CMU atheist finds community, support on campus free from faith
Between being a target for conversion to arguments about how atheism is actually a religion, Molly Sheehan has heard it all before.
The Iron River freshman is an avowed atheist who has spent most of her life grappling with the concept of a divine creator. As a member of the Dogma Free Society registered student organization at Central Michigan University, she’s been able to connect with like-minded students who have hope in humanity without the faith.
Sometimes it’s inspiring, like when she weighs how humans can be good without the guilt of sin. Other times, the absence of faith can be dreadful, especially when Sheehan thinks about it too hard.
“Where a lot of people look toward God, I look toward humanity," she said. "I don’t want to accept that we don’t have free will. I chose this because it’s what I wanted to do, not because someone is using me as a puppet.”
As some students at CMU prepare to celebrate Easter Sunday, or finish Passover next week, Sheehan will be doing what she always does: contemplating life on her own terms.
“To me, I don’t ever get the sense that life is meaningless,” Sheehan said. “It’s something more like, ‘I better do what I can now.’ Eventually, I won’t be able to do anything anymore, so I better soak it up now.”
Her motto is that life without faith forces you to live harder. It’s a practice she’s developed since she was a young girl growing up with strictly atheist parents. That didn’t stop her from trying out religion, even if the attempt was halfhearted at best, Sheehan said.
“In a way you could say I’m a born again atheist,” Sheehan said. “When I moved to Iron River from Wisconsin, there were so many people there who tried to shove religion down my throat. I decided to become part of that lifestyle.
“I was in a phase of saying I was religious more for the sake of trying to fit in.”
That changed as she became more aware of her surroundings. By the time she started taking classes at West Iron County High School, Sheehan noticed she often acted “more Christian” than her Christian friends. She also couldn’t wrap her mind around the concept of morality for the sake of a heavenly reward.
“They aren’t even closely linked,” she thought. “I don’t think morals have anything to do with religion, and I don’t believe being a part of a religion is your ticket to heaven.”
When she finally came out as what she describes as an agnostic atheist to her friends in high school, many of them didn’t understand. Some tried to convert her. The others just went their separate ways.
Sheehan said that was difficult, considering she doesn’t know if there is an afterlife, or whether or not she’ll get there if heaven exists.
“You can’t be surrounded by people who think it’s such a big deal,” she said.
That’s where the Dogma Free Society, and attending CMU, has helped fill the void. She stays hopeful about her future in broadcasting and cinematic arts. She stays focused on her schoolwork. Her motivation keeps her grounded.
“I can get together with people who have more inclusive beliefs here,” she said. “That’s not something I would have gotten in high school. No one’s tried to convert me here, and it’s actually made me more interested in religion in general to defend my beliefs.”
By now, Sheehan’s stance on atheism must be battle ready, especially when the faithful try to argue that a community of atheists is more like a religion than not.
“Having a bunch of atheists hanging out together doesn’t equal more religion,” she said while shaking her head. “It’s just a bigger lack of religion. That’s like if someone said, ‘Well, darkness is also light.’ It’s not.”