‘Why I don’t believe in God’

Erika Collin

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Students on campus are sometimes known for their desire to accept all religions and diversity, as demonstrated by the interfaith “Faiths United for a Cure” Relay for Life team, but how accepting are they of the idea of having no religion?

Grand Valley State University’s Center For Inquiry is trying to break down the stereotypes many people have about those who don’t believe in God, otherwise called secularists, agnostics or atheists.

“We’re looking to break those stereotypes and break the idea that atheists are bad people, that they hate God, that they hate religion, and that they hate religious people,” CFI President Kaleb Templer said. “We’re trying to get away from that to show that (atheists are) just normal, average people.”

In an effort to eliminate these stereotypes, CFI is hosting “Why I Don’t Believe in God — A Panel Discussion” tomorrow from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. in Lake Superior Hall room 154.

Attendees will be able to listen to a panel of seven non-religious GVSU students and community members who were chosen by CFI talk about their views on God. They will also be able to ask the panel questions and engage in discussion about religion.

“Don’t be afraid by the title of the panel,” said Maria Beelen, panelist and CFI event planner. “We’re human beings, and we’d love to sit down and talk with people about religion no matter what religion you are. We’re not going to try to convert you. We just want to have a discussion and be friends.”

CFI has struggled in the past with other on-campus religious organizations not wanting to collaborate with them. It often has to print a surplus of its event posters in preparation for replacing the many that get torn down.

“Any time we (host an event) like this, panel posters are forcibly removed,” Templer said. “Not by campus staff but by students. We want those people to come to the panel because I think those are the kind of people that need to see what an atheist actually is like.”

Gregory Forbes, panelist and Grand Rapids Community College biological sciences professor, also hopes the audience gains something from the discussion.

“I do not believe that the audience should be told what to think but rather how to think so that they can arrive at their own decision,” Forbes said. “I also hope that our audience learns that there are multiple lenses through which we can view the world around us.”

In addition to hosting events, CFI holds weekly meetings every Tuesday at 9 p.m. in Kirkhof Center room 1104.

“We want to provide a community for secular students, not unlike a church community for religious students,” Templer said.

In the future, CFI is planning to host events similar to this panel discussion that will potentially incorporate other religious organizations. They also have had ideas for debates revolving around religious topics.

“It would be so great if we had a multi-religious discussion or panel,” Beelen said. “That would be so cool and I would be incredibly interested in speaking at something like that.”

Overall, CFI wants to connect with the GVSU campus by comparing students’ similarities rather than their differences.

“Common ground. That’s what I really hope this panel gets across,” Templer said. “At the core, we’re still human beings and we’re the same as (religious people) are. We just have different beliefs, and in the end that doesn’t matter much.”