An Interview with Secular Student Society at Miami University — Part 2

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: You mentioned the word faith, when referencing yourself, but you also mentioned humanism and secularism. To me, this makes me think you have a humanist and secularist perspective reconciled with a personal family tradition of Christianity.

Secular Student Society at Miami (SSM): I see a separation between faith and spirituality. I am spiritual without a faith-based belief system. I have a strong spirituality in how I feel connected to others. That is in showing compassion to other human beings. It is my only consolation, which would be my spirituality — feeling compassion for others and helping them. The best way for me to understand others is to have no faith whatsoever myself.

It is the best way to say, “I understand you because I have been someone exposed to your culture and your perception, and I may observe it, but by not adhering to it, I am not limited by the bounds of it.” I think that’s the best person to help, the best judge of neutrality. That is the reconciliation between faith and where I lie.

Jacobsen: The one reconciliation is taking what people usually assert for faith and shifting that from a transcendentalist orientation to a “here-and-now” orientation. What are some of the more valuable tips for campus secularist activism given the fact there is at least 10 Christian organizations compared to the one secular organization, for instance?

SSM: I would say get your message out there, but in a way that’s completely respectful of other organizations as well. It is not a competition, merely a leveling of the playing field.

People get a little uncomfortable with the term secularist or atheist, especially on a mostly religious campus. SMM strives to familiarize students. I think the lack of exposure of secular ideals has led to confusion and even aversion. We are not evil baby eaters who have no sense of morality.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

SSM: A tip would be to dispel misconceptions people have one person at a time. Through a conversation, person to person. Appeal to secularism but in a way that the individual will understand. Another way is to have the interfaith panels. There will be disagreement but the mere exposure to the spectrum of perceptions is what’s important, and that at some point there is no right or wrong answer.

SSM aims to keep as nonpartisan as possible, but we find it difficult when what you would like to get done or the political stances we agreed on as being basic and human rights are being disrupted.

Aim for a slow, gradual change in perspective of the group itself. I do think there has been a slow shift in perception towards humanism and secularism. But because of the current political climate, secular progress has backslid.

Small or newer organizations should seek support in a larger group. Let’s say the Secular Student Alliance, who we are affiliated with, have SSA Con, where they will provide funding for SSM to attend. Find a larger or other organization for help to break down the barriers for understanding, get funding, you have to be relentless with it.

Jacobsen: I remember someone else using the term inter-belief rather than interfaith. I felt this was intentional this was inclusive of the whole suite of irreligious types within the general secular community.

Small things like language changes can bring people together from a common banner. Also, when people have interfaith panels, if inter-belief, they would have to by definition include you.

SSM: [Laughing]. Yes. Absolutely.