Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Meet the Officers: Melissa Lyman

“Meet the Officers” is a biographical series that seeks to give names and personalities to the officers who run Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics. Every two weeks, the blog will update with a post about a new officer.

Melissa Lyman is one of the Co-Treasurers of AHA. She is a freshman majoring in Biology. When Melissa came to UW Madison, one of her goals was to find a more diverse group of people with beliefs that differed from the conservative, republican beliefs she had grown up with. AHA proved to fit her goal nicely,and she has been coming to meetings ever since. In her spare time, Melissa likes to watch the daily show, bake, cook, run, and weight train.

                 Melissa's Secular Story

As a kid, neither God nor religion in general played a pivotal part in my life. Since joining AHA, I’ve realized that this is relatively uncommon. I had religious friends, but I never questioned them about it. My parents stopped taking me to church when I was about 4 years old. I remember asking my mother, “Why?” and she just replied that we didn’t have time to go every Sunday. It made sense to me at the time but when I was older I discovered that my mom had simply wanted my brother and me to learn about Christianity due to its prevalence in our culture. However, she disliked the forceful rigidity of the teachings and the lack of encouragement to keep an open mind. She didn’t want to indoctrinate my brother and I with these teachings—she just wanted us to learn about it to enable us to make our own decisions later in life. I appreciate now how my mom had never given me a straight answer regarding her views about politics and religion; she simply gave me the facts and tools for figuring it out myself.

Throughout my life I never thought too much about how I didn’t believe in God. In high school, my parents would turn on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report and I was surprisingly interested. I enjoyed the shows and it made me want to explore more political news reports on my own to ensure I was informed. I grew to realize that my views were definitely skewed left. One of the main differences I had with most Republicans was the lack of separation of the church and state. It seemed as though they continually supported their views by referencing the church, which bothered me. To support political decisions based on an outdated ideology didn’t make sense to me. I began to have long discussions with my mother about the government and each parties’ views and enjoyed debating with her about many current event topics. I realized then that I was nonreligious but I never associated myself with the label Atheist until I was looking for student organizations on campus to get involved with.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Meet the Officers: Branden Statz

“Meet the Officers” is a biographical series that seeks to give names and personalities to the officers who run Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics. Every two weeks, the blog will update with a post about a new officer.

Branden is one of the Volunteer Chairs of AHA. He is a junior from Waunakee, WI with a major in Evolutionary Biology. Branden found out about AHA at the student organization fair. He was completely surprised that such an organization even existed at Madison. In his free time, Branden likes to go outside and enjoy nature by going on walks or playing sports like soccer and frisbee. He also is an avid non-fiction reader, and, when he isn't reading, he listens to podcasts and audiobooks.

Branden's Secular Story
I was raised Catholic and went to church fairly often with my family when I was younger. Our church attendance dwindled as I got older and my family got busier with life in general. Despite this, I still felt like I had a personal relationship with God, and I held my faith very strongly through most of high school. Towards the end of my senior year, though, I started having doubts about my faith, but I mainly tried not to think about them. It wasn't until I was in college when I discovered that there was such a thing as atheists. From that point on, it took a surprisingly short amount of time for me to start defining myself as an atheist. It was almost as if I only needed to know there was such a thing as an atheist for the dam holding back my doubts to completely break apart. I discovered atheism mostly through the internet; from media like science articles and YouTube videos, most notably The Atheist Experience. Eventually I explored influential scientists and philosophers such as Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking, Lawrence Krauss, and Christopher Hitchens. I shared my thoughts with one or two people during that first year of being an atheist, but I did not personally know another atheist. That is, until I discovered AHA.

I found AHA completely by accident. I was at the organization fair at the Kohl center at the beginning of my sophomore year and saw AHA's booth. I was completely amazed that there was an actual organized community of atheists at Madison. I signed up and went to the next meeting. I found an amazing community of freethinkers who were willing and able to discuss and argue with me about anything I could think of. I was immediately hooked. Never before had I had an outlet where I could just ask questions about things that would normally have been answered with “God works in mysterious ways” or “We are just not able to understand God’s plan”. During my two years at AHA, I                                                                                            have never been met with anything but 
                                                                                   excitement when I ask difficult                                                                                                        questions. AHA has allowed me to grow as                                                                                    a freethinker and make wonderful friends. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

Freethought Speaker Series: MinutePhysics in Review

Once a semester, AHA hosts our Freethought Speaker Series, in which we invite a speaker to give a talk for us. In the past, we have invited ex-pastor Jerry Dewitt, FFRF Lawyer Andrew Seidel, and FFRF co-President Dan Barker. This semester, we got our most well-known speaker yet: Henry Reich, creator of MinutePhysics on YouTube.

