Monday, January 26, 2015

Meet the Officers: Mark Pan

“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.

Mark Pan is one of the Co-Treasurers of AHA. He is a senior majoring in Molecular Biology. Mark found out about AHA from mass emails and student organization fairs, although he hesitated to join until his junior year. In his spare time, he likes to read about neuroscience, work out with APE, play board and video games, fawn over Hayao Miyazaki films, tease Mendel, push Anna's buttons, and engage in intellectual gymnastics with Cole.

Mark's Secular Story

I wasn't always an atheist, but religion was not a significant part of my upbringing. Every now and then, my mother would take my brother and me to a Sunday morning worship service, but attendance was never mandatory. She'd take us because going to church was something that she used to do as a teenager growing up in Hong Kong. It was a way for her to feel like she was part of a community.

For a while, I attempted to get my sense of community from religion as well. During my first two years of college, I regularly attended bible studies and worship services held by Badger Cru and Asian American InterVarsity. I met a lot of great people during this time. My mentors were, and are, compassionate, wise, knowledgeable and supremely patient people. We still keep in touch.

What drew me to Cru and AAIV in the first place was that I’ve always loved pondering “the big questions” - the ones people have been thinking about and trying to answer for as long as the historical records can recall. I wanted to be around people who wouldn’t scoff, roll their eyes, giggle, or raise an eyebrow at me whenever I would bring up free willmorality, information theory, the absurdity of our existence as self-referential beings, or any of the other innumerable ideas that human beings have come up with over the millenia to make sense of the world.

It wasn’t until junior year that I started going to AHA meetings. I avoided becoming involved earlier because, like many people in our society, I had misconceptions about who atheists are and what atheism actually entails. I considered myself agnostic. In my mind, this meant that I fell somewhere in between atheists and theists. My beliefs were a question mark to their periods; one’s claim to knowledge was no better than the other’s. I resented the fact that the name of the organization itself - “Atheists, Humanists & Agnostics” - lumped open-minded agnostics in with narrow-minded atheists.

I realized, in time, how closed-minded I was being. The Christian doctrine wasn't resonating with me, so in the process of looking elsewhere for my sense of community, I decided to give AHA a chance. They were hosting a board game night that weekend and one of the officers, Amanda Supak, was going to bring homemade cupcakes. I like board games and baked goods, so I decided to go check it out. It was at this event that I met Amanda as well as the Archduke of AHA, Christopher “Tophu” Calvey. I mounted a subtle challenge to their atheism, eager to dissociate it from my beloved agnosticism. Our subsequent conversation prompted me to go home that night and google “the problem with agnosticism” which, in turn, led me to this paper. Long story short, I now identify as an agnostic atheist.

I met former officer Adam Benton and current vice president Cole Dreier at an AHA meeting later that week. I casually brought up the topic of free will with them. Again, instead of being met with scoffs, eye-rolls, giggles or raised eyebrows, I was met with a kindred passion for contemplating complicated ideas. Unlike with Cru and AAIV, however, the conversations didn’t stop at God.

From an agnostic who dabbled in theism to an agnostic atheist, what I was looking for all along was a sense of community - to understand and be understood. I think we all want to feel like we belong somewhere. For many people, that feeling of belonging comes from communion with at least one supernatural entity. For me, that feeling comes from grappling with intellectually stimulating ideas in the company of fellow philosophers.

All that said, I really do prefer meeting people face-to-face. If you found the time to read all the way to the bottom of this, then you can definitely find time to come to an AHA event and talk with me in person!

Cheers,

Mark

TL;DR version: Philosophy and neuroscience convince an agnostic theist to self-describe as an agnostic atheist instead. Friends are made along the way. Love is the answer. AHA is the bomb!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

AHA's Displays Invade Wisconsin State Capitol

The Wisconsin State Capitol rotunda became more crowded than ever today.

Every December, the Capitol rotunda becomes cluttered with numerous religious displays, mostly of a Christian nature. This year’s entrants include two large nativity scenes, multiple signs praising Jesus, a Seinfeld-inspired “Festivus” pole, tables advocating pro-life and creationist views, and a large menorah, amongst many others.

Once again, AHA has added our own displays to the fold.



Last year, we discovered that it was incredibly easy for AHA to secure a permit for our own installation. In fact, practically anyone can put anything they want in the Capitol. All you have to do is fill out this simple one-page application (PDF). This year, we decided to push the boundaries by making our displays as blasphemous as ever. We applied for several different permits, and got approved for three displays on behalf of completely made-up organizations.


The first sign erected by AHA is on behalf of a fabricated organization of “Madison Sun Worshippers.”



The second and third signs, submitted by additional fictitious groups, were dedicated to the gods from the popular television show Game of Thrones. One is dedicated to the so-called “Old Gods,” featuring a sacred Weirwood tree and the slogan “Winter Is Coming.”



