A Night of Reason with Aron Ra (Presented by Eastern Illinois University Society for Freethought)
Our club, the Eastern Illinois University Society for Free Thought, is brand new. I started it in January with five members, and five people willing to put their name on the list so I could apply for official school recognition. By the end of the semester, we counted over 30, and had created a strong presence at the university, the climax of which was our “Ask an Atheist Day” and speech by AronRa.
Before the April 19 event, a “Night of Reason with AronRa,” we had an Ask an Atheist Day, where 13 of our members took turns fielding questions throughout the day. We got both thoughtful questions and rather dumb ones. We got asked how we could possibly love without god, if we were Satanists, and if we really eat babies (I said that, in my opinion, they were excellent on toast). We also got called rude names. But overall, people were interested, and we picked up a few extra audience members for the main event that night.
The events leading up to Aron’s speech were a comedy of errors. We started to get the idea that things might go sideways a few days before. I talked to Aron on the phone and he told he had gotten a call from his airline announcing they had overbooked his flight and would he prefer a later one, thankyouverymuch? No, he said, he would not like a later flight, thankyouverymuch. Yes, you said? Ok, we’ll change your flight for you.
So the morning of the event, I get frantic voicemails from Aron. Instead of getting into the tiny country airport 45 minutes from our university at 5:25 p.m., as planned for the 8 p.m. speech, he is now getting in at 7:15. He had been on the phone trying to change his flight all morning, but there was nothing he could do.
The vice president of the club and I showed up on time, pick him up, throw his bag in the car and take off. I look down at the dashboard. No gas. We have to stop because we were so worried about getting there on time that we forgot to fill up. We know a gas station that is in the middle of nowhere and never busy—except, of course at this particular time when we’re in the rush of our lives. We keep driving to find another gas station, fill up, turn around to go back to the highway… and get stopped for speeding.
The police officer was extremely understanding. Why were we going 54 in a 35? Not the easiest situation to explain. He cut me a ticket, ignored that my vice president didn’t have insurance in his car, and let us go. The fact that he had a daughter at EIU probably didn’t hurt. We finally arrived around 8:30. Luckily, no one had left and my very competent club members had been showing a documentary off YouTube in the meantime. There were around 100 people in attendance, and someone from the school’s paper said it was the biggest crowd he had ever seen for an event held in that room.
I delivered an introduction with my knees shaking from adrenaline and nervousness, and then threw it to Aron. He delivered flawlessly. The Q&A after his main speech went 40 minutes over time. I finally had to put an end to it so we didn’t get kicked out of the building.
The help that SSA gave us was essential. The $300 went towards flight costs, and as a new group, we wouldn’t have had the funds to cover that cost without their help. As a result of the event, we are now recognized as a campus-wide force, and respected among faculty and students alike. We signed at least five new members up, and members of the community have gotten in touch with me to show their support. The Night of Reason was covered in the local “townie” newspaper, and drew audience members from as far as an hour away. I am so grateful to the SSA for their help, and so proud to have started this organization.
This article was written by the members of EIU Society for Freethought.