CFI Leadership Conference by Sara Diaz
Metro State Atheists
University of Colorado Denver
I recently “deconverted” from Catholicism and Christianity. This past spring will be one year since I started living a more rational and religion-free life. During this last school year, I helped out the Metro State Atheists, which is the Auraria Campus atheists club in Denver, CO. The president of the group became my best friend, someone who has helped me through my struggles as an atheist.
Our club worked with the Center for Inquiry, which has also helped me through my transformation. When we heard about this year’s CFI Student Leadership Conference, we were all very excited and quickly submitted travel grant applications. The days leading up to the conference seemed to creep by more slowly as the conference approached. Upon arrival at the CFI Amherst building, I became anxious—I was eager to meet fellow freethinkers and secular students. At the same time, I was nervous. I felt like everyone else knew more than me, that everyone except me already had this “atheism” thing figured out. Growing up in a Catholic home and turning to Christianity as a teen, I wasn’t surrounded by people that would understand my shift to atheism. But as I started talking to the other students at the conference I realized I was meeting familiar strangers. Many of the students were struggling, or had struggled, with the same problems that I have. How do I tell my family? Will my family disown me if they find out? Will other people accept me? How do I find morals without religion? (I’m a “closet atheist” and terrified at the thought of coming out to my family.)
Students arriving early wait for the conference to begin / Matthew LaClair talks about education
The conference started in the late evening with Debbie Goddard welcoming everyone to CFI. Then, Matthew LaClair, the volunteer student president of CFI’s campus outreach initiative, spoke about his experience with his high school and other issues regarding education that he was facing. Matthew shared some words of wisdom: “You cannot depend on other people to do things for you.” I interpreted that as this: “No one else can tell your family but you, because no one else understands your family like you do.” The students, staff, and speakers made everyone feel welcome. I was in a safe place. I could be me, not just the pretend me I am around family—the pretend me I am at the church where I work on Sunday mornings.
During the next few days we heard from Eddie Tabash about debating and watched Ron Lindsay and Eddie Tabash have a mock debate (which was good entertainment!). Debbie Goddard and D.J. Grothe spoke about CFI and its affiliated organizations, Roy Natian gave groups helpful tips for online outreach, and Justin Trottier showed everyone how to manage media relations. We also heard from John Shook and Massimo Pigliucci. Joe Nickell gave everyone insight about investigating the paranormal and how sometimes being just a skeptic doesn’t help.
Massimo Pigliucci talks about reason / Ronald A. Lindsay (as Ron N. Atas) debates Eddie Tabash
Some of my favorite parts of the conference were the workshops with Dan Riley. Dan posed questions to the students, then in small groups we discussed topics such as voting for an atheist, France’s wanting to make burkas illegal, and what we, the students, see as the future of CFI and the secular movement. Many students compared the secular movement to the gay rights movement. I have many friends who are gay, lesbian, and transgender, and although I do not completely understand all the struggles they go through, I do understand what it’s like to be “in the closet” about who you really are.
Workshop session outside / Dan Riley leads a discussion on secularism
As the conference came to an end I had more confidence in myself as an atheist. I left knowing that I always have a community of people that will help me through my struggles and that the fear I had was a fear that many individuals at some time have faced.
Sara Diaz is an undergraduate at the University of Colorado Denver majoring in secondary education-English and minoring in philosophy. She served as the secretary for Metro State Atheists and is starting an atheist group at UC Denver, for which she will serve as the president.