Yik Yak? Yuck.

The UNI family of students was shocked this past week with the sharing of dozens of hateful and bigoted posts, or Yik Yaks, from the eponymous new media app. Individuals across the university community called for enforcement of the Student Code of Conduct. Acting President of the University, Michael Licari, wrote to remind us that threats to our fellow students are criminal offenses.

However, in the din of this controversy, some have called for the enforcement of the Student Conduct Code on anonymous posters who did not threaten their fellow students. This desire to use force to suppress non-threatening speech is very concerning. To understand why, we have to go back to the height of the Civil Rights Movement and the birth of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement in 1964. Pictured above, a student is forcibly removed from the UC Berkeley campus for expressing the radical and dangerous view that political speech other than supporting the Democrats or Republicans should be permitted on campus.

Students at UC Berkeley rally for their right to express "radical" political views on campus.

Students at UC Berkeley rally for their right to express “radical” political views on campus, 1964-1965.

Then in 1964, a Berkeley student organization “SLATE” staged protests, distributed pamphlets and information about the Civil Rights Movement and the Freedom Riders, and engaged in other activism projects. They protested discriminatory practices performed by fraternity and sorority organizations, and they campaigned on campus on a variety of issues in violation of student speech codes. As a movement of the New Left during the height of McCarthyism, and perhaps from concern among administration and faculty of being seen as supportive of the Civil Rights Movement’s activism projects, the student organization was banned from UC Berkeley’s campus.

This was the start of the Free Speech Movement, which sought to ensure the right of free expression to all students at public schools and universities. Students staged sit-ins and protests, and eventually secured changes to policy that should have been protected by the 1st Amendment all along. This right is the most important right we have as students: it empowers us to criticize the administration with impunity, challenge the status quo, and demand change without fear of retribution. The right to do so anonymously, too, ought to be protected. Everyone ought to be able to make an argument in the marketplace of ideas and let it stand or fall on its own merit. The Protestant Reformation and the predominant religious doctrine of most Americans depended on the ability of Europeans to express their ideas anonymously, under fear of being condemned for heresy by the Catholic Church. Even today, students have faced abuse for far less than the hate crimes alleged here.

UC Davis students are sprayed with pepper gas in 2011.

UC Davis students are sprayed with pepper gas after staging a sit-in to protest a 32% tuition hike in 2011.

Free expression and anonymous speech are as important today as they were to the founding of our nation, to the dominant faith of our fellow citizens, and to social movements that have changed our world for the better. In every case, authorities sought to limit speech, and to silence criticism with force, often with the penalty of death. We saw this in Ferguson, and we see it in Syria. In every place on earth, the right to freely assemble and merely express one’s ideas is under constant threat. And in nearly every case, the silencing of free speech has had overwhelming support from the majority of the populace. What the founders learned from this  was that no government should ever again have the right to punish ideas: it is too dangerous, the slope is too slippery. Nevertheless, today, the implementation of freedom of expression remains imperfect

Ferguson protesters faced militarized police and the threat of force for violating an indefinite curfew in 2014.

Ferguson, MO protesters faced militarized police and the threat of force for violating an indefinite curfew in 2014.

I want to be clear to everyone hurt by these words: I would rather stand beside you and not my friends, were my friends to say such things.
Does this right to free expression extend to many the hurtful comments made anonymously today? With a heavy heart I must say yes. My reasons are many, and intimately related to my involvement with the Atheist movement. Without free speech, I know my ideas, too, have been considered hate speech by majorities. In many nations of hundreds of millions of people, denying God is punishable by imprisonment, torture or death. I am fortunate not to face trial for that hate crime. But to many hundreds of millions of people, it is hurtful and incendiary to deny the existence of a God.

That said, the comments made, and the remarks I have heard from my fellow students speaking out about the bigotry they face in person on campus upset me. I want to be clear to everyone hurt by these words: I would rather stand beside you and not my friends, were my friends to say such things. That is how change will come to UNI. We must be willing to call out hate, student to student, and use the power of social stigma to end the bigotry our peers face. Let us not call on authority to enforce our social norms. We must be willing to do so ourselves. Free expression ensures us the right to openly criticize racist and homophobic statements without fear of retribution. We should exercise that right and not seek to use force where words may prevail.

