To Believe Or Not To Believe: MSJC Holds Religious Debate

MSJC student Aaron Hansen and Dr. Roy Mason will debate the subject of Christianity in an event ...

MSJC student Aaron Hansen and Dr. Roy Mason will debate the subject of Christianity in an event on the Menifee Valley campus tonight.
Aaron Hansen is far from being an average Mt. San Jacinto Community College student. At the age of 29, he's almost a decade older than many of his classmates. Standing at 6 feet 4 inches, he also towers over most of them.

On campus, he's worked as a supplemental instructor and tutor in various subjects. Off campus, he's been accepted to top California universities. Recently, he was chosen as a recipient of the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke scholarship.

But even more, Hansen is far from being an average Sun City resident. Although he's living in a primarily conservative area, he's liberal minded and calls himself an "anti-theist" -- someone who doesn't believe in God.

Today at 5:30 p.m. on the MSJC Menifee campus, Hansen will argue his point of view in a debate titled "Is Christianity Good for the World?" His opponent will be Dr. Roy Mason, chair of the Natural Science Department at the college and a life-long practicing Christian. 

"Not only do I not believe in a supernatural being or entity, but I would not want it even if it were there," said Hansen, a history and classical civilizations major.

Hansen said he organized this debate for the sake of argument, which is one of his favorite things to do. He chose this topic because he's particularly passionate about religion, and because it's easier to argue about the effects of religion than it is to argue about whether God exists.

"For me, I don't want there to be a god," said Hansen, who believes that the only purposes of religion are to scare, and monopolize power and profit.

Hansen came up with the idea to debate Christianity after he gave a presentation about the history of human rights last semester. When he brought up the First Amendment and the idea of separation between church and state, he noticed the audience became more lively. At that moment, he said he knew he had to hold another event focused specifically on religion.

Although it's a touchy subject for society, Hansen emphasized he's fine with people who have religious beliefs, and it's not his intent to eradicate them.

"When it gets into my life, in public schools and government, that's when I have an issue with it," he said.

Hansen doesn't expect those in the audience to change their minds about their own beliefs, but just listen. He said said he's looking forward to hearing Mason's point of view during the debate.

Hansen approached Mason after the MSJC Amnesty International Club showed a film about evolution last semester. Hansen was delighted when Mason agreed to the debate, and said he's been nothing but helpful and supportive since.

"I felt [Aaron] would represent the issue well and we could do the debate in a professional academic manner that would be a great teaching opportunity for our college community," said Mason.

Mason is a huge supporter of community learning and frequently attends MSJC lectures held at the Western Science Center Museum in Hemet. He said he enjoys these kinds of events because it provides a unique learning experience outside of the classroom, where people of all ages and backgrounds can contribute.

Mason's own background is religious, despite being a biologist. As a child, his family moved frequently because his father was a career soldier, but they would usually find a Christian church to go to in every new town.

Unlike Hansen, Mason believes Christianity is good for the world, as it's widely accepted and universal. It's not as exclusionary as his opponent thinks.

"Christianity, to me, does not represent a single religion but a variety of denominational belief systems based on the teachings and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ," he said.

Although he's a science professor, Mason's beliefs never come into conflict with what he teaches. He said it's simply because science is observable, while religion isn't. Unlike Hansen, he doesn't need proof or evidence to believe.

"Science just happens to be a very directed, orderly, deliberate methodology of observation," he said. "A belief system by definition is something that you do not have to observe."

This will be the first religious debate at MSJC. Mason hopes the college can make this a reoccurring event with a variety of other controversial topics, and Hansen agrees.

"You can't get a better college experience than a debate, and this is something we need to talk about," said Hansen.

The debate is scheduled from 5:30-7:30 p.m. in room 927 on the Menifee Valley Campus, located at 28237 La Piedra Road. The event is free and open to the public, and audience members will be allowed to ask questions at the end.

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