While I had doubts about the existence of God before entering college, I considered myself a Christian and checked off the Protestant Methodist box on my application. Still, I had some apprehension in attending Boston College-a religious, Jesuit, Catholic institution. So, it came much to my surprise that nearly as soon as I stepped on campus, my faith in Christianity and God started to wane.
I took both sections of Philosophy of the Person my first year at BC, not because I was interested in the subject, but solely as a means to fulfill the Core curriculum that’s a major part of BC’s Jesuit identity. I hadn’t previously taken a philosophy course, though I quickly came to enjoy the deep and abstract thinking required of the class as a contrast to the quantitative work present in my economics and finance courses.
We read a number of proofs for the existence of God, and as any good intro philosophy class allows, we examined each side of the argument. After both class discussions and my own thinking, I realized I sided more with arguments against God. I recall writing an essay disputing St. Thomas Aquinas’ five proofs of existence, my finishing line reading, “Couldn’t God have left more compelling evidence [for his existence]?” Little did I know this marked an important turning point in my educational journey-it was the first time I seriously considered the distinct possibility that God didn’t exist.
These thoughts continued during a two-semester Religious Quest class my sophomore year that compared Islam and Christianity. It was my first exposure to Islam besides what I’d seen and read in the news, and I also learned extensively about Christianity. Never before had I gained such a detailed perspective on the origins, sects, and traditions of the two religions. The power of community provided by each faith throughout history was immense, and based on their shared teachings of peace and worship, it was easy to see why each has thrived and accumulated millions of members worldwide.
A major point of the class was how similar the religions are, and indeed, they are more similar than I’d have ever thought. But by examining them so closely, I also studied their many differences. And those differences, most historians agree, have contributed to millions of deaths around the world-not only between the two religions (The Crusades), but also due to intra-religious conflicts between Catholics and Protestants (30 Years’ War) and Sunni and Shiite Muslims (Iran vs. Saudi Arabia & Iraq).
After a great deal of reflection undertaken both as a requirement inside the classroom and on my own, I came away with two conclusions. One, no higher being would ever tolerate millions of people being killed over the right way to worship him. Two, the differences between each religion made it unlikely that followers of both could be accepted into the same afterlife, meaning that, if there were a God, millions would be left out of eternal life-in my view, an unjust punishment for having the “wrong” belief.
Due to those two required core classes, by the second half of my sophomore year I had enough qualitative reasons for not believing in God. A class I took the following semester supplied me with more technical explanations. I enrolled in evolutionary economics, a course that discussed how humans have developed certain traits through evolution. Evolutionary psychologists believe that sexual selection and preference has shaped much of how we behave today, explaining behaviors such as riskier tendencies in men compared to women, outward displays of fitness to attract mates, and, ultimately, the development of a creative and intelligent human mind.
As one can imagine, the class required intensive reflection on views of human behavior that we’d previously considered to be quite basic. We also expanded our knowledge by reading a number of evolutionary passages, including a section from Richard Dawkins’ book, The Selfish Gene (emphasis on gene). His work, in addition to meticulously explaining how natural selection works down to the genetic level, offered a solid explanation of how life began without a creator.
By the end of the semester, I fully believed evolution as a fact for the first time. Further, as someone who finds the existence of God and evolution mutually exclusive, it was much harder for me to identify with the Christian faith. But I was not yet committed to saying I didn’t believe in God.
That changed the next semester, the first of my junior year. I registered for Philosophy of Existence to fulfill my minor in the subject-a route I would never have pursued had I gone to a different school. We studied a number of existentialist philosophers, some who based their philosophies in religion, and others who didn’t. Two of the latter were Sartre and Nietzsche, known atheist scholars. Sartre wrote that the essence of being human is being free, while Nietzsche famously said, “God is dead … and we have killed him.” They both provided a view of the world in which mankind had created the notion of God.
By the end of the class, and after deep contemplation, I finally realized what I truly believed-there is no God. Both the idea of a higher being, and the many religions of the world, were founded by man to inspire hope and influence human behavior.
Despite entering college as a Christian, two months from now I will graduate this Jesuit, Catholic school as an atheist. Ironically, the basis of that belief was developed in classes I was required to take based on Jesuit values and ideals -the education of the whole person through BC’s core curriculum. The Jesuits don’t teach students what to think. They teach them how to think. Above all else, that’s what college is for. And I’m grateful that I chose BC as the place to learn that.
Editor’s Note: The views presented in this column are those of the author alone and do not represent the views of The Heights.