Wednesday, December 21, 2011

OBSERVING THE SECULAR STUDENT ALLIANCE





          I observed and explored a group called Secular Student Alliance.  Secular Student Alliance is the atheist organization at the University of Kentucky. Atheist is people who reject the existence of deities or God.  I am a Christian. And Christian believes in God. Therefore, atheist is very different from me. And my Christian worldview is very different from the atheist’s worldview. Therefore, I am very interested in exploring a community like this. This is also the first time in my life to explore a group like this. So, I was very excited and nervous at the same time when I choose to explore the atheists group which totally has different worldview from me. After I finished the project, I realized that I have chosen the right community. My experience changed my perceptions of atheists. Also, I have learned many things from observing the group of people that is different from me which is the Secular Student Alliance.

At first, I chose to do this group because I wanted to learn more about atheists. However, when I walked into the first Secular Student Alliance meeting, I felt really nervous; my head was full of thoughts, all the stereotypes I had about atheist pop-up in my head. Sitting in the meeting, I felt stressful. It felt like time had stopped and the meeting seemed endless. I tried to relax and told myself to calm down, also to stop thinking about all the crazy thoughts. Then, as soon as I started to listen, I realized that the discussion is not as extreme as I thought it would be; they were talking about designing the t-shirts, and raising money. So, I started to relax; they are not talking about why Christian is wrong like I thought they would be. Furthermore, I started to feel more relax when I listen to more of their discussion. I realize that they are just like any other organization meetings. They talked about staff and president committee.  The first encounter I had with the atheist group was very different from what I had in my mind. When I walked into the meeting room, I had a bad feeling that they will ask me if I am a Christian; then if I say “yes”, they would start telling me that Christian is wrong and start insulting the Christian belief. However, when I walked into the meeting room the people there were very friendly they greeted me and asked me what my name was. They were very glad when I told them I was there to do the research paper about their group. All of them were very nice and willing to help answer my interview question. I even felt more relaxed when I learned that there were other five students from the CIS110 class that chose to observe the Secular Student Alliance for this project too. They made me feel like I am not the only one on my own in the group of people that is totally different from me.

Without any anxieties, the first meeting was gone by without a hitch. All the crazy stereotypes and prejudice I had about atheist group started to fade away. It was my first encounter with the atheist group and they already made me feel comfortable; then I knew that this is going to be an easy project. I won’t have to go through all the wild things that I think I must go through doing this project. The day before the meeting, I had a dream that I was arguing viciously with the Secular Student Alliance group. Now, I realize that it would never happen. And I would get through this project without having to arguing and fighting with anyone. The people in the Secular Student Alliance were so nice and friendly that after my first meeting with them I realized that I was wrong all my life, and the ideas I had were incorrect. I can’t believe that all those friendly people are atheists-but the truth is they are. If the atheists are friendly and nice then the stereotypes I have my whole life about atheists are wrong. I always have the stereotypes that if I tell any atheist that I am a Christian, then the atheist would start cussing at me and try to tell me that Christian is a fairy tales. However, after meeting with the atheists and spending time with them, I found out that some of the atheists used to be a Christian before, so they must understand how being a Christian is, that’s why they didn’t start cussing and swearing at me when I told them that I am a Christian. I also learned that although atheist doesn’t share the same belief as me it doesn’t mean that we can’t be friend. Many of my friends, although they are not Christian I still love them and they are still my friends.
 
