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Changing Directions: A Discussion of Faith and Disbelief (Presented by University of Mississippi Secular Student Alliance)

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In December 2011, UM SSA was able to host David Bazan thanks to a Project Grant from the national SSA. This article summarizes the experiences of that event for the group.

The University of Mississippi SSA’s inaugural event took place on December 3rd of this past year. The featuredhead speaker for the event was former Christian-indie artist David Bazan, formerly known by the moniker “Pedro the Lion.” Admission to the event was free and open to the public, and we were surprised to see that many of the attendees were affiliated with religious denominations. This however came as little surprise to Bazan, who has found ways throughout the latter part of his career to earnestly express his renunciation of religious views without alienating much of his Christian fan base which supported him throughout much of his early career as Pedro the Lion. During the event, David talked at length about a number of topics, while also opening the floor for questions at several intervals of the speech. He grew up in a fundamentalist religious household and wasn't able to listen to secular, mainstream music until the age of 13. As he reached his 20s, he began studying the Bible in depth and found discrepancies that he couldn't accommodate, which led to an internal crisis with his faith in which drinking 15 to 20 drinks a day was the only real way he was able to cope with the crisis. Finally, he accepted the notion that not trying to have all of the answers, nor admitting such in public, was the only way to move on and be content with himself.

He spoke about philosophical topics like the way in which modern society has formed strict dichotomies which warrant most people to make a "this or that" evaluation in religion, politics and other areas of belief in which the middle ground is looked down upon. Also, there was much said about the necessity of ethical practices regardless of religious affiliation, saying that who you present yourself to be around others and who you are when you are alone with your thoughts need to be aligned with one another in order to be an ethical individual. This idea could be very helpful for the secular movement, because it emphasizes that mistrust toward non-religious people is often based upon doubts of what kind of ethical code a secular person will hold without the affiliation to a particular creed or other-worldly mechanism of accountability. If this sense of mistrust is eliminated in the future, it could greatly help to bridge the gap that currently divides religious and non-religious individuals.

The event's attendance was about what I expected; 20 people were in attendance and many of which had religious affiliations. I was fairly correct when expressing reservations about the early time of the event, as many people from SSA who were enthusiastic prior to the event overslept on the day of. While this was initially a bit discouraging, I eventually attributed it to inopportune timing. For future events, it will be important to schedule things on weekday afternoons where people will be on campus and more available to attend.

Funding was drawn from three primary sponsors which accounted for the $750 needed to fund the event. The Secular Student Alliance allotted $250, while University organizations funded over half of the event (the University Lecture Series Committee allotted $400 and the University Department of Philosophy and Religion allotted $100). This was a very important step to gaining recognition amongst University officials, and we now feel as though we can have their support in future projects. While there were few individuals who signed up for the UMSSA during the event, advertising for the event helped us to bring in over 10 new members. A Facebook event page was created prior to the event, and flyers were distributed around campus as well. Ultimately, we learned that this group does have the capability to continue and thrive at Ole Miss, and with this event serving as a valuable learning experience, we hope to ensure future success with upcoming events in this coming semester.

This article was written by University of Mississippi Secular Student Alliance

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