New non-religious group has open discussion with faith oranizations

By Cayla Crisp

When asked to finish the question, “I would disapprove if my child wanted to marry a member of this group,” 47.6 percent of Americans said atheists, according to the American Sociological Review.

Atheists, Agnostics and Freethinkers, a group founded last year at the University, wants to battle those statistics.

“We’re more interested in having productive discussions and trying to get people to understand us better,” said Chris Calvey, senior in LAS and founder of the group. “We want to get rid of these stereotypes and misconceptions. We don’t go up to other religious groups, intending to make enemies with them and debate them and make them cry.”

Although the group was started by Calvey and two of his roommates last winter, the membership has expanded to a mailing list of more than 900 people.

“Non-religious people are the fastest growing sect in America, the fastest growing religious belief,” Calvey said. “I was trying to bring that on campus and fill that void here, since there was no group for non-religious people.”

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Ashley Carter, senior in LAS and president of the group, said the group works to have a more informed discussion about beliefs.

“We don’t ever support someone saying they don’t believe in God, but not having any reasons,” she said. “We always believe you should think critically about your beliefs and that’s what we’re trying to propose.”

Part of having informed group discussions means establishing a solid base within the group and working with other religious groups.

“We’re trying to make it more of a community, which I think we’ve done a really good job of doing,” Carter said. “We’ve built a lot of really strong alliances with religious groups, especially Campus Crusade for Christ.”

Scott Sabin, senior in Engineering and a member of Campus Crusade for Christ, has worked with the new group since it started.

“AAF actually approached us and they wanted to do some sort of panel discussion together and we thought that was a great idea,” he said. “We were maybe initially surprised, but we were really encouraged and happy they did.”

Sabin said they called the panel a discussion rather than a debate to keep the event informative and productive instead of a heated argument.

“It was a great chance to get to know each other and to resolve maybe some misconceptions that each group had about each other,” Sabin said. “I think it’s really encouraging to see two groups like that that have different belief systems can still enjoy each other’s company.”

After the panel discussion, Carter said Athiests, Agnostics and Freethinkers joined Campus Crusade for Christ on a trip to New Orleans over spring break to help with the Hurricane Katrina relief.

“We did a lot of things with CRU last year,” Carter said. “We want to go on another trip over Thanksgiving break to volunteer. We’re thinking maybe Galveston, Texas, they might need some rebuilding help, or back to New Orleans again.”

Calvey said the new group has met with a positive response on campus.

“In general, we haven’t had any problems,” Calvey said. “I wish I could tell you some exciting story about how we’ve been oppressed, but people in general are very nice.”

Calvey, who was raised by Irish Catholic parents, said he became interested in skepticism and nontheistic beliefs after being a devout Catholic for many years.

“There’s usually not a big eureka moment where people are suddenly atheist, it’s always a gradual loss of faith,” he said. “For a long time I was even afraid to tell my parents that I was an atheist. It took many years before I had the courage to do that.”

Although he said his parents were more accepting of his new beliefs, not all people have the same positive response.

“It’s always interesting when you hear people’s stories,” he said. “Sometimes their parents can be so upset if they came out of the atheist closet that they’ll disown their kids and literally kick them out.”

Carter and Calvey said regular members usually attend the meetings, but many people stop in just because they are curious.

“I feel like what we hear a lot is ‘I had no idea there were this many atheists,'” Carter said “Then they’re excited to meet so many atheists or people with a similar non-religious viewpoint.”