The new semester is right around the corner. Many, if not all of us have registered for classes and need new books. For those who don’t want to go to the UNI bookstore and would rather use Amazon, we have a way for those of you to help out UNIFI. Every purchase you make through the Amazon link will give a bit of money to UNIFI. Amazon purchases don’t have to be limited to books, holiday shopping can be done as well, especially since Christmas is right around the corner. Every little bit counts, and it goes a long way to helping UNIFI!
Did you know UNIFI has an alumni program? The programs stays in touch with alums and hosts an annual alumni dinner in December. If you’re a former UNIFI member and would like to join, please fill out the information here. If you’re a current UNIFI member, and are interested in getting in touch with an alum who has a certain degree, lives in a certain geographical area, or is following a career path that interests you, email email@example.com.
This year’s annual alumni dinner will be on December 21st at Beck’s in Cedar Falls. You can join the Facebook event here. As a lead up to the event, we’ll be profiling UNIFI alums who have gone on to do cool things. The first is Cody Hashman, UNIFI’s co-founder and former President. Cody now works for the Center for Inquiry as a campus field organizer.
- Cody Hashman
- Graduation Year: 2009
- Major/Minor: Psychology/Actuarial Science
- Hometown: Cedar Falls, IA
- Current Location: Buffalo, NY
- Past UNIFI Positions: President and Founder
What are you doing with your life now and how has UNIFI influenced it?
I currently work as a field organizer for the Center for Inquiry, a transnational non-profit organization whose mission is to “foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values.” I’m not sure if I need to explain how my work with a student freethought group that was affiliated with the Center for Inquiry help influence my current situation as an employee of the Center for Inquiry (Ed.: It helped.).
What inspired you to create UNIFI?
Prior to attending UNI I spent a year at Iowa State University. While there I attended a few of the ISU Atheist and Agnostic Society events including a life changing presentation by Dan Barker from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. I then transferred back to my hometown to finish my undergrad at UNI where I immediately noticed more than four religious groups on campus and zero that catered to the social and activism goals of non-religious or skeptical students. This was also around the time that a reports were coming out suggesting that atheists were the least trusted religious affiliation in the US. I knew that the public perception of non-religious people needed to change and that this couldn’t happen if “we” didn’t organize not just on a broad scale, but at the local level too. I felt a sense of responsibility to local non-religious students and community members. After some support from friends and the Center for Inquiry I was able to start UNIFI in the fall of 2007.
I set out creating UNIFI with three goals. 1) Create a robust community for non-religious people on campus and in the community at large. 2) To show people that atheists were compassionate community members. This would be shown through our activism, events, and simply being “out” and vocal. 3) To have no need to exist in 20 years.
What do you miss most about the group?
When working within the Freethought movement on a national level I have noticed that I am somewhat removed from the importance and effectiveness of being a local voice of reason. While I understand the work that I do is important and needed, I often fear I don’t have to see how religion and modern snake oil salesmen are pervasive and resilient. I am privileged in the sense that I have surrounded myself with other non-religous people to the extent that if I want to shield my-self from institutional unreason, I have shelter. I actually miss the unnerving feeling and urgency that comes with knowing that organizations like The Family Leader are working tirelessly in Iowa to undermine the separation of church and state, promote dogmatic and backwards morals, and indoctrinate the next generation of religious fanatics that value blind faith and obedience as opposed to reason and compassion.
What’s the biggest change you’ve noticed from when you were in UNIFI to today?
I am the first to admit that I was not the best president of UNIFI (Ed.: Disagree.). Yes, I was passionate, but that will only get a group so far. What was needed was strong leadership and an organizational structure that allows for responsible growth. This is what happened and I am grateful to all of the past UNIFI leaders that have helped make UNIFI one of the most well-run and long lasting groups in the world. On a local level I have seen UNIFI mobilize to help change the outcomes of elections and LGBT rights in the state. I have also noticed that my vision for a robust community and social support network has manifested beyond my expectations. Almost every change that I have seen as UNIFI has grown has been for the better.
