A view of atheism from a Free Thinker

Aaron Rockhold

Negative articles about atheists in the Daily Kent Stater seem well on their way to becoming as much of a fixture of campus life as black squirrels and tuition hikes.

The Oct. 25 issue featured an editorial by SarahBeth Caplin entitled “Religious double standards,” inspired by the author’s encounter with a display case in the student center advertising the Kent State Freethinkers. As that group’s vice president, I feel compelled to respond to Caplin’s mischaracterizations of us and of non-theists in general.

The university loaned us the display case we used—any student group can get one. Inside, we placed non-theist themed items including books, magazines, buttons, a T-shirt and, naturally, a Flying Spaghetti Monster doll made of yarn. Its intent was simply to advertise our group and reach out to those on campus who are already nonreligious, and it didn’t “belittle” or “make fun of” anyone.

Atheists have long known, however, that many consider the mere statement of their non-belief offensive and aggressive. One need only look at the contemptuous responses of some faithful to the national billboard campaign employing mild slogans like “Don’t believe in God? You’re not alone.” When a similar sign went up in Oklahoma City, FOX News interviewed residents and garnered comments like, “I think it’s terrible,” and “They need to take it down. Accidentally burn it or something.”

Given the prevalence of such attitudes, it’s no surprise that a secular group’s mere existence on campus provokes the sort of defensive and hostile reactions that, to my knowledge, no religious club has ever faced.

Our group has faced problems with its posters being torn down or defaced since its founding. Even this display case, which is university property, was the target of vandalism. Someone took the time to type, print and cut out double-sided slips of paper bearing anti-atheist messages and slide them into the case. One of the vandal’s messages compared atheists to Adolf Hitler, another called atheists close-minded. A third bore a mangling of Pascal’s Wager that will make both philosophy and English majors wince for different reasons: “I would rather believe in God and be wrong, then (sic) not believe and be wrong…”

Nonbelievers themselves, fearful of rocking the boat, sometimes join the cacophony of naysayers. The Oct. 26 Daily Kent Stater ran a piece by a self-described atheist who expressed disappointment at the Freethinkers for their “anti-theistic” display, while admitting he hadn’t even seen the case! It is disheartening to see someone scrambling to apologize for the misdeeds of his fellow nonbelievers based on unverified accusations of offense. Such is the strength of the idea that religion alone among topics of human interest is exempt from even the mildest criticism.

These were not the first anti-atheist op-eds in the Daily Kent Stater and, unfortunately, I doubt they will be the last.

There is a great deal of misconceptions about what those without religion actually believe. I hope to see a lot of these questions voiced and answered at our Ask an Atheist panel on Nov. 10 at 6:30 p.m. in the Kiva. With increasing numbers of people in America and around the world identifying as atheist, agnostic or nonreligious, it’s more important than ever to foster clarity and understanding.

Aaron Rockhold is a junior psychology major and guest columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].