American Atheists president David Silverman encouraged students to criticize religious beliefs, not those who hold them at a talk Monday.
Speaking in Hogg Memorial Auditorium, Silverman argued that non-theists should focus on being honest and forego political correctness when discussing religious beliefs.
“It’s easier for an atheist to say, ‘Yes, I respect your beliefs,’” Silverman said. “It’s easier because there’s no conflict, there’s no hard feelings. The nice thing to do is the unselfish thing: to take the hit in order to make sure the believer knows there’s somebody out there who does not respect his beliefs.”
Despite his anti-religion stance, Silverman has been married to a theist for 23 years.
“She’s not stupid, she’s just injured,” Silverman said. “We’ve been married for 23 years, which shows you that you can have this conversation and still have a very fulfilling love.”
Silverman said church and state are subtly intertwined.
“The pledge of allegiance is a very good example of religion using the government to promote itself,” Silverman said. “Religion can’t stand on its own. It’s going to fail. But it will fail later, and thrive [in the short term], if the government is pushing it.”
Silverman said he predicts the growth of digital communication will coincide with the fall of religion and religion in government.
Aerospace engineering sophomore Blake Younger said he doubted his beliefs about two years ago and turned to the Internet for information, at which point he became an atheist. After hearing Silverman speak, Younger said he felt more optimistic about the future of atheism.
“It has encouraged me to be a little more active about [promoting my beliefs], though I wouldn’t call myself [a] firebrand, per se,” Younger said.
Austin has been an important part of the secular movement and was the home of the first established headquarters of American Atheists, Silverman said.
The Texas Secular Humanists, which hosted the event, was established in 2011 as the first UT service organization for specifically non religious students at the University.
“Our goal is to be living proof that people can be good without a god,” Daniel Munoz, philosophy senior and the organization’s president, said.
Primarily a service organization, Texas Secular Humanists arranges a variety of projects each year, including gift drives for Austin Children’s Shelter and a clean-up of 26th Street.
The service aspect intrigued studio art senior Tempeste Wallace, an active member of the organization.
“People would be good without the influence of a deity,” Wallace said. “There are institutions that could replace the functions of the church without the influence of a god.”