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.
Metro State Atheists: Making noise, making a difference in Denver
by Joel Guttormson, Metro State Atheists at MSCD
Many things happen during a college semester: mid-terms, finals, work and…activism? Yes, activism! That is the case for us, Metro State Atheists (MSA), an affiliate of the Center for Inquiry. Besides the classes, work, and other academic responsibilities that we endure, we participated in some secular activist activity that put me in the spotlight both locally and nationally.
Not many can argue that 2008 wasn’t a historic election, not only for the entire country, but also for Colorado as we hosted the 2008 Democratic National Convention. However, that wasn’t the only history being made—at least trying to be made—in Colorado. Amendment 48, or the Personhood Amendment, was on its way to become the first legislation in the United States to not only completely ban abortion but also redefine the term “person”: “to include any human being from the moment of fertilization.” When our group became aware of this initiative early in the summer, we immediately knew that we had to do all we could to prevent this from passing. That is just what we did, come the fall. We contacted the political group “Protect Families Protect Choice,” to offer our support, and they responded by giving us informational material as well as yard signs, stickers, etc. We then had two informational tables set up two weeks out from the election urging people to vote no on Amendment 48. This caught the eye of our local news, Channel 9, which was in the process of doing stories on the different amendments on the Colorado ballot. They asked to interview me about Amendment 48 the next day on campus as a part of their series that aired live online. Come November 4th, Amendment 48 failed miserably, much to our pleasure. We’d like to think we had a hand it its demise, seeing as we worked quite hard on campus to that end.
Next, without much warning, came what would turn out to be the most media coverage we have ever received. MSA is a part of the Colorado Coalition of Reason, or COCORE, which put up 11 billboards in the Denver metro area and Colorado Springs. The message was similar to those seen elsewhere around the country. The billboards needed only eight words, “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone,” to ignite a controversy that took two local newscasts (11/13/08, 11/18/08) and a half-page opinion article in the Rocky Mountain News to clear up. The fervently religious were utterly offended that such a message was allowed in Denver. The story received national media attention when the Channel 7 news story made its way onto CNN.com. We saw our first hate mail ever, from Christians no less, calling us evil and full of hate. I got phone calls too! However, instead of being mean-spirited phone calls, they were supportive. A man from South Carolina called me, telling me that he appreciates what we are doing and asked me, as a fellow atheist, if there were any similar organizations such as MSA or COCORE in his area. Another call was from a Jew lending his support to the cause. This project was a great learning experience and we enjoyed the huge amount of media coverage it got. It made more of an impact that we could have hoped for in our wildest dreams.
The last and most recent event wasn’t really an event, so to speak. After rediscovering my cousin Becky via Facebook, I learned that her pastor is Bob Enyart who appeared on the same newscast as I regarding the aforementioned billboards. She told me that ever since she told Bob that I was her cousin, he has been wanting to have me on his show on 670 AM, KGOV. She then served as a go-between to make the proper arrangements for me to be on the show. In short order we arranged a date and time. I appeared on Bob Enyart Live on January 7th, 2009. We talked about atheism, the billboards, and about how I became an atheist. This was an advantageous interview as Bob has offered to advertise our events to people of an opposing viewpoint, which we believe is critical to our cause.
In closing, I’d like to stress the importance of organizing. Although the task of secular activism and attempting to effect change can be tough, and at times seem impossible, it can be done, even if it’s just change at the local level. Think big, but take baby steps. The American Revolution wasn’t born, fought, and won in a day. We need to stay vigilant, learning from every victory and, perhaps more importantly, from every defeat. When a minority is fighting a majority who commands all the power and resources, it amplifies the importance of cohesive, organized goal-oriented activism by many orders of magnitude. Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I believe this is insufficient and passive. You must not only be the change but also be willing to work for it. Thus, I appeal to you all: work with us, fight hard, and we can bring about the change necessary to make this country what it once was!
Joel Guttormson is President of Metro State Atheists and a theoretical mathematics major, linguistics minor at Metropolitan State College of Denver. Joel also volunteers for CFI as a campus regional coordinator.
So, right now there is a Denver ballot initiative for and “Extraterrestrial Affairs Commission”. I’ll be calling it EAC for short. You can check out the campaign website here. According to the campaign site, 57 extraterrestrial humanoids have been classified, the government has not only conspired to cover up the presence of extraterrestrials but the clean energy technologies they have offered us as well, and that photos from NASA are doctored to remove evidence of extraterrestrial life. For the evidence of these claims, they give a link to the Star Trek Institute The Disclosure Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to uncovering the truth about our alien life. The Men In Black big bad U.S. government, though, is standing the way. Here is a copy of the bill itself.
If your from Denver, I urge you attend David Grinspoon’s lecture on the ballot initiative before you consider voting for this bill. The title of his lecture is “Alien Life: The Science and the Hype: Why Denver Doesn’t Need an Extraterrestrial Affairs Commission”. David Grinspoon is the curator of astrobiology at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, author of “Lonely Planets” and “Venus Revealed”, and winner of the Carl Sagan Medal. The lecture will be on the Auraria campus, 9000 Auraria Parkway, Denver CO 80217, in the North Classroom Atrium A/B from 3pm to 5pm on October 23rd. His personal web page is David Grinspoon’s Word. Metro State Atheists is hosting the event, the Center For Inquiry will be co-sponsoring, and Elles of Splendid Elles will be presenting David Grinspoon.