Ben Kallish is a senior at Point Loma Nazarene University. If you ran into him, you might probably mistake him for another transfer student. You would be surprised to find out he is not. Kallish actually belongs to that minority of PLNU students that identifies as Non-Christian. Specifically, he was raised in a Jewish family. “[Growing up] we would keep Sabbath, celebrated all major holidays. I used to go to Hebrew school, and I was in a youth group,” he said about his childhood.
Later in life, Kallish distanced himself from his faith. At 14, he got exposed to Buddhism and Daoism, and he stopped practicing Conservative Judaism. “That [Buddhism and Daoism] led me to believe there is no way the Torah is completely true,” he said. “But I have never doubted the existence of a higher power beyond human comprehension.” At this point, Kallish said he felt like he did not have to go sit in a Synagogue in order to be close to God.
In high school, he was still completely foreign to the New Testament and Christianity. “I read the New Testament at PLNU. When I was young, it wasn’t cool to be a Christian. But I realize now [that] I was missing out. I wish I had read it when I was younger,” he said.
Even Kallish’s main reason for applying to PLNU had little to do with religion. “I knew it was an alcohol-free campus, and this meant a lot to me because I am sober. The religion affiliation didn’t affect me.” Once in school, however, he inevitably began to interact with the many Christians around him. “I feel like they have learned as much from me as I have about them,” he said. “People here are very open minded.” In fact, Kallish, who is 30 years old, does not keep himself away from common PLNU activities such as Chapel meetings. “I occasionally go to Chapel because I still like to be part of the community. It’s still part of the PLNU experience,” he said.
Ben Kallish appears to be a rare exception at PLNU. Professor of Philosophy and Religion Sam Power said that in his 31 years of teaching he never met a Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim student on campus. “Some of them [Non-Christians] come from Christian backgrounds and shifted away,” he said. “Typically, students with a weak connection to Christianity come to PLNU and their connection becomes stronger.”
In an email, Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew Brad Kelle confirmed and added, “Rarely, have I ever had a student who identified as a member of a different faith. In all cases, I make an effort to connect with them interpersonally, before or after class.”
Both Professor Kelle and Professor Powell stress the importance for Non-Christian students of doing what Kallish instinctively does: to actively participate in the life of the PLNU community. “I think a Non-Christian student could make the best of his or her experience by recognizing the context in which they have agreed to live and learn for four years,” Kelle said. “This means being willing to live within and join at least some of the practices that this Christian community does.”
An English literature major, Kallish would like to eventually become a teacher of English as a second language.