What advice do you have for current UNIFI members?
Get involved with other things other than UNIFI. “We” as a movement need to make sure we are not becoming irrelevant due to a willingness to be insular. Freethought is not something to proud of, to hell with your pride, freethought is something to be shared, a gift to the world. Go share it with the world. I say this with some reservation, because tactfulness is something every UNIFI member should always be conscious of, so learn some tact too.
Also, learn from your mistakes and teach other people what you have learned.
Hello, I am Noah Hurley. Some of you in UNIFI may have met me, some may not. I am a Sophomore Physics major from Waterloo, Iowa. I enjoy many activities such as rock climbing, reading fantasy books, and doing science. I have been an atheist since early high school, albeit a very quiet one. I have long wanted to be a part of a group that held the same beliefs as mine, and I was glad when I found UNIFI through senior member and, alumnus of UNI, Kyle Pitzen.
I had such a great time my first year with UNIFI that I decided I wanted to do more with them. With the graduation of many of the UNIFI officers last year, I decided to apply to become an officer. Before this year started in august, the current president and vice president, Stef and Kate respectively, asked if I wanted to become the Director of Finance. I accepted and now I’m even more a part of this wonderful group. I look forward with meeting with those i haven’t met and sharing good times with all. If anyone is curious about the workings of the officers of UNIFI feel free to come and talk to me!
This past weekend, I was at a party with some of my friends. We were all sitting around talking in a back room with a few people that we didn’t really know. During the conversation, one of the people there (a man) made a comment somewhere along the lines of “if I wanted to have sex right now, I could totally have sex right now.” I was taken aback by this statement and wanted him to clarify what he meant. I asked him a very direct question, “If we were alone right now, would you rape me?” He paused, took a second (which was disconcerting in and of itself), and responded “Probably.” Probably? That answer shocked me. And the shock didn’t stop there.
This man continued to go on and say that because I was a girl at a party, I wanted sex and should be prepared to have sex. And because a guy and a girl are alone at a party, it is expected that they must have sex. He also said that we could have sex if he wanted to because he would be able to overpower me. Until now, I didn’t know there were people that genuinely held these beliefs.
Lets take his first claim: that because I was a girl at a party, I wanted sex. The “point” that he made was that I should take into account that when I, a female, leave to go to a party I will most likely have sex with someone there. His claim is that the reason I (as well as other girls) spend so much time getting ready for a party is for the express purpose of impressing men and getting one of them to have sex with me. In a broad sense his argument was that girls exist at parties to be the proverbial playthings of men, something for men to touch and play with, and that I should expect to have sex when I go to a party. This infuriated me. Personally, I like spending time getting ready because I like to look good. I do not dress nicely to woo a man; I dress nicely because I honestly like to look nice. As for the whole “girls go to parties to have sex” thing? That is not true. I, for one, go to parties to be social and hang out with my friends, male or female. Parties and sex do not go hand in hand, nor should they. They are two separate concepts and should not be lumped together into one category. It is sickening that in this society, there are people that hold onto the belief that girls are expected to give it away to some guy at every party they go to. Believe it or not, girls can talk to guys without needing to have sex with them. Crazy concept, right?
Now lets address his second claim: that he could have sex with me if he wanted to because A: we were a guy and a girl alone at a party and B: he could overpower me. What he essentially was saying was that I, a girl, should be prepared to have sex with any guy at a party. And if I am alone with a guy and not prepared to have sex with him, he has the “right” to have sex with me anyways because he can physically override my decisions—and that deep down I still want to have sex, because I came to the party in the first place. All girls must have sex with guys, whether they outwardly want to or not. This left me furiously shaking my head. I just wanted to scream at him about what consent is (which is exactly what I did).
