Why I Started a Second Secular Group on My Campus
March 13, 2013
In short, my motivation to start a second secular group was captured in an inappropriately placed joke. A popular secular Facebook page shared a meme with the text, "A priest, a pedophile, and a rapist walk into a bar. He orders a drink."
Now, I won't be promoting the censoring of the internet, nor will I be defending criminals within organized religions from the criticism they deserve. The molestation of children has been a very real problem that must not be ignored. I will warn you, however, that we are facing a terrible breakdown in communication that is preventing much of the world from taking us seriously. What most of us fail to recognize, including our fellow secularists, is that we are operating on different functional definitions of words like "religion".
To you and me, religion may be a ridiculous set of asinine supernatural beliefs about control, inequality, and narcissism. But we have to open our minds and actively listen to the voices of those with whom we disagree. This is what it takes to be a competent, appropriate, and effective communicator. Religion, to the religious, is love. It is trust, beauty, charity, goodness, purity, and commitment to something larger than any individual person. Whenever groups take on the label of an Atheist organization, they may be trying to say "we are against nonsense", or "we are against crazy supernatural beliefs that are not founded in reason or evidence, and cause great harm to this world"; But what the other side often sees, is that we are holding a giant sign that says "I have no religion, no way of life, and no basis for my morality or ethics".
When a group of people credit all of the happiness, morality and love in their life to their religion, their misinterpretation is that we, in contrast, have no happiness, morality, or love in our lives. In our attempt to correct this misconception, we should be careful not to insult, offend, and condescend others on the basis of their religious beliefs.
There are very hard-to-see and difficult-to-admit fundamental human truths to religion. Not truths in superstition or supernaturalism, but truths that people have deep needs that must be met. Deep needs of self-identity that have already been met by religion, and by attacking religion, we attack their identity. Instead of taking away their way of life, and leaving them with "Nothing" (because atheism by definition, isn't anything), we should be offering an alternative. Give them a Human identity, show them that God does not equal Love, but in fact, Love equals Love, Kindness equals Kindness, and those values are not dependent on the supernatural.
So we could all agree that being religious does not necessarily make a person good, but I would like us to remember that, likewise, being secular says nothing about our own morality. Having good character, treating others well, and having a positive impact on this world makes a person good. When I see both angry atheists insulting strangers over the internet, and also religious students who wake up early every weekend to spend hours of their time volunteering in the community, I think that some secular people have lost sight of what's important.
Springfield, Missouri, affectionately known as the buckle of the Bible belt, is one of the most bible oriented cities in the country. What this city needs is not another militant atheist organization, but a secular group of people that can champion progressive values and be ethical role models for ideals that religion has previously seemed to have a copyright on. So although there is already a Freethinkers and Skeptics group on campus, I have started a Humanist student group, because in this world it is not enough to be secular; we must take the next step.