Monday, December 14, 2009

Purdue Non-Theists and atheism featured in local newspaper

Today the Journal & Courier has a piece called "Atheism makes nonbelief known on campuses," which features the Society of Non-Theists at Purdue University (which I'm President and co-founder of, if you haven't figured that out by now). It's a fairly long piece, and I'm very happy for the coverage. The reporter basically emailed me out of the blue saying he saw the Secular Student Alliance's press release on the growing number of atheist groups (which was kind of a while ago, little slow I guess), and he wanted to feature ours. Some snippets:
At Purdue University, the Society of Non-theists held a "Fiction for Fiction" event. People could trade in religious texts, including Bibles and the Koran, for fiction novels.

As the stigma of atheism has diminished, campus atheists and agnostics have heightened their profile, fueling a sharp rise in the number of campus clubs in the mold of the Society of Non-Theists.

"The main reason I founded the club is because I felt so alone," said Jennifer McCreight, a Purdue senior from Munster. "I thought I was the only atheist at Purdue. I quickly learned that was not the case.

"I now am surrounded by people that I feel comfortable sharing my lack of belief with. It's a relief to have that safe haven when the many people at Purdue and in the U.S. react so negatively and threateningly toward non-theism."

McCreight said the Purdue group is affiliated with the Secular Student Alliance. Nationally, campus affiliates have grown from 80 in 2007 to 100 in 2008 and 174 this fall.
Man, I soooo prefer email interviews to phone interviews. Look, I actually sound moderately intelligent when I get to type my responses, and it pretty much eliminates the ability to misquote!

Overall, I'm happy with the article. Like I said, they wanted to cover us completely out of the blue, and I think any advertisement we can get is a good thing. It's a pity that it comes at the end of the semester when we won't have any knew events for a month, but here's to hoping people join our mailing list or something. I'm also glad that they highlighted some of our philanthropic events too - Secular Service Day and our food drive participation - because it makes us seem less like a bunch of cranky religion haters.

I do have a quibble, though (I always have something to complain about, don't I?). This is the last third of the article:
The Rev. Patrick Baikauskas said he is praying for the Purdue Non-Theists to "find their way back to church." He is the new pastor at St. Thomas Aquinas, the Catholic Center at Purdue.

"There is a lot of seeking going on. There should be," he said. "They are looking at a lot of things. They don't want to believe just because their parents want them to."

The Dominican priest said St. Tom's campus ministry is stronger than ever. He estimated that 7,000 people worshipped in the church at various times on Ash Wednesday to start Lent. He said weekend Masses also are well-attended.

He said a recent discernment session was offered at St. Tom's for young men wanting to find out more about the priesthood or religious life. Eighteen men attended. Past sessions have drawn only a handful of men, he said.

"All of them won't become priests, but I thought that was a great turnout," Baikauskas said.
Oh, where to begin.

1. I hate the patronizing nature of the Reverend's quotes. Yep, we're all just foolish children in a phase and rebelling against our parents. Bull. Shit. First of all, a number of us (like myself) come from families who didn't feel the need to indoctrinate us in religion, so we don't have a church to "find our way back to." Yep, not everyone is raised in Christianity - shocker! Second of all, our members are some of the most intelligent people you're going to find on campus. Many know more about religion than theists, and all have put thought into their non-theism. This isn't some random decision we made to piss off mommy and daddy - most of us have put years and years of deep thought behind our non-theism.

2. Why does an article, which is supposed to be featuring atheism and our group, get the last third devoted to religion? What does our local Catholic church have to do with anything? Why did they get to list their numbers, but they didn't mention that the Society has over 400 people on our mailing list after just over two years? When they do an article on the growing number of mass attendees, are they going to email me so I can poo-poo their beliefs and then talk about how awesome atheism is? I don't think so. It seems like bad reporting to include this in a feature, when another side doesn't need to be present, but it's even more annoying since the reporter told me how awesome our responses were and how he wouldn't be able to fit them all. Maybe if he cut out the irrelevant religious stuff, he could have.

3. They give links to our facebook page and twitter...but not our main website. We hardly ever use FB or twitter, and I only provided the link to our main website, so I have no idea how that happened. Advertising fail.

Alright, my complaints just took up more space than my praise, but I really am happy we got the article at all. We don't get covered in the Journal & Courier a lot, so hopefully a lot of local non-theists will see this. Oh, and I get to spend the rest of the day reading the comments on the article, which always provides me with depressing amusement. Already have someone there telling me I can't be good without God, woo.


  1. "find their way back to church."


    Since it is obviously impossible for them to have been brought up atheist by atheist parents. Good to know that grown-up atheists don't exist.

    And of course, no atheist ever becomes a Buddhist, Shinto or Bahai.

  2. The whole article kind of frustrated me, frankly. I mean, cool that we got covered, but from the title onwards it's just kind of... awkward. I mean, "Atheism makes nonbeliefs known"? As if atheism (rather than atheists) is some active entity, acting on its own behalf? And the last third of the article is absurd. Its as if he just had to reassure people--look, its ok, they're just going through a faze. Which, by the way, contradicts the rest of the article, where he said that nonbelief is growing/spreading/etc. If its just a faze, and not part of some larger change, please give some kind of fucking explanation for why more kids are going through this "faze" than there used to be.


  3. Publicity is always good, no matter what they try to spin on it. I'm sure a few people who read it will wonder the same things you did. LIke why are they even letting this guy add his two cents?

  4. Most journalists prefer phone or in-person interviews to e-mail because it allows for more give-and-take and discussion. Obviously it's easier for people to construct a response in an e-mail, but in some cases we get nothing but a mission statement copy-pasted from a group's Web site instead of somebody's actual opinion or response. It's ridiculously frustrating. Personally, I prefer tape recorded in-person interviews - it frees up your attention to have a conversation instead of note-taking the whole time, you can easily construct a transcript and refer back to that to eliminate misquotes, and it forces you to review the entire conversation to get the material you need. It's time-consuming but worthwhile. Alternatively, I take notes in a Notepad document because I can type faster than I can write and my shorthand is better.

    Not a bad article, though. It's not the best thing of its kind I've ever read; it's hard to tell exactly what he was trying to do with it. It doesn't warrant as much space as it got - not the Nontheists part, of course, but he spent too much time on the religious part and was extremely unfocused at the beginning. A profile of the club might've worked better, with the rising number of secular students as a newsier peg. And he should've run it ages ago when it was still timely. (endjournalismgeek)

    Some of the comments over there are fucking insane, though - there's some guy conflating atheism and agnosticism and getting the definition of both thoroughly wrong. It'd be kind of funny if it didn't make me feel a bit queasy.

  5. Hm?
    "They don't want to believe just because their parents want them to" sounds like praise to me.
    I don't think he intended it as an insult.

    It can be interpreted as either: The reason that they don't believe is that their parents believe.
    That their parents believe is not enough reason for them to believe.

    I think he intended the latter, due to the context of "seeking" and "There should be". He said nothing about defiance.

  6. Wow. That comment thread is...interesting. Is there some sort of unwritten rule that comment threads on atheism-related stories must eventually turn into an creationism/evolution debate?

    One of the most amusing quotes from the thread (grammatical errors left intact): "Also, as far are DNA, I believe I read the humans and pig share 95% or more of the same DNA, if thats true did we evolve from pigs, pigs evolve from us, or both evolve from chimps?"