Senior Joel Inbody explores immersive religious lifestyles, cultivates spirited debates

No one on campus would suspect that senior Joel Inbody, calm and unassuming, is both an undercover agent and a president.

Inbody is graduating with a degree in political science. He said he hopes to go to graduate school for sociology of religion, a topic that, being president of the Secular Student Alliance, Inbody said interests him.

“Being raised Baptist, [faith] was so pervasive that it was something I commonly thought about,” Inbody said. “Maybe subconsciously it’s something I need in my life; not religion itself, I’m fairly free-spirited, but that Baptist fascination with religion is still a part of me academically.”

Inbody was co-president of SSA for the last two years and has taken over the presidency this year. While most of the members of SSA are agnostic or atheist, Inbody said that a very open-minded religious student has also come to meetings, which are structured like an open forum. While SSA does bring speakers and host other events, their biggest event each year is the Interfaith Dialogue.

“I think the event helped us move away from the perspective of us as angry atheists,” Inbody said. “I was shocked by how much common ground we found. It really gave me a lot of respect for the people who are religious and don’t yell and scream about it.”

While not religious himself, Inbody does not wholly rule out the benefits of practices generally considered spiritual or religious in nature.

“I got into meditation this summer, which was very nice,” Inbody said. “I had this profound experience. It was two hours of profound emptiness but also oneness. I was vivified.”

In an attempt to understand the religious principles and community of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Inbody has gone undercover several times at a nearby kingdom hall.

“Just to be blunt here: I didn’t like it,” Inbody said, “I don’t like the people in charge - they’re very manipulative.”

Inbody spoke generally of the religion: “It’s very peculiar, it’s very apocalyptic - Jesus is right around the corner,” he said. “And the Internet is one of the deep things of Satan, along with violent video games and independent thinking.”

Inbody said that he witnessed that the Jehovah’s Witnesses use scare tactics, like an angel watching over your shoulder as you masturbate or the possibility of defellowship - being thrown out of the group - to force members into doing what God wills.

According to Inbody, the structure of the religious services are very similar to other Christian religions but, “they use different terminology to distance themselves from the other Christian religions as much as possible. Some of it is downright weird, ‘The Chariot is on the Move!’ and some of it is just small differences. The sermon is a talk, excommunication is de-fellowship and the pope is called the slave.”

“Let me tell you, they are horribly inefficient,” Inbody added. “It takes them 6,000 hours door to door to convert one person,” Inbody said.

Inbody said that he has no quarrel with religion in general, even if his opinion of the practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses is far from positive.

“If you want to believe in God and all of those things, go for it. If your beliefs don’t translate into negative, controlling actions then you can do whatever you want. If I’m fighting against anything, it’s dogmatism, repression, fear tactics and guilt.”