Affiliate Group of the Week: Oregon State University Advocates for Freethought and Skepticism
November 17, 2015
We have another Affiliate Group of the Week that really came on our radar at this past summer’s Leadership Conference! (Hint hint, if your group hasn’t sent reps to a Leadership Conference, it’s a great way to make your group even better and get better connected with CFI On Campus.) Alex McFadden of the Oregon State University Advocates for Freethought and Skepticism gives us the low down on why he decided to leave religion, his group’s trick to handling campus preachers, and how he’s proud of his group’s positive impact on campus.
First, please introduce yourself. Where you go to school, graduation year, your background. What’s your “atheist/secular conversion story,” if you have one? I’m Alex McFadden! I’m a senior at OSU studying biology. I am from Canada, and I moved with my sister to the US when I was 12. I was raised Roman Catholic as a child, but it was never strictly enforced on me. Religion was a part of my life, but I didn’t really have to think about it critically. When I came to the US, it was very surprising how many different denominations I noticed. In Canada, the Christianities are less stratified, so seeing all the different Christian churches with contradictory views was surprising. For me, the big “conversion” stemmed from my church’s views on LGBT rights (notably, the total incompatibility of LGBT rights with their views). From there, it was hard to reconcile real, good people that I knew to be good with the idea that LGBT people must be sinners. This sparked critical thought, and it all started rolling from there. I have been publicly atheist since I was 16 or 17.
How did your group get started? What year was it founded? Was there a specific event or incident that motivated you or the founders to create the organization? Our university has hosted secular groups before, but our group was founded in 2009 or so and for a few years they existed as a small club where 2-3 people met a few times a month. We got official club status in 2014-15, and that’s when we feel we really began. I don’t know the founders that well, but from what I understand, a lot of this club’s formation is owed to a large number of philosophical religious clubs that had no atheist or secular counterpart. This is also where it got its name.
What is your group’s name? How did you decide on that name? Do you have a logo to go with that name? Our club’s name is Advocates for Freethought and Skepticism, because that’s exactly what we do! We welcome anybody who desires to think rationally and base their decisions on such. This way, our club does not explicitly exclude religious ideas, and allows us to consider all positions before settling on the one that seems the most reasonable based on evidence. We’re not interested in abolishing religion or keeping religious folk out of our club, and our name reflects that.
What are some events that your group holds or some activities that your group has been involved in? Which are your favorites? The best event that we do is Street Preacher Bingo. OSU has Free Speech Zones, where preachers can come with their signs and tell everyone they’re going to Hell. In the past, OSU has had issues with these preachers (and the reaction to them) escalating to violence, so we thought of a way to get the tension down while encouraging critical thought. We have little bingo cards that we made with logical fallacies and obvious bigotries on them, like “Circular Reasoning” or “Misogynistic Rant”. We gave them out to students, and for bingos, we gave out Jolly Ranchers! The immediate result was much less tension, and instead more engagement to determine if the preachers’ thoughts were fallacious. It’s grown more popular due to social media, and last spring we had our first blackout bingo!
We also do lots of community service—Habitat for Humanity, food pantries, food drives, etc. We also participate in debates and help organize debates with our resident Christian apologetic group, Socratic Club @ OSU.
Talk up your group. What’s something that you’ve accomplished that you’re really proud of? We’ve built an environment where secular people feel comfortable talking about their views, and that environment doesn’t always exist on campus. For a lot of our members, this is their favorite part of the club: we go off topic, we talk about our lives, we commiserate, and we provide emotional and practical support to each other. A lot of people don’t get why atheists might want clubs, and for a long time as an atheist I didn’t either. Seeing the impact of this kind of club has completely changed my opinion, though. People miss that kind of thing when they leave an organized religion and don’t often find it again, so I feel proud to have helped with that.
What do you see as the mission of your organization? To promote rational thought, the separation of church and state, and the organization of secular people.
How did you hear about CFI On Campus? How have you worked with CFI On Campus in the past, and how do you hope to work with us in the future? We had heard of CFI having affiliated clubs near us, and wanted to know what that was all about. So we affiliated with CFI, and came to the 2015 Leadership Conference, and that’s when we heard about CFI On Campus (as well as all the other work CFI does). We hope to use CFI especially as a tool to help us grow our club and learn about logistics of managing our club as it grows.
What is your vision for the secular movement? I hope that religious and nonreligious people can both feel like the education they get does not come with a side of religious bias, and that the government they elect doesn’t have to be religious in its nature. That’s lofty as far as goals go, but that’s why we all have to push for it, and push hard.
Anything else you want to add? Just a quick thanks to the CFI and all the groups and people who have helped this group get started and grow over the last few years. This is the first time we’ve felt like we really had tools to keep our club afloat, and CFI and the Leadership Conference are big reasons for that.
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