KSU Freethinkers promote civil religious discussion with ‘Ask an Atheist’ panel

Mark Haymond

What does an atheist say when someone sneezes?

This isn’t a joke. It is one of many questions fielded Wednesday night by the Kent State Freethinkers at their Ask an Atheist panel in the Kiva. Five students sat on the panel including majors in art, anthropology, psychology, biology and philosophy.

About 50 people showed up, and many used the occasion to learn more about the group and their beliefs. According to their website, the freethinkers are a group of atheists, humanists and agnostics. For fine arts major Kay Abshire, the club provides something that was lost when she chose not to attend church.

“When you leave the church you lose that community that goes with it, so having somewhere you can go and be with people who are sort of like-minded and have a community is really, really nice,” Abshire said before the panel began.

The discussion started with panel members sharing their backgrounds and anecdotes about their path to atheistic beliefs. Then the questions began to roll in. The panel and the audience spent the next two hours engaged in a respectful dialogue. Questions were either asked out loud over a microphone or anonymously by text message. There was no lack of talking points for the panelists.

Does religion have anything to offer the world?

According to Nathan Steele, a senior anthropology major, religion provides a sense of belonging for believers and a codified set of societal norms.

Abshire believes that religion has been a double-edged sword for the arts, shackling artists into creating art with religious themes in the Renaissance, but acting as a catalyst for modern art.

Do you believe in the historic existence of a man named Jesus of Nazareth?

Aaron Rockhold, a junior psychology major, thinks that Jesus may have been actual man whose legend amplified over time, or several people whose legends became intertwined.

If evolution happened, then why are there still monkeys?

Adam Steele, the staff adviser for the group, took a swing at this one with another question: If most Americans descended from the British, why are there still people in England?

What are the pros and cons of being a non-believer?

The panel overwhelmingly agreed that one of the benefits of conversion to an atheistic life is the sense of satisfaction with the unknown and, they believe, the unknowable. Several panelists described a life with less anxiety after their beliefs changed.

“Benefits of being an atheist? You get to sleep in on Sundays…seriously though, being able to let go of the anxiety, the guilt and the fear, the constant sense that you have some standard, some immutable, perfect standard that you have to live up, ” Rockhold said.

At the end of the event, several members of the Muslim Student Association approached the panelists and the dialogue continued as the crowd dissipated. For another half hour, members of the two groups engaged in a friendly discussion about their differing viewpoints.

Imina Razzaq, a freshman marketing major, waited patiently in the back of the theater for her fellow MSA members. She thought the presentation was good.

“I like the fact that it wasn’t an argument. It was more just them informing people of their beliefs…if we don’t understand those who are different than us, than we can’t truly accept them,” Imina said.

The discourse lasted until everyone was asked to leave the building so that they could lock it up.

So,what does an atheist say when someone sneezes?


Contact Mark Haymond at [email protected].