The other stereotype I had about atheists is that they are bad people and they don’t care about moral. However, when I spent time observing the atheist group, I can see that they still follow the all the rules. And I could see that they do care about moral. And they are trying to be a good person. This really surprised me, because for me I feel like there is no point of being a good person if there is no God or any higher being that can see what we are doing. For me, I wouldn’t steal even though I could get away with it, because I know that God sees what I am doing and I will get punished for stealing. However, for atheist, there is no God, so why not steal if you could get away with it. Therefore, I always think that the atheists don’t care about moral and they are bad person. For that reason when I see that the atheists are following rules and doing what is right it make me confused, and when I ask them why do they do what is right if there are no reward from doing it. The answer I get is that it is common sense to do what is right and they said doing good thing make them feel good and doing bad things make them feel bad, therefore, they do what is right because they wanted to be happy. I was very surprised to get this answer because if I were to answer this question from my Christian worldview, the answer wouldn’t be much different from the answer from atheists. Thus, the atheist is not much different from me and I am not different from them; we both just try to be good people and live good lives. However, it also makes me feel really sad for them when I get this answer. I feel like they are blind and couldn’t see and realize the truth. Atheism tries to prove that there is no God. But when these atheists give me this answer, they just proved that there is a God. They use the word “common sense” and they said that they feel happy when they do good things. We are human that’s why we are happy when we do what is right; and doing bad things make us feel sad and guilty; this is how God makes us. I was really sad when atheist couldn’t realize this fact and see the truth. Look at dogs; they don’t care about being good dogs and doing what is right because God did not created animals the same way created us. God created us so that we know what is right and what is wrong; we feel sad and guilty when we do what we should not do, and we feel happy when we do what is right. This is one of the reasons why there is a God and why atheism is wrong. Nevertheless, when I heard the answer they give I did not start arguing with them, I try to understand them and try to find out why they don’t realize the fact I realize instead. I try to be more like those atheists that didn’t start arguing with me the first time they heard me said that God created the world. I also learned from them that it is better to try to understand people and why they believe what they believe. If I start arguing with them may be I would never be able to change them and the way they thought. However, if I waited and tried to understand them more maybe I would be able to find out why they believe in atheism and then through time and reasons I could be able to change their belief. Or maybe one day they will see the truth and realize by themselves that there is a God.

I always look at the non-Christian people as stubborn and stupid. For instance, I think that all those Muslim terrorists are so ridiculous and stubborn; how could those terrorists think that blowing up a building and killing people will get them to heaven. Then I look at the atheists and feel like they are irrational, stubborn, and arrogant. I think they could just look around and know that there is God. Doing this project changed my perspective of non-Christian; now I understand that some people are just born in the culture and society that brainwash them and make them believe a certain belief. Doing this project I also see that Christians are also stubborn and close-minded too. This is kind of stereotypes and bias but I think Christians are stubborn and close-minded in a good; besides, for Christians, we call it “faith.” You can point out that the Bible has hundreds of contradictions and mistranslations, but a Christians like me will use the word “faith" to end the argument (Raymond 2003). This is truth and doing this project makes me realize that I am also stubborn or “have a lot of faith.” I will believe whatever I feel that it is truth and I won’t believe whatever I feel that it is not truth. There might be no evidence that God exist, but if my feeling tell me that God exist I will never changes my belief. In the same way, you could tell me that University of Kentucky is real; but if I feel like there is no such thing as University of Kentucky then I would never believe you even though I am a student at University of Kentucky.  This might sound like I am very irrational and ridiculous; it is hard to explain, but it is true. Although I never saw God, I believe that there is a God. My heart is telling me that it is truth and there is a God; and this is all I needed to believe. And I can’t explain or describe this to anyone because faith used a lot of feeling and emotion so it is hard to talk about abstract things. But I believe that everyone in the world have the feeling I have too. This is why I feel like the atheists are just being stubborn and won’t admit the fact that there is a God. However, doing this project helps me stop and think about the time when I was a kid, I used to have many questions and doubts about the Bible and I just feel like there are no reasons to believe in the Bible. Many stories in the Bible just seemed so impossible to believe. So, now I understand how the atheists feel. I used to be doubtful just like them. We all are. That is what it takes to believe in something. In the same way like me, one day they will understand about faith and see the truth. There are no reasons to believe, but I don’t need reason to believe in something. All I need is faith. After observing the atheists community, I now clearly see that the atheists are neither irrational nor arrogant. They just don’t have faith. Now I know that they are on the journey I was on and one day they will discover what I have discovered. It is not easy to have the faith I have, I have to fight with myself a lot and it is very hard for someone to believe in something that completely make no sense. And I hope that one day they will discover the truth and become a Christian like me.

