Archive for the ‘Secular Student Alliance’ Category

Jesse Galef, now with a Pope-tage.

June 14, 2012

Jesse Galef does a lovely job in an interview with CNN, but Emily and I noticed a couple of oddities:

Opening: “Just to be clear, you’re an atheist.” Subtext supplied by Emily: Because otherwise you look like such a nice young man.

Also, notice at 2:51 – 3:04 while Jesse is talking about secularists doing good works and playing games while eating pizza… there is a montage of the pope. Why? Wait… they shift to the pope just as Jesse says “You can be a good person without believing in god.”

My theory? It is a subtle protest: Yeah, but hey… look at that hat.

Thank you, Hemant.

Sometimes first reactions are the best reactions.

June 11, 2012

I was reading Maryam Namazie‘s SSA blogathon posts and found her quoting a religious ‘scholar’  in a manner designed to provoke mockery, that is, with apparent accuracy:

“An unveiled woman is like a bus – everyone gets to ride her.

“A woman who is not wearing a full-chador (all encompassing covering) but wearing a head-scarf and manteau (overcoat type covering) is like a taxi – a limited number get to ride her.

“But a woman wearing a chador, like my wife, is like a donkey – only one person gets to ride her.”

I read that aloud to Emily and her immediate reaction was:

“He just compared his wife to a donkey? He’s the ass!” which blew me away. After all, I was thinking the unwholesome attitude towards women in general was the main point, but the much scarier point is that someone like him is married.

The Effect of Activist Events (Or, in the micro: Why I’m Blogging Again)

July 18, 2011

Since almost all of my skeptical, atheistic and science activist friends have spent the weekend at TAM without me (but I’m not bitter), I feel this is a good time to talk about the effect that activist events have, using myself as an example.

My first contact with the atheist community was on the web- please contain your surprise. I was still considering myself an agnostic then, as I subscribed to the common misconception that the term ‘atheist’ meant someone who was certain about the nonexistence of god. I went to a few forums and youtube channels that discussed those issues, and found Friendly Atheist and Pharyngula as well. Watching the debates and reading posts helped me decide to identity as an atheist, but I was just an observer, not a participant.

I thought about starting an atheist club at my college, but I was still going back and forth when I discovered the Secular Student Alliance. I went to their summer conference and was completely sold on making a college group. I loved the sense of community (see my previous post for details) I had when I was at that conference, surrounded by other atheist activists, and I wanted to create something like that within my area.

When I got back home, I put up Secular Student Alliance flyers, gathered friends who were interested and Doubters, Agnostics, Mythbusters and Nontheists (D.A.M.N.), a De Anza College Affiliate of the Secular Student Alliance was formed. We have had- in addition to discussions and panels- movie nights, blood drives, Fiction for Fiction events, Project Linus blanket making, events to promote Gay Rights, Sell Your Soul For a Cookie events (for which my group designed this snazzy flyer), and a MST3K themed Halloween party where we watched (and mocked) a film called Killer Klowns From Outer Space which starred- as one of the clowns- a now math professor at De Anza College who was kind enough to attend the beginning to give a short introduction to the film. In short, we made a place where we could have fun, improve our college and community and do good things without having it assumed that we were doing it because of a belief in a deity. We formed a community.

But other than club events and meetings, I wasn’t engaged with the community or movement. I stopped my blogging after a few posts. Recently, Harold Camping and his organization predicted that the world would end on the 21st of May. I had planned a presentation at my school for the 18th of May titled “The Great Success of Past Apocalypses” and ended up giving the speech on the 21st as well, at the American Atheist Regional Area Meeting. This was my third conference and it reintroduced me to many wonderful people. I heard great speakers, including other SSA group leaders like Jen McCreight, Lewis Marshall and Ashley Paramore as well as Greta Christina, who gave a speech “Why Are Atheists So Angry?”

I was talking with a friend who is at TAM earlier today, and I was expressing my jealousy to her, I mentioned the way I feel at activist events: disbelief that there are so many cool people about and  a feeling of family or simpatico with the other activists. (I may have also used the word “giddy.”) Between that feeling and Greta’s talk, I knew I wanted to be involved in more events.

