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U atheist shares his views on religion

CEditor’s Note: This story is the fourth in a five-part series that examines students’ experiences with different faiths. Throughout the week the stories have looked at Christianity, Judaism, Islam and atheism. Friday’s story will look at the results of a Minnesota Daily survey on religion.

1huck Volk, a University physiology sophomore, said the same prayer before dinner every night of his childhood.

He grew up in what he called a fairly devout Catholic family, went to parochial school and attended church at least once a week.

He started to question his faith soon after his confirmation into the Roman Catholic Church at the age of 14, he said.

Over the next four years, he said, he progressed from a devout Catholic to searching elsewhere within the Christian faith to searching for another religion altogether.

Finally, at the age of 18 and in his first semester at Bismarck State College, Volk took a course on religions in the United States.

“When (the professor) asked the people in the class what our religions were, I just put ‘other’ because I had no idea. It was right after that I decided I was atheist,” Volk said.

Announcing he is a nonbeliever was a relief, he said.

“When I finally said I don’t believe in God, I felt a lot more calm and peaceful than I ever did before,” Volk said.

Volk still says the blessing before dinner, just like he did as a child. However, now the blessing holds different significance for him.

“(The blessing) is just something you said to get to the food faster. I’ve said it so many times, it’s become nothing. It’s become a ritual the family goes through, and so I say it to feel together with my family,” Volk said.

Volk spends a lot of his academic time surrounded by science, he said. He works in a laboratory on campus three days a week and volunteers at two hospitals.

“I’ve heard people say being in church, singing, preaching to people makes them feel whole or perfect. That’s sort of what (teaching) is to me,” he said. “If someone comes into a doctor’s office and is asking me what’s wrong with them, that’s the closest to a spiritual experience I have.”

Volk joined Campus Atheists and Secular Humanists, a group of what he called free thinkers on campus, when he came to the University last year.

There, he found a group of likeminded people, he said. He found friends.

Other members of the group, such as alumna Lydia Vilt and computer science senior Stephen Fluin, found this same camaraderie within the group.

“(The group) has meant a community of people who I can debate ideas with and feel accepted. You can disagree and feel safe and comfortable,” Fluin said.

The acceptance that Vilt found in Campus Atheists and Secular Humanists is one of her favorite parts of being in the group.

“It’s nice because we aren’t hostile towards anyone on campus,” Vilt said.

Volk’s personal philosophy about acceptance of other religious beliefs works well within the ideas of the group, he said.

He said he is uncomfortable bringing up his beliefs to new people but said he rarely has experienced negativity toward them.

“Please don’t flip out on me and say I’m going to hell. You can have your religion, and I’ll do my thing,” he said.

Religious groups handing out literature on campus doesn’t bother Volk, he said. As an avid reader and collector of books, he said he keeps some of the religious material he is given.

“I’ve gotten a free Book of Mormon that way. But I’m a big fan of books, so I took it home for my collection,” he said. “It’s sitting in fiction, which is my passive-aggressive way of saying ‘this is crap.’ “

The scientific process and his inquisitive personality were major factors in his decision to not be religious, he said.

“My beliefs are in things I can see or detect with instruments,” Volk said.

Fluin said the physical world forms the ground of his personal philosophy.

“(Atheism) is my ultimate assumption. You have to make an assumption at some level,” Fluin said. “I assume that what I see exists. So since I can’t see evidence of a god, I don’t believe one exists.”

Another factor in both Volk and Fluin’s decision to be nonreligious was the amount of contradiction they found in religion.

“Everything (in Christianity) is based on the Bible, but the Bible is full of contradictions and injustices,” Volk said.

Not only are there contradictions within Christianity or any other major religion, there are contradictions among relgions, Fluin said.

“It confuses me because each religion gives different answers to the major questions and issues,” Fluin said.

While many find comfort in religion’s promises of an afterlife, Volk said, that is one of the major things that turned him away from religion.

“The idea that when I die, now I get to live forever, is the closest thing for me to sheer terror,” he said.

In the end, Volk said he thinks the same as everyone else on most morals and societal rules and said he doesn’t need religion to know it is wrong to kill and steal.

“What makes me different? Nothing, really.”

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