By observing the atheists community, I found that many of my ideas and stereotypes about the atheists were incorrect. However, not all of my assumptions and stereotypes are wrong. By investigating this community, some of my assumptions were proven to be true. This might sound bias but observing the atheists community also confirm that some of my assumptions and ideas are true. For my whole life, I always feel that atheists are people without purpose in their life. And all of the Christians have the same thought like me; we Christians think that atheists must be completely hopeless and confused (Austin 2009). If there is no God, then what is the point of living? If there is no heaven, then what is the meaning of life? What are those atheists living for, if they don’t believe there is a higher being? What will they die for, if there is nothing beyond this life? For atheist, they born, they live, and they die-and then they are gone and that’s it; death is the end. If the atheist is right, then life is vain and worthless. What is the point of living? If dead is the end. The atheists think that the goal of living is to have fun, be happy with life, and accomplished what we want to do (Rickett 2011). That’s it?  So, the goal of life is to have fun and find the most we can get. This doesn’t make sense and the atheists themselves know that this doesn’t make sense. Some atheists live to be leaders, musicians, and scientist. They spend their life trying to archive their goals. They think that accomplishing their goals will give them joy and happiness. But there is no point of becoming scientists or president if there is no God. You could accomplish all the goals you have in life but without God your life is still empty. And the atheists know this fact, but they just won’t admit it. I could see in their eyes that their life is meaningless. Spending time with the atheists myself, I can prove that my assumption is truth. Some atheists argue that their life have purpose and meaning. Other atheists argue that it doesn’t matter is you are Christian or atheist, all life have is meaningless. But you can’t change the truth, I am a Christian and my life is worth living. This project confirms my assumption that life is vain without God.

My experience with the atheist community changes many ideas I have about atheists.  Now I know that many of the assumption and stereotypes I had are incorrect. My experience also changed the way I act when I meet an atheist. The experience I had has impacted me a lot; it makes me realize that the atheists are not much different from me. We are all human and we all have questions and doubts about life. Sometimes, the answer can be really confusing and seem impossible to be true. How I view other religious group also changed; now I no longer view all Muslim as terrorist. I learned not to judge a group as a whole; there are good people and bad people in every groups and communities. Also, doing this project also, some of the ideas about atheists are proven to be true. Even that, I still believe that there is no point of living without God. I have learned many things from observing the atheists community. Exploring group of people that is different from me can be very challenging. But if I never step out of my comfort zone, I would never learn what I know today. This experience changes the way I think; how I view other people who is different from me has changed. Today, I am no longer afraid of meeting people who is different from me. I am ready to go out and explore the community that I am not a part of.


References

1.      Austin, C. (2009). Atheism, Depression, & Meaning: Do Atheists Lead Meaningless Lives? Retrieved November 20, 2011, from http://atheism.about.com/od/atheismmyths/a/MeaningLife.htm
2.      Kirsten Rickett (2011, November 22). Personal interview
3.      Raymond, W. C. (2003). Atheism as a positive social force. USA: Algora Publising

Interview with Secular Student Alliance


Here are the transcript of the interview with the members of Interview of Secular Student Alliance.

FIRST PERSON:

QUESTION: Is there a particular belief you believe before you become an atheist?
ANSWER: No, since I was young I never believe in gods or any religion. And I did not join any religion groups. You can say that I was born an atheist.

QUESTION: Is your family atheist?
ANSWER: My grandparents are Christian. But my Mom, Dad and our family don't believe in any religion and we never go to Church. So you could say that our family is atheist. Even though, my family doesn’t join any atheist group, they are still an atheist.
QUESTION: Does your family support you being an atheist? Why?
ANSWER: My family doesn’t care much about religions and faith. So, they don’t oppose me being atheist, but they also don’t support me or join the atheist group.

QUESTION: Why do you want to be an atheist?
ANSWER: I believe that there are no gods, if there is a god then I won’t be an atheist, but there are no gods. What can I do except accept the fact that there are no gods.

QUESTION: What make you become an atheist? Are there any particular events that happen to you?
ANSWER: Since I was young I never believe in gods and heaven and hell, and the truth is there are no gods or heaven or hell, so I just accept the truth that there are no gods or heaven or hell, and this make me become an atheist. Although, I used to have a doubt that maybe there are gods, but then I can proof that there are no gods.

