More open religious discussion valuable for diversity

I did a little experiment a few weeks ago. Just on a whim, I stood up between the Clark statues one afternoon and read the Gospel of John out loud. Within an hour, someone called the cops on me.

The policeman, who politely shooed me away, explained that reading from the Bible out loud on campus without a permit constituted an illegal assembly, even if I was the only person “assembling.” Fair enough. Nevertheless, I found it interesting that someone had considered me enough of a threat to TCU’s well-being as to justify police action.

This little incident reflects, to me, how our personal beliefs have become an unacceptable topic in polite conversation. People feel threatened and defensive when God, destiny or the meaning of life are brought up in casual discourse. This, I feel, deprives our conversation of depth and value. It pains me that I cannot bring up in casual discussion the values and ideas most important to me, lest I be labeled a “Bible-thumper.” It is, for some reason, perfectly OK to discuss divisive issues when they pertain to sports rivalries but not when they pertain to issues of eternal significance.

Given, religion is an inherently divisive topic. Take two people at random and their personal beliefs will almost certainly conflict at one point or another. Religion is also emotionally charged: People tend to be passionate about what they believe. Nevertheless, we are a university, an institution of higher learning. A university should prepare its students to be open to opposing points of view – to listen to, to think about and to discuss controversial ideas, no matter how divisive or emotionally charged they may be.

TCU has been making a great effort to maintain a more diverse student body, and part of this effort involves attracting students of different faiths. But surely the whole point of diversity is that different groups of people get to learn from one another. Thus, of what value is a religiously diverse student body if no one talks about personal beliefs?

I grew up in Malaysia, a nation at the crossroads of many religious traditions. Thus, I have had the privilege of talking with Muslim math professors, Buddhist classmates and agnostic acquaintances, discussing the beliefs and convictions that we hold. Inevitably, I would find myself richer for the experience, even if I had completely disagreed with the person to whom I was talking.

It is very easy just to accuse someone of “pushing religion on you” when he or she brings up personal beliefs in the public sphere. It takes great maturity to appreciate that one sharing his or her personal truths is doing so because those beliefs were of great value to him or her, and he or she hopes that these ideas may be of some use to you. You may find those beliefs bizarre. You may find them ridiculous. You might even find them repugnant. Nevertheless, you will learn much by taking the time to listen. And perhaps you will find someone with the answer to life, the universe and everything else.

Darren Ong is a sophomore math major from Kuching, Malaysia.