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Can Secular Students Work with Progressive Believers?

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This article originally appeared as part of SSA eNews No. 10 - My Struggle with Disbelief, Part 2.
Jerry Lieberman
This article was written by Jerry Lieberman, an SSA board member and also president of the board of the Humanists of Florida Association.

This issue of our newsletter is concerned with how we as individuals transformed ourselves from believers to skeptics, agnostics, atheists and humanists. How difficult was this experience for us and how did we manage? My approach is a thematic modification of this issue's context. It is concerned with how we non-believers feel about believers and how this affects the extent of our relationship with them.

I know that some of us non-believers were most fortunate to have parents or guardians that gave love and nurturing unconditionally. Such role models espoused and practiced an unrelenting faith in free thought and critical thinking, enabling some of us to develop our uniqueness, autonomy and great appreciation for exploration and learning. However, even these fortunate few among us secularists may share with the rest of us reservations about believers that could limit our ability to connect with them on critical and substantive levels.

We are still a paltry percentage of the population on American campuses. We are even a smaller number in the secondary schools. We need to connect with others, the vast majority of whom are believers. This is impossible without contact, interest, respect and affection. We have to set an example for believers that we are reluctant to judge them as they have often been conditioned to do to us. We have to share with them that our differences are not as great as our similarities and discover avenues for collaboration and enjoyment.

Are there opportunities for believers and non-believers to learn from each other? Let's explore some and select those that are pleasant and rewarding, intrinsically and even extrinsically. I think that it is crucial for our nation and world that we develop ways to better connect in order to create the foundation for mutual respect and support. Can we secularists afford to alienate ourselves and remain marginalized? Do we benefit from not taking what some would call radical steps to become more inclusive in SSA? Increasing our presence and visibility with believers and their organizations - especially the ones that are doing commendable work that most students benefit from personally and contributing services of value to others - is something we should consider doing with believers.

Our organization today is less inclusive than many fraternities and societies. When I went to college these groups had appalling restrictive covenants and practices. They were concerned that by allowing people of different faiths, (or no faith), races, social standings, etc., their organizations would break with tradition and become less pure. Although we do not discriminate in this sense, we haven't attracted many women nor any Blacks or Hispanics to serve on our board. While we want to change this, there's no specific plan for changing this. Should changing this be a high priority for us? If so, let's take some bold steps, opening our minds to possibilities previously unconsidered.

This article originally appeared as part of SSA eNews No. 10 - My Struggle with Disbelief, Part 2.
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