cliff, pick up snakes are more likely to survive long enough to pass their genes on to another generation.

    Perhaps superstition is just a perversion of the inherited tendency to follow the instructions of those seen as authority figures. This might explain why successful religious leaders tend to shout, wear fancy dress and refer to their deity as “Father”?

  27. That’s why I mentioned my usual sarcasm.

    I think the association of good with Christian is common to all of the abrahamic faiths. And probably has been ever since the first querulous old man raised a trembling finger, pointed it at one of his co worshippers, and hissed “heretic!”

    Superstition is easy. It provides an illusion of order, as I mentioned concerning Durkheim and Weber. That would be my guess.

  28. I know your testimony is sincere, but make NO mistake:

    That’s a very thick, very opaque filter through which to read the sincere words and emotions of faculty and students who are losing their Christian college experiences, their attempted degrees, (and for some, their jobs). They’re losing all of it so fast, they barely have time for a quickie interview with RNS on their way out the door.

    So if the approach you’re taking with this story, is how you intend to sell or promote atheism to the masses, I can assure you it’s a definite non-starter. Quite the opposite. Very quite.

  29. They have far more than you have, even though the bottom has fallen out of their barrel. What they have, no atheist can take from them.

  30. Give it yo’ best shot dude, but I assure you that your inexplicable anti-Christian hatred ain’t gonna stop God.

  31. I don’t doubt their sincerity – but being sincere does not have any cause-and-effect relationship with being right – or with that about which they are sincere being of value.

    Would you take the same attitude if the colleges had an ethos which was grounded in the tenets of Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Communism or Scientology?

    I can assure you that atheism is far from a non-starter with “the masses” once they are allowed to see the world as it really is and examine it with rational thought. That’s why religious groups are desperately trying to retain control over/influence within the educational establishments of the world. They believe they have to influence young minds in order to fill their pews/coffers – the Irish experience says they are wrong if, and it’s a big if, the schools are compelled to teach the analytical skills which nations’ future well-beings depend upon.

    If a nation’s schooling does not encourage critical thought the nation will fall behind technologically and religious observance will, in say 50 years, be found mainly in what will then be the equivalent of economically third-world countries.

    But hey – Jesus will be back before then won’t he?

  32. No atheist wants to. Your god already took it from them.

    You sure do like to tell yourself stories.

  33. You ask if I would take the same attitude if the college, monks and students had been based on Buddhism, Islam, etc.

    The answer for me is yes. Christianity does not take pleasure in, (and clearly has no need to win the masses by), relying on harsh crash-&-burn money disasters and immediate job losses hitting people in the face. You see how those young kids are feeling don’t you? One does not take pleasure in peoples’ misfortunes, regardless of their labels.

    On another issue (America’s technological status), I believe that America would have placed astronauts on Mars by now, if our nation hadn’t turned its back on God. No joke.

  34. I take no pleasure in peoples’ pains – but humanity has not stopped progressing – and probably never will.

    Just as our physical form is driven by millions of years of coping with a changing environment so our need to survive and procreate means that the methods used to advance humanity must change. When elements of our development no longer meet needs they either adapt and fit a new reality or they wither and die. I suspect that religion is going through the same process – it’s at different stages in different locations and there will always be those who will fight to delay the decay – but I suspect that, as the need decreases, the practice will dwindle until it becomes a cultural recreational activity – rather like Morris-dancing, speaking Cornish or Druidism. Those who fight the decay are, I submit, those who are causing the false hopes and shattered dreams that they have sold to those who are suffering.

    I wasn’t limiting my comments to America – there is a lot more world than that large lump of it to our West but I’m intrigued by your belief. I’ve always understood that the Moon race was, as the term suggests, powered by competition; a competition which appears not to exist regarding the Red Planet. And why do you think that a country’s relationship with its primary deity has any positive bearing on its technological advances? I understand the damage done to the application of logic and reason when children are taught that science is OK but only when it agrees with demonstrably false dogma but I don’t see how you reach your “no joke”.

    As to America turning its back on God – you have, I suspect, no idea how that makes those of us in less religion-addled countries smile/weep.