Henry Reich attended Grinnell College, where he majored in physics and math. Later, he got his masters at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario. In addition to science, Henry is very interested in videography and film. He first became involved with YouTube as a special effects editor for the YouTube channel, Freddiew. Eventually, he decided to pursue his own channel, naming it MinutePhysics.

MinutePhysics was a trendsetter for online videos. In 2011, Reich was one of a handful of people creating science videos for the typical YouTube audience. MinutePhysics became quite popular within the first year of its existence. Online news outlets praised the videos for making science fun and interesting. MinutePhysics and the other educational channels that existed at the time helped start an educational revolution. The quality of science content on YouTube today is extremely impressive, and continues to inspire many young scientists of tomorrow.

As a part of our Freethought Speaker Series, Henry gave a fantastic presentation titled "The Physics of Free Will," in which he gave scientific perspective to a philosophical question that has been the object of debate for centuries. If you missed the talk, the video can be found below:

Lastly, we hold a fundraiser each semester. Freethought Speaker Series is our largest way of promoting our fundraiser. Last semester, we were able to raise $155 for the Domestic Abuse Intervention Services in Madison. This semester, we are raising money for Porchlight, an organization that helps the homeless in Madison. If you missed the talk, but would still like to donate, click here or on the "Donate" button on the top right, and leave a memo letting us know your donation is for Porchlight.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Meet the Officers: Darcy Davis

“Meet the Officers” is a biographical series that seeks to give names and personalities to the officers who run Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics. Every two weeks, the blog will update with a post about a new officer.

Darcy is the Technology Chair of AHA. She is a sophomore from Rhode Island with a major in Mechanical Engineering. Darcy found out about AHA at the student organization fair. In her free time, she enjoys making origami, sewing, watching anime, playing board games, and  badgering Mendel.

Darcy's Secular Story

Religion has never been a big part of my life. My dad is technically Christian and my mom is technically Jewish, but I've never been to a church service with my family. The only synagogues I've been to were for my cousin's wedding and my other cousin's bar mitzvah. Most people were pretty relaxed about their religion when I was growing up, so even though I had a couple friends who went to places of worship regularly and more who only celebrated larger holidays of their faith, I always felt accepted. Then again, I wasn't much of a vocal atheist, so I'm not sure how many people in my community knew I was one.

Going from Rhode Island to Wisconsin was a pretty big change in religious atmosphere. During my freshman year, I remember people on my floor loudly making plans to go to church together. It was such an odd phenomenon for me. Back home, I was  pretty oblivious about the faith of most people I knew, because no one was particularly vocal about it. Sure, I assumed they were some form of Christian usually, but that's not a difficult assumption to make, considering I live in America. I had an extremely basic understand of what a Creationist was until I was 16 and befriended someone who was one. Here, there are people talking about their religion on Library Mall with big signs and pamphlets to hand out. There are more than three churches just from one side of campus to the other. The majority of people here are more openly religious than anyone I've met before. It was definitely a big change for me that I didn't really expect.

When I came to college, I saw AHA at the student organization fair and signed up immediately. I didn't even let any of the officers give their spiel about AHA. I'm not sure exactly what drew me to the group. I wasn't a new atheist looking for a community. I wasn't afraid or spiteful toward my religious peers. I didn't have a grudge against religion as a whole. Mainly, I just saw a group who I knew I would agree with. When I went to my first meeting a few weeks into the semester, I liked the atmosphere of AHA a lot. It was just a ton of people critically thinking about important issues. Going to Lakefront afterward was definitely a nice experience. It was my first time in college being out with a lot of people. It was my first real opportunity to make friends outside the dorms. AHA has been a great experience for me as a member and as an officer. I've made some great friends here, and I hope to make even more as time goes on.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Meet the Officers: Lucy Jiang

“Meet the Officers” is a biographical series that seeks to give names and personalities to the officers who run Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics. Every two weeks, the blog will update with a post about a new officer.