Every person at UNI has the power to do this. Remember that in many ways reason and compassion have already prevailed: the last resort of bigoted students to express themselves without fear of stigma are these anonymous posts. Let’s keep it that way, and ensure that no student faces open bigotry, that no bigot may utter such without facing criticism and shame from their classmates and friends. If you hear hate, call it what it is. Whether you are in your dorm, on the hill, or using social media, when you hear hate speech, call it out.

Humanist Harry Potter: The Battle Between the Red and Green Lights (or Good vs. Evil)

Warning: This post DOES contain spoilers. So if you haven’t read/watched Harry Potter and are planning to, proceed with caution. However, if you haven’t read Harry Potter by now, you probably never will and also you are probably just a horrible person. (I kid. Mostly.)

If you know me at all, you know that I love Harry Potter. No joke — this summer I got to go to the Harry Potter Studio Tour in London where all the films were filmed, and my friend and I took several hundred pictures. I’ve been thinking about writing a Harry Potter themed post for a long time, and now that I’ve actually started doing some work on it, I may have to post another part later to cover everything I’ve found (so here’s your warning).

When it comes to religion and Harry Potter, there are a surprisingly wide variety of opinions:

  • Harry Potter promotes devil worshiping, cults, and anti-Christian behavior.
  • Harry Potter promotes Christianity and provides a modern re-working of the story of Jesus.
  • Harry Potter is atheistic literature which promotes no religion at all or is anti-religion.

And these are just the very generalized extremes. Clearly Harry Potter is more complex than it first appears. Though J.K. Rowling has admitted to being Christian, she hasn’t confessed to any kind of purposeful religious themes in her work — or lack there of. Nonetheless (at least in my interpretation) the Harry Potter universe exists without a God and without a religion. In my internet digging, one of the worst articles I found was a Prisoner of Azkaban movie review written by an anti-humanist who clearly hadn’t done much research on the series. He says, “Some years ago, I read a Harry Potter book to see what all the fuss was about. One of the most noticeable things about it was that J. K. Rowling had to tell you who was good and who was bad: otherwise, you wouldn’t have known.” He goes on to say that in the movies, all of the bad guys were ugly and that’s the only way for sure you knew they were bad guys. Wait, what? This article was so completely wrong, that I knew instantly what I should write about: good and evil as portrayed in Harry Potter.

Good vs. Evil is one of the most brilliant themes in Harry Potter. It’s brilliance isn’t in that good and evil are super obvious, but rather, that they aren’t. As Sirius Black says, “the world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters” (Order of the Phoenix).  Harry Potter, champion of light magic and ultimate good guy, uses an Unforgivable curse as part of a scheme where he breaks into Gringotts, the wizarding bank. The Golden Boy using dark magic and breaking and entering? That seems a tad on the evil side, to me. And it goes both ways. If Death Eaters are inherently evil, how do we explain Snape? Although many fans will say they knew all along that Snape was a good guy, most of us will admit to being a bit surprised when we finally learned his back story in book seven. In Harry Potter, characters are shaped by their circumstances–much as people are in real life. Had Tom Riddle not been abandoned in a muggle orphanage as a child, his entire life could have turned out differently.

Moral values can rarely be sorted into black and white but tend to instead exist as a field of greys, and that’s beautifully represented in the series. Even better, these greys exist without a religion and without a God. What Harry Potter really teaches are humanist values. The idea that humans have the potential to make morally good decisions and can think about the world rationally and critically. And I think that’s pretty neat.


brother jed

Brother Jed: A Question of Free Speech

Last Wednesday, if you walked past the Union any time in the afternoon you would have been greeted not by passing friends, but by a giant sign that read “You Deserve Hell”. This beautiful display was accompanied by a couple that some UNIFI alumni might consider old friends: Brother Jed and his wife Sister Cindy. From in front of the Union, you could hear all sorts of condemnations: “Sodomizer”, “whoremongerer”, “gays are perverts.”

For those who are unfamiliar with Brother Jed, he and his wife travel across the United States to preach the “good news” to college students in the form of insults, slurs, chants, songs, props, and stories. Many of the preachers who come to campus are willing to have one-on-one conversations and tend to be level headed. Brother Jed prefers an inflammatory approach, using insults and hate speech as a way of captivating people and angering the masses. Instead of preaching to the choir, Brother Jed insists on preaching to the mob.

