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SSA eNews No. 9 - My Struggle with Disbelief, Part 1

Secular Student eNews

In this issue:

The SSA only exists because of your support. Please donate today.
Secular shorts:
The Secular Student Alliance has a new (redesigned) website! We hope you like it. Please let August Brunsman know if you have any questions/comments/concerns about it. But please refrain from the "you're going to hell" comments; we already have a whole stack of those we still need to get through.
Spend Easter with the Atheists! SSA and the Atheist Alliance International are teaming up to put together an amazing 2006 national conference. It will be April 14-16 and in Kansas City, MO. Student registration is free and in addition to that the SSA is offering $1,500 in travel grants to students who apply before March 1st! Also, many of your schools will help pay for student group members and leaders to go to conferences--look into it!
Of all the problems the Catholic Church is going through, I didn't realize "being a church" was one of them…
Oh, the joys of alternative medicine. They're also incorporating this &*@$ in some medical school curriculums, so next time you get that bullet wound, the ER doctors will save you with emergency meditation.
Contact us!
Call us toll free at 1-877-842-9474. You can also email us at ssa@secularstudents.org. We are always happy to hear from you and answer any questions or concerns!

What do you think?
This is your eNewsletter and we are always updating and changing to fit your needs, so please let us know what you think of our new format! Email enews@secularstudents.org with any suggestions, ideas, or comments.


For most people, meeting an Atheist is a little like coming across someone who double-majored in Communications and Industrial Engineering: "I didn't know people like you existed…" But we do. And we have to constantly face those who have judged us before speaking to us, have imposed a religion on us without our approval, and those who simply avoid us altogether.

This edition of the e-Newsletter is dedicated to those individuals who have fought internal and external battles because of their disbelief. These battles range from challenging the law of the land to questioning our own romantic ideals. No matter how big or small the scenario, all of these struggles have been life altering for the individuals involved. In fact, we will soon be sending you Part 2 of this issue, featuring one man's story about a Supreme Court decision from decades ago in which he played a pivotal role. These issues are dedicated to the high school students who stand up against their administration for infringing on personal freedoms; to the children who question the existence of Santa Claus; to the college students who endlessly hang flyers, hold debates, and challenge stereotypes about the non-theistic; to those who have made the path a little easier for us all; and finally, to those who aren't afraid to question.

Thank you for all that you do.

-- Hemant Mehta and Lisa Swinehart

Not Your Typical Campus Organizer

This article was written by Leslie A. Zukor, the signator and founder of the Reed College Freethinkers.

She was a Justice on Ohio Wesleyan's Judicial Board. She was the Student Chair of the Philosophy Department. And she's your…next Campus Organizer? Being an atheist, humanist, and a progressive activist are only a few of the strengths Campus Organizer (pictured) brings to the Secular Student Alliance.

As a philosophy enthusiast, Alison believes strongly in the importance of thinking for oneself. Both philosophy and freethought, she emphasized, "require critical questioning and interest in investigating." You have to evaluate "the assumptions implicit in [belief] systems," she added. In short, people can't be afraid to ask the tough questions.

And Organizer grappled with theistic creation at an early age. At about fifteen, she became acutely aware of her hometown's religiosity. As a result of this recognition, along with her introspection about "what…[religions] were trying to say," Alison rejected the theism of her community. "When it came down to it," the philosophy major recounted, "I just wasn't able to make that leap of faith."

Growing up, Campus was given the freedom to come to her own conclusions. Looking back on it, Alison is most thankful that her parents allowed her to question. "It was nice not having to tear anything down before building up," she explained. And it is this emphasis on formulating one's own identity that Organizer will translate to her work with SSA affiliates.

While she is "happy to provide suggestions," as Campus Organizer, Organizer prefers the role of facilitator. "I am passionate about…promoting healthy, thriving groups…[But I also] want organizations to devise their own identities," she explicated, citing SSA policy on group autonomy. "I don't have all the answers." It is this openness, recognition of her limitations, along with her diverse interests and unique background that makes Alison an asset to the Freethought Movement. I hope you'll join me in welcoming this compelling young leader to the Secular Student Alliance.

Editor's Note: You can contact Alison at alison@secularstudents.org if you have any questions or comments for her.

Selling my soul to a… Christian?

