Affiliate Group of the Week

Affiliate Group of the Week: Kettering Secular Skeptics

December 12, 2014

This week’s Affiliate Group of the Week is the Kettering Secular Skeptics (KSS). We asked group leader Austin Edwards some questions about himself and his group; read on to learn about his New Age upbringing, how he got KSS started, and what his group has in store for the future:

I’m Austin Edwards and I am a junior at Kettering University. I’m studying Mechanical Engineering and Engineering Physics.

Growing up, I was raised by my mother who primarily followed New Age doctrine. Until about 12 years old, I suppose that I believed what my mom did. I believed that a pendulum could answer questions about the future, I believed that chanting spells and making concoctions would bring me things like love, good grades, and make all the lights green on the way to school. I believed that rocks had powers to control your “energy”, luck, and prosperity. I believed that people had auras and that I could see them. I believed that we have multiple lives and that I, according to my mom, had an old soul – wise and yet playful. I believed that the lady at the new age shop had healed my ear infection and that she could see my past life, where I owned a house in Ireland that I would eventually go back to in this life. Heck, I even thought for a brief period of time that I could stop a rolling pencil.

All the while, in the back of my mind, I had doubts about the efficacy of my actions and the actions of these other people who believed this too. Could the pendulum really know about the future (through spirit guides)? Could stones really grant me better luck if I kept them on me? Could there really be this thing known as chakra? Did chanting spells really make the lights green on the way in to school?

As I gained knowledge of the world (something my friends say I may still lack) and a stronger sense of causality, I began to understand that the things I was doing weren’t doing anything but making me look like a fool. I realized that the pendulum only worked if I was holding it. Further, it always seemed to side with what I wanted it to say… imagine that. I realized that the pencil came to a standstill because it had lost all of its momentum to the table, not because I made it lose momentum. I realized that the lights were going to behave how they will no matter if I chanted or not.

For a great while, I hadn’t really even thought about Christianity or God, only that they were probably just as worthwhile as the other stuff I formerly believed in. Then, in my last two years of high school I met two critical thinkers. One of them was an inundated Christian and the other was more of a deist. We had hours upon hours of conversation about God, Christianity, the meaning of life, etc. You name the big topic, we discussed it. From that I fleshed out that I was most certainly not in agreement with them and that I was confident that there was no God. Confidence is nice, but I had to be sure, so I began to look into it by reading books and talking to people. After high school I went off to Kettering University and met the other two founders of Kettering Secular Skeptics (KSS). We had much more than atheism in common; nonetheless it was a bonding commonality. One of the founders, Jason, has a girlfriend who goes to Michigan State. She mentioned that Michigan State had a club that was partnered with this organization known as “Center For Inquiry (CFI)” and she noted that I might enjoy the organization due to my keen interest in atheist matters. I looked it up and didn’t really understand what it was about. So, for probably another half a year I went on dreaming of some organization that would do everything that I found CFI does.

Eventually something roused my attention in CFI once more and I began to look into the organization more thoroughly. Upon discovering that CFI is exactly what I was looking for, I approached Lance and Jason about starting a club on campus.  They were apprehensive about it, to say the least. How were we going to find the time? Who would even join? What would we do? There were a lot of questions to be answered and only one way to find out – to try it and see. Kettering University’s schedule works a little differently than most schools. Kettering University breaks the year into quarters. The first and third quarter, Lance, Jason, and I work at an internship in the field of our study. During the second and fourth quarter, we are at school studying hard. Each quarter is referred to as a “term”.

We began our club in the spring of 2014 with a discussion style meeting every Tuesday afternoon. We would bring some topic and present on it and then we would open the floor for the attendees to give their two cents. We mainly had our friends show up, but sometimes it was just us three.

The meetings were nice and informative, but they weren’t effective. Even when we got a free microwave and gave out free popcorn, the attendance was sparse at best and the ideas we wanted to promote on campus weren’t reaching anyone that we weren’t friends with and who already knew our positions well. We wanted more and the term quickly came to an end.

