Coming to St Andrews, there were many things I did not expect. I did not expect the Pier Walk to be quite so terrifying. I did not expect finding a house to be as mad as the rush to the bar at last orders. And I did not expect the Christian Union to be quite so strong.
Growing up literally between two churches meant that I was accustomed to beautiful Christian architecture and infuriating church bells at (ironically) ungodly hours. But Christianity was always something for older people. It was for teachers in Primary School, for distant aunts halfway across the globe or your friends’ parents who always brought the largest pumpkin to harvest day.
People my age, meanwhile, weren’t going to listen to any type of authority, especially the authority of a dusty old book. We were too young, too forward-thinking. In short, Christianity just wasn’t “cool” enough for us.
In St Andrews, however, young Christians abide. Maybe it’s the “traditional” aspect of the University. Maybe it’s the town’s illustrious history as the religious capital of Scotland. Whatever the reason, it is impossible not to notice that Christianity is thriving here.
It is often said that you can never find a Christian here who you cannot like. And despite having had several bad experiences from a Church of England School, I have to agree. Every single Christian I have met here has been lovely.
But that’s not to say some of us non-Christians didn’t have our reservations about the Christian Union. In fact, The Stand recently published an article calling out the disdain shown to the CU. I myself was left more than a little narked when, on a night out, a particularly tipsy Christian friend informed me she was sad we “wouldn’t be together” in the end and that it would do me some good to consider converting to Christianity.
It seemed to me that this was a continuation of the pious pity I had been subjected to in school. That someone else “knew better” and that, if I didn’t acquiesce, my soul would forfeit. While I understood that my friend was drunk and genuinely wanted the best for me, I couldn’t help but feel those pangs of rebellious spirit not felt for many years. The feeling that, no matter how close you are to your Christian friend, in the back of their mind was their allocated place in heaven you’d never see.
I had this in mind sitting down for a “Grill a Christian” session one evening. The free nachos were an incentive, yes, but I’d come mainly, as an atheist, for a chance to talk to Christians in an honest, open environment.
And so I asked why they wanted to try and convert us. While the answer was simple, it completely changed my perceptions not only of Christians in St Andrews, but of all the bad experiences I had blamed Christianity for.
It was about love. These attempts to talk openly about religion that I had always dismissed as sanctimonious were in fact, a way for people to share beliefs and values which genuinely made their lives more fulfilling in the hope that others might benefit too.
Do we atheists have to listen when our Christian friends start advertising their beliefs? No. But defensive indignation is not the answer either. There may be a reason that you have never met a Christian you have not liked. When you find values and goals which truly resonate with your life, it truly brings out the best. For some people, this is Christianity. Let’s not berate them when they want to share it.
Everyone has the right to choose whatever religion they want. If you don’t want to talk about it, that’s fine. But I now believe that exchanging religious ideas is a brilliant way to show the world who you are and what makes you happy. For me, this will never be Christianity. But I hope that one day, I will find a goal and sense of direction in my life that not only makes me as happy as a Christian, but just as willing to share that happiness with the world.