The SSA Is Our Future

The Secular Student Alliance has become the most superb institution for promoting and supporting young atheists, at both the college and now high school level. This is more than just a campus group. The future of atheism rests in their hands, and they are doing more than any other organization on earth to actually increase the number of atheists who are out, active, and organized, while providing them with the informational and logistical support to be out, get organized, and spread the word. They are the money driving the best meme machine in town. I want you to support them. With money. Whether it’s just $10 (you can spot a tenner, surely) or $100. Or $500. Or $50,000 (yes, a single donor has ponied up fifty grand this very day). Oh, and yes, they are a 501(c)(3) charity.

If you aren’t already clicking here to donate and need some persuading (“Why the hell should I give money to the SSA? Who the frack are they?”), please give me a chance to convince you. Here’s why you should do it…

In just the last year or two the SSA has expanded the number of high school atheist groups from just a handful to over fifty nationwide, and growing. Fast. And that despite constantly facing opposition from school authorities. They have the clout and legal resources and know-how to help make it happen. College groups have likewise exploded under their care in the last decade, from a few dozen to over three hundred, all across the country, and again growing. Fast. The support of the SSA, whose resources have been brilliantly developed and managed so far, has also greatly increased their retention and continuity (one of the biggest problems for atheist campus groups, as the originators graduate and move on). Why do campus groups matter? They give atheism a higher profile and help us recruit more atheists where the market is most agreeable (the young, the learning). In other words, thanks to the SSA, we can now compete directly with Campus Crusade for Christ (which is trying to rebrand itself now as the supposedly hip Cru).

But as the SSA mission grows, the cost to continue this trend rises.

As any sociologist will tell you, grabbing the next generation is crucial to defeating religion and superstition. And the iron has never been hotter, with unprecedented numbers of youth abandoning churches or even religious affiliation and asking questions about what they should really believe and why. So dire has this problem become that religious orgs are creating a whole industry to try and fight what they now call the Youth Exodus Problem. And the reasons they are leaving are often reasons that lead to atheism–at the very least, reasons that show these seekers are much closer to our thinking on many issues, such as morality and science and questioning of authority (see Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church and Five Myths on Why Young People Leave the Church). We need to appeal to them and bring them over. They are willing and ready to listen to us. The time is now.

But the expansion of campus groups serves an even larger need as well: it also creates islands of sanity and friendship and networking and information-sharing for already-closeted atheists who often feel or think they are alone. It connects them not just with local atheists but the whole national network of atheists and atheist literature and resources. It gets them meeting like-minded people and energized about atheist issues (atheist rights, secularization, and other humanist issues from free speech to social justice), growing our movement and its influence and diversity. (And yes, we are a movement.)

On every objective measure the SSA is making real, documented progress. Yet it remains far behind Campus Crusade for Christ, both in group number and size, and in budget. The CCC has an annual budget in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The SSA, only one million. The CCC has thousands of paid staff. The SSA, fewer than twenty. Recent events involving the gross oppression and bigotry against atheist high school students (like, but by no means only, Jessica Ahlquist) expose a real need for national organizations like the SSA to help support them, socially and legally. The opposition to atheist student groups in high schools has been exposed in several high profile cases (see The Challenges for High School Atheists for some examples). They need our help. Indeed, the high schools that don’t yet have atheist groups need it even more (because you know there are atheists there, when clearly they are everywhere else…and the statistics back this up). College groups matter as well, as that is where the most rapid growth and exposure is possible (adults having more freedoms).

I can also vouch for the amazing people running the SSA. Like JT and others have reported, they are an outstanding bunch who have done a lot of hard work that is much appreciated by students all over the country. I’ve been aware of this for years, ever since I met Augie for the first time (August E. Brunsman IV, Executive Director), and then I met Debbie Goddard [who liaisons with SSA for Center for Inquiry On Campus], JT Eberhard, and many other young, energized, totally cool weirdos making this thing happen. They are not only creating our future, they are already a snapshot of it. They are competent, dedicated, hard working, and as irreverent as being professionals allows them to be. I trust my money in their hands. They are turning it into movement gold.

And why now? Because there is a matching offer on the table, up to $250,000 (which might be renewed if the SSA can raise that). That means for every dollar you give, someone out there will give another. That means your donation is worth double what you pay for it. The goal set for now is to raise $100,000 by June 16, which will mark the end of what has become SSA Week, a ten day bonanza of tweeting and blogging, including several wild blogathons here at FtB and beyond, starting this very day. (I had been planning a plug for SSA for months already and was slated to do one later this month, but then I heard about this, and decided to get in on it. JT explains why a week became ten days.)

If you want to follow the many blogathons spooling up over the next ten days (some I’m sure will be a marvel to watch, aiming to blog every half hour for twenty four hours), you can check out the twitter feed at #SSAWeek and the evolving schedule at the bottom of the SSA Week promo page (the event will be capped by Jen McCreight’s amazing blogathon on the 16th, her post explaining why and what’s going on).

So get in on this. Support the fight for the future of atheism and against godist madness and superstition. Donate.


  1. Book Fanatic says

    Only 29% of young adults attend church weekly. Adults under 30 are twice as likely to be an atheist as those over 30. I think 2/3 of them are male.

    In any case the most promising trend for secularism is our youth. The evangelical/fundamentalist anti-science attitude is something that disturbs and distresses us for good reason. However, in the end I think it will also be the death of it for young people.

