A Second Atheist Group at Ball State? September 9, 2009

A Second Atheist Group at Ball State?

Lauren Rumpler at Ball State University is starting an atheist group there.

“I noticed that there wasn’t a group for non-believers,” she said. “I feel like everyone should have a place to discuss their beliefs.”

The group’s goals will be to talk about what other religions believe, why atheists’ beliefs differ and how to dispel any bad connotations people have about atheism, Rumpler said. She said a lot of people have negative notions about Atheists, such as they are radicals or are out to harm other people.

“I want people to realize that atheists are the same kind of people that everyone else is; they just believe differently,” she said.

That’s awesome — I wish the group the best of luck. The first meeting sounded like it was a blast by location alone:

The Atheist Society’s first meeting [was] at 5 p.m. Sunday in front of the Naked Lady in Bracken Library.

(Lauren, you’re doing it wrong. You don’t introduce the debauchery until the second meeting.)

Actually, there is another issue not mentioned in the article.

According to the Secular Student Alliance’s most recent affiliation survey from last Spring, there is already a group for atheists on campus — the Ball State University Freethought Alliance. (I confirmed that the group still does exist and will be starting their own meetings shortly.)

Which means there are two groups for atheists on this campus.

This raises an interesting dilemma.

As atheists become more vocal and public, there may come a time when it’s fairly normal to see more than one atheist group on a given campus.

I’ve seen upwards of 70-80 Christian groups at major universities. They separate themselves based on worship-style, ethnicity, denomination, etc. I always thought that was silly, even if their reasons for having certain groups made some sense. It seems to me they would be more powerful if they were one strong Christian voice on campus instead of so many fragmented groups, only some of which work together on certain issues.

So what should happen with us? Should atheists welcome multiple freethought groups on any one campus or should we work on starting/building/maintaining just one strong group at any one school?

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Epistaxis

    I notice the existing group didn’t use the dirty A-word anywhere on its Facebook page. Maybe that’s why Ms. Rumpler apparently wasn’t aware of them?

  • Hopefully the two groups will learn about each other and merge amoeba-like to an even more powerful atheist group.

  • Lykeros

    Should atheists welcome multiple freethought groups on any one campus or should we work on starting/building/maintaining just one strong group at any one school?

    I think any campus should welcome multiple groups. It would obviously be more uniting and provide a more powerful voice for there to be only one group with a larger member base, but this isn’t always possible.

    As with any “denomination” of belief, even atheists disagree on the way things may be handled or the message that they are trying to portray. Being part of group that is affiliated with the SSA, I’ve often run into people who have a variety of beliefs within the freethought community. People who just want to argue with theists and confront them, people who would be labeled “new atheists” by theists, accommodationist atheists.

  • Shannon

    I think multiple groups make sense if those groups have different focuses. That’s why Christians have mutliple groups right? But as someone else pointed out, the other group doesn’t even use the word atheist. So it looks like this isn’t a case of them *wanting* to start a different group, but that perhaps the first group isn’t advertising itself well. I mean, if a Christian group never used the word Christian, it wouldn’t be surprising if no one knew what they were.

    I just followed their facebook link to their website and I don’t see the word atheist on their “about” page either, though the word “secular” does show up.

    I’m partial to the word atheist myself and wish people would use it more instead of trying to find ways around it.

  • matilda

    As a Ball State alum all I can say is YAY!

  • Sesoron

    This calls to mind the fallacious argument posed by the South Park folks, that in a world without religion, atheists would fight over what to call themselves. Sure, we’ve got our words like “secularists”, “humanists”, “new atheists”, “freethinkers”, etc., but in general we don’t consider it worth fighting about. Maybe humanistic atheists versus the rare nihilistic atheists, but that’s basically a classic good versus evil conflict. No, I rather think that we’d have better reasons to fight when ideology becomes a less social and more personal kind of thing.

  • False Prophet

    At my school, the East Asian students had this down to a science: there was a Chinese Students Association, a South East Asian Students Society, a Korean Students Society, a Chinese Engineers Society, etc.–and their memberships had a lot of overlap. This in itself was not unusual (I joined the German Club despite being neither German nor taking German classes, but so I could go to Oktoberfest with them), but all these societies would frequently co-sponsor events, and because they were technically separate clubs, they each received funding from the student union. I was a member of the gaming society, and our president at the time half-jokingly considered forming separate role-playing, card-gamers and war-gamers groups to triple our collective funding.