While Brother Jed is up there shouting, the crowd shouts back. We end up dehumanizing these people, and more often than not find ourselves returning their insults and prodding them to get ridiculous answers. We think these “crazy people” are funny, and we turn them into objects to make fun of rather than people with controversial opinions. Brother Jed and others like him are still human beings who deserve a degree of respect, no matter how offensive they are in the first place. As the old saying goes, “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”. Yelling insults back to or poking fun at street preachers accomplishes little – they make a living shouting at people. They believe what they are doing is the right thing, no matter how wrong it seems to the rest of us. In the case of Brother Jed and Sister Cindy, who are relatively unapproachable, one can turn to the people standing around and start a conversation with them instead. While I do not agree with what he preaches or how he preaches it, I still believe this raises a very important question of free speech and opens the door for a dialogue. 

UNIFI attempts to foster an environment that values thoughtful conversation and offers critical examinations of social issues and religion. Without free speech we would not be able to do so. Without free speech, I would argue that UNIFI would not be able to have half the presence that it has on this campus. We often forget the power of freedom of speech and fail to realize we would not be able to say half the things we say if it were not for this freedom.

When we celebrate Blasphemy Rights Day, it is important to remember exactly why it exists: to advocate free speech. Respecting free speech is always important, especially to a group of people who hold controversial views. Instead of turning this situation into a mockery, it is better to take a step back and attempt to start a discussion. 

I am not pardoning Brother Jed and Sister Cindy, nor do I agree with what they say. I am instead raising the point of respect.  This organization exists as a safe space for non-religious people or those coming out of religion who wish to question it. We above all people should recognize the importance of free speech and how every opinion matters. UNIFI President Aaron Friel wrote a blog post earlier this year explaining that we are “not those atheists”. Shouting euphoric insults and tipping our fedoras will not get us or the atheist movement anywhere. Instead of being the people who make fun of Jed and Cindy, UNIFI’s role should be to step up and offer a safe haven for those who disagree with what they say.

Why Sexual Education Matters for Straight Men

When I was in High School I had a lot of complaints about how and what we were taught. As a Civil War enthusiast I was once given a detention when I told my sophomore history teach that he had confused the dates of the Battles of Antietam and Gettysburg. The principal let me off when I demonstrated I was correct. I clashed with English teachers on interpretations of literature and complained that my math teachers didn’t teach in way that made sense to me. However my time in college has shown me the topic my public education really failed to teach: sex.

I never had “the talk” with my parents. The closest we came was me discovering some condoms in my father’s sock drawer in middle school. I followed the directions on the wrapper and thought to myself, “what the hell do I do now?”. I also recall a special day in fifth grade when the boys and girls split up and went to different rooms. I don’t know what happened in the girls room, but I remember a man who we had never met throwing some confusing words at us. He explained circumcision insofar as letting us know whether it had happened to us. Then he drew some things on the chalkboard that reminded me of the time my parents took me to the Art Institute of Chicago. After a few hours of this I was told I was about to go through something called “puberty”, that men made sperm, women made eggs, and together those made a baby. We were all handed a paper bag with a stick of deodorant, face wash, and soap, and went to recess.

Sometime around 7th grade, our Home Economics class devoted a bit of time to explain that pregnancy occurred when a penis was inserted into a vagina. Unless you were eighteen or older, it was very bad to do this. After that we went back to making terrible baked goods and shoddy sewing projects. That was the last time I had any formal sex education in my school years. High School health focused on eating well and discouraging drug use. Gym class was an endless cycle of basketball, pickleball, badminton, and pacer tests. This, coupled with my social ineptness around women meant that I never really learned anything about sex.

While I can lament the implications of that on a personal level, there is a darker side. No one ever taught me about consent. Until I came to college, I had no idea what the hell it was. I’d seen movies and modern television. I knew that rape was a thing. I might even have been able to stammer something about it being when a woman (of course men couldn’t be raped) was forced to have sex.

Of course, to me at the time, “forced” meant physically. Things like psychological manipulation, coercion, or abusing mind altering substances didn’t really factor into my thinking. I didn’t drink in highschool, but I had this idea that alcohol was essentially a tool to get people together. In 2007 the movie Superbad rocked my friend group. It showed what we imagined high school was going to be like (and maybe to a degree was for other people). It told us that even if you were a socially awkward geek all you needed was a kickin’ party and some alcohol, and even you could get with that girl you’ve been crushing on. At one point in Superbad Michael Cera’s character asks the friend of the girl he wants to date whether it’s unethical to have sex with a girl if she is drunk. She replies “Not if you’re drunk too.” (I couldn’t find the actual clip but it occurs somewhere around here.)

