Atheists across the nation came to MU to participate in SASHAcon

MU Professor Libby Cowgill: “The number one thing that shuts down the mind like a trap is fear.”

As a young man, Dan Barker thought he was doing everyone a favor by preaching his religion.

“I was that guy on campus with a Bible preaching ‘Jesus loves you,’” Barker said at a speech at SASHAcon this weekend.

Barker is an evangelist preacher-turned-atheist. He presented along with other secular activists and speakers on a topic not often in the limelight: religious disbelief.

SASHAcon is an annual conference put on by MU’s Skeptics, Atheists, Secular Humanists and Agnostics. This year’s event was held March 19–20 in Ellis Auditorium and featured John Loftus, author of “The Outsider Test for Faith: How to Know Which Religion is True,” and co-founder of The Satanic Temple Lucien Greaves.

Greaves’ presence at SASHAcon was a particular attraction because of the prominence of his organization in the secular community. The Satanic Temple, named satirically to aid in the group’s fight for religious diversity, is at its basis an organization advocating for free speech.

“We should insist on the government viewpoint (of) neutrality,” Greaves said during his presentation on a pluralistic nation.

The government neutrality Greaves has fought for can be seen in the goat-headed or “Baphomet” statue The Satanic Temple wanted erected opposite a Ten Commandments monument outside the Oklahoma Capitol. Greaves and his organization dropped their push for Baphomet after a court ruled the Ten Commandments be taken down last year.

The religion versus politics atmosphere was so heavy at SASHAcon an impromptu debate was added to the schedule. Independent candidate for Missouri Governor Lester Turilli debated Lucien Greaves’ pro-abortion-rights stance Sunday evening.

Another debate addressed the age-old question of God’s existence. Arguing the affirmative position was Chris Gadsden, an adjunct professor in philosophy, religion and ethics. Challenging Gadsden was atheist activist Danielle Muscato.

Many members of the audience at SASHAcon belonged to atheist or secular schools of thought. Although people of all faiths were invited to attend and engage in discussion, the strong atheist representation was expected given the sense of community SASHA provides for some secular students.

For Thomas True, an atheist organizing his own convention called Gateway To Reason in St. Louis, the community aspect of SASHAcon is especially important. Since coming out as atheist, True has become estranged from his daughter.

“Many of us are either misunderstood, or because we came out as non-theist, have problems with our families,” True said.

True said conventions like SASHAcon or Gateway To Reason will help reduce the stigma about the community and help others to embrace it.

“I feel that the more these events happen, the more it will help the atheist, secular, humanist community to be recognized positively,” True said.

SASHAcon would not be complete without a lesson in evolution, and its teacher did not have to travel far. Libby Cowgill, an MU professor of anthropology, spoke on the importance of meeting people halfway while discussing sensitive issues like intelligent design, or creationism, as a viable alternative to evolution.

In her classroom, Cowgill encourages questions about evolution and religious compatibility and believes students should be comfortable with the material before continuing to learn with an open mind.

“The number one thing that shuts down the mind like a trap is fear,” Cowgill said.

Edited by Waverly Colville |

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