    I also think the church attendance statistics that are often used as an indicator of religiosity in the U.S. are misleading and hide a trend towards secularization. Living in Texas I know a lot of regular church attendees that appear to live completely secular lives the rest of the week. The fact that you attend church says nothing about what you really believe. Georges Rey has argued that religious believers don’t act like they really believe. Some do, but my experience is that many don’t.

  2. says

    I was just inspired to give a little more. The SSA is certainly one of the movement organizations I have the most respect for – fantastic work, fantastic people. But here’s a question: what do these energized, excited, activist students do to stay engaged with the movement after they graduate? To me the future of the movement requires the SSA and a cogent answer to that question.

    • says

      I concur. We have a variety of orgs that meet that need for different demographics. And the SSA helps get students aware of those orgs and so greatly increases the probability that they will join and remain connected to one. But the SSA could still push this as a goal (not to get students to join any specific org, but to get them to think about picking at least one to join and remaining a member of going forward).

      What the orgs themselves can do is (a) work with the SSA in organizing or promoting college conferences, events, and activities (whether charitable, activist, or just entertainment), and it does appear that that is happening; and (b) define themselves in a way that fills all niches of interest and thus all aspects of future interest will be covered and thus available for students to choose from (and unlike religion, their choices would not have to be exclusive).

      That latter task is something that needs doing.

      For example, no single national org has stepped up to fill the niche of organizing atheist charitable giving and volunteering. A few have done little things along those lines, and several local orgs have done more, but it is self-evident that there is an unexploited market niche for a skeptical-godless charity org, which collates data on the religiosity and efficiency of existing charities (Charity Navigator already suffices and would be a major resource to use and point users to, but it doesn’t vet charities by how much they evangelize or otherwise spend resources on antiskeptical or superstitious or other undesirable goals, and an org could devote staff to vetting charities on this dimension, which might be two dimensions, “secularity” and “scientificity,” which would be a great service to atheists; it could also put front-and-center charities that directly serve secular interests like the SSA, the NCSE, or FFRF), pipelines access (using a centralized website to help connect atheists with existing charities, e.g. Habitat for Humanity for volunteer work; Red Cross for monetary giving; etc.), logs and promotes actual atheist charitable works (e.g. AOF of Sacramento runs a soup kitchen every month, etc., info atheists might like to know about and that might inspire more orgs to do similar things), and perhaps eventually even organizes its own charitable works (although it should focus on the first three tasks before moving on to the much more challenging task four).

      There are other niches that could be filled and thus served besides that one, and existing orgs are best positioned to parcel out which ones they are best at (and then get cracking at meeting the need in that niche well).

      These need to take into account the one single difference between atheism as a movement and religions: we are scattered geographically and thus do not have concentrated communities. That’s why we don’t have a church-building model of movement growth: such a model depends on at least two hundred active atheists being within walking or very short driving distance of the central meeting hub; we just don’t have communities of that geographic density yet, and this limits what we can do, not just in organizing and movement building but also in atheist charity work–our community is connected, and cooperates, along the online dimension, not the physical one, which makes much of our current charitable work invisible to the public, the more so as we work within existing secular charities like the Red Cross and Kiva, which do not get counted as “atheist” charities when comparing churches with atheist orgs.

    • says

      I would point to the Foundation Beyond Belief as the national secular charity and volunteering organization, and to the Humanist Community Project as the institution seeking to develop dense congregational communities at the local level 😉

    • says

      Thanks, James!

      For those who are unfamiliar, The Foundation Beyond Belief picks five humanist-friendly charities per quarter (one in each of five different areas of charitable service) and let’s you decide how your donation gets distributed among those five (you can nominate charities for consideration). It’s thus a highly streamlined version of what I was proposing. And it’s awesome. Highly recommended.

      As for the Humanist Community Project, please tell me what substantial gains it has made in achieving what I had in mind. I don’t know how it could, unless it is facilitating atheist families moving to the same neighborhoods (which it isn’t). For example, how many HCP “church” analogs (like a permanent meeting hall) are there in the country (outside of Harvard), and what is the projected rate of increase in that number over the next five years?

      I fear that it is still the case that there are generally no communities of sufficient density that such a building could cost-effectively serve. That’s why the only gains in this area I know of are made by other orgs that don’t actually serve concentrated communities but scattered individuals across large metro areas (e.g. CFI has achieved a few permanent structures, like in LA and Indianapolis, loosely serving this goal, but not many, and most who make use of them do so only by undergoing a hardship getting to them because they do not live within walking distance of them, which greatly limits attendance and effectiveness in rallying significant action).

      That’s why I think I see most atheists work with local charities already established (like Habitat for Humanity), because there is no atheist equivalent that can be feasibly constructed right now.

      Or am I wrong? If there are real changes in this situation in the works, I definitely want to know!

  3. Mike says

    Thanks for plugging this! I didn’t know this organization existed. After deconverting about five months ago, I’m glad to support them — religious groups pop up out of nowhere all the time, but free-thinking and anti-authoritarian groups… not so much.

    Btw, I think CCC’s name change was mostly about getting rid of the serious baggage associated with the word “Crusade”. Gotta love the C-bomb when you’re trying to have a civilized conversation with a Muslim.

    I was super involved with CCC in college, and there were a few barely-interested Christians that came to our Bible studies and meetings seemingly because we invited them and gave them a place to belong (or maybe we just helped them check a box). I wonder what the SSA’s value proposition is for people who aren’t religious, but also aren’t that fired up about secularism.