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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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The Battalion May 4, 2024

Atheists hold discussion on modern issues

Secular Student Alliance

Religion is very apparent at Texas A&M, as anyone can walk around campus and notice religious speakers preaching in front of Rudder Tower or even pairs of people handing out New Testament Bibles on the sidewalks. Within student activities, there are 81 active religious-based organizations available, promoting themselves by tabling or hosting events around campus. A notable example is Breakaway which happens every week and, more recently, the Ash Wednesday ceremonies held in Rudder Theater. 

There are a lot of religious groups at A&M, but for non-religious students, there is only one student organization for secular people, the Secular Student Alliance. The Secular Student Alliance is a student organization for atheists, agnostics and secular people to discuss their beliefs in a dialogue where people of any background are welcome.

Industrial engineering junior Ewan Hassall is the president of the Secular Student Alliance and said he is mainly responsible for making sure the organization is running smoothly without any issues regarding paperwork or with weekly meetings.

Hassall said he did most of the presentations last semester until recently when he decided to give others the opportunity to choose topics they would like to talk about. 

“I’m sort of loosely responsible for everything,” Hassall said. “You kind of are responsible for making sure everyone else is adhering to their responsibilities.” 

Hassall said he grew up Christian until he was 12 years old and began to question his faith at a wedding.

“My pastor was responding to the question, ‘What if you’re wrong about Christianity?’ at a wedding of all places,” Hassall said. “He said we’d rather continue to be wrong and be Christian than be right and believe in something else.”

At the time, Hassall said it was a very strange answer, so he decided it was best to do his own investigation.

Computer engineering senior Max Smith is the treasurer of the Secular Student Alliance and is involved with setting up many of the organization’s events.

“Our primary purpose is to serve as a source of community for non-religious students at A&M,” Smith said. “There isn’t really anybody else offering that community to people like that here.” 

Smith said weekly general meetings are formatted as a brief presentation going over certain topics, usually religion, politics, philosophy or science with discussion among the group.

“I was involved with planning our socials, making sure our meetings run smoothly, regular administrative tasks, handling all the money and collecting dues,” Smith said.

Outside of that, the group has social events, tabling and a debate with a Christian organization on campus, Smith said. At some point prior to his Bar Mitzvah, Smith said he was lacking faith, not really believing in what he was learning; he did not consider himself atheist yet, but agnostic.

“I was raised in a semi-Jewish environment. I went to Jewish preschool and received some religious education through that,” Smith said. “In elementary school, I was in Hebrew school and preparing to get Bar Mitzvahed.”

Michael Alvard, Ph.D., the Cultural Anthropology program coordinator, is the advisor for the Secular Student Alliance and has been in the Bryan-College Station atheist community for many years.

“I’ve been involved with the community atheist group, the Bryan-College Station Atheist and Freethinkers,” Alvard said. “I’ve been involved with the Atheist group for years and met Michael Green who was the advisor of the student group.”

Alvard said Green had to leave town so he recommended Alvard to the students in order to fill in as the new advisor.

“Most of what I do to be honest is deal with emails and forms,” Alvard said. “I often have to sign things especially if there’s money involved.”

Alvard said he wants to be hands-off because it is easy for him to recommend different things he thinks they should do, but they have had no issues doing things on their own. 

Civil engineering sophomore Mason Royal said they joined the organization very recently. 

“I have been an atheist for a little over a year now and during the first few months I did truly feel alone,” Royal said. 

He was interested in finding more people who believed in the same things as him and was able to find the organization’s discord online, Royal said. 

“There would always be questions that I had, questions and disagreements with what was being taught,” Royal said. 

Royal said the only people he felt could answer his questions were his parents, but he was always met with a strict and blunt answer. 

“I felt very isolated and alienated by my own parents,”  Royal said. 

Many members of the organization talk about telling their parents their beliefs, but instead of being asked any questions about it they are met with belligerent shame, Royal said. 

“That just makes things worse, it pushes people farther away from the original beliefs that they had,” Royal said.

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