Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Your Freethought Library Update: Our Progress on a Snazzy Timeline!

It’s winter break and you know what that means – there’s finally time for a Freethought Library update! 2011 has been a fantastic year for ISSA (a review of that year to come) but the library is perhaps our most tangible accomplishment.

The idea was just one of many that came out of the Center for Inquiry's Student Leadership Conference back in June. At said conference, we learned that several other campus secular groups had created similar resources, but most (if not all) of these consisted of book trades between members. The concept appealed to me from the very beginning, but I found the possibility of having to begin anew every year daunting. Instead, I wanted the library to be a permanent fixture.

...Success! In just a few months my vision for the project came to fruition. With the help of our friends, loyal membership, the fine people of r/atheism and, in particular, the Center for Inquiry, we went from a handful of books to a legitimate collection – complete with an identifying stamp – in a matter of months! Here’s a little visual of our progress.

Pretty cool, huh? But we’re not done yet! We’ll continue to add to the library until we can’t accommodate anything more. Just yesterday a gently-used hardcover copy of Sagan's Broca’s Brain called to me from across a crowded Goodwill – a true Christmas miracle!

This year has been a rewarding one in many regards, but perhaps none more so than watching our membership excitedly browse this collection. In the true spirit of the season, we hope you’ll consider giving to the Freethought Library fund or, better yet, the Secular Student Alliance or Center for Inquiry on Campus. Their unwavering support makes projects like this one possible!

Whatever you celebrate (fingers crossed for Newton's birthday), happy holidays!


Friday, December 16, 2011

How Religion Holds the BSA Hostage

Back in November I wrote a blog post concerning how my love of the Boy Scouts of America conflicted with my Atheism. I discussed how I reconciled these beliefs, and believe the BSA can do the same. It was pretty well received and I got some very useful comments, overall there was much revelry (and ego stroking on my part) to be had. After all this was said and done, I was still left with a feeling that there was far more left in this topic to be explored. Most of this is occupied with how religion affects scouting, how various churches have enormous influence on the BSA, and how they use this influence to force the BSA into maintaining and upholding its discriminatory views.

To get right to the meat of the issue, I have to discuss the meaning of a chartering organization. When it comes to funding, at the troop level most groups aren't exactly rolling in the dough; everything they receive goes right to the scouts (as it should). So when it comes to finding a location for a troop to organize, they look for someone to sponsor them, to take the scouts in and use their space as their own. Sometimes these are schools or other federal buildings. But overwhelmingly the troops are sponsored by churches, with 68.4% of all scout units chartered sponsored by a religious group. Units referring to scout troops, cub packs, and venture crews.

Most of these religious sponsors are some flavor of Christianity, with the LDS church taking the lead, laying claim to 33% of all scouting units. Following closely behind are Methodist and Catholic churches (with 9.8% and 7.6% of units respectively) and then pretty much every religious group past that has a few units to its name.

Scouting With Jesus
Now there's something about that number, the 68.4%, that really scares me. It's not just the mere concept of making 2.6 million kids, starting at 7 years old, associate the church with their physical, mental and moral development under the scouts. What scares me is that the churches, on a national level, have used their sheer numbers to adjust scouting's policies to fit that of the church's views.

Now a bold claim like that requires some backup, and to do that I am going to bring you back to the court case that put controversy in scouts on the map, the case of Boy Scouts vs Dale. As I talked briefly about in my earlier post, this court case was concerning whether refusing to allow homosexuals into the BSA counted legally as discrimination. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the BSA, stating how the decision was allowed under their freedom of association to eject those who disagree with scouting message.

I bring up the Dale decision because it made me wonder why the BSA was so firmly against admitting homosexual and atheist members, I mean Scouting relies on a steady influx of new members and leaders to stay afloat, why would they avoid those who disagree with a small portion of scouting's message while exemplifying the rest; not to mention having to deal with all the bad karma that came from a lengthy and highly publicized court case. I mean surely it was not worth losing all that goodwill because of a few people? Well that's where the churches come in.