QUESTION: Do you know any stereotypes people have about atheists?
ANSWER: Yes, many people think atheists are people that don't care about moral and just do whatever we want. But I'm like all people that just trying to make this world better. Other stereotype people have is that people always get atheist mixed up with the anti-Christian or Satanist, but this is not true, atheists don’t believe in God or Satan, so we are not Satanist. Also, just because we are not Christian, it doesn't mean we have to be anti-Christian and go kill all the Christian.

QUESTION: Have anyone ever offended you from being an atheist? How do you feel? 
ANSWER: People always tell me that I am wrong and they always try to tell me that I’m going to hell. But I don’t feel anything because I know that they are wrong and there is no hell.
QUESTION: Have you ever argue with people that don’t believe like you?
ANSWER: I don’t like arguing with people but sometime I’m just trying to tell other people what I believe and I just try to explain to them. If they don’t listen then that’s fine with me.
QUESTION: Do you want other people to become an atheist?
ANSWER: Not really, if they are happy with what they believe then that’s good. But sometime I just feel like all those people is just wasting their time doing all those religious ceremony and I just want those people to realize that.
QUESTION: Why do you want other people to become an atheist?
ANSWER: Sometime, I feel like if everyone is atheists then we won’t have all those religious conflict and religious war, this world might be better if we are all atheist.
QUESTION: Do you have any opinions about people who are theist? Do you think they are reasonable?
ANSWER: I know that a lot of them just grow up in the theist family and cultures, so it’s not their fault that they believe what they believe. But I feel said for them and fell like they are wasting their time believing in all those non-sense religious. They should live their life and have fun instead.
QUESTION: Do you think your idea is reasonable?
ANSWER: Yes, atheism is the most reasonable thing to believe. And there are no false in the atheism philosophies. Not like many religions that we could find many false in their philosophies.
QUESTION: Why don’t you believe an afterlife? Then what is the purpose of living for you?
ANSWER: I would believe in heaven and hell if it exists. But it doesn’t exist so there are no points of believing in things that don’t exist. I think the point of living is just to be happy and have fun with our life, and we all should be happy.
QUESTION: Do you think you should do good things then?  Why do thing you should do good things?
ANSWER: I feel like I should do good thing because when I do good things it make me feel good and happy. So I do good things so I could feel be happy and live a good life.


SECOND PERSON

QUESTION: Is there a particular belief you believe before you become an atheist?
ANSWER: Yes.  I was raised Christian--Southern Baptist, in particular.  Around age twelve (though it was slightly present at earlier ages) I began to seriously question my faith, and called myself agnostic for several years.  I then learned the definition of "atheist," which basically means "having no particular belief in a god or gods," while a true agnostic believes it is impossible to know either way.  I do not believe anything is impossible, therefore I am an atheist.  Between ages eighteen and twenty I also dabbled in Buddhism, and that had a very strong impact on me.

QUESTION: Is your family atheist? 
ANSWER: No.  My mother is Baptist and my father is non-denominational, though everyone in my family comes from a Baptist background.  My younger brother (he is sixteen) holds views similar to mine, and at present calls himself agnostic.

QUESTION: Does your family support you? Why?
ANSWER: It was very tense when I "came out" about my non-belief.  I had posted something on facebook saying essentially that I did not appreciate people calling me a devil-worshiper behind my back simply because I do not believe in what they do.  My mother saw this post and said that she was ashamed of me.  This led to a ridiculous public argument over facebook instigated by my aunt and uncle.  I no longer have most of my family on facebook for this reason, and I have not spoken to much of my family since this happened over a year ago.  Fortunately, I am back on speaking terms with my mother though we never discuss our separate beliefs.

QUESTION: Why do you want to be an atheist? 
ANSWER: I don't believe that this question is worded appropriately.  I don't "want" to be an atheist.  It is simply the conclusion I came to after many painful years of researching, thinking, discussing, and reading The Bible and various other holy books.  I did not just decide to be an atheist; it is just the label that makes the most sense to me.

