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Groups look at Web’s effect on religion

University student group Campus Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists co-hosted a conference during the weekend.


Growing up, Sanjeev Mishra went to a Catholic school but never really believed the things he was taught in religion class.

Mishra is one of an increasing number of Millennials who no longer are religiously affiliated or believe in the existence of a god.

At the University of Minnesota, more than a quarter of students identified as agnostic, atheist or “not particularly spiritual” in spring 2012, according to the Student Experience in the Research University Project.

University student group Campus Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists  held a “SkepTech” conference on campus during the weekend to show how new technologies — especially the Internet — are giving the Millennial generation an outlet to express their ideas and find others who share their beliefs.

The event, a collaboration between CASH and the Secular Student Alliance at St. Cloud State University, focused on education and featured more than a dozen speakers.

Campus groups throughout the nation, like the Secular Student Alliance, act as a support group for secular students and raise awareness for their movement, said Nick Stancato, resource specialist for the national Secular Student Alliance.

There are currently about 400 SSA affiliate groups across the nation, including CASH.

“We’ve been exploding over the past few years,” Stancato said. “The growth is really remarkable.”

With the rise of SSA groups throughout the nation, more events and conferences have been taking place to bring the secular community together.

The Internet is also contributing to this sense of community.

“They’re able to find a community of like-mind people to feel comfortable with,” said Joshua Brose, event coordinator for CASH.

No longer taboo

After leaving his Catholic school, Mishra said he found more friends who were atheists.

“It’s definitely not as taboo as it used to be,” Mishra said.

In a 2012 poll conducted by the Pew Research Center, about a third of adults under the age of 30 said they’re religiously unaffiliated — the highest percentage ever recorded in Pew polling.

In the past five years, the percentage of religiously unaffiliated U.S. adults increased by more than 4 percentage points, according to the poll.

This might be caused by a generational attitude, Mishra said.

“We don’t like being told what to do or to be given a book and told ‘This is the things that you believe,’” he said.

‘Where religions go to die’

The Internet has had a profound effect on the secular movement of Millennials, Brose said.

Brose first went to school to become a youth minister, but after looking up things that didn’t make sense to him about his religion on the Internet, he said he changed his perspective on faith.

Reddit, a social news and entertainment website popular among college students, automatically subscribes its new users to the atheism link, Mishra said. There are more than 1.8 million “godless Redditors” on the site.

The atheism Reddit offers atheists a place to share ideas and build a community, Mishra said.

Stancato said he often hears the Internet referred to as “a place where religions go to die.”

He said he wouldn’t go so far as to say that but agreed that people may be more likely to be secular after being exposed to evidence and facts on the Internet.

“It’s not about believing,” Brose said, “it’s about being right.”

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