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Feature Story
reed magazine logoSpring 2008

Oh For Christ’s Sake gathered in Eliot chapel to sing Christmas carols last semester. At the piano is the group’s outside adviser.

Ironically, it’s that ease of religious life that has driven him back to Reed. “Being so comfortable doesn’t push you,” he says. “Reed pushes you.” Still, Webb would be happier if he felt his faith were more welcome, and if Reed students were, as he puts it, “more diverse and more accepting towards all types of minority issues—not just racial, but religious, too.”

Announcing her devout Christianity to her peers also worked out for Hilary Gray ’08. She’s amused when new students are shocked to discover she’s religious. She says she has enjoyed the challenge of keeping her faith at Reed, and acknowledges “compartmentalizing” when necessary, for instance, in biology. “Some discussions aren’t appropriate for the classroom,” she says, “and sometimes a belief in creationism changes—in either direction—because of a science class.” On that score, Webb’s approach is different. “I knew I was going to hear about evolution,” he says, “and I did what I needed just to get an A. But when it comes down to it, you still believe the world was created in six days.”

Those sorts of beliefs put religious students like Webb and Gray squarely in the crosshairs of other Reedies. After all, when Reed professors aren’t teaching the ins and outs of evolution, they’re training their students to question all sacred beliefs everywhere, including the Judeo-Christian beliefs that underlie so much of Western thought. That may be why current students take pot-shots at organized religion, especially Christianity, and reenact the mock-crucifixion-pep-rally that took place on the football field nearly a half-century ago. Lisa Moore finds the behavior understandable—“Christianity is a natural target because it has cultural dominance in our society,” she explains.

That dominance needs to be examined, insists Leslie Zukor ’09. “Being here at Reed with like-minded people in a safe space doesn’t mean you shouldn’t worry about issues of church and state separation,” she says. A linguistics major, Zukor launched a student group in 2005–06 called the Reed College Freethinkers, based on the Free Thought Movement in the United Kingdom. She has hosted prominent speakers on issues of faith and reason, such as Austin Dacey, author of The Secular Conscience, and Daniel Dennett, whose lecture last year drew a crowd of 400.

Leslie Zukor ’09, founder of Reed’s Secular Alliance

Still, Zukor’s efforts have sparked controversy on occasion. Some fellow-students were annoyed by the group’s name, saying it implied that religious people don’t think freely. Zukor disagreed with the criticism, but she’s since renamed the organization the Reed Secular Alliance. The speaker series continues, and the group also collects books that are free of religious content to send to convicts as part of the Freethought Books Project.

Frank Morton-Park ’10, a physics major, prefers a more exuberant alternative to organized religion. Raised a Jehovah’s Witness in a small southern Virginia town, he’s now comfortably nonreligious. At Reed, he has been one of the principal organizers of the Reed Kommunal Shit Kollectiv, or RKSK. The mission, as Morton-Park expressed it in an email, is “to fasilitate the ridikulous ideas of quirky students in order to promote surreality and kamaraderie within the Reed kommunity.”

To get students excited about their arrival at Reed, RKSK puts on a noise parade during orientation week. They buy “kommie” bikes and umbrellas for free use on campus, and provide free pizza and legal stimulants in the library lobby during reading and finals weeks.

They also occasionally take aim at organized religion. “A few years ago we had a biblical running club,” Morton-Park remembers. “We had big fake beards and wore sandals and robes, clanking away on a pedaling contraption that played gypsy music as we rode down the street. When we vote for student body president, we usually vote for the pope of Reed, and we put on the ceremony. I think that’s the religion of Reed.”

L.D. Kirshenbaum ’84 is a freelance writer in Seattle.

reed magazine logoSpring 2008