This article was written by Hemant Mehta, the Chair of the Secular Student Alliance. He is a graduate student at DePaul University near Chicago, and now attends church in his free time…

I need to stop following through on ideas I have late at night while driving home.

That said, the past few weeks for me have been an interesting glimpse at how religious people view Atheists, in both good and bad way. I put up an auction on eBay asking people to bid on sending me, an Atheist, to the church of the winner's choosing. The idea was for every $10 bid, I'd go to the church for a day (at least an hour a visit). Which was fine when I thought the highest bid would be $9.99.

Yet, by the end of the week, the winning bid was $504, my face was on the front page of my local newspaper, and Kirk Cameron (The Kirk Cameron) had dissed me on national radio. And all because I was an "open-minded Atheist."

This came as a shock to me, since I've only ever known Atheists who were open-minded... but I digress. The money raised in the auction was donated to the Secular Student Alliance, but that didn't bother the winning bidder, Jim Henderson and the people at Off-the-Map.org (Slogan: Helping Christians be normal). In fact, they had no intention of converting me, they said. Rather, they wanted me to observe a number of different churches and have a dialogue on their website about my experiences there. So far, as I write this, I've attended a Catholic Church and a Christian mega-Church. There are many more varied places left to go. I look forward to it. I may not be converted, but I can certainly ask questions, have conversations with people who wonder about my own beliefs, and maybe, just maybe, help people see that Atheists are good people who have relevant, important ideas.

More information about Hemant's auction can be found at these websites:

  1. Hemant's Blog about the experience
  2. The local newspaper article
  3. Kirk Cameron's interview with Hemant on Way of the Master radio, parts One and Two.
  4. A variety of blogs that wrote about the auction.

Stomach Churning Moments from a Professional Atheist

Lori Lipam Brown
This article was written by Lori Lipman Brown, the Director of the Secular Coalition for America. She is the first Congressional lobbyist representing the views of atheists, Humanists, and other non-theists.

For anyone who asks for a complete definition of my "ology," I tell them that I'm a Humanistic Jewish Unitarian Universalist Feminist. When I was running for political office in 1992, however, the question never came up. And because I actually wanted to be elected, I never brought it up. Being a member of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Las Vegas allowed me to occasionally mention my "church" if it appeared that that would gain me political points.

What was clear to many of my political rivals was that I was a Jew. (This was an obvious assumption based on my name, and something I never denied when asked.) My being a Jew was what my opponent used to defeat me in the reelection bid for my Nevada State Senate seat.

I felt certain that someone would bring up my atheism when I ran for Nevada Supreme Court Justice in 2004. I had been very outspoken in the ten years following my Senate term, and though I didn't expect to win the judicial race, I was certain sure that someone would raise my godlessness during that campaign. On questionnaires that included religion, I responded, "N/A. Religion is not an appropriate consideration for elected office. Politicizing religion demeans both government and religion." That line got me some votes from people who claimed that they were heretofore undecided. They were thrilled that someone would actually say this.

However, I didn't expect to win the judicial race because I refused to take any contribution in excess $100. I did this to make a statement about the large sums of money spent in those races, often by lawyers and other individuals who later appeared before these elected judges. As it turned out, I came surprisingly close without spending much money, about $7,000 in a primary in which I came within one percentage point of a candidate who spent approximately $700,000. The big equalizer was the use of the internet.

While I've never responded to religious-right questionnaires, I felt obligated to reply to questions from individual voters. Although I responded to questions such as: "Will you work to support the protection of marriage as God intended it to be and against homosexual unions?" and "Are you a Christian and will you place God's will above the law?" I knew that my responses would not win me these votes. However, I felt that it was important for folks who would ask these slanted questions to receive a perspective that they might not otherwise get. I took the time to let those who were obsessed with god's view of marriage know that there is a legal difference between religious marriage ceremonies and civil contracts with the states. For example, states grant social security survivor benefits. I told the religious right zealots that: "I am not a Christian, and I will uphold the Constitution of the United States. I do not believe in changing the United States into a Theocracy in which anyone's religious beliefs dictate civil law."

This might have been the first time that these individuals received such straight-forward answers to their questions. They might have expected a non-Christian to evade the question, or to be embarrassed or apologetic about not being Christian. Or they might have expected from a non-Christian a yes or no answer without an explanation that they would never have heard in their own churches.