  35. Fascinating exchange! Well done, all. Would anyone care to reply to “What’s it all about?” Asked sincerely. Why are we what we are?

  36. Why are we what we are?

    It seems to me that the best answer is something like “Because, given the environment we evolved within, what we are works well enough”.

    “Well enough” meaning enabling the continuation of the species.

  37. Tossing in another question, a big question about the universe itself:

    “Why is there ‘something’ instead of ‘nothing’?”

    Atheism cannot answer that question.

  38. As is common among atheists, you are looking to mindless, blind, lucky-accidentism (aka the theory of evolution), to try to account for things that evolution has NO explanation for.

    And humans are one of those things that evolution (and hence atheism), absolutely cannot account for. Just doesn’t pan out rationally.

    Naturalistic Evolution is a joke, not only regarding the origin of humans, but also in regards to the origin of human brain-power. You see this demonstrated daily in human language, math, science, engineering abilities.

    Have you seen that TV show “SuperHuman”? Contestants perform amazing feats of memory or math, hoping the audience will select them for a $50,000 prize.

    That ability didn’t come from evolution. Evolution is helpless and pitiful. You’re actually seeing God’s own design and empowerment in humans. Remember Adam? Gave names to all the animals, all of them, no spreadsheets needed.
    And his son Cain, though he did evil, was still smart enough to design and build an entire city.

    Sin affected our minds and hearts, and it dumbed us all down, and of course atheism is one of those sins. But God’s grace through Jesus Christ, can help humans smarten up (especially with research, like Dr. Geo. Washington Carver suggested.)

    Support your brain cells. Abandon atheism !!!

  39. Why should it?

    You might as well ask why Christianity doesn’t wear mauve songs.

  40. Oh dear.

    Just because you say evolution doesn’t have an answer doesn’t mean it doesn’t have an answer – in this case it just means you’re either ignorant or wilfully untruthful.

    The scientific theory of Evolution has rational explanations for humans and for intelligence. Your statements can only be due to
    1) you don’t know the evidence,
    2) you don’t understand the evidence or
    3) you refuse to accept the evidence.

    I don’t watch US television.

    I know the story of Adam – who named the fishes?

    You may be sincere about your beliefs – unfortunately they are unsupported by evidence or need; they are irrational and contrary to common-sense (and also very, very silly).

    Your comment about sin affecting your mind and being “dumbed” down is almost an irresistible temptation.

  41. I could have been a bit clearer. My question was asked in terms of origins and original purpose, not in terms of ongoing purpose. I understand it may be unanswerable (which is kind of an answer in itself), but I thought I’d ask it anyway.

    Yes, species continuation is valid, but limited in the sense I mean.

  42. Everything that can be done via religion, good and bad, can be done without any religion. So religion is meaningless.

  43. Because I thought it would get to the heart of the matter. I see now by your answer it’s not deep enough. How about just origins, drop purpose. Why, how, what. I think any interrogatory will do.

    Not seeking a semantic fencing match. Maybe floydlee’s question may be best – “something out of nothing”. But that has assumptions too. And I certainly don’t put the onus on atheists for an answer.

  44. The origin of life, the Universe and everything?

    “I certainly don’t put the onus on atheists for an answer”.

    Thanks – but there is logic in expecting that they may be the people most likely to give you the best currently possible answer – which I reckon (not that I possess any particular expertise) is “We don’t know – but we have some exciting ideas which may or may not prove to be right”. (String theory, multiple universes etc.).

    An atheist is one who, due to the lack of supporting evidence and/or compelling need, has no belief in god(s). That’s it, all of it – an absence of belief in god(s).

    Look (worldwide) at those scientists who are most involved with the areas that may shed light on your question, Cosmology, Biology, Palaeontology, Geology, Physics, Mathematics, Neurology etc. and you will find that most have no (beyond cultural) religious allegiance. That should be expected – if you subscribe to a specific creation myth why should you have any interest in pursuing the questions of origins unless it is with the intent to find ways of confirming your bias – and that means you are not “doing science”.

    The need for a purpose behind the “big bang” requires that there be an entity which is capable both of having purpose and of creating the Universe. There is no evidence for that entity other than faulty logic and wishful thinking.