QUESTION: What make you become an atheist? Are there any particular events that happen to you?
ANSWER: I have always been a rational person for as long as I can remember.  I don't recall ever believing in Santa Claus, and told my mother at age six all the reasons someone like Santa could not exist.  I suppose my ability to find holes in the existence of a bearded man living at the north pole was warm-up for my ability to find holes in the existence of a bearded man living in the heavens.

QUESTION: Have you ever argue with people that don’t believe like you?
ANSWER: When I was younger, but I realized for the most part that it is a moot point.  I can say that there is no evidence for a higher power; I could point out that The Bible and other texts like it have hundreds of contradictions and mistranslations and as such are clearly not the word of a divine being--but, the argument will always end in some version of me saying "these are the facts" and the religious person saying "I have faith."  It is all very circular.  Debate can be interesting, informative, and even fun, but it is no longer for me.  However, if a person wants to "argue" their case to me for their religion, I am happy to argue my "side" as well.

QUESTION: Do you want other people to become an atheist?
ANSWER: No.  I very much believe that a person should be free to believe what they want to believe, or to not believe in anything at all.  If you want to believe in Santa Claus, go ahead; if you want to believe that you are Napoleon, feel free; if you want to believe that there is someone in charge of your life apart from yourself or another tangible entity, be my guest.  It is not my place to decide these things for people.

QUESTION: Do you have any opinions about people who are theist? Do you think they are reasonable? 
ANSWER: My opinions vary from person to person, same as anything else.  This is, to me, like asking if I have an opinion of bank tellers.  It is a very broad group of people.  Very, very broad.  Being from a small, extremely religious town in southeastern Kentucky, most of my friends and family are religious.  I try not to offend any of them.  But, if we are being honest, I suppose that I have been known to say that religious people are typically religious for four reasons (in my experience). One, they were raised that way and never try to step outside their comfort zone.  Two, they are afraid of the consequences of not believing in whatever religion is popular in the area they are from.  Three, it is a crutch--a way to feel safe and protected and loved at all times; a way to put the responsibility off on someone else (God, in most cases) when things become too stressful.  And four, they have something to gain, like politicians.

QUESTION: Do you think your idea is reasonable?
ANSWER: Of course.  Doesn't everyone want to think that their ideas are reasonable?

QUESTION: Why don’t you believe an afterlife? Then what is the purpose of living for you?
ANSWER: I don't believe in an afterlife for the same reasons I don't believe in Santa Claus, unicorns, leprechauns, or vampires: I've never seen any reason to.

QUESTION: Do you think you should do good things then? 
ANSWER: Of course I do.  Treat others how you would like them to treat you.

QUESTION: Why do thing you should do good things?
ANSWER: It is common sense.  Do you think that if a religious person found out for sure one day that The Bible was false and God was not real, that they would just start killing and raping people?  I would hope that they would not.  Doing good things is good for society; it keeps it functioning.  It keeps me and the people I care about safe.  Doing good things, the right thing, ensures that if I forget to lock my door at night that my neighbor won't just walk into my house and steal my television and vice versa, even if he does not believe that some external force is in charge of the world and its inhabitants.

QUESTION: If you believe one day you’ll become soil, fall into the cycle of life, then what is the meaning of love for you?
ANSWER: I don't completely understand what love has to do with death, nor do I think everything has to have a meaning.  As a scientist, I am comfortable admitting that I do not have all of the answers.  But that doesn't mean that I should cut and paste my own made-up answers into the gaps of life that I can't explain.  But to answer the question more directly, love for me means probably about the same thing it means to most people.  It's simple things like playing a board game with my family over the most recent break; going out to dinner with my fiancĂ©; find the free time to snuggle up in bed with a good movie and my dog; protecting my little brother from anything that might cause him pain or suffering.... Love is love.  We all know it, and it has nothing to do the fact that our bodies decompose and become part of the "circle of life."  To me, thinking that humanity is somehow exempt from this circle is a bit deluded.  We are all here on this planet together right now, so let's cherish the limited time we have; do our best to be happy, productive, and fulfilled--instead of squabbling over what happens after our hearts stop beating.


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