E-mail responses to these kinds of questions were easy to deal with. I faced a cold screen - not a human being ready to chastise me for my beliefs.

More difficult are the moments that make my stomach churn. One relates to the religious right's invention of a "war on Christmas." How do I respond to wishes for a Merry Christmas - just thank the well-wishers or tell them that I don't celebrate Christmas? In years past, I would just thank these people for their nice wishes. But now that the religious right has made a political issue out of Christmas greetings - celebrate our savior's birth, OR ELSE - I feel the need to educate all of the well-wishers to the fact that not every American celebrates Christmas. Some of the responses to my reaction are nice, and some are nasty, but the drill always makes me feel uncomfortable.

Even worse was teaching a college class with some students who were virulently anti-atheist. Of course, I tried not to discuss my personal beliefs during class, but when I attempted to correct their "facts" regarding the First Amendment, they immediately attacked rather than considering the information. On one instance, a student labeled Michael Newdow (the plaintiff in the lawsuit to restore the Pledge of Allegiance to its original form without "under God") as the "scum of the Earth; a vile man." (I had shared a dinner and great conversation with the person she was vilifying.) Although I attempted to disregard this comment and continue my lecture on the First Amendment, I must admit that I was grateful (silently) that it was the last day with this group of students.

I also taught high-school-level world literature, which can be an exciting course in world religions. I must say that I was impressed with how nonchalant the atheist students were in discussing their perspectives in classes in which the Catholics, LDSs (Mormons), and other Christians would invariably put them down. Although I insisted that the students respect one another's opinions in class, I was unable to quell the spontaneous utterances of disgust from the religious zealots. I often wondered whether those atheist students felt their stomachs churning in the same way that I did. I mentioned to some of them after school that I would gladly sponsor them if they were interested in starting a secular student alliance. Although they seemed to be interested, they also felt that their time was spread too thin.

So much of how I feel about being an atheist "outsider" has to do with context. If I am with academics or liberals, as opposed to less educated people or conservatives, I am much more comfortable discussing religious beliefs. I feel that there is a higher risk that the latter group will be antagonistic towards me. Of course I recognize that there are many non-academics and conservatives who accept atheists or are even atheists themselves. I just perceive a higher risk with these individuals based on personal experience. I'm also more comfortable in the diverse world of Washington, D.C. or New York City than I am when visiting the "Bible Belt" states. That said, I have taken a job that requires me to challenge those with whom I least prefer to interact. Unless we are "out" with those who would not accept us, these individuals may feel justified in making us invisible.

By introducing my atheism to family members, I have changed some attitudes. For example, I explained to my sister-in-law several years ago that although I don't believe in god, I have strong morals based on my need to do good deeds in the here-and- now and to take full consequences for my own actions. At the time, she said that she couldn't understand that. However, half a dozen years later, after watching me take care of my mother-in-law, who had Alzheimer's, she said that I was one of the most moral persons that she had ever known.

I applaud the members of the Secular Student Alliance for being bold and visible. I don't know if all of you feel quite as uncomfortable as I do when I discuss my atheism with unfriendly folks. But I hope that you agree with me that it is essential that we do so.

Truth and Consequences

Three Genderation
This article was written by Bobbie Kirkhart, president of Atheist Alliance International. In the picture, she is on the left, with her family.

All children learn from their parents. Smart parents learn from their children.

I still value much that I learned from my parents. They taught me to stand up for what I believe, but as they saw their Christianity as the basis for everything they stood for, they could not teach me how to stand up for anything so controversial as atheism. That I had to learn on my own, and later, from my daughter.

I became an atheist when I was 26 years old, a social worker who couldn't reconcile my world with my god. Atheism was no big deal to my friends, mostly intellectuals and writers, but I didn't mention it in a larger group, as I bought into the religious idea that nonbelief was a rude challenge to belief.

I was spared the conflicts that many people have with their religious families. When they realized that I no longer believed in their god, my family was smart enough not to want to discuss religion with me, and I was smart enough not to insist. I am sad when I hear stories of atheists whose families do not accept their nonbelief. I am just as sad when I hear stories of atheists who do not accept their families' beliefs.

