/Being secular in the Bible Belt

Being secular in the Bible Belt

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Grishma Rimal
Variety Editor

“If we came from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?”
Kevin Reaves, a senior computer science major from Greenville and the president of the Troy University Secular Student Alliance, said that this is one of the most frequent questions he gets asked as an atheist.
Reaves and other members of SSA said they find themselves responding to a mixture of inquiries that sometimes signify concerns and other times indicate understanding, when identifying themselves as irreligious.
SSA provides a platform for them to voice their opinions in an environment that respects people of all faiths or no faith.
“The objective of the Secular Student Alliance is to give atheists, agnostics, people like that, a place to feel safe and secure and to bring in people that may not be nonreligious like Christians, Muslims, Jews, and give them a place to come and talk and share their beliefs,” Reaves said.
SSA organizes weekly meetings. “Has Science Gone Too Far?” and “The Origins of Modern Religion” have been some of the past topics, according to Jeremiah Baky, a sophomore political science major from Dauphin Island and SSA vice president.
“We want to do future events with multiple religious students and talk about different political issues or how you view it from your religious background,” Baky said.
Although the group itself looks to welcome people of all beliefs, the members themselves often do not feel the same courtesy is extended toward them.
“One thing I’ve noticed is that you should only tell a few people, certain people, that you are an atheist,” Baky said. “Everyone has the same questions. ‘Why don’t you believe in God? You were a Christian; why aren’t you anymore?’ And from everyone who is devout, or halfway devout anyways — ‘Don’t you think this is just the devil challenging you?’ I’ve got that so many times.”
Reaves said it has its challenges. “In high school, I had a guy threaten to punch me because I didn’t believe in Jesus. I found college to be a lot more accepting. My lack of religion really hasn’t come up very often,” Reaves said.
“My mom blows it off like I’m going through a phase,” said Mindy Jones, a freshman computer science major from Sylacauga. Her mother, unlike her, is a devout Catholic.
“She thinks I’ll hit my 20s and have kids and then go to Mass every Monday and Wednesday,” Jones said.
She said that her curiosity as a child led her to ask questions that her elders never quite answered.
“Where did God come from? Who created him? From a small age I asked questions, and no one would give me an answer. I was just shut off from those questions,” she said.
“I doubt the accuracy of the Bible a lot because it was written about 100 years after Jesus’ death, and that’s a lot of time,” said Alexandra Heath, a freshman psychology major from Sylacauga. “And I felt like Christianity takes away from the power within yourself.”
“I am an atheist mainly because of the hypocrisy of the Christian church and the lack of clarity in the Bible and the lack of clarity in people’s faith towards a higher being,” Baky said. He added that he continued going to church, even leading Bible study, during high school, because of the volunteer work.
“I enjoyed that more than any lesson I ever got in church,” he said.
With the idea that helping people should be a universal deed, SSA aims to organize an interreligious charity event that benefits either a multinational organization like Doctors Without Borders or a localized hurricane relief fund.
The group also plans on organizing a Darwin Day, which will focus on educating people about evolution, and Ask an Atheist Day, where members stand in the main quad and answer questions from people passing by. According to the group, the latter event was a success in the past.
“We had a lot of discussions with people about ‘Well if there isn’t a God, then what does that mean?’ What causes me to be a good person without religion?” Reaves said.
Baky said that the stigma that atheists or agnostics are immoral is quite prevalent.
“The idea that religion is the only thing that makes you follow laws is quite scary,” Reaves said. “You shouldn’t need a book to tell you that murder is wrong.”
The Secular Student Alliance meets every Tuesday at 6 p.m. in Bibb Graves Hall’s Johnson Library Center.