The other is dedicated to the Faith of the Seven, detailing the attributes of the seven “New Gods” in the form of a hymn from the fictional series, while referring to the fictional book series A Song of Ice and Fire as our “holy texts”.




The intention of these displays is to advocate for the separation of Church and State, and to draw attention to the ridiculous public forum system in the Wisconsin State Capitol which allows nativity scenes and other religious displays to enter the halls of government. We would prefer that our Capitol remain secular and free from divisive religious intrusion, but when the State creates an open forum, everything is permitted. Hopefully the the silly nature of these displays will make people think about whether the Capitol is an appropriate place for promoting personal religious views.

Six other permit requests submitted by AHA officers were denied. These included signs which were intended to celebrate Norse, Greek, and Roman gods, as well as the Flying Spaghetti Monster. According to the Wisconsin State Capitol police department, the requests were not processed due to the limited amount of available space. This raises concerns about the open forum system. The state government is in no position to determine which kinds of religious free speech are legitimate and which are not. If space is limited, how will the Capitol police decide which permits to approve? What’s to stop one religious organization from flooding the forum with their own views, while others get left out?

Take a trip to the Capitol before January 5th and check the signs out for yourself!

Friday, December 12, 2014

AHA: Giving to Women and Children in Need

For the third time, AHA has partnered with the Domestic Abuse Intervention Services to help out the shelter for the holiday season. This time, instead of buying specifically for a family, we opted to raise money for gifts for women and children staying in the shelter over the holidays. Thanks to our generous AHA members, we were able to raise $155 for gifts such as bathrobes, pajamas, toys, games, stuffed animals, and shower supplies. 



We thought a huggable black dog and Jenga were a couple great toys for the children in the shelter over the holidays.

If you missed the chance to donate to our funraiser for DAIS, you can always donate to them here!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

AHA: No Meeting this Week. Good Luck on Finals!

No Meeting until January 22nd!
Good luck on finals and
Happy Holidays!

Thanks to everyone who donated to our Adopt a Family fund. We were able to raise $155 to buy gifts for women and children who are staying in the shelter over the holidays.

If you didn't get a chance to participate in our campaign, you can still donate directly to DAIS, Madison's Domestic Abuse Intervention Services. 
Recent Events

Board Game Night
Saturday, December 6th
Aha had another successful board game night with roughly 20 people in attendance throughout the night.





War on Christmas Party
Friday, December 5th
Our cookie decorating contest was a huge hit, both for those who brought their own cookies, and those who decorated the ones provided.


 
AHA Event Calendar

Visit Our Office!
3157 SAC
3:00-6:00 Mon-Friday


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Thursday, December 4, 2014

Another Monumental Day for AHA

Every year, AHA applies for yearly University funding. Today we were approved for our third straight annual budget, to the tune of $64,350.69, making us undoubtedly the highest funded atheist student group in the country. This funding enables us to put on a variety of programs and services, many of which would not be possible without it. So how do we receive this funding? It's a long story, but bear with me...

Every semester, in addition to our normal tuition, University of Wisconsin-Madison students are required to pay "segregated fees," which came out to about $1,140 per person last year. These funds are allocated by a committee, the Student Services Finance Committee (SSFC), of our student government, the Associated Students of Madison (ASM). Most of the $32 million segregated fee pool goes towards paying for things like student health services, our unions, WSUM student radio, the Rape Crisis Center, bus passes, student government functions, childcare assistance, and exercise facilities. About 3% of the total segregated fees are distributed to support the hundreds of Registered Student Organizations (RSOs) on campus through a variety of funding streams.

One of these funding streams is the General Student Services Fund, AKA the holy grail of student organization funding. Rather than applying for event/travel/operations grants, GSSF groups receive a single budget to cover all of their services, programming, operating expenses, travel, and paid student staff, making this a system of funding not seen on many other campuses. Thus, the budgets can get pretty large.



There are two distinct processes through which GSSF groups receive funding. First, we must apply for eligibility and be approved as eligible into the GSSF fund. Once approved, we must submit a budget request to the SSFC and attend a budget hearing to present our proposal. Then, in the following meeting, the SSFC debates and cuts or expands parts of the group's proposed budget. As you may recall, AHA first received funding for 2013-2014.

The eligibility cycle is on a two year basis, which means we were up for eligibility again this fall. Our submitted application was approved this past September, which means after many late nights of slaving over our application, we were deemed eligible for 2015-2016 and 2016-2017.

Then, we moved on to applying for our budget for next year. We can say with great pride that today, the SSFC voted 13-0 in favor of approving AHA's budget proposal! This is an honor that only 14 out of the over 900 student groups on campus are receiving. So where does that $64,350.69 go?