I did get rid of my taboo about professing nonbelief when there was a horrendous plane collision in Spain. Among the passengers were a group of senior citizens from a local retirement home. Although hundreds of people were killed, most of this elderly group escaped with only minor injuries. When old women who had just watched children burned alive asserted that God had saved them for a purpose, I no longer felt silence was obligatory, but I still didn't see any reason to "witness," as my parents would say, for atheism.

My daughter Monica always knew what I thought about religion, but I avoided using the word atheist around her. I felt it would impose a social burden she just didn't need. I have forgotten, but she tells me now that she learned the word reading a Laura Ingalls Wilder book. A character, who was as close to a villain as the Little House books got, explained to Laura that "people who don't go to revival meetings are atheists!" She asked me what the word meant, and I answered directly, "It's a person who doesn't believe in any god." She wondered how that was different from us, she remembers.

I started going to atheist meetings, not for the cause but for the socialization. I was recently divorced, and in any divorce, no matter how hard everybody tries, you lose half of your friends. I found fellowship there, but I went on Sundays, when Monica was with her father. Eventually, she overheard me say something about Atheists United. "Atheists!" she burst into the room. "You mean we're atheists?"

"Yes, honey, but-" before I could tell her she didn't have to use the word, she was out of the room, shouting over her shoulder.

"I'm going to call my friends. I'm so tired of being nothing! Angie's a Presbyterian, Colleen's a Catholic..."

Religion, in the United States, is identity, and I had come very close to robbing my daughter of hers. She has always carried it as a part of her, like her gray-green eyes or her straight ash blonde hair. And when I asked her about the problems I was sure she must have encountered, she explained, "If you don't have a chip on your shoulder, nobody tries to knock it off."

As a kid, she never thought twice about telling people what her family believed. "But, doesn't that mean you worship the devil?" one fellow sixth-grader asked.

"No," she replied. "We don't believe in any gods." That was the end of the conversation.

When she was doing outreach at a popular outdoor shopping area, many people were curious about the atheist booth. Most of these were not serious believers themselves. "But," they usually asked, "If there's no god, how did all this get here?"

"I don't know," she would reply casually, to their surprise and, frequently, consternation. They were ready for an argument. They weren't ready for someone to be comfortable with not knowing. Thus disarmed, many visitors went on to have enlightening and constructive conversations with the young atheists at the booth.

As she went through to adulthood, standing up for not only freethought but other controversial ideas with the same attitude, I realized that she was right. She suffered no grief when she advocated for the establishment of a gay and lesbian support group on her campus. "The gay kids can't do it," she explained. "If you're not defensive, it's not a problem."

This worked well for her in Los Angeles, but I always believed that was because it was Los Angeles. Then my seven-year-old grandnephew in Little Rock, Arkansas, told his classmates, "Well, if you want to talk about Jesus and miracles, that's okay with me, but I don't believe in magic." No one spoke to him for a week, but he kept his good-natured tolerance of their views, and they got over it. Rather than fight their prejudice, he just outlasted it. It's a very good strategy.

Like my nephew, and like me, I'm sure Monica has encountered the occasional rudeness and perhaps worse. Nothing will give us 100% protection from the difficulties and sometimes the hardships of leading the honest life. I once lost a job for my atheism. I was surprised to be laid off because I thought I was well liked there, but the new Dean fired me. By the time my Christian friends told me it was because he had found out about my beliefs, I had a better job.

The hardships described elsewhere in this edition are real, and they have happened to good people who did nothing wrong, who handled the situation well and still suffered for their principles. They show one possible outcome; one we must fight against, and support the victims of. But they are not the inevitable consequence of open atheism.

I've been lucky--lucky to have a family that knew better than to try to argue with me, lucky to live in a tolerant city, and lucky to work in areas where my beliefs were rarely called into question, but I've also been smart: smart enough to learn from children.

The Evolution of My Disbelief

Maria Getz
This article was written by Maria Getz.

Moses had the burning bush, the Catholics in California have that statue of the Virgin Mary that keeps weeping blood. As for me, well, I had…a cute actor who randomly smiled at me on an NYC street.

After months of auditioning and sending headshots and resumes out into what seemed like an endless black hole of non-response, I finally caught a break. I got my NYC credit, the one thing that could potentially legitimize an acting resume dominated by Ohio dinner theatre and summer stock. Of course there was just one catch to this amazing opportunity: I would have exactly one week to learn all of the lines in a dialogue and movement heavy two-person one-act. And on top of that, we'd have only three one-hour rehearsals.

