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Faith, Proof, and Everything in Between by Dr. Andy Norman (Presented by Penn Secular Society)

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In February 2013, Penn Secular Society at University of Pennsylvania was able to host Dr. Andy Norman thanks to the Speakers Bureau from the national SSA. This article summarizes the experiences of that event for the group.

Penn Secular Society was able to fly Dr. Andrew Norman to Philadelphia to give a talk, and put him up at a hotel near campus. None of this would have been possible without the financial help we received from the Secular Student Alliance. Additionally, we bought a banner with our name and logo on it which we used to advertise this event, and we distributed lots of flyers.

Dr. Norman titled his talk "Faith, Proof, and Everything in Between", and spoke on the interplay between faith and proof, and to what standards we should hold our beliefs. The event attracted many of our members, and even more students from various campus religious groups, so the total attendance ended up being just over fifty people. Dr. Norman spoke for around forty-five minutes, and then we had another twenty minutes or so of questions from the audience.

An Open Letter to the Secular Community

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It is an amazing time to be part of the secular movement. Look at what’s happened in 2012 alone. We held the Reason Rally, the largest event our community has ever had, which brought over 20,000 atheists, humanists, and other secular people together on the National Mall. We are growing, attracting new people, and drawing more attention than ever before. A big part of that growth is thanks to our large and dynamic online community. Online secular communities have helped people encounter new ideas, deepen and broaden their thinking, and even change their minds.

A Problem with Online Communication

At the same time, the fact that so much of our community is online brings with it certain challenges. Communicating primarily online can make it difficult to recognize each other’s humanity. Online we don’t have the same vocal and physical cues to tell us what another person means by his or her comments, so it’s easier for misunderstandings to develop. The instantaneous and impersonal nature of online communication also makes it much easier for these misunderstandings to escalate, or for civil arguments to turn into bitter fights. Like many online communities, our comment and forum threads all too often become places for name calling and even threats, rather than honest dialogue based on mutual respect. Between the small but vocal number of abusive participants (often called “trolls”) who hurl threats and insults, and the overheated rhetoric of some ordinarily friendly and reasonable people, our online environment is in danger of turning toxic. Fortunately, our secular values of reason and compassion give us tools to rise above the lowest common denominator of online communication.

The Good News Club with Katherine Stewart (Presented by SSA at NCSU)

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In January 2013, Secular Student Alliance at North Carolina State University was able to host Katherine Stewart thanks to the Speakers Bureau from the national SSA. This article summarizes the experiences of that event for the group.

On 22 Jan. 2013, Katherine Stewart, investigative journalist for publications including Reuters, Religion Dispatches, and The New York Times, spoke to the Secular Student Alliance at North Carolina State University about her work detailed in her recently-published book, The Good News Club: The Religious Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children. Ms. Stewart discussed recent trends and deceptive tactics used by the religious right to infiltrate the public education system to target children, especially elementary school students, for religious proselytizing. She detailed specific legislation that has allowed organizations like the Child Evangelism Fellowship to operate religious programs inside of public schools and gave examples of curriculum taught to children by such programs that not only clearly violate the separation of church and state, but teach harmful messages of obedience, sin, shame, and punishment.

An "Old Timer's" Perspective on Secular Student Activism

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Doak Campbell Football Stadium, ca. 1953
The Doak Campbell football stadium as it appeared when Otvos' philosophy club invaded a Billy Graham rally in 1958.

We ask our supporters to let us know if they were involved in a secular student group when they were on campus.  Ormond Otvos, an alumnus of Florida State University and self-identified "old-timer," tells this story about his experiences in the late 1950's!

You ask what I was doing about secularism way back when?

Well, a group of us who met at FSU in 1958 during the course exemption tests as freshmen decided to start a philosophy club.  For many of us, it was our first experience in a secular environment, and we wanted to meet and talk with others similarly inclined, but out of the harried atmosphere of the cafeteria food plan structure.

So we got together and petitioned the administration to form our philosophy club, but their response was that there were too many clubs already. There were clear indications that it was the "philosophy" part, not the "club" part that was bothering them, so we all joined the Stamp Club, and changed its nature to discuss philosophy. The end run worked.

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