Religion and faith mean something different to every person. People that follow a religion often find that it shapes many aspects of their lives, including social interactions, family relationships and their feelings towards their own selves. Some may find that their religious affiliation has little to no effect on their daily lives. And yet others aren’t sure what to believe, which becomes a part of them in its own way.
Christianity, atheism, Judaism and even lack of belief are all prominent at the University of Wisconsin- Stevens Point. I interviewed four students involved in each of these different belief systems and asked them about their religious views and how it affected their daily lives.
Campus Crusade for Christ (CRU) constitutes a large presence of the UW-Stevens Point campus and one of the largest groups in relation to campus size. Nicole Greenwood, a junior Spanish major, is an active member in CRU and a Christian.
"My faith influences every decision. It makes the way I treat other people and what I think about myself," Greenwood said.
Greenwood’s faith has changed much in her life. She grew up in a family that didn’t attend church on a regular basis. She believed in God, but she didn’t know what that actually meant.
"I lived very selfishly. I just struggled with depression and feelings of loneliness," Greenwood said. In eighth grade she met a new girl at school who took Greenwood to youth group events at her church. Eventually Greenwood and her family started to attend church. Since coming to UWSP, Greenwood’s faith has strengthened due to a variety of friends and mentors.
"Getting to be involved with Christian organizations on campus has allowed me to foster my relationship with God … and how to share my faith," Greenwood said. She feels confident about sharing her beliefs with others, and college has allowed her to articulately explain her faith.
Being comfortable with expressing faith and beliefs has sometimes led to misconceptions about CRU.
"Our real objective isn’t to convert. We’re just passionate about sharing the love and hope and the truth that we found in our faith … no one ever wants it to seem like we’re pressuring others into our beliefs," Greenwood said. "We just want people to understand. If you accept Christ, great … and if you don’t, it’ll be sad, but we’re blessed with free will."
In contrast to most religions, atheism is the belief that there is no higher being, or no God. Kathryn Hood, a junior biochemistry major, says that she’s been atheist for as long as she can remember.
"Even as a little kid I disliked religion. I can’t even remember a time I even believed in Santa Claus," Hood said. Growing up, her parents were Catholic and Protestant, but her religion has never been an issue. They rarely have discussions about it.
The word "atheism" covers a large spectrum of people, all of which may have different thoughts about life. Hood gave the example that you could put three atheists in a room and they could all believe in something completely different.
"I actually didn’t like the word ‘atheist’ … everyone associated it with being against something. I’m not against anything," Hood said. Hood’s religious views haven’t changed throughout life or since coming to college. However, due to negative stereotypes, Hood isn’t always comfortable with expressing her beliefs.
"At Point I’d rather not talk about it … people think that atheists are evil, have no values, no morals. So people get the wrong ideas about me," Hood said.
There is no atheist group on campus and Hood said that it’s probably because atheists don’t believe in the same thing. They just don’t believe in God.
Noah Levine, a sophomore art/ biology/communications major, grew up in a Jewish household. Levine’s mother’s family converted to Catholicism to escape the Holocaust in Europe. Levine himself has followed Judaism throughout his life and college career.
"To me I think it [Judaism] means more of just a system of general beliefs; not rules, but suggestions on ways to be a decent person and keeping in touch with family and history," Levine said.
Levine has had different reactions at Point when expressing his beliefs.
"Walking by CRU meetings wearing my star, people stop me and say, ‘You’re Jewish. Does that mean you don’t think Jesus exists?’ They try to convert me or ask me questions to break my belief," Levine said. "It’s empowering. It gives a chance to express what I believe in."
Because of this chance to defend his beliefs, Levine feels that college has not only strengthened his faith and religion; it has made him more proud.
He still occasionally runs into clichés and misconceptions about the Jewish religion, such as large noses, Jews having control over all the money, and that Hanukkah is a holiday.
"Hanukkah is not the Jewish Christmas. It’s not even a holiday, it’s just a festival," Levine said. "Christian holidays are more about the religion. Jewish holidays are more about family and tradition, a reason for everyone to get together."
The overflow of Christmas this time of year does not anger Levine. Instead it "situationally annoys" him. He does feel like a minority at Stevens Point, convinced that he’s probably one of two Jewish students on campus, and thinks that a Jewish student organization would be a good addition.
Some people have strong ideas about what faith means to them, but not everyone is so sure of what to believe. Phil Barker, junior computer information systems major, does not know what he feels about faith, and it isn’t his first priority to do so.
"It’s more about spirituality and life right now," Barker said. Barker grew up in a Methodist household and went to church frequently; in fact it’s where he met most of his friends. But he wasn’t always comfortable with attending church.
"It [church] felt disrespectful because I went more to fit in with my family, not myself," Barker said.
One thing that makes Barker weary to consider set religious beliefs is science. Due to all the scientific advancements in the past years, he wonders what will change in the years to come.
By keeping an open mind about religion, Barker says that it has helped him socially. He is more open to people who hold different beliefs than he does.
"I think it’s more of being free. It allows me to be social and open to people. I’m not biased in any way," Barker said.
Through not associating himself with a certain religion, Barker feels that he is freer to experience life for himself.