Clarion, Pa.- College is the place to challenge ideas and beliefs, to explore the world of
the seen and unknown. It is a time to question the opinions of others, to learn for one’s self what to stand for, and what to believe as right or wrong.
From April 7 to 23, the Secular Student Alliance has been challenging its members’ open-mindedness through a unique fundraiser titled, ‘Send an Atheist to Church.’ According to SSA president Krystalyn Kovacs, a senior biology major, the objective of the fundraiser is to break down the walls between atheists and the church, to break the gaps on how others view SSA and its affiliations and atheists in general.
“We wanted to dispel the misconceptions that society has placed upon atheists, that all atheists are Satan-worshippers or dislike religious people,” stated Kovacs, who has personally attended church services with the members who were “sent to church” through the fundraiser.
The objective of the fundraiser is for every $20 that is donated to SSA, one of its members will attend a church service at one of the many local churches. So far, five different church services have been attended by at least two or three members. Only one of the three or so members have been “sent to church” through the fundraiser, but many of the other SSA members have also attended the services to support one another and to experience the church atmosphere.
Jacob Byers, a junior physics major who attended a service at the First United Methodist church on Wood Street, said, “We want to eliminate the wrong definition of who atheists are, the belief that atheists are all immoral or anti-religion. We wanted to show that atheists are not arrogant or anti-religion or don’t have morals, that we are open-minded individuals who have rather accepted the theory of evolution more though than a religion or belief in God”
He added, “But SSA does have members who are seeking more information about atheism, who haven’t made their beliefs known yet.”
He continued, “Most importantly, we accept those who are deeply religious or share a certain religion. We are an open-minded group of individuals who hope to shed light on the topic of atheism and get rid of the negative perspective surrounding atheists.”
Kovacs explained SSA members “promote good science, democracy, critical thinking, and human-based ethics. So far, when attending the church services, we have kept an open mind, and have been welcomed, have felt the sense of community between the church and its members.”
“No one is being forced to do this, and personally I have had a great experience. The pastors present their ideas through terms in the Bible and then let the people come to their own conclusions, nothing is forced,” she added.
Jonathan “J” Dunn, a sophomore computer information science major, believes the fundraiser will eliminate some dogmatic thinking towards atheists, and have attended church services that he thought were well thought-out and reasoned.
“The service I attended discussed dressing modestly, gave a background on were the idea to dress modestly in public derived from and used biblical passages to support the argument. The pastor used religion to justify the reason to dress modestly,” said Dunn, “It helped me understand their religious beliefs better.”
Byers explained how during his church service, Reverend Kevin Haley led a scripture reading from John 21:1-14. The passage told the story of how Jesus appeared to His disciples while they were fishing after his resurrection. “During Pastor Haley’s response, he spoke about how this story emphasizes several things,” Byers said, “including being obedient to God and how God does not give up on people.”
Byers added how communion was the most surprising part of the service, and was actually confused on how communion worked. The people in the Roman Catholic mass in which he attended filed in a line, walked to the front and received a Eucharist, was offered wine and a piece of bread.
“I was very apprehensive about the communion process and opted out, saying to the woman I passed the basket to that I wasn’t Methodist,” said Byers, “And to my surprise, she responded with ‘As long as your God’s, it doesn’t matter.’ This was the one thing more than anything else that made me feel welcome in their church. Everything about the service reinforced the ideas of community and kinship.”
“On April 30 at 6 p.m.,” concluded Kovacs, “We will be holding an open panel discussing our experiences and answering questions about why we did the fundraiser and what people want to know about atheism.” The panel to be held in Hart Chapel will be open to students, staff, and the public, all of whom are encouraged to attend, with an open mind, and ask all and any questions regarding atheism or Secular Student Alliance. For more information about SSA or their fundraiser, check out their Facebook page at Facebook.com/SendAnAtheistToChurch or email SSA@clarion.edu.