From "Doubter" to Atheist Activist
This article appeared in the SSA eMpirical No. 18 - It's Spring, We Think.
Becky Robinson, founder of the UTA Freethinkers, wrote this essay for the American Atheists' Scholarship Competition. We think it's a great story of a freethinker's journey and are happy to share it with you here.
I have been a "doubter" for over 10 years now, and considered myself "agnostic." While growing up outside of Pittsburgh, PA, whether I believed in a god was never a big deal. In Pittsburgh, they are more concerned about what football team you are rooting for on Sundays than if you are in church.
Fast forward to the present in which I now reside in Fort Worth, TX, where religion plays a much larger role in everyday life. It also happens that around the time of moving to Texas I was doing some "soul searching". As I was exploring what I do and do not believe, I seemed to be surrounded by people very willing to tell me how they (and how I should) believe. I found this very off-putting and it sent me in the other direction. The more religion was shoved down my throat, the more eager I became to define myself and my beliefs. I started to take notice of things that I had never noticed before. I took notice to how much religion was involved in politics, especially in the South, and I became appalled at how the Religious Right has been attempting to hijack my country.
As I learned more about atheism, science, the separation of church and state, and the true history of the founding of our country, the more comfortable I became with my non-belief (and the angrier I became at those trying to distort the facts). I came to the conclusion that I was an atheist. An atheist! I attended the Center for Inquiry's Student Leadership Conference in the summer of 2006, which became a life-changing experience. It was the first time I had ever been around a group of like-minded people. It was refreshing and enlightening. I realized that I needed that in my life.
When I got back to Texas, I decided that I was going to attempt to begin a campus group of my own. Being that I only attend school part-time and live off-campus, I do not know that many people. I had no idea how I was going to pull it off, but I knew that I at least had to try. I started a UTA Freethinkers Facebook group and spent hours sending out personal invites to over 2,500 people. I saw the group start to grow. At one time, we had over 800 members just from UTA! I figured that most of those people probably had no idea what "Freethinking" really was and many of those who did would not want to join a real-life campus group, but it was a start. I sent out messages to the members and set up an Organizational Meeting to get the ball rolling. Now, I have never even been involved in a campus organization, let alone run one. What I did know is that I had the enthusiasm and drive to make it work.
Over 20 people showed up for the meeting, where much was accomplished. We picked our name (Freethinkers of UTA), drafted our Constitution, elected officers, and made plans to attend the Activities Fair the next day. I spent half of the night making and printing up brochures and starting to get excited. This was really happening!
Our second meeting had over 30 people in attendance, and we were on our way to becoming a real organization. In one semester, we had regular meetings every other week, sponsored a talk by D.J. Grothe on Secular vs. Religious Ethics, attended and got kicked out of a local "Hell House," threw a Superstition Bash, handed out group info. on Freethought Day, sponsored a viewing of The God Who Wasn't There, attended a local viewing of Jesus Camp, and have made plans to grow and become even bigger on campus and in the community.
During our second meeting, I realized how important we truly were on a campus with over 20 religious student organizations. A member came up to me and told me that her Nursing Microbiology professor was offering extra credit to students who attended the bible study that she ran. I couldn't believe it! The student was afraid to say anything, since the same professor would be grading her. If there is one thing to know about me, it is that I do not intimidate easily. I immediately sent out a strongly worded e-mail to the chair of the Biology Department and very shortly afterwards received a response informing me that there would be no extra credit given out for bible study.
Who knew that moving to the bible belt would make me an atheist activist?! It solidified the fact that groups such as ours were needed. Throughout the semester, we have discussed such topics as the secular founding of the United States, creationism in schools, stem cells/cloning, the right to privacy, and much more. We have become the one place on campus that fosters open dialogue on such topics.
Since becoming involved with my own organization, I have been much more active on the local and national level, as well. I am often found sending e-mails to my representatives and making sure others know about the things occurring that are of interest to "us". I support many of the leading secular organizations, such as American Atheists, Secular Student Alliance, Center for Inquiry - On Campus, Secular Coalition for America, Freedom from Religion Foundation, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and AU - On Campus, Council for Secular Humanism, American Humanist Association, and the Texas Freedom Network. I have submitted my bid for nomination to the Secular Student Alliance Board of Directors [Editor's Note: At the time of this publication, Becky has been elected to the position of Secretary of the SSA's Board of Directors. We chose to leave the essay as it is.] and plan to be as active as I can, time permitting, in the general Freethought Movement. It is exciting to be involved and to feel as if I am actually doing something rather than just complaining. I try to foster enthusiasm in others to do the same. This is just the beginning of my journey from "doubter" to atheist activist.
Rebecca L. Robinson
Founder and President of Freethinkers of UTA
This article originally appeared in the SSA eMpirical No. 18 - It's Spring, We Think.