A student from a Christian university in Oregon ditched the privacy of the confessional and went public about his faith, writing in the school newspaper: "I am an atheist. Yes, you read that correctly, I am an atheist."
Eric Fromm, 21, a senior at Northwest Christian University in Eugene published his thoughts about not believing in God in the Beacon Bolt, the student-run online newspaper -- despite the fact that his university is a Christian school.
Although Fromm didn't share the religious beliefs as the school, he said in his post he decided to enroll because Northwest Christian had a "solid communications program."
"Before I enrolled, I visited the campus to make sure that the chapel services were comfortable enough that I could fulfill the requirement," he said. "No one was speaking in tongues or handling snakes, so I decided to stay."
But Fromm didn't feel at peace.
"Every day I'm burdened by the fact that my peers might reject me because I'm different from them. I won't be rejected because of my race or social class, but simply because of the fact that I don't believe in God -- because I am an atheist," wrote Fromm in his post.
However, the support he received from the school, from friends, and even online came as a surprise to him.
"I was expecting for it to be non-accepting and I was very afraid of it," Fromm told ABC News.
"Eric's story within the blog post isn't a surprise to us," said Jeannine Jones, director of university relations at NCU. "Eric and his journey to his faith is central to our mission."
According to NCU's website, the school's mission is to "foster wisdom, faith and service through excellent academic programs within a Christ-centered community."
"We seek to highlight our Christian identity in ways that unite Christians everywhere, and not in ways that tend to cause division between various groups of Christians. In this spirit, we believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and we proclaim him Lord and Savior of the world," NCU's website said."
"All of our students are on a journey," Jones said. "While the majority of our students profess a Christian faith, not all do. We as an institution meet students were they are at and believe that our God is big enough."
Within a few hours of when "Lifting the Curtain" was posted, it went viral and comments from around the web started to appear in support of Fromm.
"I'm startled how people can be so judgmental especially Christians for the love of God," wrote "Julie," a commenter in the Beacon Bolt.
All the way from Iceland another reader commented:
"I have to admit it's a bit strange that people take it so personal just to see that you are a atheist. Nothing wrong with that. It's not like it makes you a bad person at all," wrote "Guðni – Ísland."
Fromm said people on campus have been extremely supportive.
"I actually have gotten more hugs than ever before. It's a very strange thing," Fromm told ABC News
Fromm said, however, that along with the support from his school and friends he has also received criticism, mostly from a local paper that picked up on the story, the Eugene Register-Guard. However, he said he said he was not going to read those comments.
A commenter from the Register-Guard, posted:
"Atheists actions are quite contradictory. First, they say their lives are like a drop in the ocean. That is, their lives and their actions are but an accident and also insignificant in the whole scheme of things. YET, they go about advertising and preaching their OWN INSIGNIFICANCE?" wrote a poster identified as "AhContraire."
Fromm said he wrote the article to set the record straight.
During his senior year he was asked to help teach a mandatory first-year seminar for freshmen at NCU. He was asked not only because of his seniority, but also because he was the president of the student body. The goal was to address student's concerns from the experience of a fellow student who had already been in their shoes.
Fromm said that one day, when he opened up the floor for questions, a freshman girl asked him what would be the best way to entice someone to go to church.
"I can't exactly answer that because I don't go to church." Fromm said to the girl. He told the class he was an atheist and that he had never shared that with anyone.
After that, rumors started to spread around campus that Fromm was an atheist and that he hated Christians, said Brandon McGinnis, Fromm's former roommate and editor-in-chief of the Beacon Bolt.
Some students even reached out to Fromm's adviser because they were "concerned and surprised" that he was an atheist, McGinnis said.
Fromm's adviser met with him to address the rumors about him being an atheist.
"Eric was upset people were questioning the way they were," McGinnis told ABC News.
"I didn't feel free," Fromm said. "At first I felt at home, but when a person starts shunning or judging me because these misconceptions started happening then I didn't feel free."
But it was only two weeks ago when Fromm decide to explain himself. He chose to do it publicly so he could reach a larger audience, so he wouldn't have to explain himself to everyone who asked. Also, he published his e-mail and listed facts about his life and how he became an atheist.
"I was an atheist long before I came to NCU. I was baptized Lutheran, and raised Methodist, but as time went on I slowly came to the conclusion that God wasn't real. For me, church was an empty ritual that I participated in so I could see friends, scripture was largely mythological, and Jesus was a great moral teacher, but he wasn't God," said Fromm's post.
McGinnis said Fromm asked him to help him write the story, and even though they knew they might receive backlash about the piece, they decided to publish it anyway.
"We knew that there was going to be a mix of responses," McGinnis said. "He [Fromm] was getting prepared to defend himself and defend his position. He felt he was being misrepresented."
However, he didn't have to.
"The surprising thing for the both of us was that the school and the students were remarkably supportive," McGinnis said. "I think Christian identity but willingness to accept those from a different background, I think that's the precise balance."
When asked about Fromm's role as the president of the study body at NCU, Jones also said the school doesn't plan to ask him to step down because of his article.
"Eric is an exemplary student, a good friend, a thorough academic, and when it comes to credibility as the ASNCU president he is the best qualified to fill that position," McGinnis told ABC News.
Fromm said he was also shocked to see how many people online have reached out to him with their own personal stories and also to tell him he was an inspiration to them. He said thanks to his post, people were telling him they had hope they could be accepted for not believing in God.
"I have learned so many things about people's struggles," Fromm said. "I never really knew that people could struggle, that an atheist could feel this struggle.
"It makes me very happy that I can change people this way, and it's not insulting any religion, and it's not destroying who the person is," he said.
Fromm told ABC News he's still trying to figure out why this story went viral.
"Atheist president of a Christian school," Fromm said. "When people look at this it makes no sense to them."
- Society & Culture
- Religion & Beliefs