You cannot ignore the fact that the BSA's views on homosexuality and atheism line up pretty well with that of the various churches, and the church has it in their interest to keep it as such. In fact during the BSA vs Dale case the Mormon church went so far as officially stating that in the event the Boy Scouts admitted homosexual men, the LDS church would immediately withdraw all support from the organization. "Should the LDS Church leave the program, it would take more than 400,000 Scouts and 30,000 scout troops with it." not to mention whatever pressure was coming at them from the other churches. It's almost like organized religion has the Boy Scouts of America by the short and curlies.

Could you imagine that? The church using its vast numbers to twist and persuade a group to do its bidding, promising immediate failure to any who disagree with them in minor ways. Why, this is beginning to sound a lot like political campaigns, public policy making, or any of the many ways religion has its fingers in everybody's pies. It's a traditional move of the churches to do this, and I am so god-damned angry that gay and atheist children are being deprived of a wonderful organization because of it.

Lord Baden-Powell, founder of the worldwide scouting movement, once wrote: "The religion of a man is not the creed he professes but his life -- what he acts upon, and knows of life, and his duty in it. A bad man who believes in a creed is no more religious than the good man who does not." The Boy Scouts of America absolutely has the capacity to act as a secular organization and still maintain the morality it asks of its members. If only religious organizations would let it do so.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Militant Atheist Says We Should Love God

For most of us, this year’s Thanksgiving wasn’t any different from years past. For right-wing Christians, though, the day was marked by a shocking piece of Obamadrama. In his Thanksgiving address, Obama said he is thankful to serve as President, that his daughters get to be raised in this country, and for the chance to improve our future. Can you see it? There’s a God shaped hole in his speech! While the atheist community reacted in this way, Christians flipped out, even calling him a "militant atheist".

Remember, everything we should be thankful for is due to God. Not luck or hard work.

Probably due to this overreaction, Obama’s Christmas Tree Lighting speech last Thursday was all about Jesus. Normally, I wouldn't mind; everyone has the right to talk about their personal beliefs. However, as President, he should be particularly cautious not to make blatantly false generalizations: "[Jesus] taught us a message as simple as it is powerful: That we should love God, and love our neighbor, as ourselves ... No matter who we are, where we come from, or how we worship, it's a message that can unite all of us on this holiday season."

Yes, there is actually a site called evilGOPbastards.com
Loving God isn't a message our entire nation can embrace, and clearly it divides rather than unites us. What's wrong with gathering in front of the White House "simply to light some decorations"? While some think Obama was making an analogy to immigration reform, particularly the DREAM Act, I disagree. I think Obama was just trying to appeal to the majority, especially after the GOP's Thanksgiving fiasco. Still, it's disappointing to hear such reverence of scripture considering the controversial stance he took while still a senator.

By trying to cater to religious voters, Obama is forgetting the ideals that gained him support from many secularists. While it's amusing that conservatives get so riled up when Obama simply doesn't include religion in a speech, it's acceptable for us to be irritated at this Christian pandering. When government officials don't mention religion, we don't "win". It doesn't mean they're favoring atheists over believers - it means they're respecting the fact that our nation is diverse and governed by human laws.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

One week left to the semester... We'll mISSA you over break!

The weekly email of the Illini Secular Student Alliance!
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Greetings, sleepy secularists!
We know these days are rough. Final exams are upon us, and tensions are high. You're probably procrastinating already... So why not do it with ISSA? Read on for details of our last few events this semester!

ISSA Blood Drive
Heathens bleedin' for a good cause! Join us this Thursday, December 8th at the Wright Street YMCA and do your part to help save a life! RSVP via the Facebook event page, and sign up here to donate or here to volunteer your time.

Ugly Sweater Party
Cover that tacky blood donor band-aid up with an even tackier sweater and join us for one last shindig before winter break! This year's end-of-term party will be held at Debbie's place in Urbana this Saturday, December 10th at 9pm. RSVP via the Facebook event page.

One Final Note: If you currently have a book checked out of the Freethought Library, please contact Becca to renew or arrange a meetup time for return. To the rest of you, it's not too late to check something out!
Freethought Library
Read our blog!
 Got something secular(ish) on your mind? BLOG ABOUT IT! Posts from members are always welcome -- simply email lliniSSA@illinois.edu if you're interested.
Heathens gotta represent! Get your ISSAwear here.

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