Wednesday, March 28, 2012

ISSAn't it good to be back?


The weekly email of the Illini Secular Student Alliance!
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Illini Secular
Student Alliance
Greetings, skeptical schoolmates!
We hope this email finds you well-rested and caught up on your studies (*wink wink nudge nudge*). We've got an action-packed few weeks in store for you! Read on for details...

Weekly Meeting
This week's meeting will take place Thursday, March 29th at 7:30pm in Noyes 165 -- click here for a map. 

On The Agenda
This week, Max will ruminate on the historical role of religion in war. Plus, it's that time again! Franklin will talk about ISSA's executive officer positions and what you can do to get involved.

ISSA at Murphy's
After the meeting, we'll adjourn to Murphy's, as is our tradition. We welcome anyone and everyone who can make it, regardless of whether or not you plan to drink. It's a great chance to get to know your officers and godless cohorts better!
~Upcoming~
ISSA Barcrawl
(Tuesday, April 3rd)

NOTE THE NEW DATE! We've yet to hash out the details, but ISSA barcrawls are always a hoot -- stay tuned! And while you're at it, be sure to get yourself an ISSA shirt (now discounted to $10) if you don't have one already!
Talkmaggedon
(Thursday, April 12th)

Join us for an exciting panel discussion between a variety of both religious and nonreligious students as they grapple with a difficult question: How could a benevolent and loving god allow evil to occur?
~Upcoming~
Jamila Bey
(Thursday, April 5th)

Journalist and renowned African American atheist Jamila Bey will visit to speak about the role religion plays in the black community and the difficulty of coming out as a black atheist. Jamila is one of the most insightful, hilarious, endearing people you'll ever meet -- you won't want to miss it! Details to come.
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.
ISSAwear
T-Shirts now just $10. Get your ISSAwear here.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Reason Rally Wrap-Up

I suppose I ought to preface my remarks here with one simple observation on my part: Never in my life have I ever been to an event this exciting with a crowd so energized. I have been to my fair share of large gatherings, such as sporting events, only to see fairweather fans skip out at the 7th inning stretch or bail at the first sight of rain. There was none of that here. From the opening remarks to the closing ceremonies ~20k atheists cheered, jeered, sang, and danced through the cold and the rain.

In essence, this embodies the unbreakable spirit of our movement. These are people not stubbornly fixated on their own self-righteousness due to rigid ideology or a lack of imagination. They are a people who are wholly unwavering in their search for objective truth through empirical reasoning and the scientific method. And they will not be silenced - not because they are obstinately set in their ways but because they are quite simply correct.

The following are my reflections on the day as best I can convey them. And while we do have plenty of pictures, there is no way one simple picture could do the crowd justice.

Panoramic view of the crowd from the South Side of the National Mall
I first arrived at the beginning of a solemn presentation of the colors of the armed forces and the singing of the national anthem. Looking into the crowd during that ceremony, I found it unbelievable that anyone could call them unpatriotic. Former and current military personnel reaffirmed their official oaths as others stood out of respect of the service for their country. It was an ideal tone with which to begin such a historic event in a place like the National Mall.

Things got rolling quickly with American Atheists' own David Silverman, of "can't explain that" rage face notoriety. Those who have seen him speak know he's equally notorious for his ability to fire up a crowd. He knows who his best supporters are and played to them well, encouraging all within the crowd to come together and identify simply as atheists.

"Make sure nobody who knows you thinks they don't know any atheists!"
Shortly thereafter, Silverman turned things over to the Friendly Atheist Hemant Mehta. Taking a practical and charasmatic approach, Mehta was the first among many  to encourage members of the crowd to become more involved with local politics and school boards so as to keep ignorance from controlling the high school curriculum. At the end of the talk, he presented the one and only Jessica Ahlquist with over sixty thousand dollars in college funds raised by her sympathizers from all over the country.  


Ahlquist then took the podium to express her sincere thanks and humility for all the support she has received over many grueling months. She briefly summarized her experiences as a target of religious bigotry, emphasizing how important the atheist community had been to her through the entire ordeal. Hers is a story emblematic of how issues of right and wrong are perceived by freethinkers all over the world. While 'good Christians' viciously attacked her, thousands of secularists remained steadfast in their support. She cheerfully embraced the title of 'evil little thing' to uproarious applause.

