Thanks to everyone in the Secular Student Alliance affiliates at Ripon and Oshkosh, who hosted my trip this past week to the great state of Wiscons(in). Aside from a minor air travel-related mishap on the way out (and I only blame US Airways for that), it went very well! I toured the rural wilds of Wisconsin, tried some of the local microbrew – I enjoyed Spotted Cow – and spent an afternoon in picturesque downtown Ripon, which has a kind of Norman Rockwell charm. I also spoke closer to home, at Hofstra, earlier in the month.
I gave my talk on my philosophy of atheist morality at all three schools. Since I’ve given that speech several times before, I suppose that makes it my most popular. No Christian groups showed up en masse to crash it, as has happened before (I welcome that – dealing with their questions is always the most fun part!), but there was a lively Q&A session after the talk at all three schools. The SSA at Ripon brought in a group of people from the community, which made me a little nervous at first, but it turned out they were all awesome older atheists.
Among many other things, we discussed what constitutes happiness, whether you can get it through drugs, Ayn Rand and what I think of her, and my own personal deconversion story. One person at Oshkosh asked me one of the best questions I’ve gotten so far: If religion makes people happy, then wouldn’t I have to encourage people to be religious? My answer: yes, if religion were uniquely effective at producing happiness, I’d be empirically committed to promoting it, but I don’t think you can make a convincing case for that. Happiness is brought about by social interaction, a sense of purpose and membership in a strong community, not any specific set of beliefs. And in any case, you have to balance the good done by religion against the harm it causes to outsiders.
As always, if you’d like to hear this talk for yourself, or any of the others I do, you can invite me to your school. I don’t charge an honorarium, only travel and accommodation. So, what are you waiting for?