    So if there is a clear benefit to having multiple organizations on campus, I would definitely exploit it.

  • flatlander100

    The more groups, the merrier, I say. These are free association affinity groups, and if they each draw somewhat different groups of people, with somewhat different interests, preferring somewhat different activities — with somewhat different styles, so to speak — well, what’s not to like?

    It could go bad I guess if they begin behaving like so many campus Christian groups, and each seeks to grow by ridiculing, demeaning and attacking the other. That’s possible — atheists, free thinkers, what have you have egos they like massaged like anyone else — but it doesn’t seem likely.

  • Sesoron – I loved that South Park episode so much, I named my blog after the most logical of all names, allied atheist alliance. “Allied Atheist Alliance! That way it has three A’s! That is the logical choice!” Hee hee.

  • There are two secular groups on my campus – George Mason University – although the second one does not have University recognition.

  • Amy G

    I absolutely think there should be more than one atheist/freethought/etc. group on each campus. Atheists can have varied views just like non-atheists do. I am sure that my personal views about the world would be argued by many atheists. That’s not to say that I’m less atheist than some other atheists, but that atheism is not a set of beliefs that apply to everyone who says they’re atheist. Therefore, it makes sense that atheists can have multiple “atheist” groups with different objectives and ideas.

  • Miko

    Don’t forget that in addition to economies of scale, there are also diseconomies of scale. There are significant advantages to having multiple small groups instead of one large group. A large group has a tendency to drown out weaker voices, enforce orthodox thinking, and become mired in bureaucracy. A large group makes real democracy impossible(*). Consider the fact that the Christian groups mentioned don’t all participate in the same projects, indicating that they have different goals. In a large group dynamic, the minority voices would be stifled and the organization wouldn’t be able to engage in diverse projects like that. All of our in-fighting about bus ads, lawsuits, and other “strategies” may be annoying to those who want to harness our numbers to push through their political agendas, but it’s healthy and beneficial for everyone except those few at the top.

    (*) e.g., those who say that voting in national U.S. elections doesn’t matter are correct; statistically speaking, the outcome of our elections with 100 million voters are essentially the same as they’d be with 1,000-10,000 random voters.

  • Marissa C.

    As vice-president of the BSU Freethought Alliance, I have to say that our name choice had to do with the fact that we were reviving a group that had been defunct for a few years. Picking up the same name allowed us to avoid doing a pile of paperwork that starting a “new” group would have entailed.

    And yes, we should advertise better. 🙂

  • Does “freethought” necessarily imply “atheism”?

    Does atheism necessarily imply freethought?

    If not, they are not synonymous.

    I believe it’s possible to be a freethinking theist (such as some kinds of deist).

    There may be strong overlap, but there’s a strong overlap between many other kinds of campus group.

  • The Other Tom

    When I read this page, I was thinking about what would differentiate two atheist groups on a campus. This lead me to thinking about what groups would have a natural symbiosis with an atheist group, and that leads me to…
    A Suggestion for Campus Atheist Groups:
    Send a couple members to a meeting of your campus gay and lesbian group. Invite everyone in the gay group to join the atheist group. Make sure they know they’re welcome and wanted. Keep in touch with the leaders of the gay group, and ask them politely to let their members know about your upcoming meetings (which of course you’ll keep them aware of by sending an email once a month or so), and in turn, make sure the atheist group knows about upcoming meetings of the gay group. Not all gay people are atheist, but a lot are, and a lot are damned sick of being put-upon by religious groups all the time. Helping them to understand that atheists will welcome and accept them would be a positive force in their lives in many ways, and could help them out of their own conflicts with religion.

    I think it would be a successful way to gain new members. And, announcing the gay group’s meetings to the atheist group as a courtesy could be helpful to those members of the atheist group who are gay and lesbian.

  • I think one large, strong group will often be better… but if people have different focuses (foci?), then two or more is fine, and even to be encouraged. For instance, if some people want to focus on socializing and being a safe place for atheists to meet other atheists, and other people want to focus on activism and debate in the larger world… two groups would probably make sense.

    But it does highlight the problem with names like “freethinkers” and “humanists.” Not everyone knows what those words mean. Heck, even non-believers don’t necessarily know what those words mean. It’s like calling your organization the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis. It made sense in the days of the closet… but if you want people to find you, eventually you have to just bite the bullet and call yourself lesbian and gay.

