Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Losing your religion? You’re not alone.

You can tell Nick Jikomes’ worldview from the way he sits. When pondering religion, the University of Wisconsin junior tilts back in his chair and grasps for a better view of the big picture. Using wide and sweeping gestures, he ends his statements with “Right?” as if they are not valid without absolute confirmation. But if you have to ask, Jikomes has no problem telling you.?

“I consider myself an atheist and a humanist,” Jikomes said. “An atheist is someone who rejects the idea of God outright.”

The current atmosphere for those like Jikomes is frenzied. The results of the recent American Religious Identification Survey revealed the number of people claiming no religion in Wisconsin is up to 15 percent, up from 6 percent in 1990 and consistent with the rest of the country.?


Cultural landmarks reflect these findings. President Barack Obama addressed nonbelievers in his inaugural speech, being the first president to ever do so. The works of prominent atheists Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Christopher Hitchens are bestsellers. If not in sheer population, awareness of religious skeptics is growing now more than ever before.?

“People who don’t believe don’t risk much today,” said UW professor Ronald Numbers, an expert on creationism in America. “In the past you could lose your job, you could be ostracized socially.”?

As the president of Atheists, Humanists and Agnostics at UW, Jikomes knows a thing or two about belief — or lack of it. Growing up in a moderately religious household, Jikomes attended Catholic school and Christian doctrine classes known as CCD. In high school he started questioning contradictions and inconsistencies he saw in religion. The process of “de-conversion,” Jikomes said, was gradual and psychologically difficult for the former churchgoer.?

“If you believe that the worst sin is to reject the idea of God, and it’s unforgivable, that means you’re going to hell,” Jikomes said.?

Although some students in Atheists, Humanists and Agnostics at UW-Madison come from a strict fundamentalist background, many in the group share Jikomes’ story. A normal discussion-style meeting draws 10 to 12 regulars, Jikomes said, while more show up for guest speakers and lectures. The organization’s Facebook group holds about 70 members.?

“There’s a lot more non-religious people on this campus than anywhere else you’re likely to go in this country,” Jikomes said.

Even with the tolerant climate at UW, however, a large and tightly knit community of nonbelievers is lacking. Religious organizations are by comparison still much more apparent, with 53 student groups currently registered with the university.?

Unlike Jikomes, UW sophomore Evan B. leans forward in his seat with an almost overflowing affection and rarely motions with his hands. As a devout Christian, Evan attends Blackhawk Church in Madison, leads a men’s Bible study in his dorm and MCs Campus Crusade for Christ’s weekly meetings that routinely draw 300 people.?

“I worship God,” Evan said. “I think atheists worship themselves. There’s times that I do that too, but deep down I think that God is so much more worthy of my worship.”?

Jikomes said he understands why so many people flock to God and religious groups in particular.?

?”Humans are a social species,” Jikomes said. “That’s the way our brains work. We always want to be a part of something, and religion offers a big ‘something’ to people. That’s why it’s so powerful.”?

When it comes to reasons for the country’s substantial increases in those claiming no religion, Jikomes and Evan are divided.?

Jikomes speculates much of the shift in the religious identity in the nation is a response to Sept. 11 and subsequent political events in the country, which, Jikomes believes, have imbued Christian beliefs into U.S. laws.

“I think there’s been sort of a backlash, especially when you consider things like stem cell research,” Jikomes said. “And we’ve had restrictions on that for reasons that seem silly to everyone except the devoutly religious.”

Evan, however, views the recent findings as a temporary phenomenon.?

?”In terms of Christianity, the last 2000 years, it’s gone up and down,” Evan said. “Right now I would view it as a minor fluctuation. I don’t think [non-belief] is going to keep rising till it’s 100 percent.”?

Numbers said those who don’t identify with a particular religion are not necessarily atheist or even agnostic.?

“Fifty years ago, there was very little talk about spirituality,” Numbers said. “Today a lot of people talk about being spiritual but not religious. It’s not necessarily true that unbelievers are not spiritual.”?

While the waters of religious identification may never be as easy to navigate as the parted Red Sea, Jikomes is sure of one thing.?

“We can’t be afraid to discuss these things, and we also can’t be afraid to disagree,” Jikomes said. “We can’t be afraid to be wrong, because there’s always that possibility.”?

Edit summary: Removed the last name of an interviewee upon request.

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