Planes, trains, and automobiles have carted a new batch of St Andrews students away from the comfort and security of home and off to the madness that is higher education. They come alone, they come in groups, they come with family eager and hungry for adventure, or timid and afraid to let go, but relentlessly they all come.
Getting your key and moving in to your new student quarters is a huge step in every young fresher’s life. But what awaits them when they unlock that long anticipated door is nothing but an empty room, and a Bible.
To some, that Bible may ease the transition, and help fill the emptiness that accompanies leaving everything you know behind. To others, it might make the emptiness greater, emphasizing the foreignness of this place, it may even feel threatening and invasive. To many I imagine that it invokes nothing more than a shrug, and is later used as a convenient doorstop/coaster/paperweight.
University is a time of learning in all its forms, and spiritual learning falls under that heading. I am not paranoid enough to see this as a wide spread conspiracy by our school to indoctrinate us into the Christian faith.
The Bibles don’t present an attack on secularism or even other religions. They are just there, and to most it won’t even seem like anything other than the norm.
And that is where the really interesting debate lies; it’s a debate about the nature of religion and faith. That supposedly innocuous book, placed there by well-meaning Gideons, begs the question on whether faith should be actively sought, or passively received.
In secular Europe, Christianity has become a passive religion resting more on tradition than on fervour. Baptism as an infant is not exactly an example of making an informed choice about spirituality. Teenagers seem to attend their confirmation either just to please an older relative or to get the gifts. Many people go to church on Sunday because that is what has always happened. The dwindling attendance numbers suggest that this isn’t even that strong of a reason anymore.
Bibles are provided since they are rarely brought or bought. The Gideons are just feeding the passivity of modern religion. Of course, there are people who choose to participate, but they are not part of this argument. They are the ones who have their own Bible.
Faith should be chosen, not given. That is reason alone not to stock the rooms with Bibles, not to mention the fact that it is quite invasive, or even blatantly insulting.
There is a difference between putting a Bible in a hotel room and putting one in a student’s room. A hotel is a temporary dwelling; this is supposed to be your home. Each of us has the right to choose what we invite into that space. The fact that the University allows the Gideons to do so shows either poor judgement, or a lack of critical thinking.
Neither are qualities that this institution should inspire in their students.
I don’t advocate banning these Bibles from the halls, since banning books is usually the first step in most dystopian novels, but I do propose that they are not placed in the rooms. Keep them in the Wardens office or, better yet, in an on-site library, along with other foundational religious and secular texts.
Halls are part of our learning environment (and not just for the rules of Game of Fire) so they shouldn’t discourage people from exploring philosophy and religion.
We all chose to come to university, and higher education is not about being spoon-fed, it is about active learning. We choose our modules, we choose our societies, and we choose what we believe in. None of these should be unconsidered, and we shouldn’t passively follow.
It is presumptuous to assume that the majority of students in residence want a Bible provided for them, especially when it is the only option available. If you want a Bible, go get one, make religion an active choice, not just a residue of tradition.