Superbad-10087566To a horndog fifteen year old that made perfect sense. If you’re both on the same level it isn’t “cheating”! While I still find Superbad and similar films entertaining, I’ve come to believe that too much of my sexual education came from movies and television shows that paid little attention to the matter of consent.

Fortunately for me, I had intelligent people to set me straight when I came to college. I learned that consent means getting an emphatic and clear “yes”. I learned that men can be raped, not only by men, but by women. I learned that sexuality isn’t a simple binary, that gender comes in all shapes, and that all these things are perfectly natural and normal. I’m certainly not an expert, but I’d like to think that, thanks to people who were knowledgeable and passionate about these topics, I turned out okay.

What really worries me are the kids who never met the sorts of people I did in college. I doubt my sexual education prior to college was unique. Until I came to UNI, I was ignorant, and while ignorance of the facts doesn’t excuse actions, I don’t think we should put all the blame on someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing is wrong, much less why.

We ought to ask how an otherwise decent individual could think it is acceptable to take a drunk person home to have sex. Especially because if you asked the same person if they would ever rape somebody, it’s likely they would emphatically say “no”.

The Big Picture: Are We too Critical of Progressive Celebrities?

Last year, when I began college, I was introduced to the secular and feminist movements. I learned quickly about skepticism, social justice, secularism, patriarchy, and other aspects of activism in these movements. Initially, I had a wonderful time getting angry about representation of women’s bodies in the media and climate change denial. I had interesting conversations with some really smart people and read about the goings-on of these movements online. I learned about the importance of “speaking out” and felt that my opinion and voice matters.

Unfortunately, throughout the last year, I have begun to sense a problem: I am not convinced that we, as members of a movement, are being skeptical enough about the criticisms we make. Sometimes, when we criticize, we fail to look at the big picture. All too often, I find feminists who are used to functioning in the unique feminist community criticizing trivial flaws in public figures who are at the forefront of making tangible change for our movement. People like Emma Watson, Richard Dawkins, and Sheryl Sandberg are smart, hardworking public figures with the power and motivation to change our society for the better. We, as members of a movement, must recognize three important things. First, powerful figures like Watson, Dawkins, and Sandberg inspire and engage the general public. Second, we (members of the feminist and secular movements) constitute a relatively small portion of the public. Third, we need the general public on our side if we plan to create significant change in our society. The aforementioned public figures and others like them bridge the gap between “social justice warriors” and the mainstream.

Here’s the problem: these figures face relentless criticism from members of a movement who very much need the general public on their side. As the young, active, liberal feminists that many of us are, it is easy to jump on the complain-train and harp on details that are only marginally problematic. After all, we surround ourselves with other rare, like-minded, left-wing progressives who understand that “they” can be a singular pronoun and regularly use the word intersectionality. This tendency to pounce on any slightly problematic publication, public figure, etc. is unproductive for our movements. Sure, Emma Watson’s speech at the UN didn’t cover the ways patriarchy benefits men, and sure, Richard Dawkins is kind of stuck up, and sure, Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In will mostly resonate with upper-middle class married white women, but do we need to be so harsh? Does the good work and do the good intentions of these influential public figures lose all merit just because of some flaws? I certainly hope not. As we all work towards a secular, non-discriminating society, we should spend our time and energy evaluating the intentions and examining the actual effects of generally well-meaning people’s work and actions, not fighting back against flaws unworthy of our attention.

Let’s look specifically at the example of Sheryl Sandberg and her book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. Sandberg is one of the most successful American businesswomen alive today. She is currently the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook; before that, she worked for Google. Sandberg is married to Dave Goldberg, CEO of SurveryMonkey. They have two young children. Sandberg has a background of privilege. To begin with, she is white, cisgender, and straight. Additionally, she comes from a privileged family, is extremely well-educated (she graduated at the top of her program in her Bachelor’s and Master’s programs at Harvard), and is very wealthy.