Then, I went to SF Pride, in the atheist contingent. This is exactly the sort of thing I love: Two human rights movements working together for a cause! And it felt the same way, but with greater optimism because our causes are strengthened when they are joined. The secular movement wants to keep religion out of government, the gay rights movement wants freedoms that religious laws do not permit them. I marched with my fellow activists and I decided that I would do it again next year. I decided I would put more energy into human rights struggles. And because I think awareness is still one of the most important matters in these struggles, I decided to blog again.

I went from the sidelines- not even commenting on blog posts- to founding a local group, giving speeches (despite a fear of public speaking), marching and blogging. This is the effect of activist events. Now, I may not be the best example; you may consider my speeches or writing to do more damage than good. But if this effect is not limited to me, then allow me to give my own personal and subjective answer to Jerry Coyne’s question Are there too many atheist meetings?


Secular Student Alliance (And Lyz Liddell, Their Secret Weapon)

August 20, 2009

I decided I wanted to start a campus group to discuss science, to promote human rights and freedom of speech, and to let other atheists know they aren’t alone. In the summer, clubs are defunct at my campus, so I had time to mull this over. And I came across the SSA. I liked their mission statement, the short form of which is taken from their site and posted here*:

“We welcome as affiliates campus groups that share our values of naturalism, reason and compassion in the service of making the world a better place for all humanity. Our philosophical worldview is informed by the methods of science, recognizes the evolution of our knowledge and is free from dogma and open to revision as new evidence and more compelling reasons are presented.” – August Brunsman

The horrible part is that, “evil atheist” as August is, he gives me nothing to argue with- I agree on every point- how can I deal with that? I have to read more. (Yes, that last phrase will likely become my battle cry around here.)

To make matters worse, they schedule a trip to bring as many of this skeptical bunch as would like to go to the Creation Museum Temple to Ignorance immediately before their conference. At this point I concede they have solid ideals, writing skills, and style.

So I join up. I pay my student membership fee of 10 bucks, and pay to attend the conference. I also apply for a travel grant-which I received at the conference- for $200 which is a greater amount than the money I’ve paid at this point to the SSA. (This generosity is one- but only one- reason I now donate $5 a month to the SSA.)

I also request a group starting packet. My sense of how incredibly organized the SSA is gets affirmed, because I get the most well written confirmation request email I’ve ever seen. It has only one typo. Could it possibly be that either 1) someone actually proofreads their form letters or 2) a real human sent the request receipt? So I confirm, and I send back a letter pointing out the typo, not sure if I was dealing with a human. I wasn’t, but here is when I encounter their secret weapon because instead of a program simply noting that my address replied, Lyz got my email, fixed the typo in their automatic responder and sent me an email which ended with “ps – Thanks for catching our typo – I’ve fixed it right up!”

This was impressive and a bit intimidating. Allow me to explain something: If I could not make appointments on my iphone, I would probably forget to socialize, to go to meetings, to do anything not in my normal routine. I am not an organized person, except when it comes to bookshelves. (By the way, please put books on re-shelving carts instead of random places on shelves. Thank you, on behalf of all librarians, library techs, and shelvers.) The idea that someone is reading every single email that the SSA receives is a daunting one. Later, when I realized that it is only one someone- Lyz- reading through all of them, it became even more impressive, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The summer quarter ended the day before the conference began, so in order to get from California to Ohio on time, my beautiful, kind and sweet fiancee (who reads my blog) picked me up immediately after I finished my last final and brought me to the airport.  I got to Columbus at 1:38 local time, less than 4 hours before I had to wake up to get a ride to Columbus. Yes, I am hardcore. (For a given value of hardcore)

Hemant Mehta gave me a ride from there to the Creation “Museum.” Which was a relief, because when the meetup address turned out to be an apartment instead of a public place, I had a few paranoid thoughts about creationists with misleading screennames, guns and grudges against the ungodly.

