[Author's Note: This Viewpoints piece is slated to appear in Friday's edition of the Wooster Voice. I'm not sure it's especially elegant, but it says what I wanted it to. Also, I hope to soon be posting some other things I've written this past year that just haven't made it here yet.]
Last Monday, I attended the inaugural meeting of the Wooster Freethinkers Club (freethinkers being atheists, agnostics, etc.) and left feeling what can only be described as elated and deeply relieved. It was an instance of not realizing how much I felt the Wooster campus was missing just such an organization until after it came into being, and it transformed my understanding of how valuable diverse student groups can be to their individual members and to the campus as a whole.
I've considered myself an atheist for as long as I've given the issue of God any serious thought. I'm not sure that I parade that fact openly, but I certainly don't hesitate to lay my views on the table when the subject comes up. However, before the meeting, I could identify very few other nonbelievers on campus with any certainty. I suspected there were others, or even quite a few, but I had no way of knowing.
Therefore, that the first meeting was extremely well-attended, just about filling Babcock basement lounge, really surprised me. I already knew a good number of the people there, too (it's a small college, after all), without realizing that we all had one fairly significant trait in common. It made me aware just how taboo the topic is, and the feeling of breaching the silence was exhilarating. I was floored, for a moment, by basic gratitude that I could look around the room and know I wasn't alone in my views on a topic of great importance to me.
The fact that this taboo does exist, then, indicates how valuable the Freethinkers Club is not only to its members but to the greater student community. There's no reason that at a liberal arts college the nonreligious should feel like there's a tacit blanket of their views. No sort of gag exists officially, of course, or is even, to my knowledge, advocated by any individuals at Wooster. However, up to this point, the discourse on religion on this campus has been severely limited. Religious student groups have always been a visible part of campus life, and there's a definite spotlight on “religious diversity,” but where does this leave atheist and agnostic students?
It's essential that what I imagine is a fairly sizable portion of the student body have some kind of organization representing their views and interests, especially given that atheists are statistically the most discriminated-against population in America. If that's ever going to change, we need for the nonreligious to be able to “come out,” to identify themselves as normal people and not to feel like they can't express their views for fear of offending someone. I'm really looking forward to seeing what the Freethinkers Club is capable of doing for Wooster.