Honors College junior Ben McInthosh, a former DeHority Academic Peer Mentor (APM), and religious studies and philosophy double major, is currently in the process of establishing a Ball State chapter of the Secular Student Alliance (SSA).
SSA is a national non-profit organization dedicated to educating high school and college students about scientific rationality, secularism, and human-based ethics. Founded in 2000 at the University of Minnesota, the group now has 305 affiliates at high schools and university campuses across the United States.
“With a national organization, you get backing [such as] educational resources, a personal advisor, a bank of speakers who travel to universities and give talks,” McIntosh said about why he chose to work with SSA as opposed to building a brand new student organization from the bottom up.
At the first meeting, held on March 17, McIntosh outlined his main goals for the organization: “build community, destroy stigma, educate, foster intelligent dialogue, and engage with the international community.”
“There isn’t really a strong community for people who are non-religious, atheist, agnostic, etc., but there is a plethora of religious organizations,” McIntosh said. “It’s important to give the greater society a context about atheism because there is definitely a mistrust of people who are non-religious.”
McIntosh cited a 2011 study done in the U.K regarding trust and published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. In this article, atheists were consistently rated to be the least trustworthy, ranking even below convicted murderers and rapists.
“I want to change the dialogue” McIntosh said. “I want to do a lot of volunteer work with the organization in the Muncie community. You can find morality through logic and reason just as easily [as through a religious text].”
Educating both the community about secularism and members about a variety of religious worldviews is also a priority for McIntosh.
“One of my co-worker’s entire town goes to one church,” McIntosh said . “I want this organization to be a tool for people to learn about other worldviews. In such an interconnected world, it’s important to understand where people are coming from,”
McIntosh says that his hope is that this organization is engaged and embraced by the campus and that it can become the source of an open, constructive dialogue between various religious groups.
While the focus of the group is to create a space for atheists, agnostics, and other non-religious students, McIntosh said he would love for people who are religious to come to a meeting to see what the group is about – especially considering he has already received some push-back from a few members of the religious community at Ball State.
“Once we develop a world view, we tend to sit in our own little bubble and only seek things that support our beliefs. This is a problem I’ve recognized in the atheist community, and just in general. It takes a lot of courage for people to seek out and explore opposing viewpoints,” McIntosh said . “I want the organization to be based in empathy, logic, and reason, and not dogmatism.”
Von Storm, a freshman Honors student and telecommunications major, was present at SSA’s first meeting and said that he decided to join the organization to help curve the negative stigma that surrounds secular individuals both nationally and globally.
“It’s exciting that there is a safe haven on campus for secular individuals,” Storm said.
Sophomore Honors student and physics major Emily Smith agreed. Smith said she’s been looking for an organization of this type at Ball State since she arrived on campus, and is excited to finally have a space where she can connect with like-minded individuals.
In addition to identifying as an agnostic atheist, McIntosh himself is also a registered member of The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
“May you be touched by the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s noodle-y appendage,” McIntosh said.