On Being An Atheist In ACS(I)

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This year, on an otherwise innocuous day, I was randomly asked, “What’s it like to be an atheist in ACS(I)?” To be honest, I have not given much thought about it over the past 5 years in this institute. But for those who may be new to the school, or are considering it as the place to go after their O’levels, perhaps I may provide a little insight. Please note, do take care to note the difference between the atheist, who rejects belief in the existence of a deity, often confused with the agnostic, who claims that such beliefs cannot not be proven or are unknown. Regardless of whatever of the two beliefs you may have, here are a few facts that ought to be known.

1. ACS(I) is a mission school. There is no way to escape or deny such a truth, and you are bound to see it every day, from devotions (short 5+ minute reflections on Christianity and its applications), the weekly hour-long chapel sessions, or the Religious Emphasis Week (REW) in which the school invites speakers to talk about Christianity.

2. In accordance with that, the teachers tend to be disproportionately Christian, compared to standard demographical patterns, and, complementing the large Christian student population, may refer to the Christian God when addressing students on matters relating to moral and physiological direction.

3. At the same time, you may often find your peers engaging in activities of a religious nature occasionally, depending on the persons, such as in ACNOW, or partaking in the events organized by the Christian Fellowship club.

With that in mind, here are a few frequently asked questions (FAQs) relevant to this topic.

  1. Will I be left out of the student body because I’m not Christian?

Of course not. ACS has historically accepted and currently accepts students who are not Christian, both in terms of admissions (DSA), as well as in terms of the social environment. Do not fear – at least in ACS(I), having different beliefs doesn’t mean that you will be treated any differently by your peers.

  1. If I want to learn more about Christianity, can I?

Of course you can! Just approach any member of the Christian fellowship club, the Living Waters ministry or an invited guest during REW to learn more. Don’t be shy, despite what they say, curiosity never killed the cat.

  1. I’ve heard that the school and the students will often pressure non-believers to convert. Is this true?

False. No one will pressure you or force you to convert. Sure, you may get questions that go, “Why don’t you believe in God?” but if you count that as duress then something is probably wrong with you. Seriously though, in all my years in ACS(I), I have only been asked about my thoughts in an open and constructive manner, with both sides seeking nothing but greater understanding.

  1. I really want to have debates of a theological nature, to argue and to discuss things about religion. Can I do that?

Well… it depends. Please remember that just as with any other topic of a sensitive nature, you need to make sure that whoever you meet is actually interested in doing so, and isn’t going to take it personally! Also remember that whatever the case, religion tends to be an extremely personal thing- unlike for many atheists, who tend conceptualise religion as a purely intellectual issue, religion often plays a huge part in others’ lives, so be sensitive.

  1. If I do not like something of a religious nature, may I opt out?

It depends. Some are compulsory, like morning devotions, while others may be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, like REW.

Finally, please do remember that this should not be the only factor in considering your choice of school. Please do take note of the other possible benefits of coming to our school, such as the environment, educational qualifications (IB!) and the people. If you have any questions, feel free to attend the Open House, where you’ll have a lot more opportunities to find out more about ACS(Independent)!

(Editor’s Note: Prospective students would do well to note that ACS(I)’s Open House is usually in April. Don’t wait until your O’s are done to start planning!)

Dylan Chan (6.18) is from the graduating batch of 2015.

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