April 17, 2010

Atheists find company on campus

(Continued from page 2)

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Katie Panger, left, founder, Brett Jacobson, president, Thomas Hodges and Jonathan Guca are seen before a meeting of the Atheists, Agnostics and Free Thinkers group at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb. There are nearly 200 atheist or agnostic student groups on college campuses in the United States.

William DeShazer/Chicago Tribune

In the case of the atheist joke -- "What do you call an atheist with a wife and two kids? A Unitarian." -- the famously tolerant Unitarians were only a secondary target. The joke was on the atheists themselves who, a group member said, tend to gravitate toward houses of worship (but not religion itself) when they have children.

The conversation turned serious after the group watched an episode of the FX reality TV show "30 Days," in which people with conflicting views live together.

A woman who opposes gay adoption on religious grounds spent a month with a male couple and their adopted children.

The religious woman cried when she was introduced to young adults who grew up in foster care and who would have loved to have been adopted by caring parents, gay or straight. But she didn't change her mind about adoption by same-sex couples.

In the end, the two sides parted, their mutual opposition firmly intact.

"I found it an extremely depressing episode," Jacobson said in the discussion that followed. "Especially (when one of the gay men) says, 'We can't leave being friends.' That goes against my entire drive for this group."


Whiting said that, to some extent, she understood the woman's point of view.

"At the end of the day, she absolutely believes that her eternal soul, her very happiness, her being united in another kingdom with her children and her husband, are on the table.

"Seeing the condition of unadopted children made her cry -- she felt for them. You know in your heart that she feels for these children. But she would not say, 'OK, (gay people) can adopt.' So God is the problem. That's my stance. God is the problem."

"God is just a word," countered a freshman.

"God is an easy excuse to do all sorts of atrocious things," Whiting said.

"That's a very true statement, but I want you to look up Stalin," the freshman said.

"It was state worship!" a third student said. "They even had a church of Stalin."

A discussion of human rights violations in Stalin's Russia and Mao's China followed.

"So it's not even a matter of God," said the freshman. "I just believe humans are inherently evil, once they get enough power to do whatever they want."

"That could be a discussion for another time," Whiting observed.

Almost two hours after the group convened, Jacobson seized this opening, wrapped up a few loose ends and adjourned the meeting.

Within 10 minutes, the skeptics had divided into two groups, one of which was heading out for pizza, the other to a local sports bar where, over beer and Sprites, the discussion continued.


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