Gone is the “low-hanging fruit” of years past when the media converged on the University of Texas-San Antonio campus each year to produce titillating stories on students exchanging Bibles and Qurans for porn.
The annual “Smut for Smut” event is no more. In its place are kinder, gentler atheists, in the form of the Secular Student Alliance. The group says it wants conversation, not provocation, and will not revert to its old ways.
Replacing the saucier stories and the reporters behind them is San Antonio Express-News Godbeat pro Abe Levy. He revisited the topic for a Sunday piece on a topic that has gained a lot of headlines — much of them sensational – in recent years.
But times have changed.
This semester, Atheist Agenda renamed itself the Secular Student Alliance, one of 402 groups affiliated with an Ohio-based umbrella organization of the same name. The makeover underscores a national trend in which secular humanist groups have been dropping edgy, insult-minded strategies for more welcoming ones.
The change wasn’t just conscience-based, however. The story quotes one former member who said the old approach would entice people to the group’s meetings only to turn them off.
The strategy is now paying off for the Secular Student Alliance, apparently:
Meetings now attract people of diverse interests, including those affiliated with a religion but seeking a place to question or doubt without conditions, leaders said.
The new group is awaiting approval as a registered UTSA student organization. But weekly recruiting efforts already reflect a kinder bunch of people.
At a small table in the central campus this week, they passed out fliers challenging the ideologies of major world religions. Alliance president Charles Duncan smiled pleasantly and, in an even-handed tone, spoke of how science and reason was a suitable basis for human charity.
“We’re out here just promoting the values of humanism. You can be moral in the absence of religion,” said Duncan, 24, who in 1997 prayed for Christian salvation during a Billy Graham sermon at the Alamodome and officially came out as an atheist two years ago. “Our goal now is to, instead of inciting hostility, we want to engage in civil dialogue.”