Sandberg’s book and the associated movement are about encouraging women to step forward or “lean in” at work. Most of her argument is nicely summarized in this TED talk. She focuses on women who work in high-level corporate jobs and addresses areas of concern for women in these positions and women who aspire to them. She talks about balancing personal life with work, having children, encouraging young women to be strong, and the statistical differences between men and women in society and everyday life. This book definitely has flaws. It focuses on action women can take to improve their own social status, but does not call out patriarchy for its inherent problems. It addresses problems faced by successful white women who, while becoming more successful, still want to have a marriage and children to love. Sandberg does not address race or class issues in any helpful way. But, this was not her goal.

Right from the get-go, Sandberg owns up to her privileged status and recognizes that many women face barriers about which Sandberg has never had to worry. “I am also acutely aware that the vast majority of women are struggling to make ends meet and take care of their families. Parts of this book will be most relevant to women fortunate enough to have choices about how much and when and where to work…I am writing [Lean In] for any woman who wants to increase her chances of making it to the top of her field or pursue any goal vigorously.” Her book is primarily for and about “women at the top.” She sincerely believes that having equal numbers of men and women at the top (as well as in the home) will create a better society overall. What feminist disputes this idea?

Many reasonable and well-supported criticisms of the book exist online. “Dig Deep: Beyond Lean In” by bell hooks is exceptional. In Lean In, Sandberg does not explain the history of the feminist movement or any feminist theory at all. Lean In perpetuates heteronormativity, and it fails to call for radical change in the treatment of women of color and other minority groups. Lean in doesn’t call for anything radical at all, and this is part of why she is successful. Radical messages like “take down the patriarchy,” do not resonate with the working women Sandberg reaches. Many women live happily in our patriarchal society, and while they would like to see some changes, they do not want to overturn the society we have going. Is there a platform for more radical messages and ideas? Absolutely. But we must also reach out to the greater general public. We can garner support from these members of the public, but proposing agendas of radical change and overturning power structures can seem reckless and brash in the eyes of someone who simply wants to move up at work. Someday, will the women who became empowered by Lean In take more action in as feminists lives and slowly join the greater feminist movement? They very well might. And even if they don’t eventually join the feminist movement, at least they received inspiring messages that made them feel strong and empowered.

A simple look at Lean In’s reviews on demonstrate the positive effects Sandberg’s book is having. Of the 2,815 reviews Lean In has on Amazon, a total of 2,411 give the book five or four stars (as of October 2014). Only 185 reviews give Lean In two or fewer stars. The two and one-star reviews tend to criticize Lean In for being generally problematic and only catering to the privileged few. The one and two-star reviewers tend to demonstrate at least some knowledge of the feminist movement and the myriad of ways ways women are socialized to be less successful than men. It’s great that there are people who understand the complexity of feminist issues and who are willing to fight from deep within the feminist movement, but looking at the four and five-star reviews paints a different picture of women’s understanding of feminism. The reviewers who give Lean In four and five stars praise the book for being inspirational and helping them understand problems women face in the workplace. They claim that Lean In has helped them be more confident, involved, and successful. They have used what they learned in Lean In to change their lives. Readers who enjoyed Lean In found the book so inspirational because the empowering message they received and the information they learned from Lean In was new to them. Additionally, women who were inspired and empowered by Lean In comprised the vast majority of reviewers. This means more and more women are coming to understand that it’s okay to be powerful and that the words ambition and selfishness are not synonymous. More women are being empowered, and in the end, that is wonderful for the feminist movement.

Criticism of Sandberg and her book is just one of many examples of members of a movement being overly critical of people, publications, ideas, etc. that are actually advancing the cause. We, as members of progressive movements, must think more carefully about the criticisms we make. Instead of jumping at everything problematic, we must first examine the impact these supposedly damaging concerns have on the real world. If, after examining the effects and responses from the general public, we still believe that a person, publication, or idea is problematic, then we may criticize. But before we rampantly rail on every single flaw, we must employ skepticism.


Piss Christ by Andres Serrano

Why Protecting Blasphemy Matters

Free speech is the whole thing, the whole ball game. Free speech is life itself.Salman Rushdie

In June of 2012, Raif Badawi, a Saudi Arabian blogger, was arrested on charges of insulting Islam. Badawi was also charged with apostasy, which carries the death penalty in Saudi Arabia. These charges were leveled against Badawi for founding a website dedicated to honest and open discourse about religion and politics. On his website he advocated for freedom of conscience and expression as well as women’s rights.

