I was apprehensive as I walked into VU 460 on a Thursday evening.
The meeting of the Freethinkers' Society had been moved from their normal location in VU 714 at the last minute. Their last meeting had about 20 to 25 people, Public Relations Officer Jeremy Schwartz said. Tonight they were hoping for a dozen. By the time all had arrived the final total came out to nine.
At first I was a bit disappointed that I wasn't going to see the Freethinkers' Society debate in full force, but the small group size allowed room for more intimate, free-flowing discussion that knew no bounds in what it explored. Suffice to say, we touched on any topic that came up.
Such discussion is typical for the Freethinkers' Society. From 7 to 9 p.m. each Thursday, a group of students gather in VU 714 to talk about whatever comes up.
The club began as the Secular Student Alliance but was changed by former student Dan Smolinski to include all faiths and perspectives. Though the group is still largely atheist and agnostic, Schwartz emphasized that anyone is welcome to come join the conversation.
“Anybody can join us, we're freethinkers,” he said.
Typically during meetings they cover topics as diverse as the existence of ghosts and historic tax rates as well as topics that have large-scale impacts like global warming or theology. Any topic is open for discussion as long as the speaker is ready to handle healthy skepticism.
“Usually [we talk about] religion or politics because those are the ones people don't like to talk about,” Schwartz said. “We like the controversial.”
This particular meeting began when club president Jen Blenk recanted her recent trip to picket the White House in Washington D.C. Blenk, who is also the co-coordinator of the Student Anti-Genocide Coalition (STAND), joined nine other students to represent the West coast in protest against ongoing attacks in the Sudan region.
“It was my induction to political activism,” Blenk said.
While in the nation's capital, Blenk and her fellow protesters also presented a letter of petition to end theSudanese government's involvement in the genocide to president-elect Barack Obama.
After she had described her experience, the topic switched to an unfortunate possibility in the back of many Obama supporters' minds: an assassination attempt.
Junior Rod Powell recalled the strong emotions that lingered after the 2004 election. He believed that many would also feel slighted by the nation's decision this election season.
“What worries me is that someone might try to do something to stop his presidency,” Powell said. “Remember the passions after the 2004 election? Those haven't gone away.”
The room seemed to hold a consensus, regardless of whether each individual agreed with Obama's policies or not, that the last week had been a special moment in history. Still, Schwartz had reservations about what the nation's reaction would have looked like if the outcome had swayed the other way.
“With the amount of celebration that occurred here in Bellingham and around the country, you have to wonder what might have happened if McCain had won,” he said.
Once the club had its fill of Obama, the conversation turned to quality of life in New Jersey. On one side, freshman Glynis Gordon argued that her home state has a strong allure despite the stereotypical reputation New Jersey has received. The group seemed to disagree, citing evidence of air quality and the fact that the state serves as a roadway to New York City. After a few minutes of back and forth, the group settled on accepting the state for what it is: New York's humble neighbor.
Next the Freethinkers focused again on religion, attempting to tackle the theory of reincarnation.
“If reincarnation is true and when we die our souls are recycled and find new bodies, then how do you account for a population boom?” Blenk asked.
In Buddhist culture there are souls floating all around us, junior Seth Collowick-Harbor explained. When a lower level soul earns the right to enter a human form it does not replace that person's soul, but is replaced itself by a new soul, he said. Each time a soul moves on, it is presented with another chance.
As usual, the argument eventually settled on a tentative conclusion. Though the group is always discussing large ideas, even Lippens understood that it's more about the discussion than anything else.
“We're not looking for answers,” he said. “We're looking for discovery.”