Students Form Secular Group on Campus

Hannah Fuchs



 As the interfaith community on campus expands and diversifies, a number of Colgate students realized an essential voice was missing.

After reading the novel Acts of Faith by Eboo Patel, two first-years, Matthew Knowles and Thomas Wobby, were alarmed by what they saw as a gaping hole or flaw to the novel. The novel, which was the summer reading assignment for the Class of 2015, emphasized the importance of co­operation among various religious groups in an interfaith setting to realize universal commonali­ties. However, the book generally neglected discussion about how people of secular views figure into the equation.

Knowles and Wobby saw a par­allel between what was absent in the book and what was missing at Col­gate. The book became the impetus to gain greater recognition for the secular, non-religious identity on campus. Knowles and Wobby felt that though they did not subscribe to a religion, they could meaning­fully contribute to discussions on faith and community.

Wobby and Knowles appealed to University Chaplain and Cath­olic Campus Minister Mark Shin­er about a group on campus, lead­ing to the formation of the new secular group, Secular Association of Skeptical Students (SASS). The group is not yet approved by the Student Government Association, but has been strongly supported by the interfaith community as well as the Newman Community, the Catholic student group.

“We want to have an outlet for people of non-religious views to add to the interfaith discussion and to help alleviate the stigma against atheists that exists in society today,” Wobby said.

Wobby, an atheist, expressed that there are many stereotypes surrounding athe­ists and agnostics that they would like to dispel. When asked about discrimi­nation at Colgate toward secularists, the founders felt that Colgate has been very accepting, especially compared to other settings.

“However, many of our posters announcing our first meeting did get ripped off the walls,” Wobby said, im­plying that some modicum of dissent may be present. The posters advertised SASS’s first group meeting in late De­cember with the quote from Thomas Edison: “All bibles are man-made.”

The founders believe that the means to achieve their goals would be through both group dis­cussion and community service in coordination with other religious groups. Because people of secu­lar beliefs do not attend services together, there is a lack of unity within the community. The group hopes to unify the secular group from within as well as bond it to the larger interfaith community.

Sophomore Elisabeth Muehle­mann, who presides on the interfaith council and is a member of the New­man Group, described her enthusiasm for the group.

“It was strange that we did not have a secular group on cam­pus already,” Muehlemann said. “SASS has been extremely inter­ested in interfaith work and has encouraged reciprocal learning in our community.”

Muehlemann explains that Knowles and Wobby are great ad­ditions because they share the same goals as the interfaith community, which strives to make Colgate stu­dents aware, literate and involved with belief systems so that they could confidently engage in discus­sion with anyone they encounter at and beyond Colgate.

SASS has already been very ac­tive in interfaith meetings and din­ners. The group led last week’s inter­faith dinner on Thursday where it posed the question, “Was there ever a time when you were discriminat­ed against because of your beliefs?” The applicability of this question to all religious groups speaks to the possibility of finding commonality and making connections regardless of religious background.

On Sunday, February 12, the group sponsored their first event, Darwin Day, in celebration of Charles Darwin’s 203rd birthday. Activities included a lecture by Professor of Geology Constance Soja on Charles Darwin and a celebratory birthday cake.

For Knowles and Wobby, Dar­win’s contributions to science have been fundamental to their own secular understanding of the world and human accomplishment.

In terms of future events, SASS plans to host a Pastafarian spaghet­ti dinner and discussion about the parody religion of Pastafarianism under the “Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.” Wobby him­self is an ordained Pastafarian min­ister. SASS will also help to pro­mote interfaith “Big Days” events later on this semester.

Contact Hannah Fuchs at [email protected].