I explained that without a strong and firm, resounding from the rooftops “YES LET US HAVE SEX”, you do not get to have sex with someone. Consent is defined as a voluntary, positive agreement between the participants to engage in specific sexual activity. The only way to know for sure if someone has given consent is if they tell you. If there is no “yes”, assume it is a “no”. And having sex with someone after they have said no? That is rape. And rape is not okay. Ever. My body is my body, my no is a no. Just because a man could overpower a woman and have sex with her doesn’t mean that they should. The damages caused, both physical and emotional, by a man overpowering and assaulting a woman sexually are insurmountable. Sexual assault and rape can cause depression, substance abuse, self-harm, depression, sleeping or eating disorders, STD’s, or even suicide, among other things (according to RAINN—Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network). No person should ever have to experience those things just because they were “expected” to have sex with someone and couldn’t say no, or their no was silenced. Rape is never okay.
Let me repeat that for emphasis: RAPE IS NEVER OKAY.
After explaining all of this to that guy at the party, he seemed pretty taken aback by the aggressive woman he had awoken with his naïve claims about his so-called right to sex. And I regretted nothing, because I could potentially have stopped him from assaulting a girl, either that night or on future nights. I hope that what I said got to him and that from now on he would think twice before having sex. Above all, rape is not okay. Consent is sexy; communicate openly with those you wish to engage with sexually and think twice before you decide you need to have sex with that cute girl on the other side of the room.
In case you’re reading this blog from outside of the University of Northern Iowa (or you’ve been living in a hole underground), I thought I should mention a major news story that’s been developing on our campus. Last Friday night, openly gender queer student Steven Sanchez was elected Homecoming Queen after competing in UNI’s Royalty Competition. Rather than retelling the story here, I’m just going to point out where you can find it. Steven’s story has now been featured in the Northern Iowan, the Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier, KWWL, the Des Moines Register, USA Today, the Huffington Post, Jezebel, and the New York Times among others. Next stop, Ellen?!?
I can’t help but think that part of the media hype is because this happened in Iowa, a traditionally, well, traditional state. Although we’ve legalized same-sex marriage, LGBT issues are still controversial for many Iowans. Steven’s win only highlights the importance of further advocacy within our state and within our country. But hey! How cool is UNI right now?!
Also, make sure to check out this video which documents Steven’s win!
You probably already know that original sin is pretty made up since there are a lot of serious errors in the story, but did you know that Mormons don’t believe in original sin either? Yeah. It’s actually a pretty clever argument (for someone that accepts the creation story) and is still applicable to a skeptic talking to a religious person. Explaining why there is suffering in the world has always been difficult for people. Bart Erhman wrote a book about how religion seriously fails at adequately explaining suffering. The “Eve was a dummy” argument is bad and may actually help support deists and people that believe in the creation story.
It’s really all right there in the Bible. People tend to think that God only gave Adam and Eve one commandment in the Garden, but they were actually given two. First, to procreate and populate the Earth (Genesis 1:28) and later, not to eat of the fruit on the tree of knowledge of good and evil (so glad we decided to shorten tree names)(Genesis 2:16-17). So really, Adam and Eve were given two commandments that happen to be directly at odds with each other. Adam and Eve could not procreate without eating the fruit and losing their innocence. They didn’t even know they were naked, let alone how to have sex. So really, Adam and Eve had a big decision to make. Do they stay in a state of perfection and innocence in the Garden forever, eating endless amounts of bacon and never getting fat? Or do they fall from grace and share many of the wonders of this world with others (and get to have sex)? Really, Eve committed great personal sacrifice to give us all life. Good job, Eve. Good job. She ate that fruit and then had two sons…and that’s it. Explain that one.
You can read more about how this all factors into Mormonism here under the “Adam and Eve Gave Us the Gift of Choice” tab.
