Screw You, CICCU

CATHERINE AIREY admits her biggest turn-off from her faith has been the Cambridge Christian Union… and has a few other confessions to make as well.

abstinence atheist athiest Cambridge christian Cambridge University Catherine Airey Christian Union Christianity church CICCU CU fifty shades fifty shades of blue fifty shades of grey marriage Relationships Sex STAG text a toastie theist thiest virgin

‘A girl’s virginity is like a chocolate bar. Once someone’s taken a bite, it can never be whole again.’

It’s Sunday lunchtime. I’m sitting in church, eating lasagne. This is CICCU (Cambridge’s Inter-Collegiate Christian Union).

Each week, a new topic is discussed after the service. It’s supposed to be informal and friendly (‘Atheists welcome!’), but I can’t help feeling we’re all here to find our future spouses.

This week, the topic is ‘Relationships’. When we’re asked to discuss whether sex before marriage is wrong, the girl next to me spouts the opening line as if it’s a popular idiom. Am I the only person tempted to scoff?

The funny thing is, I’m not an atheist. I should have been an easy sell for the Christian Union since I already believed in God. It’s only since coming to Cambridge and becoming acquainted with CICCU that I began to question my beliefs.

I went along to a CICCU squash in my first week as a fresher. It started off innocuously enough – free tea and cake at my college. Then I joined them to go to church that week. I’d expected pews and holy water, and lots of old people like at home. What I got was more like a teenage pop concert, where all the songs were about Jesus.

 

Suspiciously silent publicity video for ‘STAG’, the most popular church for Cambridge students.

 

In the following lunch sessions, the same theme kept cropping up – sex (or rather the lack of it).

It felt like I was the only one in there doing it. I was a fraud, pretending to believe in this celibate bullshit before going home to fuck my boyfriend. In reality, I’m sure that there were lots of people there who, like me, don’t think we’ll be sent to hell for participating in consensual sex – but no one admits it.

I began to realise that I didn’t qualify as a Christian in the CICCU sense of the word at all – I have sex, and sometimes shout out ‘Oh my God’ or ‘Jesus’ while doing it; I drink (often in excess); and I purposefully try to avoid making my theism a big part of my life. If I was ever going to fit in at CICCU, I’d have to make a lot of uncomfortable life changes.

Even if I were willing to make concessions and embrace life as a ‘born again’ Christian, I realised there was one thing I fundamentally disagreed with. CICCU pride themselves on not being exclusive – they encourage anyone and everyone to come along to their events. But there’s a catch – once you’ve been lured in you’re encouraged to make your friendship circle as Christian as possible, to maintain links with the damned only so you could try to save them, spam them with the good news and drag them along to talks specifically designed to convert non-believers (just go to the carol service at St Mary’s this Christmas for a taster).

It gets more ominous when it comes to dating. I started seeing an atheist. Having been brought up in a family where religion’s something you can take or leave – my mum’s Catholic, my dad’s an atheist – I didn’t think twice about this at the time, but my friends at church were dumbfounded. ‘I could never go out with someone who didn’t love Jesus,’ one of them told me, wide-eyed in terror when I told her about my boyfriend. ‘You’re going to try and convert him, right?’

The line that kept being recycled when it came to dating non-Christians, or even being friends with them, was ‘where can it possibly lead?’, as if there was no point in embarking on anything that might not lead to marriage and babies (in that order).

For the girls out there who thought they were chocolate bars, a special gift to give to their husbands on their wedding day, it seemed it wouldn’t really matter how well they got on with a prospective partner as long as they both believed in God and had their wrappers intact.

I never lied to anyone at CICCU, but that’s partly because no one asked me straight out: ‘Are you a virgin?’ If they had done I’d have found it hard to give an honest answer. It would be a bit like admitting it to your nan.

CICCU really does make you think that sex is sinful. This never made me want to give it up, but it did make me feel like I was hiding something.

I stopped going to CICCU church services when I was told, quite bluntly, that my relationship was displeasing God. I was pretty upset about it at the time. Supposedly, only God can judge us, but I felt judged by CICCU.

I still believe in God, but I’m not comfortable with CICCU’s monopoly over Christianity in Cambridge. It’s very good at doing what it does – converting people – but its inability to accept any interpretation of belief other than their own makes such conversions very ill-informed. And I’d like to hazard a guess that there are lots of people flattered by the friendliness of CICCU, especially freshers, who go along with what’s being said just to feel they belong.

Christianity teaches us to be honest, so I have a confession to make. I wrote Fifty Shades of Blue. Oh, and while we’re at it, my bum was in the Daily Mail. Forgive me father for I have sinned.

 

Edit: Not all the events in the above post refer exclusively to CICCU (specifically, the Sunday service), but include other Christian societies in Cambridge (notably STAG).