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Seeking God in Davies Auditorium (May 1999)

Discussions in the common room at two in the morning: We’ve all had them. These are the moments of pure intellectual curiosity we think of when we want to believe that we came to Yale for the right reasons. We got up from our work and argued about truth, diversity, and God until we saw that we couldn’t convince each other, but that was alright because we had each other.

I didn’t believe it when I first heard that the Campus Crusade for Christ and the Society of Humanists, Atheists, and Agnostics had agreed to debate the question “Does God Exist?” in Davies Auditorium. I thought the Pundits had put up the posters. If such a debate were real, it would happen in a college common room or small lecture hall. Not Davies. We wouldn’t go and watch people we didn’t know show off how smart they are. Arguments are private affairs. Arguments are for friends who trust each other enough to act intellectual without worrying that they seem too intellectual.

But for one night last winter, Davies became all of our common rooms. The debate was good, but sometimes I thought that the intervals between the speeches were more revealing. The room buzzed every time a speaker sat down. Everyone turned to the person sitting next to him or her and began to explain why the speech that had just ended was right or wrong. We cared enough to argue passionately about what four other students had said.

During the question-and-answer session that followed, someone asked why so many people had shown up at the debate if God didn’t exist. It seemed for a moment that a great blow had been struck in the name of faith. Then most of us realized that the fact that we believe—the fact that we want to believe—does not affect whether or not God exists.

But no one seemed to grasp the real significance of the question. This one question explained why all of us had come out to hear four undergraduates disagree: Our souls were on the line. We were willing to act intellectual in public because our most fundamental interest was at stake. The believers needed to be reassured that they were not deceiving themselves. The atheists needed to be reassured that they were not sinners. We wanted to save ourselves.

Yale students are anything but selfish. We serve our community because we care. We work hard, inside and outside the classroom, because we want our lives after school to mean something to other people, to make their lives better. As a result, we are too often afraid of looking like thinkers and not doers.

So let’s just thank God for our common rooms, for the nights when common rooms fill auditoriums, and for being here together.

Ariel Adesnik ’99 is a senior in Trumbull College. This article was adapted from his February 23, 1999, column in the Yale Daily News.

Filed under religion, 1990s
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