This entry was written by Natalie Kaufman and was originally posted on October 3 on the Center For Inquiry On Campus blog http://www.centerforinquiry.net/oncampus/blog/archive/
On September 30th, I had the opportunity to participate in International Blasphemy Rights Day for the first time. Our campus group for atheists, agnostics, skeptics and freethinkers at the University of Northern Iowa, UNIFI, sponsored an exhibit in one of our campus’s central meeting hubs. We set up boards with signs telling stories of people that had been affected by blasphemy laws—people that were persecuted for things they had said, did or published in regards to beliefs and religion. Also included in the exhibit were three public boards with the question “Why is freedom of expression important to you?” where anybody could write down their answer. I was very glad that I could volunteer and be a part of this cause.
As I stood there, trying to get as many people as possible to check out our exhibit, I couldn’t help but reflect and appreciate how great free expression truly is. I mean, I was able to stand there in public and proclaim that I was upset with the way governments were run without the fear of being punished. I could stand there and question religion and have discussions with people about why I think Christianity is flawed without the government throwing me in jail or fining me.
I am incredibly privileged to be able to freely express my own personal beliefs, despite whether people agreed with me or not. There are literally people in countries where if they were to do what I was doing, there would be a threat to their wellbeing. All of this upset me greatly, especially as I read all of the stories from the persecuted. What kind of a world do we live in where people are punished for what their own personal beliefs are? It isn’t fair that a person’s opinions or beliefs and their criticism of other opinions or beliefs should be silenced simply because other people don’t agree. And through Blasphemy Day, I learned that I thankfully wasn’t the only person that felt this way.
While I manned the tables for a few hours and saw a pretty steady flow of people that supported our cause, one woman in particular stuck out to me. She came into the exhibit and was wearing a traditional hijab. She took her time; reading through all of the stories and looking around. Afterwards she came up to me and thanked me immensely for putting on the exhibit. She said that she was glad people were bringing these issues to attention and that she was very thankful that students were behind it. The gratitude she held in her voice was enough to make up for any people that walked by and thought we were just some weird kids in the corner ranting about political/religious jargon. And she wasn’t the only person to voice her appreciation.
Many people, both faculty and students, came up to us and thanked us for putting our time and effort into the exhibit. Through and through, there were resounding agreements that people should be able to freely express and criticize. It was very encouraging to know that there are other people out there that are concerned about the limitations that exist on freedom of expression. And I thought it was very important that UNIFI participated in this particular event.
I think that every person, regardless of beliefs or opinions, should participate in Blasphemy Rights Day. At the bottom of it all, religion is not the point—the point is freedom of expression. People deserve the right to question beliefs or religion and spark discussions without fear of punishment. While I’m glad UNIFI was able to be a part of it, I hope to see more and more groups become active and participate. We played a pivotal role by taking the first step and celebrating International Blasphemy Rights Day to increase awareness at our university. But the discussions I had with people at the exhibit and the issues debated should not be stop on the campus or be limited to just one day a year. We all should be concerned about our rights and the rights of others. And as I shared on the board: if you aren’t allowed to question, how will you ever know the answer?
Do you ever find yourself discussing religion with someone with whom you had hoped not to ever discuss religion? Maybe your grandma or your mother-in-law? Do you ever feel completely offended by righteous people telling you that you’re going to hell and want to make a point about it? Here are a couple talking points, things I call “soft arguments”, that might help you in these discussions and maybe make you seem less offensive to those that are easy offended. I realize that some of you might not like this approach, but I don’t really like hurting people’s feelings if I can avoid it.
“You know you’re going to hell for…” or “I will pray for your salvation”
If there is a god, I like to think he is a pretty cool dude (or fabulous lady!). She/He probably doesn’t even meddle in the affairs of humans any more, considering that shitty things happen to some pretty innocent people. My response to these statements normally leads to my proclamation that if there is a heaven, believing in Jesus/God/other-names-for-God is not required to get there. I explain that there are many things written about beliefs in the Bible and that many churches have different standings on what is required to get into heaven. Ultimately, based on scripture, I find God (the New Testament one) and Jesus to be overall loving and will therefore accept good people into heaven even if they didn’t believe in the correct religion. I try to lead a good life. I help people when I can and I always strive to be honest and loyal. I cannot imagine getting up to heaven and Jesus being like, “Well, you were a great person in life and sincerely cared about others, but you didn’t worship me, so I have to send you to hell to suffer for the rest of FOREVER.” Obviously, a lot of religious people would disagree with me on this, but it is at least on their level and gives them something to think about. If there is an all-powerful, all-knowing God, then he knows that I am striving to be the best person I can and that is enough religion for me. I am not worried about going to hell; religious people need to just worry about making sure that they can say the same thing. If your conversation partner persists, just point out your relief about whether or not you’re going to heaven is not their decision. ☺
Here are a couple verses that can be cited to support your case. There are most probably verses that directly contradict these that the other person might use, but this is the Bible we’re talking about and finding anything completely definitive is difficult.
