College Atheists Raise Money By Offering to Attend House of Worship

The Secular Alliance of Indiana University found a clever way to raise money earlier this semester.

They set up shop in a well-traveled part of campus, put out cups with the names of different faith organizations on them, and asked passers-by to donate to the cup of their choosing. The atheists said they would attend a service for whichever “faith cup” earned the most. Meanwhile, half the proceeds would go to Doctors Without Borders (while the other half supported the SAIU group).

Educational and charitable. Beat that!

First place was the Muslim Student Union, followed by the Bahá’i group, and the atheists promised to go to both services. So far, it’s been a worthwhile experience for them:

Five members from the Secular Alliance attended the Friday [Islamic] prayer service.

“They seem to be a really nice bunch of people, and they’re socially conscious,” [Carly Jane] Casper said. “As nonreligious people, you need to be exposed to religious ideas. You can’t ignore them. It’s important for us to have close relationships with religious groups.”

Even if you don’t support the idea of attending any house of worship, this is the sort of outreach that shows what college atheist groups are all about. They’re open to new ideas, they’re willing to hear what you have to say, and they’re not going to reject anything outright just because it conflicts with their pre-conceived notions.

Now, let’s see some Christians and Muslims attend the next Secular Alliance meeting.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Lewie.Lewie Lewis Cox

    Open-mindedness is a principle of spirituality.

    • Michael

      And science.

  • Meg

    Reminds me of your book. It is a good idea. In a similar vein, they could consider auctioning themselves off, highest bidder gets to take them to their church, preach, etc.

  • Mary

    I bet if contributors knew that half of the proceeds supported the atheist group, they would have given less!

  • http://www.livingonsteak.com/ LivingOnSteak

    We (the Society of Non-Theists at Purdue University) have done this twice now and we received an award from the SSA in 2010 for it. It really is a great fundraiser.

  • apcolleen

    Im gleaning fruit with an Episcopalian group tomorrow to give to the needy. Sadly today in town a teacher at the local Episcopalian school shot the head mistress and himself during school hours. So this should be fun. 

  • Rieux

    Even if you don’t support the idea of attending any house of worship

    I’m as fierce a gnu atheist as any I’ve seen comment on this blog, and I don’t see any problem with atheists attending a house of worship in exchange for sizable donations to an atheist group and a worthy secular charity. Far from being a concern, I’d say it’s a swell idea.

  • http://twitter.com/ErnestValdemar Ernest Valdemar

    Bahai is kind of an insidious faith. All the Bahais I’ve ever known have been incredibly sweet people — tolerant, generous, disciplined, and activist in a lot of humanist causes (human rights, racial equality, etc.). So, it’s very attractive. 

    (Adding, I’m sure there are shitty Bahai assholes in the world. I’ve just not met them.)

    Still and all, Bahai : Muslim :: Mormon : Christian.

    Lots of crazy under the covers.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Dionne/100000122058172 David Dionne

    Does anyone know if the houses of worship were contacted before or after the event?

  • Thomas Lewis

    Heck, the attendees can later turn the experience into a paper for their anthropology, sociology, psychology, or philosophy class.   Doubly beneficial.

  • Anonymous-Sam

    An acquaintance of mine was attending a World Religions class which took regular field trips to various houses of worship. She invited me along whenever our schedules coincided and it was often a highlight of my week. Even if you staunchly disagree with the theme or premise of the religion, there are always things to admire about such places or the services. The Eastern Orthodox church we went to had amazing acoustics, where even a whisper would echo off the ceiling. The Jewish synagogue had very beautiful coloration — rich, warm, vibrant colors everywhere, and very comfortable seats. The Muslim mosque was unremarkable mostly because it was basically a re-purposed outlet store building, but I loved the way the imam sang from the Qur’an.

    After explaining the premise of each religion, each took questions from the class. The rabbi was the one I admired most. He seemed quite open-minded and quite willing to answer even somewhat unorthodox questions (and the class was quite liberal in their questioning). The priest, by contrast, seemed very uncomfortable to be questioned — I remember him perspiring a lot and dodging a lot of questions, such as whether the Eastern Orthodox church believed as conservatively that God sends the ignorant to Hell. The imam tried, but I’m afraid the strict nature of his faith interfered with his ability to answer questions respectfully. He kept getting snippy, especially when the subject of how women practiced worship in Islam (in the basement, silent if they had a male to lead them, or able to speak if and only if they were alone).

    No conversions yet (:P), but relatively enjoyable experiences all around.

  • Anonymous

    Hemant says “Now, let’s see some Christians and Muslims attend the next Secular Alliance meeting”

    What really needs to happen is to have muslims go to christian churches and christians go to a mosque. That way they can asks themselves if their religion looks that ridiculous to others.

    • Anonymous

       What I always find unsettling is how fearsome the animosity is sometimes considering that they both worship the same god. Yes, they disagree on the prophets and/or sons, but there’s probably as much difference between an Eastern Orthodox Christian and a United Church of Christ Christian your average Muslim and your average Christian as between your average Muslim and your average Christian, if not more.

      The issues between Jews and Muslims are even more bizarre. Same god, and no pork! You would think they’d all have more issues with Hindus and their assorted gods. Goes to show you that religious differences have more to do with real-estate and competing for the same population than actual theological differences.

      • http://twitter.com/MarcusSweden1 Marcus Björklund

        Muslims and Hindus *do* have issues with one another (sorry for the generalization). That’s why India and Pakistan was divided after the end of British rule.

      • XYZ

        It actually is a misnomer that they worship the same God (of course many muslims have been taught and bought this falsehood). Historically Allah, replete with the crescent moon (he was a pagan moon God) can be found as part of a greater pantheon. He even had 3 daughters! All Muhammad did was dress him up, stole some stuff from the Bible, omitted his there daughters and then called Allah the new name for God. It would be as if someone came along, told a new story about Zeus and told people that Zeus was simply another name for God. Sadly, too many Christians have bought the lie too and don’t know that Islam isn’t really worshipping God but a dressed up pagan God.

    • Anonymous-Sam

      Considering Islam takes direct shots at Christianity (in the very first chapter), I’m sure that would be an unhappy experience.

      From the Muhsin Khan translation of Surat Al-Fātiĥah, 1:7, paying attention to the parenthetical notes which were added as clarification by the translator(s),

      The Way of those on whom You have bestowed Your Grace , not (the way) of those who earned Your Anger (such as the Jews), nor of those who went astray (such as the Christians).

      (Incidentally, the Qua’ran scares me. The first chapter references the “Day of Doom” and Allah’s wrath.)

  • Anonymous

    First place was the Muslim Student Union, followed by the Bahá’i group

    First place to a minority (in the US) religion and second place to an even tinier minority religion? Indiana University sounds like an interesting place.


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