Lucy is one of the Co-Secretaries of AHA. She is a sophomore international student from Hong Kong with majors in Biochemistry and Mathematics. Lucy found out about AHA from her friends and fellow officers, Mendel and Darcy. Lucy has a deep appreciation for the arts. If she could have a second job, she would want to be a graphic designer. She likes to read novels and magazines because they let her experience different perspectives and ideas about life. But by far, Lucy's favorite pastime is trolling her AHA friends.

Lucy with a pinecone from the top of the tree behind herLucy's Secular Story

I was raised secular; my family rarely talked about religious issues. The culture in Hong Kong is quite different from America. There is a wide range of religious groups, and most people accept different religious views. My high school was founded by a Christian church. We still had religious freedom, although some religious events were mandatory.

I was never into anything religious, even after spending six years in a religious school. The theories explained in my religious textbooks didn’t make logical sense to me. Even so, I didn’t start to define myself as an atheist until Darcy and Mendel brought me to my first AHA meeting. In AHA, people are open-minded, and willing to discuss interesting and controversial issues. I always enjoy the time in the meetings and hanging out with my                                                                          AHA friends. Although I have not encountered
                                                                              problems from being non-religious, I have found                                                                            support from the AHA community.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Freethought Festival 4 Announced!

Every year we host our annual FREE conference, the Freethought Festival, taking place in downtown Madison, WI. FTF consists of talks given by authors, comedians, scientists, and activists who speak on a variety of subjects. This year, FTF4 will be headlined by author Susan Jacoby, and comedian Jamie Kilstein. The full lineup of speakers will be announced within a few weeks.

The conference will be taking place on March 13th, 14th, and 15th in the DeLuca Forum of the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery. Save the dates!

As always, this year's event is open to anyone. You do not need to be a UW student to attend the conference.

Head over to freethoughtfestival.org for more information.

I hope to see you all at FTF4!

-Sam Erickson
Atheists, Humanists, & Agnostics @ UW-Madison

To register for FTF4, please head here and fill out the necessary information.

Note: Registering for FTF4 does not guarantee you a seat. The DeLuca Forum has space for 300 people, but we close at capacity so please arrive early to guarantee a seat.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Mass Email Draws Renewed Anger

Once a semester we send out an email to the entire student body at UW-Madison, inviting interested students to join AHA. Using the University's mass email system, any student organization with $100 can send an email to all 40,000+ students on campus. Here's our message from this semester, sent last Thursday:

"Subject: Join the Secular Conversation!

Are you a non-religious or otherwise freethinking student? Are you questioning your faith? You are not alone. Join AHA: UW-Madison’s only student organization for secular students.

At AHA, we ask questions like:
Why are we moral?
How does religion affect sexual expression?
Is free will an illusion?
Would you date an android?

Join us at our meetings, every Thursday at 7pm in Ingraham Hall 224, to discuss these questions and many more! Tonight’s meeting topic is the meaning of life.

To be on our email list, simply send a blank email to: <join-aha@lists.wisc.edu>

Additionally, join us at any of our kickoff events!
  • Thursday, February 5th - Information Session - 6pm - Ingraham Hall, Room 19
  • Saturday, February 7th - Board Game Night - 8pm - Lakefront on Langdon, in Memorial Union
  • Monday, February 9th - Trivia Night - 8pm - The Sett in Union South
  • Thursday, February 12th - Freethought Speaker Series, with speaker Henry Reich, creator of MinutePhysics - 7pm - Ingraham Hall, room B10
To find out more about these events, check out our social media:
Blog <http://wiscatheists.blogspot.com/>,
Facebook page <http://www.facebook.com/wiscatheists>,
Twitter <https://twitter.com/WiscAtheists>,
Youtube <http://www.youtube.com/user/wiscatheists>

This message is sent from a UW-Madison Registered Student Organization once a semester from a UW generated list.  You are not on any email list, so asking to be taken off will do you no good. You are not subscribed to anything, and will not receive additional messages.