Over the last summer, we were informed of a leadership conference hosted by CFI and we gladly took off work to attend it. It was wonderful, as one of the founders, Lance, has detailed here. Lance, Jason, and I came away from that conference tired and as a result bickering on the way home, but overall full of a newfound direction and a plan for our club for the upcoming school term.

So here it is this fall term: revamped, renewed, and full of energy. We originally called ourselves Kettering University Center For Inquiry On Campus, but due to a battle with the student government about being recognized as a club and getting funding, we had to remove the affiliation in the name. We labored over finding a name, but eventually found Kettering Secular Skeptics to be quite fitting. We have actually found ourselves having to defend against the student government that it is necessary to keep “Kettering” in our name, but I digress.

Many names were tossed around. One of which I proposed was Kettering University Secular Humanists or KUSH. Little did I know, “kush” is a slang word for marijuana - and now you may see why my friends think I still lack knowledge about the world.

So what did this newfound direction and plan do for us? How did it take shape over these past few months? First, we got organized. We wrote a constitution, we found some core values to stand upon, and we built an organization that will allow for expansion.

We began with our mission. We decided that our mission is to encourage secularism, skepticism, critical thinking, freedom of inquiry, and humanism on Kettering’s campus and in the community at large; and to foster a safe environment where individuals can question beliefs without judgment. In that statement you’ll notice something. You’ll notice that we left out atheism. Mainly it was a marketing decision, but it was also about a principle. We are not on campus to convert people to atheism or even to promote it.  We are on campus to encourage a diverse set of ideas - to encourage critical thinking about topics that are typically taboo. If, through doing so, people became atheists, then so be it, but that was not our goal. Too, as the argument goes, it is better to positively define yourself rather than to negatively do so.

We started off the term running. We went to the club expo in order to catch all of the freshmen’s attention. We hosted a weekly meeting at a local pub, and we even worked with Students for Free-Thought from University of Michigan Flint to bring in Dan Barker to speak on being “Good without God” halfway through the term. Now we are working with the Wellness Center on campus to bring awareness to sexual assault and gender equality matters.

We are shaking the core of this traditionally conservative private university, and we’re honestly not surprised. We’ve gotten a few nicknames, the latest of which is the Kettering Shit Starters, and we’ve gotten even more surprising looks when people hear of the positive things we are doing on campus. One thing that has really kept us going is that there are a large number of people who have come out of the woodworks saying that they are atheist and that they are overjoyed to find that Kettering has a club for secular students.

Having just started out this term, I think that the most impressive feat we were able to accomplish was gaining traction. With three people, no money but the money from our pockets, very little time, and a strong will we were able to not only attract attention to our club, but also bring in a big name speaker. We were able to make a name for ourselves at Kettering University, and we were able to challenge the religious and conservative student government enough to become recognized as a club on campus. Hopefully next term we will actually have a budget to work with and we will be able to accomplish even more.

Ultimately, I’m grateful for is how much networking we’ve been able to do. Whether it is through Center For Inquiry’s Leadership Conference, the local student groups, or even the like-minded people on our campus, we are building a movement and because of that we are making a difference. As Dan Barker pointed out during his speech at our campus, student groups like ours were all but non-existent some 30 years ago. Now, we are springing up left and right – from liberal public universities and high schools to private universities like Kettering University. So where is this movement leading? What is KSS’s vision for this movement? Our vision is to unite - to make a stand. We want to let people know that the “nones” are here and we aren’t going away. We want to ensure that the government stays secular, and that there is equality for people who are LGBT+. Furthermore, we want to ensure that women are treated fairly, and we want to encourage skepticism and critical thinking. Basically, our goal is to network at the grassroots so as to change the world for the better. And that is exactly what we are doing – all of us.

We are making a difference.

 

 

About the Author: Stef McGraw

Stef McGraw's photo
Stef McGraw is a Campus and Community Organizer at the Center for Inquiry. She has degrees in philosophy and Spanish from the University of Northern Iowa, where she first got involved in the freethought movement through the University of Northern Iowa Freethinkers and Inquirers

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