AHA's 2015 - 2016 Budget goes towards, among other things:

  • $246  for a yearly subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud, containing Photoshop, Illustrator, and a litany of other wonderful software.
  • $300  for semesterly "Kickoff Bash" pizza parties.
    • $300  to acquire books for our own "Freethought Library".
      • $1,000  for supplies for our office and supplies to help carry out our programs.
      • $1,300  to send our officers to the annual SSA Leadership Conference.
      • $2,780  to bring in semesterly speakers with our "Freethought Speakers Series."
      • $3,200  on advertising AHA's events and services in the student newspapers as well as sending out semesterly mass emails to every student on campus.
          • $5,000  on printing thousands of AHA flyers, posters, etc to be posted across UW's campus.

          And, if you can believe it...

          • $34,090 for 9 paid staff positions for the AHA officers.

          In 2012, the man who first dreamed up and carried out the application for GSSF Funding, Chris Calvey, said this after our first budget was approved: "Here at AHA, we take pride in constantly pushing the envelope of what secular student groups can accomplish. With this record-breaking budget, we have solidified our place as the biggest, best organized, and most successful atheist student group in history. And we're just getting started."

          Reflecting on those words two years later, they could not have been more true. We continue to improve as an organization every year, and future is just as bright as ever. We've worked very hard for several years to receive budgets like these, and today is another monumental day in AHA's long history.


          Wednesday, December 3, 2014

          AHA Weekly Meeting: Interacting with Religious Family Members

          Come one, come all to the AHA War on Christmas Party and Cookie Contest! Where: 521 S. Orchard St. #2.
          When: Friday, December 5th, 9pm
          What to Bring: Decorated cookies to be judged in our contest!

          Weekly Meeting


          Interacting with Religious Family Members
          Thursday, December 4th - 7pm
          Ingraham Hall, Room 224

          For many, religious deconversion is extremely difficult. Interacting with religious family members after deconversion is a problem encountered by many newly nonreligious people. How do you deal with overly religious family members? How do you respond when a family member asserts their religion in an aggressive or demeaning way?

          Can't make it to the meeting? Join us afterwards at Memorial Union in the Lakefront Room around 9pmfor drinks, food, and more great conversation.

          We hope to see you there!

           - Tyler Centers
             Service Chair

           - Anna Wright
             Co-Treasurer
          Meet The Officers:
          Tyler Centers
          Our next installment of Meet The Officers has been released, featuring AHA Service Chair, Tyler!
          Click here or on the image above to read the post!
          Volunteering with AHA
           
          AHA is in need of volunteers! If you would like to get involved or hear about our volunteering opportunities, please reply to this email!
          A Call to Blog
           
          AHA's blog updates with our recent events and stories worth sharing. Stories can range from coming-out-of-the-atheist-closet stories to news, primarily having to do with freethought, science, skepticism, or humanism.

          Do you have a story for the blog? Email it to us atwiscatheists@gmail.com or just reply to this email!

          Upcoming Events


          Tabling at Union South

          Thursday, December 4th - 12:00 to 6pm
          Union South - 1st Floor
          Drop by our table, or join us as a volunteer!

           

          War on Christmas Party and Cookie Contest

          Friday, December 5th - 9pm
          521 S. Orchard St, #2
          Bring your decorated cookies to be
          judged in our cookie contest!


          Board Game Night

          Saturday, December 6th - 8pm
          Memorial Union - Lakefront Room


           

          Recent Events

           

          Saturday, November 8th - Board Game Night


          This board game night surpassed the rest in dedication. Games were played until 5 in the morning. The union closed at 1am, but the party continued at an officer's apartment. Long live great friends and great games!
           

          Friday, November 7th - Free Art Friday


          Although the turnout was small, some sweet wire jewelry was made! Join us next month for Free Art Friday at Memorial Union!

           

          AHA Event Calendar

          Visit Our Office!
          3157 SAC
          3:00-6:00 Mon-Friday


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          Monday, December 1, 2014

          Meet the Officers: Tyler Centers

          “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.

          Tyler Centers has been involved with AHA for almost 1.5 years and currently serves as AHA’s Service Chair. He is a sophomore (self-described 14th-grader) majoring in math and computer science, with aspirations to become a high school math teacher. Tyler found AHA in his search for a fun, active organization. He attended a few meetings, and after “praying on it,” he decided to stay because of the outstanding members and officers that make up AHA. In his spare time, Tyler watches Netflix (an art in which he is a self-proclaimed expert), practices trumpet in hopes of joining the UW marching band, bikes, runs long distance, and procrastinates like a pro.









          Tyler’s Secular Story

          I've always been more or less secular. My parents never raised me on a religion, so I guess religion never caught on. I never really identified as atheist until high school, where I gained interest in religion and centered almost all of my papers on separation of church and state. It wasn't until I joined AHA that I realized just how much of an impact, for better or worse, that religion can have on the personal lives of others.