Archive for ‘Religion’

April 9, 2013

My “Anonymous” Comments to the ad hoc PACI Committee

Although I am a Committee member myself, I cannot ignore the fact that I have personal opinions on inclusion at the University of Portland. So, I “anonymously” submitted the following comments to them. It’s not so anonymous now that I’m sharing it with all of you, but I didn’t feel that sharing my opinions during the student listening sessions was appropriate.

Anyway, here is what I said:

I have several comments and recommendations for the University’s ad hoc Presidential Advisory Committee on Inclusion:

As a queer student, I have experienced both explicit and implicit discrimination. I’ve been called “disgusting” and “unnatural” by fellow students in class and the instructors ignored those comments. I was never protected from such insults, especially when they were made in Theology courses. I can think of several reasons for why instructors faced with this situation wouldn’t come to my aid: 1) instructors are not educated on how to deal with confrontational situations involving diversity or discrimination, 2) instructors do not feel comfortable voicing their own personal opinions on matters of diversity for fear of retaliation from the University administration, 3) instructors belong to the mindset that opinions, even those which are hurtful and discriminatory, should not be stifled or corrected in the classroom. There is a clear problem with any and all of these reasons. The problem shouldn’t have to be spelled out in black and white for an institution that holds to a moral and ethical code as high as the University of Portland. Faculty and staff need to be trained to handle such conflicts in and out of the classroom. In order to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our students, we should provide our faculty and staff with an education that prepares them with the right knowledge about diversity of background and identity. Poet Denice Frohman said this: “Did you notice that hate is alive and well in too many lunchrooms, taught in the silence of too many teachers, passed down like secondhand clothing from too many parents?” (from the spoken word poem “Dear Straight People”; find it on Youtube.) Faculty and staff should act as mediators in these situations, not let them get out of hand like they all too frequently do here at UP.

As a person of color, I do not feel like a fully integrated member of the University community. I have never met a faculty member who shares a similar Latino or Asian heritage as myself. I have no mentor to approach with questions like “After I graduate, how do I deal with racial discrimination in the workplace?” I cannot share my experiences with racial discrimination with a faculty member who truly understands what I’ve been through. When I bring up racial stereotypes in class, I seem to be the only one who can relate. I get stares from fellow classmates and hear whispers like, “Why doesn’t she just keep that to herself? It’s not relevant to us.” These subtle racist comments (microaggressions) are not only hurtful to me and other racial minorities, but also perpetuate the destructive mindset that race issues are irrelevant or don’t matter to racial majorities. It’s not just my problem; it’s everyone’s problem. Our world is growing closer and closer together. It’s time for us to understand that we are becoming global citizens. Diversity training needs to be a part of a student’s introduction to the University. Higher education should broaden our worldviews, not narrow them.

As a woman in a male-dominated major (business), I feel like there aren’t nearly enough female leaders to look up to at the University. I cannot personally identify with any of our University’s administrators, who are straight, white, middle-aged males. I absolutely believe in hiring only those who are qualified for the positions they are appointed to, but I also feel that the University should make a stronger effort to seek out women (including/especially women of color) to fill their positions of authority. We have such a strong balance of male/female students, but that balance does not extend to our faculty and staff. How can we say that we are making decisions in the interest of all of our students if we cannot truly identify with all of our students?

Although the following issues do not directly pertain to me, I feel that it is important to acknowledge them as well: 1) I do not feel that we as a University provide adequate resources for our non-traditional students (married students, veterans, students with children/dependents, single parents, students who work full-time, delayed enrollment students, etc.). We lack an office for non-traditional students. We also do not have specific resources like a childcare center for parents (which could also be utilized by our faculty and staff).  2) I do not feel that we have enough resources for our international students. While we do have an International House in Residence Life that helps to accommodate students from other countries who may have different home lifestyles, we do not assist them with many of the academic challenges that they may face coming to a North American university. Education is approached in many different ways, and we need to understand that some people learn differently than others. I have also witnessed subtle discrimination among students towards international students. Comprehensive diversity training for students would help to remedy some of this. I feel that it is also important to include “citizenship status” into the Non-Discrimination Policy, to show that our University does not condone acts of discrimination based on one’s place of origin or the country one calls home.

To end, I will leave you, the Committee, with this to keep in mind as you move forward in your process:

As a Catholic institution, we value service and social justice. According to Fr. Basil Moreau’s Philosophy of Education, “If at times you show preference to any young person, it should be the poor, those who have no one else to show them preference, those who have the least knowledge, those who lack skills and talent, and those who are not Catholic or Christian.” If we seek to follow in the footsteps of Fr. Moreau, we should celebrate those who are different from us, not drive them away. We must embrace those who have been overlooked by others. It is our duty as a community to protect and serve those who are less fortunate. We have a moral obligation to those people. We must extinguish fear and replace it with love, as Christ would.

April 4, 2013

I Love Religion: Atheism vs. Antitheism

I’m an atheist. I don’t believe in God, gods, an afterlife, a Heaven, a hell, angels, demons, souls, reincarnation, karma, etc. I could explain why, but that’s a different story for a different time. Unless you’re trying to convert me, I doubt you really care why I’m atheist.

But, people seem to think that because I’m atheist, I hate religion. This is what my post is about, because that’s a pretty grand (not to mention completely inaccurate) assumption.

The word atheism can be broken up into the Latin prefix a-, the Greek prefix the-, and the Greek suffix -ism. Here’s a little lesson:

a- : meaning “away from” or “lacking”
the- : meaning “god” (any old god, not the God)
-ism : used in the formation of nouns denoting action or practice, state or condition, principles, doctrines, a usage or characteristic, devotion, belief or adherence, etc.

So, by putting it all together, we can determine that atheism means “a lack of belief in the existence of deities.” This isn’t exclusive to the Judeo-Christian God. This is pretty much everything. All the gods. From Greek mythology to Hindi gods to the  Zoroastrian god Ahura Mazda. I don’t believe any of these deities exist. I don’t believe in the planes on which they live nor the miracles that they perform. I don’t believe in many of the stories in religious texts. They just don’t add up to me.

This is much different than antitheism. Lesson number two:

anti- : Greek prefix, meaning “against, opposed to, preventive”
the- : again, meaning “god”
-ism: once again, used in the formation of nouns denoting action or practice, state or condition, principles, doctrines, a usage or characteristic, devotion, belief or adherence, etc.

When we put all of this together, we can define antitheism as “the opposition to theism, or the belief of deities.” Antitheists generally share the notion that religion, more specifically organized religion, is destructive and dangerous to humanity as a whole. Author and journalist Christopher Hitchens wrote in his Letters to a Young Contrarian, “I’m not even an atheist so much as I am an antitheist; I not only maintain that all religions are versions of the same untruth, but I hold that the influence of churches, and the effect of religious belief, is positively harmful.”

This is what I am not. I believe that religion and faith have the amazing power to bring people together under a common cause, be it salvation, community, love, morality, or charity. I’ve seen religion transform people. Some of the most empowering stories of the oppressed overcoming unbeatable odds are found in religious texts. People mold their lives around faith. And even though I don’t have faith, I find it absolutely beautiful when others do.

So don’t assume that all atheists hate religion. That’s simply not the case. I can’t speak for everyone, but I personally love religion and its power to heal a sometimes depraved world. That’s not to say that religion hasn’t been used to oppress and harm, because it has. It still is, all the time. But at its core, I believe that religion is meant to be used to protect, empower, and heal.