March concluded with the Campus Renewal Ministries’ Resurrection (Rez) Week, during which “40 Christian organizations work together during the week, which is meant to create a dialogue about Christian faith on campus. It is also meant to help Christians of different backgrounds, denominations and traditions to get to know one another,” according to the event’s website. This presentation and celebration of faith had an explicit presence on campus; it was popularly located on Gregory Plaza and featured musicians, an art exhibition, 24/7 prayer booths and a large open wall on which anyone could have publicly displayed their thoughts.
One of the panels on the open wall asked, “What does it mean to be hungry?” At the very bottom of the panel, someone had written: “I am a member of [one of] the last American minorities that it is still acceptable to ridicule and humiliate. I am an atheist, and I am hungry for equality.” Next to that statement, another person wrote: “I’m sorry you’ve been ridiculed for your beliefs. So have I. I respect you. Love, a Christian.”
While both statements are true to a certain degree — atheists and Christians can face criticism for their beliefs — the question of why atheism is not as pronounced on campus as Christianity — or even other religions — is a troubling one. For a University that revels in its diversity, the absence of some sort of open gathering of secular students is inconsistent with the oft-expressed values of acceptance and tolerance UT students maintain they hold.
The argument against such a gathering may be that while Christians are celebrating their belief in God, the object of celebration for atheists might be unclear; What would be the purpose of a gathering of atheists and agnostics? Many are concerned that any such gathering would merely attack Christianity and organized religion in general. However, the idea of having a congregation of secular students — hosting similar available activities such as an open wall, discussion groups and musicians — is not inherently opposed to Rez Week. Its purpose would not be to spark a fiery battle between beliefs, but rather to provide all beliefs with the opportunity to meet others with similar opinions and philosophies. Additionally, just as it is quite likely that atheists were exposed to Rez Week as they passed by on Speedway, Christians would likewise be witnesses to the activities of an atheist gathering.
Rez Week, an act of religious solidarity, has occurred annually for 16 years and offers support for those of faith. An atheist gathering would act in the same way, providing an environment where secular students would feel understood, unified and comfortable exchanging ideas. Ideally, the eventual result would be a gradual deterioration of misconceptions about both faith and atheism.
So why hasn’t a secular equivalent to Rez Week evolved? It’s certainly not due to a lack of secular students, but rather a lack of funding, organization and, perhaps, an underlying hesitation due to fear of negative reactions to such an event. Campus Renewal Ministries raised half the funds for the week-long activities in Rez Week, while the University’s Events Co-Sponsorship Committee, the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement and Student Government also contributed, according to The Daily Texan.
“The reason that [the University] would support us is that they see deeper into us,” Yousup Lee, a radio-television-film and computer science sophomore, said. “They see the Christian values that underlie this, and I just hope we’re doing a good job of showing that.”
It is a shame if that’s what students think the funding decisions were based on. Atheist values are not sinister and sinful, just as Christian values are not exclusively righteous and respectable. The hosting of both religious and secular gatherings would serve the necessary purpose of putting that message out there: that both Christians and atheists hold values independent of their faith or lack thereof. To quote a statement displayed on the open wall at Rez Week, “The world needs goodness wherever it may come from.”
Manescu is a journalism and international relations and global studies freshman.