Let’s get this straight before we begin: I’m a Christian. I may not be a shining example, but my faith is important to me, as are my views on the Church. I know that I can’t comprehend the Word of the Bible myself, which is why Priests train for years to be able to guide others. This requirement of the Christian faith – that to be a good Christian you must believe in what other people say – is a difficulty for many who are Atheists or Agnostics. However, God gave me ears to hear but he also gave me a mind, and a mouth. Just because you are told something does not mean it is right, and one thing I admire about my own Church is that sermons are usually given as miniature arguments in themselves, relying on scholarly interpretation and clear reasoning about particular aspects of faith. Sometimes, if I disagree, I have spoken to the preacher afterwards, sometimes at length, to gain a greater understanding of his/her viewpoint. But this still doesn’t mean I have to agree. There are many more discussions to be had here about whether or not this completely invalidates the point of Faith in the first place (I know that it doesn’t), but that is not what I’m here to talk about. As you may have guessed already, the things that I respect about my faith are those which CICCU seems determined to eradicate, and it’s people like me who are feeling the heat from them the most.
For those of you unfamiliar with CICCU, I’ll give a brief, biased, summary. CICCU is the Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union. In it’s own words, it exists “To make Christ known to students in Cambridge”. In my experience this is far from the truth. CICCU is primarily an evangelical organization, yes, but those who it targets (and it does target people) are not those to whom Christ is potentially unknown, but those whose Christian faith is out of line with CICCU’s. Within my Christian group of friends, there is a lot of pressure from our college’s CICCU representatives, whereas I know that they leave the Atheists and members of other faiths well alone. When I talk about pressure, I mean pressure to conform to CICCU’s ideals: hard-line, conservative, absolutist Christianity.
CICCU members, with whom I made friends with in fresher’s week and now can’t shake off, seem to have taken it upon themselves to act like disapproving parents. Sadly, as other friends have turned to CICCU, their behaviour follows suit, although with different levels of intensity. It is sad to see people who come to Cambridge with uncertain beliefs get locked down into a restrictive mindset.
The reason I’m posting this here (rather than on some atheist/humanist blog) is because I want to highlight the threat this kind of organization presents to women in particular. The kind of bullying (there really is no better word for it) that I have received from CICCU representatives focuses on trying to make me conform to some kind of 1950’s idealism of what womanhood entails. I am encouraged to dress to cover up, and advised to stay away from alcohol, due to it being ‘unlady-like’ to drink. Any girl that I know within CICCU seems to be in a celibate relationship with a man in CICCU, or single. I know of one couple who intend to save their first kiss for the altar. Sex out of wedlock is frowned upon. Most people don’t tell me explicitly that the same is expected of me, but some have in the past. Above all, there seems to be a desire to instill guilt in anyone who has in the past not conformed to this way of life.
But what’s the issue? It’s a woman’s right to live how she chooses, to choose celibacy and early marriage, not least her faith. My problem is that I see women who succumb to this lifestyle out of guilt inspired by people in the guise of spiritual helpers. And I don’t even think these people understand what they’re doing.
My main problem though, is that this will never go away. Even if this nasty element of CICCU were to subside, the same thing would spring up elsewhere. These hard-line evangelists are a sad fact of life, and maddeningly, religion seems to be getting worse in its treatment of women, not better (I’m looking at you, Benedict). All I want is for the rotting, chauvinist core of the church to be overthrown. For the majority of people these days, the church is just another set-back to feminism, and one that is harder than ever to penetrate. It will fall, as other institutions have, and it will take a long time, but it will take a greater effort than anything thus far.