On May 7, 2014, Badawi was sentenced to 1000 lashes, 10 years in prison, and a fine of over a quarter of a million dollars.

Examples such as this illustrate the importance of the right to blaspheme and to offend, and we believe UNIFI has a responsibility to defend this right.

As many of you know, today is International Blasphemy Rights Day. Five years ago, we planned the first Blasphemy Rights Day on UNI’s campus. The right to blaspheme was under attack then, too. The Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy was still fresh on everyone’s minds, the UN was again considering passing a resolution opposing the defamation of religion, and Ireland had recently banned blasphemy. In our own state, an atheist bus campaign prompted our governor to say our existence personally disturbed him. We decided to take a stand for ourselves. While our event wasn’t perfect, we are proud of what it embodied. At the heart of Blasphemy Rights Day is the idea that while people deserve respect, ideas do not.

UNIFI must be there to protect the right to blaspheme; it must be one of the central goals of the group. In the words of Rushdie, “the moment you declare a set of ideas to be immune from criticism, satire, derision, contempt, freedom of thought becomes impossible.” Religious believers continue to tell us that their ideas are off-limits. They say we cannot depict Muhammad because Islam tells us not to, and that we can’t recognize Muhammad’s marriage to a six year old child as an act of pedophilia because it’s offensive to Islam. They say we can’t suggest it is more plausible that Mary lied than that divine impregnation occurred, or ponder publicly the absurd idea of a god who sends himself to be sacrificed so he can forgive the flawed beings that he created. We refuse to be bound by what we don’t believe.

We realize that blasphemy is offensive to many people, but this doesn’t exempt certain ideas from criticism; ideas have consequences. Because religious ideas are so central to the lives of adherents, and can inform their actions so strongly, these ideas are the ones which deserve the most scrutiny and criticism. These ideas have led people to kill or imprison others or burn down buildings in response to books and simple cartoons. This is why we need to take a principled stance. If this issue isn’t within the scope of UNIFI’s mission, we don’t know what is. We think that it is more offensive to follow a pedophile prophet or a holy book that prescribes contempt for women and gay people than it is to criticize such dogmas.

We feel that declaring any belief to be immune from criticism is an insult to humanity and progress. We are truly offended by such belief systems, and this is our stand. We will mock, criticize, and shed light on the negative aspects of any and all religious faiths in the name of reason, liberty, and the desire to make this world better for humanity.

We hope you will chalk depictions of Muhammad when the ability to do so — either through laws or violence — is threatened. We hope you will criticize and attack foolish religious ideas the same as foolish political ones. We hope you realize the value and importance of blasphemy. We hope you will work to protect it.

Cody Hashman, President 2007-2009
Trevor Boeckmann, President 2009-2011
Cory Derringer, President 2011-2012
Michael Dippold, President 2012-2013
Stef McGraw, President 2013-2014
Aaron Friel, President 2014

Thinking about Death as an Atheist

After spending a good amount of time listening to a CFI: Morning Heresy recording of an interview with mortician and death activist Caitlin Doughty, exploring her website, and watching videos on her YouTube channel, I have learned quite a bit about the industry of death and ways that people shy away from or become more comfortable with our mortality. This subject is new to me.

Until about two months ago, fear of and anxiety toward death were completely foreign to me. While I was growing up in the church, I was comforted by the promise of an afterlife in heaven with all my relatives and friends. During and after my transition out of faith, death was not something I thought about. After all, everybody dies and that’s that. Then, eleven months ago, my grandmother passed away — my first experience with the death of someone I cared for. Suddenly dying was something I couldn’t help but consider.

How do most of us approach death in the United States? We send the deceased to a funeral home, pay for their embalming, a casket, a burial plot, and a headstone. Doughty makes the point in her interview that we are removed from the process, which could play a part in our discomfort regarding not only death, but mortality itself. This can be true for religious and non-religious people alike. I felt very out-of-place at the funeral service for my grandmother, perhaps partially because of the undeniable religious undertones and readings from scripture. The whole experience seemed unreal though. We all cried, hugged, and mourned, but when I touched my grandma’s hand for the last time she felt like a Barbie, not a human. Is that death?

Doughty says that being around a dying body can bring a person closer to their loved one’s passing, but it also creates an awareness of your own inevitable death. While having time with the person and having a funeral or wake in a home is not a possible or desirable option for every family, it can bring people face to face with something that they frequently avoid.

