Better Together had the incredible opportunity to welcome UNF student Connor Harrison to kick off this semester’s first Coffee and Conversation. His Agnostic-centered open dialogue tackled some common stereotypes surrounding the rising non-religious identity. Held in the Interfaith Center/Women’s Center lounge, chairs were completely taken up as close to 20 people were in attendance. This awesome response excited me as Coffee and Conversation has always been my favorite Interfaith Center event. I love the open atmosphere and non-aggressive open dialogue and this past week’s was no exception. Upon learning of an agnostic speaker, I was immediately looking forward to it. As a self-identified “Buddhist Atheist” I often find that people can be either untrustworthy or fearful of the title “Atheist.” I was excited that this rising identity was going to be directly addressed and noted by the peaceful people of the Interfaith Center.
Connor Harrison began with a short 15 minute talk on what his identity as an Agnostic scientist meant to him and how it helped shape his views and reasoning for human nature. Afterwards, he opened up the floor for an awesome Q&A to this week’s participants. What I did not expect from the reactions and questions of our interfaithees was the amount of science that people tend to incorporate into their own practice of their faith or religion. It seems that almost everyone could identify with one or more aspects of Connor’s identity and explanation for the universe, including human nature. It even made me feel a stronger connection with strangers as I saw how common some of my own philosophies are with others’.
I was also excited about the opportunity for some of the participants to engage in dialogue with an Agnostic. In my own life, often, but not always, the dialogue I experience with others of strong faiths can turn aggressive and defensive very quickly. I think sometimes when an Atheist, scientist, or Agnostic uses science as an explanation for their view on the universe, it can be perceived as an attack on the other’s faith and therefore drive the wedge between the religious and non-religious even deeper. The safe space guidelines of the Interfaith Center allowed all participants to communicate in a way that neither side got confused as to what the other intended to do when explaining a point of view. I’ve found that some people with strong religious or spiritual faith rarely get an opportunity to speak openly with someone with an Atheist or secular identity. The special attention that my identity received by being the focal of this week’s Coffee and Conversation made me feel recognized as an equal member of society.
I think many students walked away with a better understanding of the love that can generate from patient listening and tolerance. I feel they also walked away with a good understanding that Atheism, although directly meaning lack of faith, can still be a spiritual connection with the mechanics of life and is just as big a part of the identifier’s life as any other faith identity.