    I can’t prove that the “purposeful one” doesn’t exist (any more than believers can prove it does) but since, if it exists, it is unable or unwilling to take responsibility for the problems it (knowingly?) put in motion it is, IMO, fitting that we assume its absence and proceed without wasting time, effort or money worrying about that which, if it exists, is better at hiding than we are at seeking.

    • The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this indifference and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death — however mutable man may be able to make them — our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfillment. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light. Stanley Kubrick

  45. And @Ben,

    I would have a lot more respect for the conversation i read between you two guys if you hadn’t sounded like a couple true believers explaining why all atheist believe what they believe.

    The reasons for my belief in a God are more complex than what have been described. Da Vinci had this to say about experiment: “Experience does not ever err. It is only your judgement that errs in promising itself results which are not caused by your experiments.” I have a belief in God. That belief is the sum of many thoughts, some in favor of a God some not in favor of a God. Because I have given a greater weight to pro God thoughts, and because of the sum of my experiences has not challenged that belief I still believe. For me that belief remains pretty unchanging.
    There is a belief in the nature of God and his relationship to mankind that I have as well. That belief is made up of many more complex thoughts than the simpler thoughts of the existence of a God. For me, the nature of God is a belief that is changeable, I say that because I have experienced that change. My original belief was based on personal conclusions. Through the experience of life I encountered new things that caused me to question my conclusions, some of those changed others didn’t. But my personal belief in my opinion has changed for me by a process of better conclusions. My conclusions are not proofs, they are, like yours, simply conclusions based on experiences that have formed beliefs.
    I can take Bertrand Russell’s advice list from his 1929 New York Times Magazine article titled “ The Best Answer to Fanaticism-Liberalism and with only a slight edit on number five show a biblical principle for each of the 10 he listed. It is not a belief in God or a biblical based belief in God as in my case, that is needed to form good thoughts, nor is a belief in God a hinderence to forming and evaluating good thoughts. There is a difference in the thoughts that dominate our beliefs and the thoughts that dominate our actions. I do not believe beliefs have as great of an impact on our actions as people give them credit for. In other words as you guys say good people do good things, bad people do bad things, no matter what they believe. I have that same conclusion. Application of thoughts and application of beliefs do not always produce the same outcome. But that does not explain away belief, I, just like you guys didn’t fall out of bed with a dumb ass thoughtless belief one day, and it has been my experience to see people actually change their belief and their actions.
    All that said I have great respect for the thoughts and experiences you guys have put into what has formed your personal beliefs. I have enjoyed the conversations I have had with both of you in the past but I have to critique your criticisms here.

  46. “I would have a lot more respect for the conversation i read between you two guys if you hadn’t sounded like a couple true believers explaining why all atheist believe what they believe.”

    For my part, and only mine – You misunderstand the nature of atheism when you attribute “belief”. Atheism is the absence of belief in god(s). That’s it, all of it.
    Many of us accept that there could be some sort of disinterested super-entity (undetectable and dissociated from our world) which might be considered by some a god – such people are often referred to as “agnostic atheists” rather than those (relatively few) who insist that god(s) cannot exist (hard atheists or anti-theists).

    “Experience does not ever err. It is only your judgement that errs in promising itself results which are not caused by your experiments.” That’s why we have, largely since Da Vinci’s time, developed the scientific method – to minimise (I accept not eradicate) the effects of human tendencies such as confirmation bias. True science may be expected to lead to a specific conclusion – but to count as science it has to pass the rigorous tests of falsificability, repetition of experimental data and peer review.

    “My conclusions are not proofs, they are, like yours, simply conclusions based on experiences that have formed beliefs.”
    I don’t think that I can accept that my views are “based on experiences that have formed beliefs”. My position regarding superstitious belief was kick-started when I realised that the assumptions upon which the teaching I received was based conflicted with the reality of the world I inhabited. Subsequent investigation has, for me, failed to provide either evidence or reasoned need for the existence of the supernatural. That is not belief – it is the absence of belief – hence – I am an atheist.

