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May 6, 2010 | 12:00 a.m. CST
On a typical Tuesday night, James Pflug, president of MU Skeptics, Atheists, Secular Humanists and Agnostics, and 20 or so like-minded MU students can be found discussing everything from Darwin’s theories to dogma.
Pflug says he identifies as a secular humanist — an outlook that denies religious dogma as the basis for moral decisions. He says his beliefs about sexuality have nothing to do with his religious beliefs.
“I feel that the morals I have about sexuality are independent of my view on whether or not there is a god,” Pflug says. “But I know that’s quite different from a lot of people’s stances.”
Across town on Wednesday nights in a dimly lit room of Boone Tavern, a similar group, Columbia Atheists, meets to debate religious and intellectual topics while nursing their beers, club sodas and other drinks. The members exchange Nietzsche quotes, laughter, political debate and opinions about sex and relationships.
Columbia Atheist organizer Greg Lammers, a vocal atheist who says he began to identify with this perspective in his early 20s, started the group in January 2009. Weekly meetings draw an average of 15 to 20 members, he says.
“I can only speak for myself,” Lammers says. “There’s no dogma; there’s no one on high making pronouncements for all of us. There’s no one approach.”
Lammers, who married in 2001 and has a 3-year-old son, spoke about his marriage as an example of two adults committing to each other.
“We made these vows, we made these promises to each other, and that’s what makes it sacred,” he says. “There’s no outside authority that can make it sacred. What makes it sacred is that I value it and she values it.”
Bob Flanagan, director of MU undergraduate studies in the Department of Religious Studies, defines an atheist as someone who denies or doesn’t believe in the existence of God or gods. Flanagan, like Lammers, emphasizes there is no singular atheist perspective on religion or sexuality.
“I can’t say atheists are this way because there are many different kinds of atheists,” Flanagan says. “They have very different attitudes or approaches.”
Similarly, Columbia Atheists assistant organizer Matt Petre agrees.
“There’s no underlying moral penance, no dogma that tells us that we have to have sex one way or another,” Petre says. “If you want to do it and the other person wants to, can say that they want to and are of legal age, good for you,” he says. “As long as it doesn’t do permanent damage.”