"I'm here not because I'm an accomplished biologist, or a famous writer. I'm here because I'm a student and I'm here to tell you that what I did can be done by anybody."
Now I wouldn't consider myself the kind of person to swoon at the sight of a major celebrity, but the second I saw Mythbusters' Adam Savage take the stage with an awesome hat, I knew it was all over. While many presenters were content to coast along on their fame (see: Bill Maher), it was apparent that Savage put a lot of time and thought into his presentation. I can only speak certainly for myself, but judging by the reaction of the crowd his desire to say something truly meaningful earned him a tremendous amount of respect.

"I play a scientist on TV. I am in awe of those who do it for real."
At this point the rain was really coming down, accompanied by the slow rumbling of thunder off in the distance. I thought was a fitting background for beloved firebrand Greta Christina, who has made it a personal challenge to explain to the layperson why exactly atheists are so angry. It was an abbreviated version of a talk I had seen her give in November, but her genuine expression of emotion gave me chills yet again. I'm sure everyone has their doubts about social activism at times, but when you hear someone like Greta talk, you know you're doing the right thing.
"We atheists aren't angry because we're selfish, or bitter, or joyless. We atheists are angry because we have compassion. We atheists are angry because we have a sense of justice."
Next up was a woman from Bangladesh named Taslima Nasrin. I had never heard of her before in my life and wasn't at all excited to hear her speak. But it only took a couple minutes to see how very mistaken I was. Nasrin  is an incredible person who was exiled from her native country for her savage critique of Islam. It seemed to me that she may have been the single most courageous person to speak all day, considering the great personal risk that comes with asserting the Prophet Muhammed was not a man of good character, but was indeed a liar and a pedophile (as she does).

"Islam is not compatible with human rights, women's rights, secularism, or freedom of expression." 
Shortly thereafter, Penn Jillette gave the first pre-recorded video address of the day. Many people, myself surely included, were disappointed that he could not present in person. He explained this was due to a prior contract obligation, which for some celebrities may have been a cop out. Instead, it became a focal point of his presentation: that he honors contracts because it is morally correct to do so, and that decisions about what is or isn't morally correct are best made through logical reasoning. He encouraged all atheists not just to be "good without god," but to assert they are better than those who would blindly follow scripture.


By the time Tim Minchin took the stage the rain was so bad that he doubted he would be able to perform at all. But sure enough he kicked off his shoes and socks (and his pants, almost) and blew everyone away. As he finished his first song, Confessions, it stopped raining and the sun came out very briefly - as if by the magical power of boobs. I had never really listened to his music, so it was an absolute delight to me.

"Fuck I love boobs, though."
The next speaker I saw was journalist Jamila Bey, whose passionate activism I sincerely admire. Her fiery speech took the crowd back to a more serious mood as she encouraged students to make sure America knows where its future is headed. When her speech ended, there was so much applause that I felt like she might well have marched us all down to Capitol Hill herself.
"We secular Americans have too long been without a voice...Today we come out into the light of reason."
She was followed by one of my personal favorite skeptics, Michael Shermer. He came to the podium with his cell phone camera out, and I'm so glad he did because it's by far the best way to show how unfathomably big this crowd was (see the video below). Shermer's contribution was extremely important because he always takes care to endorse skepticism in all walks of life, not just towards organized religion.


It was around this time that a few of us from ISSA wandered off in search of sustenance, and in so doing happened to run into the Westboro Baptist Church. It appears as though they had been cordoned off some distance away by the local police, unlike many other groups of Christians protesting the event.


Speaking of which, someone handed us a flyer on the "real" Reason Rally, which exemplifies tautological reasoning to a degree that I've never even thought possible.


I got back in time to see the tail end of a video by Bill Maher. He presented in the same sort of way Penn Jillette did, except instead of spending time making a video with an original message he sent in a clip from a show he did back in February. It even referenced "the upcoming Super Bowl." Nobody showed up the Reason Rally to watch reruns. Maher ought to be ashamed of himself.