How can we find comfort in someone’s or our own dying? I have no idea yet. But Caitlin Doughty does, and it’s not religious.

Fun resources by Caitlin Doughty:

OrderoftheGoodDeath on YouTube

California State University Sacramento

Links for the Sabbath

Religious tests for office are widely held to be unconstitutional, but what about tests for private businesses, or student organizations? This week’s topic: religious tests and student organizations.

Recently InterVarsity Christian Fellowship was de-recognized by the California State University system. The 23 university campuses stripped InterVarsity’s student organization status because each chapter requires a religious test for office, affirming Christian values in line with the national organization’s views.

Officers, not members, of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship must affirm the national org’s doctrinal basis. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has criticized the decision as detrimental to freedom of association. On the other side Eugene Volokh, prominent law professor at the UCLA School of Law, has previously argued that universities lack a duty to to subsidize student groups that have a discriminatory test for office.

Should student organizations be allowed to require ideological tests for office? Would it be reasonable for UNIFI to have Christian leadership? Weigh in and comment below!

The World and Us: Being A Spiritual Atheist

Recently over the summer, I had been thinking a lot about what I believe and what I know. I felt confused, lost, and frankly so frustrated that I couldn’t be content with conformity and the unquestioning nature that everyone from my hometown seemed to have about their Christian beliefs. I began to take long walks just to think, but eventually I found my inner dialogue would begin to mute as time passed by. I became content with silently soaking in and analyzing the beauty of each plant, animal, and cloud that I saw.

I began to wonder if by being an atheist, or at least agnostic, I was taking the wonder and beauty out of my perception of the world, as if by not believing in a supreme being I wasn’t allowed to appreciate nature or the connection that I felt with everything around me. Of course, I later realized that that was absurd, and that being an atheist only makes me understand and see this relativity to my surroundings even greater.

Spirituality, to me, is feeling like a part of the universe, connected to all of life around you. You don’t have to be religious and believe that you and all of life were specifically created by an external entity to feel an overwhelming connection to the universe.

647.original-1128The very atoms in the molecules that compose our bodies are traceable to stars, stars that once combusted to create the elements in which we are all made up of. Because of the death of these stars, everyone and everything that we see is connected not only to each other, but also to the cosmos. To quote the eloquent Neil deGrasse Tyson, “we are in the universe and the universe is in us.” I can’t see a more spiritual connection than knowing that you are made up of what you live in.

We can also see this connection in the history of our own DNA, which shares characteristics with all species on Earth. Humans are just one tiny speck of life in the ever growing and evolving tree of life, which started billions of years ago and now continues into the unknown. It blows my mind that we share common ancestors with everything from butterflies to bananas. Everything on Earth is related to every other thing, and though the thought of this huge tree of life, where humans are not the central and most integral branch, may at times make you feel tiny and unimportant, it can also make you feel big and vast when you realize that you are a part of something so all-encompassing.

I realized two things that summer. One, I really love nature. And two, I don’t think that I will ever find my answers nor know the meaning of life, but I do know that I can feel the trees whispering when it’s windy, and when the stars engulf the sky I feel big and small at the same time, and I know that everything and everyone is connected to everything and everyone, and that’s the most beautiful truth that I know.



Events for the Week, 9/15/2014

Wednesday, September 17, 6:30 PM – 7:30 PM: Know Your Arguments: Why God Exists

Join us in the Elm Room of the Maucker Union to hear arguments for the existence of god and a critical discussion. We’ll be headed to Beck’s after to continue the conversation.

Friday, September 19, 5:00 PM: UNIFI Goes to Food!

This Friday join members of UNIFI as we eat together in the Piazza dining center! We will be eating in one of the meeting rooms (to be decided) and would love to see you there!

Sunday, September 14, 11:00 AM: OUT WEEK BRUNCH!

Show your secular colors by wearing a UNIFI shirt to brunch, and buy a raffle ticket for our raffle next week to support the Northeast Iowa Food Bank! Speaking of…

Next week is Out Week!

Helping secular students be out about their beliefs, or lack thereof, with a week of service events! We’ll be raising money for the Northeast Iowa Food Bank with a raffle for donations from local businesses, tabling in the union with “Ask an Atheist” signage, and cap off the week with our Flying Spaghetti Monster Dinner on Thursday, September 25th!