Dartmouth Group for Atheists Is Sorely Needed, Says Catholic Columnist April 30, 2010

Dartmouth Group for Atheists Is Sorely Needed, Says Catholic Columnist

I’ve been involved with and heard about interfaith dialogues at colleges, where representatives of various faiths talk about their beliefs. It’s nice, everyone is friendly, but you don’t really get anything out of it.

Brendan Woods, a student at Dartmouth, isn’t a fan of that approach:

I’ve noticed the same phenomenon at the various “interfaith” discussion forums and dinners I’ve attended here. While the conversation starts down an interesting path, it soon devolves into the same platitudes and uninteresting discussion that we have heard time and again. At best, the participants leave with knowledge that they could have learned from 15 minutes on a few Wikipedia pages. In the words of C.S. Lewis, religious conversations progress “so rightly, charitably, spiritually, sensitively, so anything but usefully.” As a result, talking about religion — a topic which should incite excitement and passion — is boring.

Brendan’s a Catholic, but he’s in support of the newly formed “Atheists, Humanists and Agnostics” group at the college. He’s also a fan of their new approach to interfaith discussions:

The Apologia [a Christian journal] and AHA are already planning on holding a sort of written debate, in which each group will write papers and then respond to the other’s points. The results will be published in a special edition of the Apologia.

Very cool. I can’t wait to see how that plays out.

There’s one side issue to point out: The AHA (founded by student CiCi Liu) was having trouble getting official recognition from the school:

Due to some administrative confusion at Tucker over whether they constitute a “religious” group or not, the organization cannot receive a Blitzmail account or any of the other benefits College-recognized clubs receive.

I don’t know how Tucker should classify AHA. I do know, however, that honest religious discussion is sorely needed on campus. If there is a group that offers to contribute to positive and productive dialogue, I think Dartmouth should be all for it.

For what it’s worth, I spoke with CiCi via email and she tells me their group should be getting recognition soon — it’s just a matter of some relatively quick paperwork now.

It’s wonderful seeing secular students taking charge on campus and leading the way to facilitate these types of interfaith discussions. It’s amazing how many people manage to avoid conversations which are critical of their beliefs during their college years and beyond.

Brendan is right — AHA is sorely needed. The faster they get recognized, the more they’ll be able to get done, even as this school year comes to a close.

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  • Reginald Selkirk

    Due to some administrative confusion at Tucker over whether they constitute a “religious” group or not…

    For first amendment purposes, which is probably the relevant standard, atheism does constitute a “religion.”

  • David D.G.

    Good on Brendan for his open-mindedness, his candor, and his intellectual integrity. He sounds like the sort of Catholic I would like to know.

    ~David D.G.

  • Erp

    Dartmouth is private so they don’t have to follow first amendment standards. My guess is it is mostly quibbling about where to place the group.

    I believe Stanford’s AHA! is listed as a Philosophical group not Religious but is also a member of Stanford Associated Religions (though not even all Stanford religious groups are members of that).

    I look forward to seeing what Dartmouth’s Apologia prints.

  • Mala Malum

    This is great to hear. I’m a (graduate) student at Dartmouth that only recently ‘came out’ so-to-speak about not believing in god to my family and roommate. My family has southern Baptist and evangelical roots (as does my roomie) but surprisingly I didn’t get the fire and brimstone I was expecting.

    Anyway, I’ve been looking for a group like this in the area and I am happy to hear about AHA.

  • I agree that interfaith dialogs are boring. In the words of Sam Harris, “it’s like debating the names of Santa’s reindeer”. In my experience, (I’ve organized a few dialogues at the University of New Orleans, and South Eastern Louisiana Unversity, and am hoping to have one at Louisiana State University and LA Tech in the fall), if there’s an atheist involved, (me), the conversation usually reverts to “everyone against the atheist” because of the challenge to the very foundation of everyone else’s beliefs.

    That’s when it gets interesting.

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