Being an atheist in America has its own challenges.
Some of those challenges were part of a presentation Thursday by officers of the MU Skeptics, Atheists, Secular Humanists and Agnostics club, or SASHA.
“There are a lot of misconceptions about what Atheism is,” SASHA events coordinator Katie Huddlestonsmith said.
Her goal was to dispel these misunderstandings. She was one of the three panelists at the event, which was held in the Multicultural Center.
SASHA vice president Aaron Underwood said his goal was for people to understand what SASHA means and to know the group welcomes all who would like to join.
“We’re just an open group, and we’re not hostile to religious people,” Underwood said.
Panelists started by describing how their current beliefs developed. They then talked about the different components of SASHA.
They also answered questions. One attendee of the discussion asked what a secular humanist is.
The basic idea, Underwood said, is that people are in the world together and should be willing to help each other, and that there is inherent value in a human life.
Underwood said the vast majority of atheists identify as secular humanists.
The panel also explained what it means to be agnostic – the belief that it cannot be known whether there is a god.
Underwood said that his atheism is based on “a strong guess” and “the lack of an argument” for a god.
Conversation then shifted to what it’s like to be “in the closet” as an atheist.
“It goes to pretty far extremes sometimes,” Huddlestonsmith said.
There was some disagreement over whether a person chooses to be an atheist.
Underwood put it this way: “I didn’t choose atheism, and atheism didn’t choose me. It’s a term that fit what I believed about gods.”
The rest of the discussion touched on topics such as Christianity, family, funerals, prayer, morality and stereotypes.
Panelists said the most annoying stereotype is that atheists are immoral and think they are better than others. Panelists see these stereotypes almost every day.
“You could make an argument that SASHA is part of a marginalized population,” Multicultural Center director Pablo Mendoza said.
He said education was a major benefit of the panel.
“The more people ask questions, the more they learn,” Mendoza said. “The more they learn, the better they get along.”