Atheists? In Church?


NICK FISHER, Executive Editor

UNI Free Thinkers and Inquirers (UNIFI), a campus group that welcomes skeptics, agnostics, atheists and freethinkers, kicked off their semester activities with a Sunday brunch at a church — of all places.

The United Methodist Church-sponsored campus ministry group, the Wesley Foundation (or “Treehouse”), provided the meeting space for the secular group. UNIFI is a group that “create[s] a welcoming community for … anyone who turns a critical eye to religious and pseudoscientific claims,” according to the UNIFI website.

“We’ve had multiple events [at the Wesley Foundation] over the years,” said Aaron Friel, senior math and computer science major and president of UNIFI. “They are really a great bunch of people. I can’t think of a religious group on campus that has been more accommodating and more friendly to UNIFI than the Wesley Foundation/ Threehouse.”

The brunch is a weekly event for UNIFI, hosted every Sunday at 11 a.m. This is the first time the gathering was held at the Wesley Foundation (just east of campus on College Street) — Friel said they wanted to be as close to campus as possible to entice new students.

UNIFI is largely known for it’s sponsorship and organization of the annual Darwin Week lecture series, which consists of keynote speakers from across the country as well as UNI faculty.

UNIFI also hosts themed discussions every other Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the Maucker Union’s Hemisphere Lounge. The discussion topics are chosen by UNIFI officers are chosen a week prior to the open forums. Friel said the themes must be topical, and the must be divisive.

“It’s really important to have meaningful discussions that we aren’t simply all of one opinion on,” Friel said. “There’s no point in us calling ourselves a skeptical group on campus if we all share the same view on everything.”

Though the majority of UNIFI members are atheist or agnostic, the group has religious members; and welcomes others.

Citing internal surveys of UNIFI members, Friel said some UNIFI members identify as “spiritual” and “deist” — i.e., they believe in a supreme being.

Brooke Wiese, sophomore English major and UNIFI member, said she has learned a lot from being a UNIFI member, and recommends others attend the brunches.

“Everyone is really welcoming and it’s really fun,” she said. “And Chinese food every Sunday … You can’t turn down Chinese food.”

“We don’t ask our members to identify in any particular way,” Friel said. “You don’t have to attest to anything, or not attest to anything, to be a member.”