With no unifying order to unite them, skeptics, atheists and agnostics are often on their own, struggling to find a place in American society where about 86 percent of people associate themselves with an organized faith, according to Religioustolerance.org.
To bring together these like-minded and sometimes misunderstood individuals, USF student Augustus Invictus began the Freethinkers at USF, a group open to atheists and agnostics as well as anyone with a unique perspective on religion and faith.
Freethinkers member Dave Haynes, a junior majoring in philosophy, explained his reluctance at identifying himself as agnostic.
“It depends on who I am talking to,” Haynes said. “Because to the uninformed, an agnostic really doesn’t have an opinion, and that’s not really the case, so I will call myself an atheist to those who don’t really understand the difference.”
However, an atheist viewpoint, Haynes said, is just as illegitimate as a theist viewpoint, because they are both proposing to know something they don’t.
“You can’t prove God exists nor can you prove that God doesn’t exist,” he said. “So the only legitimate viewpoint is that of agnosticism, which says that you can’t know either/or, so let’s only act upon what we know.”
Invictus, who’s majoring in philosophy, shares Haynes’ sentiments on the confines of an agnostic or atheist classification, choosing to call himself a secular humanist instead.
“Saying you are either atheist or agnostic is like defining what you believe in terms of theism,” Invictus said. “And it doesn’t really matter what you believe, as long as you believe in the philosophical sense. As long as you think that if humanity can get by without religion, we will be better off.”
Invictus was not the only one to personalize his system of beliefs. Doctoral student Rodrick Colbert prefers to call himself an agnostic multiculturalist.
“I always thought reading about other cultures was much more interesting,” Colbert said. “That’s why I like saying I’m an agnostic multiculturalist. I like to read religious things from India, Egypt … they are a lot more interesting.”
Many members of Freethinkers said their experiences in both childhood and adulthood play a part in their current outlook.
“I had very Christian, very tyrannical parents; I was forced to go to church all the time,” Invictus said. “They used to steal my books and my CDs and throw them away.”
When he was 13, Invictus said he read the Bible in order to form an opinion of his own, rather than believing what everyone else told him, it said.
“I saw all the contradictory information and all the immoral stuff in (the Bible) and that was pretty much it,” he said. “I’ve been vehemently against it ever since.”
Regardless of any hardships, Invictus said that it didn’t matter how he was raised, and that he would still hold the same religious beliefs had he been raised under different circumstances.
Mike Perenich, a senior philosophy major, was raised in a staunch Catholic family. But instead of resenting the religious affiliation of his youth, he uses it to better understand himself today.
“It’s being able to transcend your paradigm and being able to rise above the way you were culturally shaped,” Perenich said. “It’s knowing where I came from that allowed me to say, ‘This is what this is,’ and ‘I need to rise above this type of thing.’ Now I align my life to things I think are valuable, like humanism.”
After being raised as a Southern Baptist, Haynes expressed similar views.
“I started seeing the religious right coming out and bashing gay people and hating women,” Haynes said. “And that’s not what I remember from Sunday school. So I started reading and thinking and now I’m sad that I grew up Southern Baptist. Why couldn’t I have been brought up by liberals?”
Freethinkers meets every Wednesday at 5 p.m. in the Phillis P. Marshall Center, room 131.