I have found throughout my time in the military that it seems like many of the soldiers I have encountered are religious to some degree. This begs at the old adage that there aren’t any atheists in foxholes. Do those who are confronting danger have a higher chance of taking Pascal’s* advice in that If they are wrong there won’t be any downside but if they are right the payoff could be enormous? Maybe it is that those who participate in something as chaotic as war are more content believing there is a “bigger plan” for all the chaos and misery that comes along with war. Maybe the causation is reversed and those who believe in God tend to find military service a more palatable option. The numbers for one don’t necessarily support the saying that recent polls have consistently found that at least 20% of the military identify themselves as having “No Preference, Other, or Atheist.”
Personally I don’t like religious labels (including Atheist, Agnostic, etc.) for the same reason that organized religion seems to love them: they are too exclusionary, and they put you in conceptual boxes in people’s minds if they are working with limited information. People’s religious beliefs, or lack thereof, are usually very complex and more personal than what you initially believe if someone tells you they are “X religion”. I was particularly challenged in this belief when I had to enter my religious preference for my dog tags. I ended up entering Methodist on my first set even though at the time I had some serious questions about the way religion had traditionally been presented to me. I still can’t be sure if I was just trying to hedge my bets in the face of a grueling and potentially dangerous basic training, or if my concerns were still not enough to opt out of getting those letters stamped on the steel that would hang around my neck everyday.
I remember having many religious discussions and debates throughout my military career and looking back I now realize that I had many of these debates where I actively explored holes in the logic of what I was presented, still wearing dog tags that had “Methodist” printed on them. Eventually I had new tags printed with “No Pref” on them and also a set with “FSM” (Flying Spaghetti Monster), for a laugh. Even though I was able to change my dog tags eventually, when a potentially dangerous mission in Afghanistan was about to take place sometimes the Chaplain or other another Soldier would say a short prayer, I would bow my head along with everyone else. This seemed the modern equivalent of a foxhole and I would usually bow my head hoping that maybe there was some transcending justice in the universe and it was all part of a larger plan. Unfortunately every time I lifted my head back up I still found myself in a terrible war-torn country with so much unfair suffering that I thought it was more likely that God was as far from those “foxholes” as possible.
*Pascal’s wager http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pascal-wager/
A few weeks ago, I participated in Cedar Rapids Chrysalis flight 41. For those of you who don’t know, Chrysalis is a three-day retreat where the purpose is to grow in your relationship with Christ. On day one, you’re a caterpillar. The focus on this day is to “Die with Christ” by letting go of all things that stand between you and your relationship with God. Day two, you are a chrysalis. This day’s theme is “Rise with Christ”, the purpose being to build a community of love and worship with other Christians and to begin building your new life with Jesus. Day three, you’re a butterfly (Chrysalis is all about metaphors). The final theme is “Go with Christ”. This day is all about service and evangelism, sending butterflies into the world to spread the message and love of Jesus Christ. Throughout the three days, there are a number of lectures and discussions about various topics including faith, ideals, prayer, marriage, God’s will, as well as others. Talks are given by Christian adults and youth, and spiritual leaders (pastors). Every lecture ends with the phrase “Fly with Christ”.