I met a bunch of unbelievers at that apartment and had an enjoyable conversation with four of them on the drive to and from Ham’s Folly.

I helped Lyz set up the registration table and it was halfway through that process that I noticed the spelling on her nametag and said “Oh, you’re that Lyz!” Lyz seems used to gathering volunteer labor wherever she can find it and- without any assistants other than those she created out of the early comers to the conference building- had the lobby ready well before the scheduled start of the first talk. The SSA’s secret weapon strikes again.

I won’t go too far into the talks, but here is my short list of people I’d most like to speak to my college community, and my campus group once it is up and running:

Sean Faircloth- because of his practical talk about how to lobby representatives as well as his inspirational talk about the Constitution and the actual beliefs of the founders of the United States of America.

Jesse Galef- because of his practical talk about how to lobby representatives.

Lyz Liddell- because of her advice on getting people to meetings and her organizational skills. I will have to email her about getting her talk up on the Secular Student youtube channel. I’ll bet she emails me back before I manage to post my first book review.

Ashley Paramore- because of her great insight and experience with service projects.

Jonathan Weyer-because of his insight as a Christian working with atheists.

Amanda Metskas- because Camp Quest is a wonderful idea.

Jason Torpy- because of his experience and fortitude as an atheist in a foxhole.

Hemant Mehta- because of his humorous handling of a crucial subject for many nonbelievers of college age- dating.

August Berkshire- because his talk seemed to be a wonderful jumping off point to spark debate and discussion at the community college level.

P.Z. Myers- because he understands and communicates that humor is more effective than anger when opposing anti scientific religious claims and he also doesn’t take himself too seriously.

What I will talk more about is the sense of community at the event. Many of the students hadn’t been before and only knew people by reputation or not at all. Despite this, there was a quick and effortless camaraderie. I think part of it was a shared knowledge of what it is to be on the outside. In a world and especially a country so saturated by religion, it is an amazing thing to be in a large group of people who treat religious claims in the same manner as other claims- as subject to evaluation and critique, and when lacking supporting evidence, dismissal.

My opinion is that another part of the equation was the lack of barriers to humanity. Too often religious doctrines blinds people to simple morality- not in all religions or for all adherents of a given religion but too often- simple morality that declares that humans deserve human rights, that ethnicity, gender, sex, sexual orientation, class and belief are all categories which are less important than the basic category of human. Some people make causal connections between atheism and beliefs, but how can a lack of belief in a deity be a cause of belief?

It is not. Rather, it is the barrier of faith in doctrinal religion which causes a a lack of connection between humans and the instinctive morality we would develop in the absence of absolute faith based decrees.

We may have had other barriers, but without that very significant one we were able to connect with a speed and ease which was inspiring and heartwarming. I thank all of you who were there with me. Especially those who conversed with me, argued with me, or laughed with me. You are part of my extended community, even if from now on we only communicate through this medium or others indirect.

And to Lyz and August and the others who organized and kept this event running as scheduled- with time in between talks to socialize and build a sense of community- thank you. Perhaps this sense of community will keep people involved in what is a potentially powerful movement for human rights and freedom of expression.

*The full version is at this link:

Reading apologetics, shaking my head, thinking of the SSA.

August 14, 2009

I will be starting a Secular Student Alliance affiliate group when I get back to California, so I thought I would make a list of reasons for the club. Please give me additional reasons if you have any offhand.

1. To provide a warm community for those who have no religion and no desire to acquire religion.

2. To provide a forum to discuss the natural world without people making conversation stopping assertations that goddidit.

3. To perform community service without it being assumed we are doing it for a god.

4. To create a means with which we can work towards upholding the establishment clause, towards ensuring freedom of expression and with which we can fight gender and racial equality as well as equality for nonbelievers.

5. To be able to discuss, compare and contrast religions and their change over time without people becoming offended and asserting that just for discussing such things, we are being hateful.

6. To develop our critical thinking skills and ability to logically construct and deconstruct arguments in writing and speech.