Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Skeptical sightseeing on Bruin Walk

Some time ago, the Secular Student Alliance released this advertisement.

I gotta disagree with one part of the video; members of secular student groups aren't exactly the most normal people you'll ever meet.

But the portrayal of the other student groups rings true. On a university campus, you can meet all sorts of groups and individuals with unusual beliefs. At UCLA, all these people appear on Bruin Walk, alongside the fraternities, ethnic groups, and groups for political causes. Most UCLA students miss the strange groups, because they're too busy rushing through Bruin Walk, trying to avoid fliers. But one of the great things about being in a skeptical group is that I learn to recognize the different groups, and learn a little something about each of them. It makes Bruin Walk a lot more fun.

Here's a list of some of the groups I see, in no particular order. One should not assume that I am antagonistic to all these groups.

"You're Going to Hell" sign-holders: They hold large signs saying who's going to hell and why, with appropriate Bible citations. I'm fairly sure that these people are not in a coherent group, but are individual missionaries sent from who-knows-where to evangelize at college campuses. I've never heard a single student speak sympathetically about them. I haven't seen any lately, so maybe they collectively realized how ineffective they were? Nah, that couldn't be it.

9/11 Truthers: They believe 9/11 was an inside job. They don't actually show up on campus except on rare special occasions. My friend likes to go up to these guys and ask them what they're doing to free Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

Jehovah's Witnesses: This group tables nearly every single day. Jehovah's Witnesses are known for not celebrating holidays and rejecting blood transfusions. They're a bit cultish in that they discourage interaction with outsiders, and "disfellowship" anyone who leaves (cutting off all contact). On the plus side, they have been historically very important in defending separation of church and state.

The Latter Day Saints: AKA the Mormons. I've actually never spoken to the ones on campus, but I do know a bit about Mormonism in general. They believe Jesus came to the Americas shortly after his resurrection. They're comparable to the Jehovah's Witnesses in that leaving the religion will kill your social life.

LaRouche PAC: This non-student group is a cult of personality around Lyndon LaRouche. They're best known for their image of Obama with a Hitler mustache. They oppose the British Empire. Their favorite arguments are "the guy who came up with that idea was an asshole", and breaking Godwin's Law. No, they're even more bizarre than they sound.

The Muslim Student Alliance: These guys show up on afternoons to persuade people to submit to Allah. I find that Muslim apologetics is much classier than Christian apologetics, though it tends to be long-winded and just as ineffective. I've heard of some bad things going on in the group (eg anti-semitism), but I take that with a grain of salt.

LOGIC: LOGIC is the Objectivist club, the only other student group on campus which is explicitly secularist. Objectivism is the philosophy of Ayn Rand, and it's politically libertarian. I forget what the name stood for, but the G is greed and the C is capitalism.

The "Religion is for the Weak" guy: He is a Lutheran minister! I think he believes everyone is weak, and that's why everyone needs religion. I heard he also believes that people can choose to follow God after they die, which I guess is a more pleasant way to imagine the afterlife.

Revolutionary Communist Party: Yes, this is actually a political party. If I were to summarize their position, it would be very liberal economics achieved by means of revolution. The Communists are very sympathetic towards our group, because they're anti-religious, but our group is less sympathetic towards them.

Campus Crusade for Christ: They're just one of many, many Christian student groups on campus. The three major ones are Campus Crusade for Christ, Grace on Campus, and Inter-Varsity Bruin Christian Fellowship. Campus Crusade and Grace on Campus are very conservative Christian groups, but this is not necessarily true of individuals within the group. Inter-Varsity skews liberal, and seems to be filled with International Development Studies majors.

The Universal Philosophical Genius:
He's a homeless guy who occasionally appears in the plaza and yells out incoherent stuff about philosophy and physics to no one in particular. One time I saw him doing this as little kids on field trips were walking by. I just feel sorry for this guy.

Hare Krishnas: This Hindu sect will set up a carpet on the grass, chant and play music. They also believe that the moon landing was a hoax, because it contradicts Vedic astrology. They're also very very old earth creationists. I actually haven't seen them since last year. Too bad, they provided some nice atmosphere.

One thing you might notice is that most of these groups are religious in nature. Take that how you will.