Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Is a battle ever too hard to even bother?

I mentioned a couple of days ago that our student group was going to start fighting religious aspects of our public university's graduation program (I didn't get many comments, so I'm going to assume you all just sort of passively agreed with me). I sent out an email to our club for feedback, and I received a lot of great advice on who to contact, various things to consider, etc. Most of the feedback was positive and contained the humble comment that this was going to be a difficult battle. I'm fully aware of that, especially knowing Purdue. It's an extremely conservative university, and it...well, generally ignores any student activism that takes place about its policies.

But I received one email that was a bit of a downer from a staff member at Purdue (who I know to be an atheist activist). He said the Provost would surely politely blow us off, promising to look into it but never speaking to us again. I thought, yeah, so what? I know it's going to be difficult and we'll have to deal with bureaucratic bullshit, but we know what to do. He then told me to not even bother, and to spend the club's efforts doing projects we could actually succeed at.

Well boo on him.

At what point do we just sit down and shut up because doing anything would be too difficult? Because it would likely lead to failure? Even if we can't get the obnoxious "Amen" singing removed, our fight is at least symbolic. We're showing the university that we don't agree with what they're doing, and we're showing others who agree with us that they're not alone. I mean, you could have told all the Anti-Prop8 protesters to just go home, because judges obviously aren't going to be swayed by some signs (well, hopefully), but should they have? No, I don't think so.

I think this is a problem the atheist movement faces a lot mostly from the outside - people asking why we're so angry, what's the point, don't we have better things to do? It's just a bit disheartening when I hear a fellow atheist telling me "Don't bother." If we don't bother, who will? If the national government wants to institute a time for prayer in school, do we just sit back and say "Well Big Brother is too strong. No way they'd listen to us," and throw our hands up in the air? No, we try our damnedest to fight it.

I think this can all be summed up by one of my favorite quotes:
"Dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy." - Albus Dumbledore
This club has waited two years building up our good reputation before attempting something that will likely piss off the campus. Now's the time to do what's right.


  1. The religious folks who ask why you even bother are missing something: you're trying to do the right thing, while they don't actually understand or care about what's right. Right and wrong aren't just things to which one gives lip service in church. If something's right, you fight and die for it.

  2. Fight, for far too long atheists have been seated at the side saying there is nothing to do to change what is going on. With an attitude like that nothing will change. Even if you fail, you fought, you will have no regrets. Plus without the courage of one person standing up, no one else will.

    I know it all sounds cheesy but where would woman, minorities, and the LGBT be without someone standing up and speaking for what is right.

  3. bah my typing is teh suxxorz

    woman = women

  4. As the saying goes, well-behaved infidels seldom make history.

  5. Ahaha, I love that you quoted Dumbledore!

    Anyway, I completely agree with you, and I am so glad you are our club's president. I really think that nothing the club can do will change anything, but that doesn't mean it's not worth fighting for, as you said. It doesn't really matter whether things change immediately, it only matters that the message is out there. And if the club can't do that, then there's really no point in having one. So good luck, and let me know if there's something I can do to help.

  6. Giving up before even starting something is always a bad idea. Even if you don't succeed, the University will take notice and so will who ever will try to change things in the future. Even failure fill have a more positive effect than never trying.

    Dumbledore's quotes nice but i always preferred "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing" - Edmund Burke (i think)

  7. Jen, I agree, it's up to everyone to improve the world around them. Most don't because they're either complacent or lazy.

    Being a member of the skeptical/rational fight can be tiring because no matter how many battles we win, we probably won't win the war in our lifetime, and we might never. However that doesn't mean it's not worth fighting. Imagine if at the start of the enlightenment the thinkers had just given up?

    Rational though will probably always be threatened by superstition and lazy thinking but our constant efforts improve the world and push back the darkness of human ignorance.

    Keep up the good fight, but be diplomatic, always try to find common ground, and understand their viewpoint so you can better argue against them with their own tools.

  8. I don't recall the details of my graduation ceremony very clearly (I spent the majority of my convocation reading a good book), but I recently attended the graduation of my fiancée at the University of Manitoba, and even in Canada we're assailed with such idiocy. It's robed in the trappings of ecumenicalism, but there was still much talk of the "almighty creator" who instilled in us "the gift of curiosity", and it was followed by the omnipresent "Amen". Sigh. Best of luck, BH.

  9. I agree with you in theory. But... You've got to pick your battles, you can't win them all. If the provost is going to politely ignore you than you can rattle your sabres all you want, and accomplish nothing.

    That being said, if there's even a small chance of pulling it off, it's worth a shot.

  10. Ah, the vitality and innocence of youth. Make your stand so you can have pride that you fought the unwinnable fight. Then learn from debacle so that patience and wisdom and, obviously your commendable moral outrage and determination, can be channeled effectively in the adult world. College is a place to practice with a net. But nobody makes the transition from college to the adult world without finding disillusionment before finding a foothold in the adult political world. I look forward to your immense contributions at 28 - 30 years of age. :-)

  11. I'd tell those jelly-back atheists to just sit back and be a nobody while I kick some church monkey butt. Keep up the good fight. If you and your readers want to download some atheist music then click on over and see me for some naughty nun fun.

  12. "I'd tell those jelly backed atheists to just sit back and be a nobody while I kick some church monkey butt"

    And then you'd go off and achieve nothing...

    The fact is that if the fight is unwinnable then you're not going to kick any butt, regardless of your macho posturing.

    There's value in fighting the good fight, regardless of whether you succeed in the moment, just the attempt can make people think, reconsider, and inspire people to try harder, to push until they succeed. Many succesful changes are preceded by unsuccesful attempts to make the same, or similar changes.

    If the fight is winnable, then go for it. If not, but you think it will make a point, or that it will have any chance of doing any good - then go for it to - but don't get your hopes up or neglect any more promising issues.