Columns / Discourse / April 5, 2017

Are you spiritual or religious?

This question didn’t make sense to me when I first came to Knox. In my mind the two were synonymous with each other.

I grew up in a Christian household, my family moved to Kenya and then Uganda because my father thought that God was calling him there. I have always known God in my life, however near my high school graduation my relationship with the church that my dad was pastoring became shaky and I blamed it on God. Select people in power in the church targeted my parents and tried to make them leave; my youth group leader was unsupportive of me when I needed him to be; and I was alone, my siblings were all in college. It was an incredibly hard time for me and my faith. The way that I coped was by creating a group called “Compass.” It was a conversation-based youth group where each Friday someone would tell a story about themselves and we would all get to know each other better.

The group was for anyone — the more the merrier. Some days we would have three people, other times we would have 15. I created this group as a solace, a place for people to talk about their problems with religion but also with life.

Looking at my senior year, Compass was extremely helpful in terms of creating an open mind about different religions as well as different ideas, something that is incredibly useful here at Knox and it eventually helped me create Ungodly Hour. I’ve found that the students at Knox tend to believe they are more spiritual than religious. Not many people on campus want to strongly tie themselves to a religion and nearly everyone has difficulties with the religion that they grew up with.

Since coming to Knox I’ve been thinking how I could create Compass again in some way or other. I had no idea how I would do it until I was up late talking with some friends. The question I had posed to everyone in the conversation was “How is your relationship with God (or a similar higher power)?” and it was one of the best conversations I’ve had at Knox yet. Eventually though, we had to close the conversation. Until we asked: what if we did this again? This idea continued to evolve, eventually forming Ungodly Hour.

This group meets every other Tuesday morning from 1 to 2 a.m. and talks about religion and faith. The meeting starts with everyone introducing themselves and what religion (or lack thereof) they come from. Then the conversation starts, beginning with structured questions before becoming a free-flowing dialogue.

Anyone can ask questions they have, as the goal is to have quality inter-faith conversation that helps the participants with their own faith, as well as working toward deconstructing any stereotypes that may exist. The reason the meeting is held so early in the morning is because this way everyone at the meeting truly wants to be there. Everyone in the conversation will either take something away from the conversation or will contribute something useful.

One of the most controversial topics discussed at Ungodly Hour was if free will was possible. One of the main arguments was that everyone has free will but the environment around you may take away it away. As an example, you may be an African-American living in Chicago and though you choose not to be stereotyped by the police, you will no matter what you decide. The main argument against this was we don’t have free will, that there is a higher power that is in charge of your life. They have a plan for you whether you like it or not and to go against it is not only pointless, but against the theory. Both arguments are fueled by what you religiously believe in, if you are an atheist or not.

Joel Willison

Tags:  Christian column discourse faith free will opinion religion spirituality ungodly hour

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