Fuck this guy.
After a bit of buildup from surrogates from his foundation, headliner Richard Dawkins gave the crowning speech. He praised the American government for establishing the principle of a wall of separation of church and state. While typically I would prefer that intellectuals stick to discussing what they study - in Dawkins case, evolutionary biology - he gave a rousing performance. I could not hope to do him justice with my own description, so I encourage you to watch his talk for yourself. 


In short, I found the Reason Rally to be nothing short of inspiring. At the end of the day, I was more moved by those in attendance than the speakers themselves. It wasn't 25,000 white male college students. People were there representing almost every demographic. It was a level of diversity unmatched at any other event I've attended. 

I hope this is just a sign of things to come.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Spring Break ISSA almost upon us! (New meeting time this week!)




The weekly email of the Illini Secular Student Alliance!
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Illini Secular
Student Alliance
Greetings, Naughty Non-theists!
A week from now, you will be enjoying a well-deserved spring break! But don't skip town just yet, because we at ISSA have a spectacular week planned for you. Read on for details...

Weekly Meeting
We're switching the time and place for this next meeting: it will take place Thursday, March 15th at 7:00pm in David Kinley Hall room 317 -- click here for a map.

On The Agenda
It's board game night again! Come on by and don't forget to bring along some of your favorite games. We will be joined by our new friends at Interfaith in Action and Building Bridges. Afterwards we will adjourn to Murphy's, as is our tradition. This Thursday will be a great way to unwind right before your break. Again, the meeting will be at 7:00pm in David Kinley Hall room 317.

The Reason Rally
If you're signed up to go to the Reason Rally, you know that our drivers will be taking off at 8:00 am on Thursday, March 22nd for our nation's capitol. It promises to be an historic event that we will never forget.
~Upcoming~
ISSA Barcrawl
(Tuesday, March 27)

The perfect opportunity to party it up before the second half of the semester comes at us full-force. We've yet to hash out the details, so stay tuned. And while you're at it, be sure to get yourself an ISSA shirt (now discounted to $10) if you don't have one already!
~Upcoming~
Talkmaggedon
(Thursday, April 12)

Join us for an exciting panel discussion between a variety of both religious and nonreligious students as they grapple with a difficult question: How could a benevolent and loving god allow evil to occur?
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.
ISSAwear
T-Shirts now just $10. Get your ISSAwear here.

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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

This nice weather is almost diSSArming!


The weekly email of the Illini Secular Student Alliance!
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Illini Secular
Student Alliance
Greetings, Funky Freethinkers!
Spring Break is fast approaching, but we're not done with you yet! If you haven't heard the news, we just added a ton of new titles to ISSA's Freethought Library. Reserve a book now so you've got something to read over break. And while you're at it, relieve those midterm anxieties with your favorite heathens! Read on for details...

Weekly Meeting
As always, this week's meeting will take place Thursday, March 8th at 7:30pm in Noyes 165 -- click here for a map.

On The Agenda
Longtime ISSA member and LOGOS president Jake Herman ruminates on the evolution of religion and altruism, and what that means for us! We're pumped. :)

ISSA at Murphy's
After the meeting, we'll adjourn to Murphy's, as is our tradition. We welcome anyone and everyone who can make it, regardless of whether or not you plan to drink. It's a great chance to get to know your officers and godless cohorts better!
~Upcoming~
The Reason Rally
(Saturday, March 24th)

The first event of its kind, and in our nation's capital, no less! Guests will include Richard Dawkins, Adam Savage, Tim Minchin, James Randi, Bad Religion and many, many others. We're officially out of car space, but it's not too late to reserve a spot on the bus. This is a once-in-a-lifetime sort of event and you won't want to miss it!
~Upcoming~
ISSA Barcrawl
(Tuesday, March 27)

The perfect opportunity to party it up before the second half of the semester comes at us full-force. We've yet to hash out the details, so stay tuned. Any while you're at it, be sure to get yourself an ISSA shirt (now discounted to $10) if you don't have one already!
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.
ISSAwear
T-Shirts now just $10. Get your ISSAwear here.

Not diggin' it? Click here to unsubscribe.







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