  • I read some of the comments that were left on the BSU news website, and it seems that the two groups have somewhat different points of focus. One of the people who commented mentioned that s/he felt uncomfortable bringing up specifically atheist issues, because the group was more about humanist and secular issues. While most atheists do usually care about humanism and secularism, we do have strictly atheist concerns that it is nice to be able to talk about… like how you deal with coming out to your friends/family, discrimination, etc. that are not necessarily appropriate for a group that is not strictly about atheism.

  • Here in the UK we’ve got a similar situation, in that there are two non-religious student groups at Oxford: the Secular Society and the Atheist Society. It works well for us because they have different focuses – one more on the political aspect/real world effects of religion and the other on more abstract “does God exist?” topics. They occasionally work together to put on joint events but otherwise operate quite happily separately. Of course they share a fair few members!

    I think in general though, a single strong group is preferable. Over here being an atheist isn’t really a huge deal, although there can be a lot of bad feeling between secular and religious groups on campus, so there’s less of a worry of being drowned out or destroyed if we’re divided. The real problem is event crossover!

  • Claudia

    Whether to make a new group or to integrate into a pre-existing one, no matter what the subject (be it religion, politics or knitting) depends on the focus each group wants and how many people there are. If we’re talking about a very small number of people and essentially identical priorities, integration into a larger group makes sense. If you’ve got more people and/or a sigificantly different focus (public relations, or legal defense, or charity) then a new group is best.

    Just as long as things don’t become ill-intentioned rivalries and the groups are able to collaborate on larger projects, there doesn’t need to be any problem with many groups.

  • stogoe

    I’m all for multiple groups. What if the board of the only atheist group on campus are a bunch of tools? Just because you and I don’t believe in gods doesn’t mean we’ll get along.

  • ChameleonDave

    Does “freethought” necessarily imply “atheism”?

    Certainly. Claiming to be a free thinker whilst believing in fairies and suchlike is like claiming to be abstemious whilst smelling of booze.

    Does atheism necessarily imply freethought?

    No. You could also have no believe in gods simply by means of never having thought about it.

  • BrettH

    ChameleonDave: It seems humorously ironic to me to accept a definition of “freethought” because someone else firmly told you so. So even though I agree with you definition, I’m not sure it’s a useful term to use publicly. To use a religious metaphor, it seems to be preaching to the choir.

    I like the idea of two atheist groups on a college campus just because the feel of different groups can be very different. I went to an atheist meeting at a school I used to go to, and the entire meeting consisted of sitting around talking about how to convince Dan Barker (a man I find quite irritating) to come speak at our school, and brainstorming was to annoy the Christians on campus. I may not be a theist, but I like to think I have better things to do with my time than sitting around plotting against people who are theists. With only the one option on campus, I just gave up and stopped attending all together.

  • SPLITTER!

    Seriously, though: it’s best to have a single group. Adding members to a single group increases power exponentially; adding another group is multiplicative, at best. However, if there’s a justifiable split, two groups are better than a single group that tears itself apart.

  • Shannon

    I thought “freethinker” meant thinking for yourself, not “thinking only what other freethinkers agree to think”? 😉

    Seriously though, is there a strict definition of the word? I really thought it meant what I wrote above and I can certainly see how someone can be a freethinker and believe in a god at the same time.

    But yeah, if the old group isn’t, strictly speaking, an atheist group, then it’s not a duplication at all.

    Ahem. And I also really think that a gaming group *would* be better split into card games, RPGs, etc. What’s the issue with that? 😉

  • Lauren Rumpler

    This is Lauren Rumpler, The founder of this new atheist organization at Ball State University. We are calling it the Atheist, Agnostic, and Non-believers Student Society just so you know. 🙂

    I did know about the Free-Thought Alliance when I created this group. I talked to some members of it to get an idea of what the group mainly talked about. They said it was exactly as it was described: secular. This group that I have created is really for the real-deal atheists. This is a group that welcomes everyone but its more about talking about atheism and promoting the idea of “Knowledge is Power,” which will ultimately become our slogan. I have been talking with the Free-Thought Alliance and they want to definitely help the organization grow and collaborate on community service so that the organization can show the ideas of secular humanism. The Free-Thought Alliance agrees that they are not really an atheist group. They are for all faiths and non-faiths to discuss the ideas, but this organization I am creating is all about letting people know that there are some strong atheists out there and they they will be heard.

    Thanks for the blog post! It is great that people are paying attention to this movement!

    “Knowledge is Power”