Tag Archives: community


Student groups, keep strong during summer!

This post originally appeared on the Humanist Community Project at Harvard‘s blog.

Hello all!

Dave Muscato here again with more practical advice for running your humanist group.

Today’s article is intended mostly for student group leaders, but I hope that non-student humanist groups will also find useful advice here.

So your semester is over, and you’ve wrapped up all of your group’s official business for the year. Does that mean your group goes on hiatus until the fall? Most certainly not! Summer is an ideal time for your group members to get to know each other on a more personal level, and to do types of activities that you don’t have time for during the year. The best part is, these activities don’t necessarily require much expense nor planning.

It’s likely that, as a student group, your meeting attendance will contract over the summer. That’s fine; contract with it! Instead of reserving a lecture hall or classroom each week, try meeting in a coffee shop, or playing pool, or going on a group bike ride on a local trail, or seeing a movie together and then chatting about it over dinner afterwards. Have a game night at someone’s apartment. Go to the local zoo. Try that new vegan restaurant. GO TO CONFERENCES TOGETHER. Try some touristy activities in your town or on a field trip to nearby towns. Go to an art show, or the ballet, or a rock concert.

In our group, SASHA, one of our members & former officers, Jeremy Locke, has been doing an amazing job of this: If you, as a group leader, are planning to spend the afternoon at a coffeeshop reading, don’t do it alone! Make an event invitation via your Facebook group or web calendar, and invite group members to join you for conversation. Even if only 2 or 3 members show up, it helps keep your group on your members’ minds. Name these events something official-sounding, like “[Group Name] Summer Event #1: Coffee at Java Joe’s” so that your members know a series of these are forthcoming. And keep it up!

The key to summer success is consistency. Make sure you have lots of events going on throughout the week, every week. These need not be noteworthy affairs; in fact it can be preferable if they’re not. It’s more important to keep your group going by having something going every single week. In 3.5-year history of our group, we have yet to miss a weekly gathering, even if it was just a handful of us playing pool, or going out to a local bar, and this has worked very well for us. Of course, if you have 20 people RSVP to your Facebook event for hanging out at a coffee shop, it makes more sense to start planning larger get-togethers, but summer is a great time to play things by ear, feel out your group’s preferences for activities later in the semester, and really build genuine friendships with people you may not have had much opportunity to bond with during the semester.

Your group is a great resource for friendships, not just between officers and members, but between members, too. I have seen relationships spring from like-minded people meeting among our members, and it makes my heart happy. Make use of this opportunity. The people you meet with and bond with during your college years are going to be in your memory–if not your active correspondence–for a lifetime. Make sure your group has as many opportunities to socialize during this downtime as possible.

In my next article, I will talk about what you can be doing to help prepare for your fall semester during the summer months. Until next time!

– Dave Muscato

The contents and opinions of this article are my own and do not necessarily represent the position of the Secular Student Alliance.

Lifestyle Religion

Allow myself to introduce… myself.

Hello all!

You don’t know me; my name is Dave Muscato, I’m an atheist, and I’m one of the new writers for Skeptic Freethought.

First off, I want to thank Ellen and the other writers for giving me the chance to contribute here.

Let’s get to it: I’ve been racking my brain for a few days trying to think of a great topic for my first post, and I finally decided that the most appropriate topic would be… an introduction. I think that if I’m going to write for you, it’s only appropriate that you know where I’m coming from and why you should bother reading what I contribute.

So, this is ol’ atheist me:

Just kidding, of course. There are some atheists who make that face, but I’m not one of them. Actually, I’m a vegetarian, I have two kittens, I love to read, and I play classical guitar music and jazz bass. I like yoga, running, hiking, biking, road trips, ancient languages, and hugs. I’m a student, a feminist, and an LGBTQ ally & activist. I do fundraising consulting for non-profits, and I volunteer at a local animal shelter.

Actually me

I’d like you to think of me as your neighbor, you know, the guy who lives in the apartment down the hall and dog-sits when you go away for the weekend. If you see me while you’re out & about, say hi!

I recently wrote an article on my own group’s blog with ideas to help other atheist group leaders. In it, I stressed the importance of a getting personal during and outside of meetings, of opening up to each other and bonding as friends. I’m vice-president of my school’s atheist group, and I also study anthropology – the study of people. One area in which the atheist community simply does not compete with religion is… well, community. If you guys are anything like me, we spend a lot of time looking at cartoons, watching YouTube videos, and reading science books & journals. This is all great; we should strive to expand our knowledge and amuse ourselves. But something is missing.

Just a few short years ago, I was a professional Christian praise & worship musician. I breathed Christ Jesus. I prayed regularly, I studied my Bible, I lead others in worship. I truly believed that laying on hands had healing power. I worried about the souls of my deist parents and my two apathetic brothers. I became obsessed with the Bible, which I knew was God’s Word, and I studied it intensively.

I’ll save my “deconversion testimony” for a future article, but when I started to open my eyes to atheism, I didn’t leave the church right away. In fact, I kept my atheism to myself and continued as a professional P&W musician, leading others in worship, participating in small groups, and performing for an entire year.

I did this because there is more than one reason people go to church, and the “other” reason was strong enough to keep me going, despite the obvious flaws in the rest of it. As I wrote in the article linked above, aside from getting (ultimately incorrect) answers to The Big Questions, people go to church because they want fellowship. It’s a foundational part of being human, and as social animals, we must embrace this. During that year, I was no longer impressed with my pastor’s ideas about the origin of the universe, the meaning of life, what constitutes moral behavior, or what happens to us after we die, but I did – still do – love the music, the sympathetic ears, the encouragement, and the feeling of being among friends.

As an out-of-the-closet atheist and now group officer, although it’s not part of my official charter, I consider it my duty to be available as a resource for other skeptics, especially those still on the fence or still in the closet. Not just for information about evolution, secular ethics, science, and skepticism in general, but as a friend, someone who wants to listen, someone who wants to help them free themselves from the clutches of delusion and welcome them to the real world.

A few people from my group at Skepticon last year :)

If you are out of the closet, I encourage you to make an effort to reach out to people you know. Invite them to your group meetings. Invite them to have coffee with you one-on-one. Invite them to the bar with you and your friends, and don’t talk about religion at all. Invite them to lectures and skeptic’s conferences. If you have friends or know people who are religious, make them a deal: You’ll go with them to church, if they’ll come with you to your skeptics’ group meeting. (It nearly goes without saying that if you’re not already part of a local skeptics’ group, join or start one!). If you need help finding a local group, please let me know and I’ll help you locate one. If you have never been to a skeptics’ conference, find one near you and go!

I look forward to hearing from you all. Have a wonderful week, and take care!

Dave :)