Secular Student Union, University of Washington
The Secular Student Union (SSU) is a Registered Student Organization (RSO) at the UW where students are able to discuss their lack of faith. According to the RSO’s Web site, the group provides not just atheist, agnostic or otherwise nonreligious students, but all students, with a forum to “discuss and debate general issues of religion and philosophy.”
It is a venue for people to get together to discuss issues involving atheism and faith with no political agenda. It is open to people of all faiths and there is a different topic each week.
Last quarter, the SSU’s theme was religion outreach. The group invited different religious RSOs every week for a Q&A session. They hosted groups representing the Jewish, Mormon, Biblical Literalist, Hindu and Muslim communities. These sessions were extremely successful.
During the session, questions were asked about faith and beliefs of present religious people.
Students knew what they were talking about. This is not surprising, said Michael Amini, a junior and Near Eastern languages and civilization major, who is another officer for the SSU. Many atheists know the Bible better than many Christians do — which shows that they turn to atheism not out of ignorance, but as a rejection of what they have learned.
The session helped gain a better understanding of atheism and agnosticism, and as a result, it was possible to have an intelligent conversation without being ignorant or rude. Instead of causing believers to fall apart, this questioning of faith strengthened them.
There should be more meetings like this where people of different backgrounds can discuss these differences.
The SSU is working on doing just that. While many reactions atheists receive are benign curiosity, atheism is still viewed as OK to be prejudiced against. As a result of this prejudice, a lot of people stay “in the closet” or call themselves agnostic to avoid the stigma that comes with being an atheist.
Amini said that one of the most irritating reactions he gets when people find out he is atheist is the assumption that he has no morals. Contrary to this, Amini said that because he believes there is no divine justice and this is the only life he has, he is going to live it the best way possible. This makes for the view on his lack of morality interesting.
“Morality predates religion,” he said.
Amini has experienced the stigma of being atheist firsthand. Unlike others, who were raised in nonreligious families, Amini was raised Mormon. When he told his family that he was atheist, he said his mom told his sister that it would have been better if he had died, and his dad said he is not contributing to society. He said his parents still love him and welcome him in their home, but they don’t want him staying alone with his younger brother and sister.
These are the types of obstacles that people face for being different that need to be faced and discussed. “Most of the time, especially with young people, our cultural differences act as barriers instead of doors.” (Severin, member of SSU)
IHEYO welcomes its new member organisation inside the international network and is happy to open its wings further to America. We are thankful through our personal contact with Michael Amini from SSU and looking forward to a great collaboration.
taken from the website: http://thedaily.washington.edu/2008/6/5/members-secular-student-union-discuss-spirituality/