In this guest post, Hailey Kaufman tells us about a new tradition she began at her university. For students whose belief is unbelief, this tradition provides a safe place for questioning, discussing, and brain-bending. It shows us that friendship, support, and belonging can be found for misfit thinkers, even outside the confines of traditional religion.
Every Tuesday night, I take a few hundred steps across campus to Webster University’s shiny new business building. By this time of night I’ve given up on my cute girl disguise and thrown on something comfortable: knee socks, moccasins, and almost unfailingly a pair of breezy Thai pants. There is never much to carry with me, just my ideas and assumptions.
The building smells of paint and briefcases. Night class attendees are filtering out, heading to their cars in the parking garage across the street. I wind around the hallways until I find a handful of people lingering at the front of Room 102. They draw on the marker board, leaving blasphemous messages in the corners for students to discover the next day. They have the projector on, and they’re watching something that tickles their remorseless sense of humor – or just videos of kittens.
Eventually we decide to discuss whatever was agreed upon, and a few tables are arranged into a cluster. We gather around them and talk. For some of us, this is the only room on campus, maybe even in our lives as a whole, where we are safe in our skepticism. We can express our most controversial doubts and revel in whatever we find moving, all without fear of scoffs or criticism for being “disrespectful”.
By the time we check our watches (if we haven’t already been kicked out of this room we never reserve) it’s eleven at night. For an hour and a half we’ve chattered, made propositions, disagreed, laughed, maybe even become angry. Some of us leave with unchanged convictions, some with notebooks full of new ideas hastily scratched in before they could escape us.
I walked into my college career determined to join a club of secular students. In the end, with the help of a news-savvy fallen Catholic, a wistful science enthusiast, and another introverted freshman looking for a community, I had to create my own.
Gradually, one person at a time, we developed a small group of regulars. A vegan punk rocker, an anglophilic rat owner, a poet with a Cheetohs addiction, a wannabe viking with a scar through his eyebrow. While I had always sought to model it after a much larger, more seasoned club elsewhere, it refused to become anything other than what it should have been: an island of misfit thinkers.
While the secular movement struggles to develop non-religious communities, young people across the country are working on a small scale, crawling into discussion burrows and talking amongst themselves. Sometimes they crawl out to broadcast their thoughts and values, but there’s something wonderful about talking in small circles. That’s where minds are changed. It’s where budding skeptics can feel true purpose, and a kind of intellectual intimacy, in the domain where religion is absent.
This has become my tradition – one of thought, humor, and camaraderie – and I wouldn’t trade it for all the free Tuesday nights in the world.