Funded in part by ASM in a viewpoint neutral manner. Students can request disability accommodations at diversity@asm.wisc.edu. View logo at:http://go.wisc.edu/cz030l"

In the past, our completely harmless emails have gotten some people pretty upset.  
For a good laugh, check out:

More recently, we wrote about how our fall 2013 mass email drew significantly fewer responses than in past years. After that, we elected to use our Spring 2014 mass email to advertise our Freethought Festival, which you can read more about at freethoughtfestival.org. Because this was an advertisement for our 2014 conference, which featured Dan Savage as headliner, we again received very few responses. We took these two occurrences as a sign that the UW campus had finally gotten over their vitriol, proclaiming that "people are beginning to accept atheism and AHA as a perfectly normal, acceptable, part of the campus community."

Turns out, we were wrong.

I present to you a compilation of several responses that we've received over the last two semesters, accompanied by my own personal take on their anger.

1. The most common responses, wishing to be taken off the email list.
  • Can you please take me off this email list.
  • unsubscribe
  • STOP emailing me
  • No more e-mails please. Thanks.
  • Can you stop sending me emails?
  • Cease and desist. Please stop, I have no interest in this type of thing.
If only their god had given them the ability to read all the way to the end of an email, where it clearly states "You are not on any email list, so asking to be taken off will do you no good. You are not subscribed to anything, and will not receive additional messages."

2. Really went out of his way to get taken off our list.
  • Dear Sir or Madam,

    Your message states that I am on no e-mail list, and so asking to be taken off will do me no good. But I have received an unsolicited e-mail, so it must be that I am on some list, somewhere. Please arrange it so that you send me nothing else. If this is impossible, then please explain why the atheists are able to send un-opt-out-able messages to the campus community, or please direct me to someone who can provide such an explanation.

    May God richly bless you,
    <Name omitted>

At least he read to the end of the email. Good on you, sir, for managing to do something that most angry respondents cannot. The problem is that you're getting sent this email simply because you're a UW-Madison student. If you wish to be taken off this list, just don't be enrolled in classes! It's that simple.

3. Legitimately angry.
  • Don't email me about your atheists views. I don't want to hear about it. I'm a Christian so don't even bring it up.
  • For the love of god. Stop sending your stupid emails. There has to be a better way to get the word out than annoying every single kid on campus through email...
No, that's the point. This is far-and-away the best way to get the word out about our group. It is the single best recruitment tactic that we have, and we probably bring in 100+ new members every year because of it. I am sincerely sorry for the minor inconvenience into your daily life. It would've been so difficult to just delete the email and carry on with your day!

4. Tries to reconcile freethinking with religion.
  • I would like to inform you that it it is possible to be a free thinking student without denouncing one's religious beliefs. Also, I will not be attending your events. I truly hope your organization does not receive funding from donors that gave to this university out of the kindness of their heart that was instilled to them by God. 
    In Jesus' Holy Name, Amen.
I'm sure this guy would find a lot of comfort in the fact that we are funded by student segregated fees, which means he personally donated roughly 50 cents to our group. Thank you for the kind donation, sir!

5. Philosophically Crazy
  • Interesting:I wonder if these questions or other questions that may be discussed would serve a purpose. If so, what is that purpose. It cannot be to continue to beat about in the confusion unleashed on the masses by power concentrating mechanisms in society. What is secular? Can people who cannot completely /unconditionally accept others actually be secular?

    First - why do we have these questions?

    > Why are we moral?
    Assumes morality is defined. who decides what that is...not corrupt pyramid schemes. do we need morality when science exists? science teaches us rules of the road. Why not that of life? What does morality do, if anything at all?

    > How does religion affect sexual expression?
    what we mean by religion (a type of socialization)? why do we need to talk about expressions (another type of socialization)? is this topic meaningful?

    > Is free will an illusion? What other illusions exist...

    > Would you date an android?
    Why is dating needed? 'aliens' exist in our own backyard as we know little about another human. why do we need to search for aliens for dating ?

I... I... I don't even know what to say to this one.

Hope you got a good laugh out of these.

-Sam Erickson
AHA President