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Attitudes toward faith differ among students

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a five-part series about students’ and Athens residents’ coming of faith.

Though doubt is a common trend in the religious world, Ohio University students are exploring their faith.

With 20 religious student organizations and more than 40 places of worship in Athens, there are countless religions and faiths to be studied on campus.

Marnie Ballentine, a sophomore studying early childhood education, is a practicing Christian and said she felt affirmed in her faith while on a mission trip in rural West Virginia. While painting a local home, she found out a neighbor had been selling scrap metal to pay for her and the other missionaries to eat.

“It was unbelievably humbling; she didn’t have to do that,” Ballentine said. “We asked her why she would go to such lengths for us, people she barely knew, and she said, ‘That’s what real love is; that’s how we’re supposed to treat each other. That’s why Jesus died, so we would know that kind of love.’ ”

Ballentine, a member of Kappa Phi, a Christian Service sisterhood, said though it might be tough to have a relationship with God in college, in the end the experience is worth it.

“(Jesus) has changed my heart and has taught me how to forgive people who have hurt me,” she said.

For others, similar to Bri Adamson, a junior studying public health and advocacy, who identifies as bisexual, simply feeling that their lifestyle is accepted makes it easier to be faithful in college.

“As a pretty religious person, I think it’s extremely important that my sexuality is embraced and not shunned by my religion,” she said.

Adamson said that as someone who practices Reform Judaism — a religion that “does not take everything in the Torah literally” — her sexuality has always been completely embraced.

Though many find strength in religion and its values, others similar to Patrick Wagstaff, a sophomore studying theater performance, who considers himself atheist, believe that strength can come from a non-religious place.

“I don’t believe that morality and religion have anything to do with each other,” he said. “They are mutually exclusive.”

Wagstaff said he went to Catholic school for part of his life, but he found coming into college that he considered himself atheist and isn’t sure he ever believed in God at all.

Wagstaff is not alone in his values. Today, one in four college-aged Americans consider themselves either atheist or apathetic in their beliefs, which is up 8 percent from 1990, according to a study done by the Pew Research Society.

However, students may be shying away from becoming more apathetic about their religions. Lynn Miller, pastor of Christ Lutheran Church, said that she feels that in a vulnerable time such as college, those who find their faith can be strengthened.

“Early in my faith, I was more open to the Spirit during difficult times,” she said. “In general, I think we are all more vulnerable at such times. As I grow in faith, awareness of God’s grace both humbles and strengthens my faith.”

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