    Religious people (not just Christians) often tell me that their god is not the god I cannot find – that if I cast my gaze at their version of god(s) all would become obvious – they are mistaken.
    My atheism is not god(s)-specific – It is not that I reject one god but haven’t considered every possible combination of characteristics that make up the multitude of god beliefs (one per believer?).
    I can see no reason to believe in the whole shebang.

    You are content to follow belief – some of us are not. That, surely, is the underlying difference between us; it doesn’t make either of us, per se, right or wrong.

    Unfortunately I have seen too often the pernicious effects on people, their family, their friends and the world at large that religious belief often imposes; on that basis I think it deserves my efforts to remove, in any way possible, religions’ baleful influence.

  47. If I understand you rightly, I have a superstitious belief and you have a position about my belief, but that position is not a belief? I’m not agnostic nor atheist therefore I do not share your position, if I should change my belief to your position something would have to influence that change. We could argue this circularly and get no where with each other.

    I’m very interested in your last statement, I too think removing religions’ baleful influences deserves my efforts. My belief/position is that influence based on a understanding of a belief is the best way to effectively change those influences.

  48. “If I understand you rightly, I have a superstitious belief and you have a position about my belief, but that position is not a belief?”

    Seems OK – you have a (superstitious) belief and I don’t. I suspect that neither of us believes in unicorns – that is not a belief position – it is an absence of belief position. Neither of us can prove that there aren’t unicorns – that is not the same as believing that there aren’t though, is it?

    Yes, it may well help to understand a particular person’s beliefs if you want to help that individual. My experience is that most religious folks either have a unique package of beliefs or have almost none; other than what amounts to “I believe what my parent/pastor/bishop etc. tells me to believe and if you ask a particular question I’ll go and ask them what my relevant belief is”. Often backed up with “We’ll find out the answer once we’re dead”!

    There is an oft quoted meme that “you can’t use logic to argue someone out of something they have not used logic to choose to believe”. In most cases it seems that religious belief is an emotional rather than a rational choice.

    I’m in the camp that thinks that prevention is better than cure – though that does not absolve one from trying to facilitate a cure where prevention is not an option.

  49. Proselytization, like unicorns we seem to have that in common.

  50. You returned to “purpose” – we (I) dropped that.

    The “best currently possible answer” may be found through logic/rationality as you indicate, but maybe not. Science itself cautions that on the quantum level cause and effect (logic) doesn’t seem to always be operating. So maybe rational thought is not all that there is to explain/understand origins.

    “Like many old people, we sometimes think we are passing figures in a godless universe.” EM Forster intended that to be a frightening observation and may explain much of the staying power of religion over the millenia. The fear of death/oblivion.

    Then there’s. “There are more things, in heaven and earth Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

    Thank you for the exchange.

  51. I know you dropped purpose but I don’t understand what you replaced it with – other than purpose in a different guise.

    ” maybe rational thought is not all that there is to explain/understand origins.” Not having a first rate answer to a question does not validate a second or third rate one though does it – otherwise any old unsupported or logically implausible whim is equally valid – including any preferred supernatural entity. Rational thought may not always get to the correct answer – it was rational to assume that the sun went round the earth until a few hundred years ago – but it is, surely, more likely to be more right, more often than whimsy.

    “The fear of death/oblivion.” Perhaps without unsupported (probably spurious) claims we would treat death/oblivion, without angst, as the natural finality is almost certainly is. Marketing people know how to create a previously unknown and unnecessary market – create the need, offer the only solution that satisfies the need and live on gravy street whilst the suckers vie for the product.

    ” “There are more things, in heaven and earth Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Shakespeare was suggesting that humans don’t know it all. A statement that is probably true but intrinsically ridiculous since, as a human himself, the bard couldn’t know if it were true.

    Thanks returned

  52. Tracy’s comment appeared in my emails – I can’t see the original here.

    Tracy wrote
    “Your very reply proves as to why religious colleges, regardless of the religion, provides far better students than any secular college ever does. First reason, it’s proven that religious institutions give a far better academically challenging education.”
    Evidence please

    “Even young students in elementary and high school religious schools perform”
    ??perform??