I have been hesitant to write here about my experience for a few reasons. First, I don’t want to offend anyone. Chrysalis is a very meaningful experience for a lot of people; many even consider it life-changing. I don’t believe that insulting peoples’ beliefs is ever a good thing to do, and that is definitely not my intention in writing this post. Second, I really did meet some awesome and inspirational people at Chrysalis. Many people were very willing to have real conversation and have their beliefs questioned. They weren’t offended when I asked them how they know God is real, or even when I said I don’t necessarily believe in Him. Chrysalis was a great opportunity for me to have unrestricted, uninterrupted, and critical conversations about faith with people who are much smarter than I am.
There were also certainly some humanist aspects to Chrysalis that I really appreciated. There were a few talks about service and how to get involved with mission work, even if you aren’t motivated by some divine force. There was also a day where everyone received letters written by family and friends. This was probably the best part of Chrysalis for me, because the focus was less on religion and more on the actual people in your life. I personally think humanism is important, so it was nice to see some emphasis on actual relationships and service work, even if that was one of the smaller focus areas.
So, within this framework, there are a few things I would like to discuss about my experience at Chrysalis.
First, Chrysalis relies heavily on emotional appeals. There is a saying that “If you don’t cry at chrysalis, you’re doing it wrong.” While I agree that it’s probably good for people to talk about their frustrations, and it can be therapeutic to discuss bad life experiences, the chrysalis community puts too much emphasis on being openly emotional. Maybe this is just because I personally get really uncomfortable when people cry in front of me, but I do think there was too much ethos in all of the lectures. It almost seemed that if you have had an easy life, if you’ve never had a traumatic life experience, your story doesn’t matter. Everyone was opening up and talking about the horrible things that have happened to them, and pushing people that are generally optimistic under the table. It wasn’t ok to be ok. There had to be something in your life that went wrong, something you regret, something that ultimately brought you closer to God. Many people made you feel that if you haven’t felt bad about anything, or experienced some rough times, than you probably aren’t as strong of a Christian as those who have.
Second, although there were many people who were accepting of other ideas, I felt the majority of those in attendance still reject and oppose views other than their own. I can very distinctly remember a day when the issue of same-sex marriage was brought up in my small group table. There was one girl that went on and on about how she wishes she could “witness to the gays” and how she wants them to know that what they’re doing is unnatural and a sin. To her credit, she did go on to talk about how everyone sins and that she probably shouldn’t judge other people’s choices, but the theme of her rant was definitely that being gay is an unnatural choice and Jesus probably hates homosexuals. While I tried to tell her that being gay isn’t a decision, and that equality is important for everyone, I don’t think she really cared to have her beliefs challenged. At least, she wasn’t too happy to be questioned about them. This seemed to be the view of a lot of people at Chrysalis. They wanted to talk openly about their opinions, but didn’t seem to like it when people who opposed them spoke about their own. They preached love, but some had a hard time practicing it.
Third, the ultimate purpose of the weekend seemed to be evangelism. Day three’s talks were all about spreading the word of Jesus. God can empower you to do great things, so long as those great things include talking about Him. God gives you gifts, but only to use as He commands you. My favorite quote (read: least favorite) from this day was “God works best when you surrender control of your desires.” I asked many times how it would be possible to be an autonomous individual and still be a good Christian, and the answer was never really there. Are we really supposed to be God’s puppets? According to the preachers at Chrysalis, yeah, we are.
Overall, I don’t regret my decision to go to Chrysalis. If nothing else, it was an interesting cultural experience. I had great conversations with people, though some were quite frustrating. No, I didn’t emerge from the weekend ready to go spread God’s love to others; I didn’t even come out as a Christian. However, I did learn that there are some really caring and gracious people in the world, and I would love to get to know them more. This may mean going more places like Chrysalis to have conversations with people whose beliefs differ from mine, to challenge them and have them challenge me. I truly believe in the power of open communication and dialogue and my weekend at Chrysalis was a great opportunity to talk with people. I know that’s not exactly the point of the weekend, but I’m glad I still got something from it.
Fly with Christ.