by Billy Clouse
Originally published in Revolt — Vol. 1, Issue 2
Almost 175 years ago, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints settled the Beehive State. Today, they remain the religious majority.
Although most people in the state are LDS, there is a large number that are not. One of those people is Colin Rosander, a sophomore biology major from Phoenix.
As a child, Rosander was baptised Catholic, and his family went to a Lutheran church because it was the closest to their house. He didn’t actively choose to go.
“From a 6- or 7-year-old standpoint, you did it because your parents went,” he said. “All I knew is that it was Sunday morning and I didn’t want to get up. It was just the classic circumstance.”
Rosander said he believes one of the reasons his parents are religious is because it is a way they cope with the death of his twin sister. She was born with anencephaly, which the CDC defines as “a serious birth defect in which a baby is born without parts of the brain and skull.” She only lived a few hours before she passed.
Religion was never something Rosander thought much about until his junior year of high school. After investigating the issue, he began to identify as an agnostic atheist.
Agnostics neither believe or disbelieve in the existence of a god. Rosander said that position is more of a catch-all, and he leans more towards the atheist belief.
“I think when you’re young, there’s a lot of things you don’t really think about,” he said. “As you get older, you start to question it and you look at the world and you get skeptical. I never really had one moment where I decided I don’t believe in God. It was a natural progression.”
Unlike Rosander, Joseph Keller, a sophomore mathematics major from Price, didn’t go to church as a child. Although both of his parents were religious, his father didn’t want to force the children to attend. He was still exposed to religion, however.
“It’s very hard to live (in Utah) and not have had someone try to convert you or have someone drag you to church,” Keller said. “That forces you to think more about religion and actively decide, ‘hey, I don’t believe this, I don’t think this is real.’”
Keller said that religion is different in Utah than his birthplace of California.
“Utah is one of the only places where a conversation-starter is ‘what ward are you in?’” he said. “Growing up in California, people didn’t really care about what your religion was or even what sect of Christianity you were.”
According to Rosander, negative stereotypes surround atheists, the main one being poor morality.
“It’s just like any stereotype — you have this picture in your head and then when you meet someone who’s atheist, it changes,” he said. “They’re not bad people, they just have differing viewpoints.”
Rosander said theists and atheists need to have conversations about their beliefs in order to shrink the rift between the two sides, but this is difficult because few people are willing to actually listen to what the other person has to say.
“No matter which side you’re on, you feel like you’re above them in some way, shape or form,” Rosander said. “If you’re religious and you look at someone who isn’t, you’re like ‘you’re missing the point, I’m trying to help you.’ To us, it’s like ‘you’re delusional.’”
He said that Pastafarianism, a religious parody with the Flying Spaghetti Monster in the role of God, is an example of how satire can inhibit dialogue.
“Atheists intentionally get under the skin of religious people, and it’s doing exactly what we don’t want,” Rosander said. “We want to be able to sit down and have a conversation. To throw that in there, it causes problems.”
Since he moved to Cedar City, Rosander has been given the Book of Mormon to read, which he said was vastly different than his experience in Arizona.
“Religious people weren’t as open or proud about it,” he said. “They weren’t actively trying to get me to do something, whereas the LDS religion is getting itself out there.”
I don’t pretend to know everything. I’m not going to waste my time trying to find out (if there is a god). I’m just going to be a good person and try to do the things you need to do to be a good person. I’ll die and we’ll figure it out then.
Rosander said that as a rule, he doesn’t talk about his religious beliefs unless he’s asked about them.
“(Utahns) are really nice, but it is different when they find out you’re not LDS,” he said. “The conversation changes a little bit.”
One of the questions Rosander gets asked frequently is where his morality comes from. Although he doesn’t know, he was raised to know right from wrong, and because his parents were religious, there’s a chance that it has some weak biblical roots.
“I don’t pretend to know everything,” he said. “I’m not going to waste my time trying to find out (if there is a god). I’m just going to be a good person and try to do the things you need to do to be a good person. I’ll die and we’ll figure it out then.”
Although his disbelief in religion never changes, Rosander said his opinion of the construct does; sometimes he sees it as a negative force and sometimes he sees it as a positive one.
“(Religion) can be incredibly divisive,” he said. “If you look at the United States, there’s a stereotype if you’re Islamic. I’m not even religious and there’s a stereotype that goes through my head. I don’t know why that is, but it’s there. However, religion can bring people together. You can see it in this community — it’s amazing. I’ve really been impressed with just how committed people are.”
Keller said that his beliefs have stayed mostly the same despite the religious environment.
“It comes up more often in conversation because of how important religion is to people in Utah,” he said, “but it doesn’t change my beliefs and I don’t feel like it changes too much about how people view me as a person.”
Rosander said he has enjoyed the experience of being an atheist in Utah.
“For the most part, people listen on both sides and we ask good questions and have relatively good answers for everything,” he said. “People are really nice, and it’s been really fun.”