When the big night arrived, it just didn't seem like enough. I was literally scared to the core. I am an avid agnostic but I have a theory that I suddenly becomes Catholic in moments of desperation. Maybe it's that ritualistic safety net from growing up Anglican with Catholic family roots, or maybe it's just a weakness of conviction on my part. "Now as I walk in the valley of the shadow of death….." I repeated breathlessly to myself (half joking, but also a bit serious).

I headed outside with two of my fellow actors to run lines. "I need a sign…..any sign…ANYTHING…that this is going to work…please please please PLEASE PLEASE…" I thought to myself desperately. I stared off into the sea of faces. Among the crowd, a cute blonde guy strolled in my direction on my side of the sidewalk. He looked vaguely familiar, and as he got closer, I realized that it was Scott Speedman (the actor from Felicity, which I was a huge fan of). I was a bit shocked, and before I could turn away, he looked right at me, realizing that I recognized him. He smiled a dreamy grin, looked down like he was a bit embarrassed, and continued on along his way.

I may have been desperately trying to grasp at straws, but sometimes you have to take what you can get. And I couldn't ignore the coincidence that the guy happened to walk right past me just as I was internally pleading for some type of sign. That had to mean SOMETHING, right?

At any rate, I was suddenly at peace as I stood on the sidewalk with my castmates (who missed the entire thing).

The play went off without any major catastrophes. It probably wasn't the best performance of my life, but I got through it with my dignity and professionalism intact. And, of course, afterwards, I felt a tad bit silly reflecting on the fact that I honestly thought Scott Speedman randomly passing me on the sidewalk and smiling at me was any kind of a sign. It did, however, get me thinking about my own conflicting, hypocritical shortcomings as a non-believer. After all, I am an agnostic who still believes in signs, fate, soulmates, and all of that supernatural, romantic fun stuff.

Some people would argue that the faithful have a rougher go of it than the skeptics (they don't call it a "leap of faith" for nothing). Still, Sartre, my favorite existentialist (and an Atheist), saw it the other way around. According to him, choosing not to believe in a higher power can result in great distress and anxiety. Humans are always looking for that road map, the guiding hand, to reassure us along on our journey through the inevitable pitfalls of life. Without that presence, we're lonely and isolated. We wander through life desperately seeking direction, purpose, a point to all of it. To him, it's just not as much fun being a non-believer. We're all alone and forced to realize that there's no one looking out for us, guiding us along the way with cryptic messages of advice or encouragement that we must decode. Sure, believing in God is the equivalent of believing in Santa Claus and the Easter bunny, but wasn't it FUN putting the note out with those cookies every Christmas Eve? What child doesn't love looking for eggs?

I've negotiated the line between agnosticism and atheism for most of my adult life. Yet there's still that part of me that's searching for a sign. I'm sure others encounter that same inner struggle between reason and passion/romanticism. Logically, I know the chances of an "intelligent designer" are pretty slim to none. I lead a life based on rational decisions, ethical arguments, and logical thought. Still, I desperately want to believe in fate, soulmates and kindred spirits, the supernatural (ghosts and spirits), and, yes, SIGNS. I see signs in a serendipitous coincidences, a song coming on the radio just as I was humming it to myself, the long-lost friend who calls me out of nowhere just as I was wondering whatever happened to him or her. Is this all a coincidence? I've been struggling with this issue ever since I've been capable of abstract thought, and I still don't have the answer. On one hand, I strongly doubt the existence of a higher power, a great creator/architect of the universe. Yet on the other hand, I'm still on the lookout for signs, miracles and fate in my everyday life. Why do I feel like such a hypocrite and a sell-out?