    “far better than any public educated child.”
    Nonsense

    “The educational excellence just is not there in secular schools. Parochial students always out perform their peers across the board.”
    If there is any truth to this I wonder if the secular schools have equivalent per capita budgets and whether, as in the UK, there is an element of selection which guarantees higher exam pass results,

    “ Second, any student attending a religious learning institution is going to learn to perform a service that is beyond themselves. Meaning they aren’t going in there with the intentions of just doing it for themselves. They go in knowing that what they learning to do is for t he greater good beyond themselves.”
    May be true for some perhaps but “any” is ridiculous overstatement. There are many children who attend secular schools who become doctors, nurses, paramedics, teachers, researchers, first-responders, forces personnel etc. etc.etc. Are you saying that you believe none of these have any feelings of service to others? – if so you have a sick mind – if not, why write what you did?

    “ They have the ability to think beyond themselves (something atheists have the incapacity to do).”
    Insulting, arrogant and incorrect

    “ It’s just not all about them ( you know, narcissism,what atheists practice). It’s called empathy. Something atheists actually lack ( there’s actual studies that prove that including your comments).”
    If you believe that I’ve a bridge to sell you – Sources please.

    “ Those who believe in a higher being actually tap into a part of the brain that atheists are unable to.”
    Evidence please – you are either making this up as you go along or someone is misleading you big time.

    “ Some of our most scientific minds in history also believed in religion.”
    And many didn’t – so what? This is not rational thought. Sir Isaac Newton was religious, in his day almost everyone was – they had no basis for realising how silly much of their belief was – mind you – he was a Unitarian – he had the sense to realise that the Trinity was unbelievable.

    “So your theory doesn’t even begin to hold water”
    What theory?.

    “ See, in your attempt to actually sound smart. You weren’t able to tap into that pathway in your brain because it’s atrophying, because if it wasn’t , you would have known that.”
    You are trying to prove the truth of your assertion merely by restating the assertion – that’s irrational, silly and immature.

    “Also the most superstitious people I have met are actually atheists. So much so, that they lash out to people who they really don’t have to worry about. You see, since you believe in just yourself then what do you have to worry about what others believe? Why exactly do you feel the need to be ignorant towards others if you don’t believe there is a God? If he doesn’t exist then why the need to even respond as this article had nothing to even do with atheists? The only time I find that people lash out is when they find some truth to a matter. I mean, if there isn’t anything out there then what business is it of yours to worry about what other people think? How you about you sit back, relax, and have a Coke and a smile? What you fail to realize is that atheists even have faith. They have enough faith that there is nothing beyond themselves, and that like the very comments they make, are also a waste of time and space. If religious people offend you, what makes you think that you don’t offend us? How can you hate something you do n’t even believe in? In all theory since you are an atheist , nothing should matter to you. So why is this very article causing you to even comment? Go, continue to breathe air and then become the plant food you believe you are, and try not to comment on things you know really nothing about.”

    OK – I’ve read some drivel in my life but this is amongst the silliest, the most ignorant and the most irrational ever.

    The hoary old chestnut about atheists having faith is wrong – if you understood what atheism was you wouldn’t write such nonsense.
    Since don’t understand what atheism is your entire intemperate rant is invalid.

    Please read this carefully – it is important, logical and relevant.

    What other people think would be irrelevant if it was only their thoughts that were affected.

    Unfortunately what other people think informs their actions and affects everyone around them, family, friends, neighbours, countrymen. When that affect is damaging those around us someone with empathy (which you inaccurately think is somehow dependant on religious belief) finds it incumbent upon them to speak out.

    Any superstitious belief is damaging because it erroneously encourages the promotion of irrational thought and unrealistic expectation over logic, reason and sensible actions.

    The idea that there is a better life to follow is undemonstrable, has no basis in fact and often stifles creative attempts to solve the people-damaging problems that the natural world presents.

    The irrational fear of hell and the unrealistic hope of heaven are sold to keep you and yours poor; poor financially, poor emotionally and poor as critical thinkers. You are entitled to choose to live an impoverished life – you are not, in any normal definition of morality/love/care/righteousness, entitled to impose that poverty of lifestyle on another human being.

    10:05 p.m., Wednesday Nov. 29 | Other comments by Tracy

    Reply to Tracy

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