Atheism is often maligned and misunderstood. In the spirit of openness, this column will attempt to respond to the many questions (and allegations) we, as atheists, receive. No two atheists are the same, and we attempt to represent no one but ourselves.
This week’s question: What is the point in making an atheist/secularist group?
Atheist organizations are a valuable tool for spreading greater understanding and encouraging the acceptance of a skeptical and rational worldview. I absolutely encourage people to learn more about skepticism (for instance, by joining a campus organization like SURE here at UCSB, Wednesdays at 6 p.m. in Girvetz 2128.) However, my greatest nightmare is a theist on one street corner and an atheist on another, both yelling at the poor people in the middle that they must choose one side or the other. Those who wish to be excused from the debate ought to be left alone; the freedom of religion we enjoy in this country also includes freedom from religion. For similar reasons, I wouldn’t support mandatory voting because I think people ought to be able to abstain from the circus and live as they wish. While I would love everyone in the world to know that God doesn’t exist, I don’t carry a bullhorn because my mission as an atheist is mostly to stop religion from ruining peoples’ day. If I’m too loud and annoying, I’m just doing the day-ruiner’s work for them.
This “caring about people’s feelings” thing only extends so far, of course. As Voltaire said, “Those who believe absurdities will commit atrocities.” There are still places where people are stoned as witches, where homosexuals are murdered and where genocides are committed in the name of gods that aren’t there. It is in these cases that skeptical, rational thought can make a positive difference in the world.
Connor Oakes is a third-year political science major.
First and foremost, I feel there should not be a club or secular group on campus, only because there should not need to be one. The fact that a skeptics group would find the need to exist in what is supposed to be an institute of higher education is truly upsetting. However, we find ourselves living among the almost aggressively popular 30 or so religious groups on campus, representing whatever particular flavor of deity you prefer. All the while, there is a sad lack of representation for those of us who do not subscribe to the comforting idea of a world that was made for us.
There are those who feel uncomfortable in this faith-saturated community — people who perhaps grew up in a strongly religious family or attended a religious high school, and have since reconsidered their position on the matter of God. For these people, it is important to have a place or a group to act as a sort of safety net for their precarious position. Because of a desire to assist those who question their faith in the face of a world that would condemn them for it, and because of the need to present some small form of representation, the need for a group has, unfortunately, arisen.
I believe a worthy goal for an atheist group is complete irrelevance. We only represent the desire to know what is going on in the world, and it is truly depressing to see this desire reduced to an interest group. As such, we exist only out of necessity, not out of desire
Cameron Moody is a second-year computational biology major.
I think it is as important to have a group for atheists just as it is to have a Black Student Union or a Queer Student Union. It’s not just about having the right to organize; it’s about visibility and having a place to meet like-minded people with similar backgrounds or being able to talk to other non-believers.
These groups can be about socializing, feeling validated in a community that won’t reject you for your beliefs or looking to others and seeking practical advice for how to live in a religious society. They can also be about being politically visible, having a voice and organizing for common goals. As a minority, we cannot hold great sway over the way things are, but through organization and visibility, we can share in the political process. Many times the lack of countervailing points can blind the process to the pleas of others.
David Urzua is a fifth-year philosophy major.