Affiliate Group of the Week

Affiliate Group of the Week #28: American University Rationalists and Atheists (AURA)

February 20, 2014

AURA (American University Rationalists and Atheists) was created, like many of our campus groups, as a forum for non-believers on campus and a place to have open conversations about religion. They have regular discussion meetings, bring in speakers, and even had a kind of "Atheist Church" event. They are using the CFI Speakers Bureau as a resource to find more future speakers to host at AU. Read on for more from the group's current outreach coordinator, Benjamin Cook!

  ben cook with someone aura
Ben Cook with Seth Andrews when he spoke at American University.

First, please introduce yourself. Where you go to school, graduation year, your background. What’s your “atheist/secular conversion story,” if you have one?
My name is Benjamin Cook, and I am a student at American University, and I am graduating next year. I was born and raised in California for nearly twenty years until I traveled to Washington DC for University. I was born and raised in reform Judaism and became an atheist at around age eight or nine. I simply could not reconcile the degree of suffering I saw in the world with the existence of a god. I vividly remember the bombings in Bosnia and wonder how God could let this happen. I was not aware that there was an atheist community until college. It really allowed me to open my eyes, and I was delighted to find like minded people, and others who were as passionate about reason and the separation of church of state as much as I was. I am a born again atheist.

AURA group members

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?
American University Rationalists and Atheists (AURA) was founded in 2008. The main purpose of AURA was to create a forum for non-believers, and have open conversations about religions. There are many Christian Ministries at American University, but no secular organizations. It allowed us to gather like minded people, and get our opinions out on the table in a constructive manner.

How many members does your group have? What kinds of events do you hold? 
We have around 20 active members. Last year we went to the American Humanist Association Conference, as well as the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. Also we went to the Supreme Court, for the Prop 8 Ruling, and saw Seth Andrews and had Dominican Friars speak at school.

One of our favorite events from last year was when we hosted Dominican Friars, where they presented rationalist arguments for the the proofs of God's existence, particularly the argument used by St. Thomas Aquinas. A couple weeks ago we held an event Evolve and Love, which was our attempt at an Atheist Church. It was an absolute blast, and we played music, sang songs, and danced around. Our weekly discussion topics widely vary, from discussing religion and the afterlife, secular topics, and the doctrines of various religions.

AURA group members
AURA group members show support for church-state separation outside the Supreme Court.

As an example, could you share one thing you’re most proud of that your group accomplished in the past year?
I am very proud of the outreach that we have done over the past year. We have started outreach with other secular organizations in the DC area such as SCA, DC Atheists, and MAAF. One of our greatest trips was going to the 72nd American Humanist Association Conference in San Diego. We met some great humanists and atheists, a few of them which we would request speak at American University. I had the opportunity of meeting Richard Dawkins for the first time, as well as Dan Savage and Sean Carroll. It was really the first time I felt at home in a community much larger in myself. In addition, it was an honor marching with fellow humanists to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the MLK March on Washington, and while it is lesser known, was planned by the humanist Asa Phillip Randolph. It was also terrific showing support for secularism in the Supreme Court case of Galloway vs. Gown of Greece.

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?
I believe I first heard it about it through Melody Hensley. We just started working with her and CFI–DC this year. We would love to plan various events and speakers in the future, I already have a few in mind. We are starting to gather various student and secular groups in the DC area and in Virginia. I think it is of the utmost importance to let every atheist and humanist know that there is a niche for them, that they are not alone, and that we love and care for them. We are working with other members of the CFI Speakers Bureau, and are inviting the head of the Global Secular Humanist Movement, Faisal Saeed Al Mutaar to speak at American University.

Do you have anything else you'd like to add?
There is such a stereotype for atheists that we 'hate religion,' and that we are all militant, angry, and depressed. At American University, we are trying very hard to promote positive atheism, as well as defending the Constitution and the separation of Church and State. We show show that you can be good without a God, and we do so by doing community service, as well as engaging in social justice particularly gay rights, and the rights of the minority. We work just as hard as any other Christian group. 

What is your vision for the secular movement?
My ultimate vision for the secular movement is that in my lifetime, we elect an atheist or humanist president. We are America—the land of the free and the home of the brave—until you become another religious group or minority. I have a dream that citizens of the United States will not vote on religion but on the content of their character. I would love to see a stop to religious favoritism, and halt the nasty relationship between politics and religion. It was in the words of James Madison, "The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries."


About the Author: Sarah Kaiser

Sarah Kaiser's photo

Sarah Kaiser is a field organizer for CFI On Campus. Prior to her work at CFI, she got her start in the freethought movement as the co-founder and president of the Secular Alliance at Indiana University, where she helped organize a nationally recognized atheist bus ad campaign and large campus speaking events. As an atheist, a feminist, and a small part of the universe's way of understanding itself, she is thrilled at the chance to help advance CFI's mission. On Twitter: @sarahebkaiser.




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