His Parents Aren’t Thrilled, but This Atheist’s Making a Difference on Campus

The Park City Daily News in Kentucky has a really positive article about Walter Petit, the founder of the Western Kentucky University Secular Student Alliance. It also touches on the rise of non-religious attitudes in the country and the decline of organized religion:

Walter Petit (Miranda Pederson – Daily News)

At WKU, Petit’s secular group has blossomed since it was formed in October 2011. This time last year, about eight people were attending group meetings. Recently, nearly 50 students showed up for a video screening, Petit said.

He attributes that growth — and the rising number of people his age who are nonreligious — to better access to education and information, which shows that there are other ideas than what is preached in church or written in the Bible, he said.

More than a decade after Petit first told his mother he no longer wanted to attend church, she still asks him to go with her, Petit said, adding that in spite of his views, he has a good relationship with his mother.

“But she has told me before that me being an atheist is her biggest failing as a parent,” he said. “She’s not fond of it at all.”

Been there, my friend. They thought I was going through a phase. Actually, they were the ones dealing with the big change — I had already accepted it. What helped them get over it was the realization that I really wasn’t a different person as an atheist than I was as a Jain. Once that stereotype was upended, they didn’t make as big a deal of it.

The article notes that attendance in Petit’s group has skyrocketed over the past year. That sort of community makes it so much easier to talk about these issues. Even if your parents can’t handle your atheism, the other students in the group have your back and share your history.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • flyboy

    Hey, have you ever written about your experiences in coming out as an atheist? I used to be a Jain as well, I’d really like to hear the story of someone else who did the same thing I did.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      I Sold My Soul on eBay covers a good chunk of that journey. The link is in the sidebar! :)

  • A3Kr0n

    My mom still invites me to church too. My dad knows better since I send him about 2 atheist blog posts a day. He never responds though.

    • Guest

      Good reason not to have kids in the future since you know first hand that they never listen. Let those who go forth and multiply inherit the earth. Hope there is still place for the oldies when your turn comes.

      • Rebecca

        Translation?

        • allein

          It’s not worth having kids unless they do and think everything you do?

          (Though to me it kinda sounds like A3Kron’s mother is the one who’s not listening.)

        • Andrew B.

          “Guests” always seem to be Christians who just come here to offer some weird, barely coherent put-down and then run away.

      • Baby_Raptor

        Nah, your kind won’t be getting the earth. Your kind is dying out–People are slowly waking up to what complete bullshit it is, and how horribly you “love is everything” christians treat everyone who isn’t you. 

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/GodVlogger?feature=mhee GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    Young people are the bright future on the horizon for the secular movement, and the future is now. 
    This is why it is so important to help support groups like the Secular Student Alliance, where students can shed their parents bias against the nonreligious, and learn to be comfortable in their own skin as out of the closet atheists. 

  • http://twitter.com/AchronTimeless Achron Timeless

    As a former WKU student from about a decade ago, they wouldn’t have let this happen back then. There was a little unofficial pagan group that caught hell every time they tried to do anything, but at least that was still a religion so they somewhat tolerated it. The message was very clear that no atheist organisation would be allowed to exist on campus at the time, and there were rumors of a few attempts but nothing concrete.

    So, while they may have stolen Grimace from McDonalds and slapped a crimson coat of paint on him to make their mascot, at least they’re trying something new in this area.

  • amycas

     “What helped them get over it was the realization that I really wasn’t a different person as an atheist than I was as a Jain.”

    This won’t help my parents, because I actually did become a vastly different person when I left Christianity. Same personality sure, but I hold vastly different views on the world, have a completely different epistemological process, and I hold different values.

  • Ed C

    Fascinating to see the differences between the US and my home, the UK- it’s far more likely a  Christian Union would be banned here under the “freedom of expression unless you disagree with us” morality. A friend of mine wasn’t allowed to establish a Christian Union in his school (note- his school, not college), but only a debating forum.  Of course, there were no legal challenges or fuss of any sort.  The situation in colleges is even more scary (to me at least)- 3 large unis banned CU’s from doing anything on campus unless non-Christians were allowed to address them and undertake positions of leadership.  Same suppression in Freshers Fairs against any kind of pro-life campaigning or debate (in a university??!) which I don’t need to tell you is a position taken by believers and atheists (eg Hitchens).  Where do you stand on this Hemant, given the seeming vast differences in repressive atmospheres between the States and the UK?

    • Erp

       Ed C with ‘college’ do you mean sixth form or university?

      In the US some universities do not permit recognized student groups  from banning any student from membership or a priori from leadership.    Exceptions would be student groups whose membership is limited for talent (e.g., a capella groups) and the Greek system (fraternities).   The rule for leadership means a student group can’t forbid someone from running for leader because of political or religious views (it can limit it to people who have been members for a certain while), but, it doesn’t stop the membership from not voting for someone whose views they disagree with.   It also doesn’t usually stop a student group from existing but not being officially recognized.   Can things go too far, certainly.

       

      • amycas

         I’m starting an SSA and we have to include language saying that we don’t discriminate based off of religion (for membership and leadership). This isn’t repressive, it’s to make sure that student groups that get funding and support from the public schools aren’t discriminating based on membership in a protected class.

  • http://www.facebook.com/walter.petit Walter Petit

    We actually get treated pretty well by the administration. We have found an overwhelming amount of support for our group and very little opposition.  For the record I co-founded the group with some friends haha


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