Atheists, agnostics, and acceptance

Secular Student Alliance promotes religious tolerance and expression

Can you imagine becoming an outcast among family and friends because of your beliefs? On top of that, imagine being completely accepting of different views of others’ even though you feel intensely about your own.

Students who are a part of the Secular Student Alliance (SSA) hold the belief that church and state should be separated. Many members of the SSA either have no religious ideals, or ideals that may be out of the cultural norm.

“When we say church and state separation, it’s trying to create a neutral environment everybody can coexist in where one group isn’t infringing on another,” Marketing senior Alek Renkema said. “We talk about religious ideals and we may disagree, but we don’t spread hate about religion.”

The SSA isn’t an anti-religion group. Though most members are agnostic or atheist, they have had members with beliefs ranging from Paganism to Christianity.

“It’s a common misconception that we’re just here to bash Christianity,” SSA Vice President and Business Administration/Legal Studies junior Corinne Staten said. “That’s not what we’re about. It’s not about a war on religion.”

However, the SSA is about providing a sense of comfort to those who have struggled with their nonreligious opinions in a world flooded by religion.

“It’s very crippling the loneliness you sometimes get because you’re the only one who thinks that way,” SSA President and Engineering sophomore Steven Beckon said.

Much of the isolation felt by SSA members is due to those close to them, which makes sticking to their principles all the more difficult.

“I was agnostic up until I could decide on a religion, and I decided none,” Beckon said. “My extended family, though, is very religious and I have not told them and am not planning on telling them. I would be immediately excluded.”

Staten grew up in the south and was surrounded by Southern Baptists, including family members, who shunned those with differing ideals. Joining the SSA helped her immensely during her religious journey.

“I’m an atheist,” Staten said. “I haven’t always been one. I tried to find a religion I kind of felt comfortable with, but in the end, I was like, ‘none of these make sense.’ So once I got here and I found out about SSA, I felt more comfortable, like there are actually people out there who are like me.”

Renkema, who looked into many religions before deciding on atheism, has also experienced confusion in finding a belief system in line with his own.

“There was like a two-year period where I was agnostic for a while,” Renkema said. “Then at the end I was like, ‘I spent two years [not having religion] and I’m fine. I don’t really believe in any of this, so why do I need it?’ And now I’m just me.”

Finding the SSA has given Renkema the opportunity to be with others who are true to themselves and feel comfortable expressing their beliefs without fear of judgment.

“You’re scared that your friends might ostracize you, and who knows what your family could do,” said Renkema. “So with a group like this, you get help to talk about these topics with people like you. You’re not alone in being vocal.”

Students interested in the SSA can attend a meeting on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. in Cramer’s conference room.

The SSA is also hosting an “Interfaith Panel” promoting religious acceptance on November 19th at 8 p.m. in Williams Auditorium.