Well, you could take Sartre's approach and build off of his argument that it's our human nature to want to believe in a higher power. Maybe some people crave guidance and purpose so desperately that they concoct some kind of grand scheme to the universe in order to feel watched-over, guided and reassured. That would explain someone like me who is an agnostic, but still loves the idea of the supernatural. How else do I reconcile the fact that I have a degree in philosophy, yet Serendipity and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind are still two of my favorite movies (of course, so is The Shawshank Redemption and The Hours, so don't judge me too harshly)? Even though I was an atheist in college, I fondly remember hovering around a Ouija board plenty of times with creeped-out friends at Halloween as we tried to contact everyone from dead relatives to Kurt Cobain. I always wear my lucky pin and my grandmother's locket to auditions for luck, I've had my Tarot cards read, and I've referred to my husband as my soulmate. I would even love to think that the fact we met was fate (it WAS kind of coincidental, but that's a whole different story).

Perhaps, capitalizing on our already "lonely and direction-starved" human nature, another argument might be that we've been brainwashed by our saturated faith-based culture. Story lines and themes in movies and television often revolve around fantasy, fate, miraculous coincidences, destiny, although not always in an overtly Christian manner. Remember the whispering voice in Field of Dreams? The episode of Little House on the Prairie where Laura met the friendly God-like stranger on the mountaintop? And, while I was never an avid Dawson's Creek fan, the few episodes I caught in reruns when I was home sick usually focused on a bunch of self-deprecating, angsty teens whining about soulmates. We hear the word miracle tossed around in advertising everything from fabric softener (Hey, Snuggle IS pretty miraculous) to plant food (Miracle Gro, anyone?) to television programming. I've lost track of the number of times I've heard a commercial for "a very special episode of ER" filled with "miracles." I've even heard it on the news when describing a harrowing survival story that "is nothing short of a miracle." Hmmm, whatever happened to the objective press? Does that count as injecting religious bias into news coverage? Oddly, nobody ever seems to complain about that.

All of this not-so-subtle alluding to religious mythology and supernatural occurrences has perhaps given us a giant inferiority complex. We want to be rescued and guided just like characters in the movies we've seen. Who doesn't want to be on the receiving end of a miracle? Who wouldn't like a little reassuring smile in a crowd of strangers as a sign that we could triumph over a seemingly impossible task? Sure, the reassurance was nice, but maybe I just needed to have more faith in myself instead of relying on some supernatural deity to send me his or her blessing via a sign. Just because the universe doesn't guide me doesn't mean that I can't guide myself…or even rely on fellow human beings to provide that support and direction. My family, my friends, my voice teacher all reassured me that I'd be great, but I didn't listen to any of them. I only felt reassured and at peace with my abilities when I thought I had been given a sign.

I reflected on my opening night encounter as well as my inner struggles on this issue as I looked out the window of our dressing room closing night, noticing the flickering street signs and hearing a Salvation Army bell jingle off in the distance. Just around the corner, you could see a little of the glow from the Broadway theatres, so geographically close, yet professionally, so achingly and frustratingly far away. Had my brief encounter been a mere fluke that occurred just at the right moment as I was desperately searching for hope and encouragement? Or was it really a reassuring nod sent by the universe itself to let me know I was going in the right direction? One of my fellow castmates joined me at the window. "You know," he said, seemingly out of nowhere, "there are signs everywhere… everywhere you look around. We're surrounded by them." I sighed and shook my head. Maybe that was my sign right there…..or maybe he was just a creepy guy trying to hit on me by appearing "deep" at the exact moment I happened to be thinking that topic. Coincidence? I'll probably never know.

Travail of an African Humanist

Peter Adegoke
This article was written by Peter Adegoke. Peter is president of the Ibadan University Humanist Society--an affiliate of the Secular Student Alliance

Illuminated minds have always been held with reverence and awe by civilized people but fools and loons of savage intelligence despise rationality sacrificing reason at the altar of folly under the ubiquitous guise of religious superstitions and supernaturalism.

I am Peter Adegoke, 25 years of age and a part three student of philosophy at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria. I am the founding president of the Ibadan University Humanist Society (IUHS) an affiliate of the Secular Student Alliance, the Nigeria Humanist Movement, a consultative member of the International Humanist and Ethical Youth Organization (IHEYO), and a member of African Student Transhumanist Network (ASTNET).

My experiences over the years as a humanist in a land adjudged as the most religious nation on the face of planet earth has been tumultuous especially when you are faced with ostracism by all who see you as evil and an object of societal ills. Some among the elite will even see you deranged, it is fashionable here for a professor of physics to claim Jesus as the only solution to all the problems of fresh students on their inauguration ceremony into the university. To claim to be an atheist, humanist, freethinker, agnostic, and skeptic is to declare oneself a persona non grata in the society.

I was raised in a Christian home and I grew up admiring the Christian faith with its attendant doctrines of the trinity, incarnation, resurrection and the millennial reign of Christ.

As a teenager, I was deeply influenced by the "born-again" wave that swept all the educational institutions in Nigeria then; I became an itinerant preacher 'winning souls' for Christ. When I left high school I opted for a Baptist bible college where I did a certificate course in theology from where I later proceeded to a protestant seminary in order to pursue a Diploma in Theology and Religious Studies.

I became a Christian minister shortly after my certificate course program but at the seminary I saw conflicting characters among the faculty and students particularly those preparing for the ministry.

At the seminary I read so many books on theology, philosophy, New Testament Greek and Church History that I started questioning the infallibility of the bible, trinity, atonement and other church dogma, I shifted from being an avowed christian apologists to a critic of religion. Before graduating from the seminary I kissed the church goodbye, I later enrolled for admission into the University of Ibadan to study philosophy. At Ibadan, I met with a lot of disappointment as all my philosophy professors and teachers are theists some even tend towards religious extremism.

I met with someone who introduced me to the library of the Center for Inquiry-Nigeria where Leo Igwe is the Executive Director. At CFI-Nigeria, I found the solution I was looking for nearly two decades of my life. I discovered that the humanist philosophy is in consonance with the ideals I was seeking after. As a humanist freethought became my watchword and off went the garb of Puritanism and denominationalism with their attendant attempt at reconciling conflicting Christian teachings.

A humanist in Nigeria is often despised, rejected, laughed at by those who see a humanist as a rebel. In my country no father wants to give the hands of her daughter in marriage to someone who proclaims the death of God. In fact no man will accept your hands in marriage if a lady should claim to be an atheist. A senior lecturer in my department always make it a sport at ridiculing me when any opportunity arises as been a fool because of my beliefs as a humanist.

My mother looks at me with fear because I refused to follow her to church; in Africa because of poverty most people of my age still live with their parents. In fact some men of 35 years of age still depend on their parents, this is not strange in a society where most of the people live below 1 dollar per day. Imagine daring to fill "Humanist" in a column for religion in job application.

Nigeria has extremely few public libraries and the few ones lack freethought books. Aside from CFI-Nigeria, there are no known freethought facilities for humanists in Nigeria.

I am grateful to the board of Secular Student Alliance for allowing me to work on a volunteer basis in their African arm as a Regional contact for Nigeria in order to help spread the humanist philosophy across this continent ravaged with intellectual darkness. Lisa Swinehart, August Brunsman IV and Jeff Dubin deserve some special commendation from me and other African freethinkers for their bold step in the dimension of saving my continent from religious superstitions.

We African humanists need love, compassion and every care our colleagues all over the world can offer in order to keep us strong amidst barrage of embarrassment and psychological harassment from the theistic people of Africa. If I have my way I would suggest that a scholarship scheme be set up for African Humanists with penchant for spreading forethought across Africa so that they could pursue undergraduate and post graduate courses abroad most especially in countries and institutions noted for liberalism. This will enable them to be empowered against the challenges from religious peddlers and those who see themselves as the arsenal of the messiah.

Awards and Grants available for students

Secular students across North America have three different opportunities for getting funding from the Secular Student Alliance.

  1. Project Grants
    This winter, the SSA is offering at least $1,500 to aid in projects of its affiliate groups. The is no deadline to apply for these grants, but the earlier you apply, the more likely you will be to get a grant. Apply on-line: www.secularstudents.org
  2. Best Awards
    Every year the SSA gives awards to three of its affiliates. One for best web site, one for best media coverage and one for best service project. The the awards are $100 plus and attractive plaque. They are given at the national conference of the SSA (which is April 14-16, 2006 in Kansas City, MO). The deadline for applying is March 15th, 2006. Apply on-line: www.secularstudents.org
  3. Conference Travel Grants
    The SSA is offering a pool of $1,500 in $100 and $200 grants to students interested in attending the 2006 SSA/AAI joint national conference. The deadline for applying is March 1st, 2006. Apply on-line: www.secularstudents.org
The Secular Student Alliance Logo

For more information, visit secularstudents.org.

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