University of Wisconsin–Madison

AHA is a massive lightning rod…

…For lightening!


We get mail.

As is becoming a relished tradition for AHA, we recently sent out a campus-wide mass email to advertise what we are all about. I’m sure many readers already spotted the message, but for those of you who live in a hole (totally cool – I respect wannabe hobbits), here is what the email said:

– – –
Subject: No God? No Problem!

Are you an atheist, agnostic, skeptic, pastafarian, or
otherwise nonreligious student?
Yup? Then come join Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics at
UW-Madison this Spring!
We’re the only secular student group on campus!
Come to a meeting to experience:
-Guest Lecturers
-Charity Events
-Interfaith Discussions
-General Socializing
-Fun Times

Last semester, we discussed Indoctrination, Death, Morality,
The War on Christmas, Atheism in Public, Philosophy of
Science, Atheism & the Law, and Church-State Separation…
check us out to see what else we have in store!

Our meetings will be every Wednesday at 7 PM in 155 Van
Hise, and we hope to see you there!

Want more info on upcoming meetings and events? Join our
email list by simply sending a blank email to:
And be sure to check out our Facebook group:
And our blog…:
And our Youtube channel:

This message is sent from a UW-Madison RSO once a semester
from a UW generated list.
You will not receive additional messages.
Funded in part by the Associated Students of Madison. ASM

does not necessarily endorse the beliefs or actions of this
– – –

Pretty innocuous stuff, right? No invitations to baby-eating parties. No recommendations for pentagram-friendly interior designers. We didn’t even mention how glorious it is to sleep in on Sundays, or try to rub in our mad team trivia skills. Perhaps the most offensive item in the entire message is the subject line – and believe me, we took strides to pare that down from a hip-hop-inspired alternative. (We got 99 problems, but – You get the idea).

The email resulted in our group picking up 60 new subscribers, and a noticeable increase in participation at our 2/15/2012 meeting. That’s awesome – Thanks to everybody for getting involved! We’re looking forward to many good times in the future.

As expected though, we still got some funny responses in our mailbox. Because really, where would any self-respecting secularist group be these days without a little hate mail and proselytizing from the peanut gallery?

We collected 72 responses over the course of ~24 hours after sending the mass email (not including some prank replies from AHA officers). I am a big fan of visual data presentation, so I thought I’d break down the emails into a friendly chart. Categories of responses are given with their respective numbers of responses.


Obviously, most people just want off the darn mailing list! Sorry, but we’ve got to reach the student body somehow – and in case you didn’t notice that bold part at the bottom of the email… You are not on any lists. So save yourself the stress of running to the panic room and sending “unsubscribe” messages to us the next time you see an AHA email. The only way you get on our list is by subscribing to it (again, as indicated in the original email).

Within the requests for removal, things broke down into three categories:

Responses ranged from mundane (“please unsubscribe me from your list”) to more elaborate replies explaining their reasons for wanting absolutely nothing to do with us. Sometimes their responses included bible verses and proselytizing. Sometimes they included guilt-tripping:

“To Whom It May Concern:

As a Christian receiving this email, I would like to say that it is hurtful to me. I know that I do not have to take part in your activities, but it hurts me to know that everyone on campus is receiving this email and being exposed to the idea of atheism. Christian groups do not send out emails to every student, so I believe that your group should not either. I saw that we will not receive additional messages from this group during this semester, but please consider not sending any out at all throughout the following years.

I hope you can see where I am coming from. For those who are unsure about religion, this email may persuade them against God and prevent the Holy Spirit from working in their hearts. Please take my point of view into consideration in the future when you are sending out emails.”

Duly noted. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who aren’t you and don’t share your beliefs. There are also a lot of people who (as this response points out) are undecided, and might be interested in entertaining all possible options regarding their beliefs or lack thereof. This lets them make an informed decision – and we want their decision to be as informed as possible.


We also received a number of the replies from people who were simply pissed off. This is how I visualize their reaction to our email:

I know religion is a hot button issue, but please don’t have an aneurism on our behalf:

… “Fuck you.”
… “dont ever send me a fricken email on athesists again, your going to hell if you dont believe in God and thats that”
… “you are a disrespect to humanity.”

… “never email this to me again. this is infringeing on my rights. get bent.

I happen to love a well-argued thesis, so the “athesist” moniker is simply inaccurate. But, if I had to choose, I’d rather be an athesist than a bigoted “agrammarist.”

This person was particularly peeved:

“I’m not exactly sure how I got on this list, or why their is even an atheist emailing list in the first place. Regardless of whether or not I believe in god, what I don’t believe in is organization’s who use “forced” religious beliefs to push their own agenda. Anyways, I find your group ineffective and pointless. If I don’t enjoy attending the monotonous cycle of the church, why the hell would I want to attend something where we talk about not believing in god. At least being a member of the church doesn’t come with the social status an atheist has. For me, I prefer to keep my religious beliefs to myself, or those who are close to me. Why does it matter to you what I do or don’t believe in? And maybe your purpose is to “help” and provide a safe place for those who are confused about religion, well that’s ridiculous. You are just shaping people the same way any church does. Either way, I ask that you please stop emailing me your junk, I am not interested.

Thank you.”

For somebody who isn’t interested, they made a pretty big investment in their reply. Here’s my main problem with the logic in this one: The author first finds it necessary to insult the social status of non-believers, indicating to me that they personally wouldn’t be comfortable holding such beliefs because of how others would view them. This is cowardice, plain and simple – they clearly state that they find church membership preferable to the social status of atheists out of vanity. But then they have the audacity to claim that it is “ridiculous” to provide a safe environment for people who have the guts to defy the social stigma they just identified. In essence, they are condoning the social condemnation of a group because they are uncomfortable with the social condemnation that the group faces. *facepalm*


We got few straight up bible-thumpers and apologetics fans. Submitted for your (dis)approval:

… “John 3:18 (: SMILE GOD LOVES YOU!”

… “Please consider reading Stanley Jaki or Stephen M. Barr. I am praying for you and hoping that we will all come to see the light of Truth in God’s good time.”

… “Ill tell you about Jesus if you would like !:)…”
…Please don’t…

…”Jesus told her…,”I am the reserection and the life. Those who beleive in me , even though they die like everyone else , will live again.”
…Ahh crap, you’re doing it anyway

…“They are given eternal life for beleiving in me and will never perish”.

…Perish – Hmm, I like pears…

…“John 11: (25-26)

… Well, at least you cited your sources.


The “Poe” category contains all messages that are prime examples of Poe’s law – They are so wrong, so outlandishly irrational, so batshit crazy that we honestly can’t tell if the person is joking or not. The level of crazy in such messages blurs the lines between what is real and what isn’t. Scary – but hilarious. Some examples of messages in the Poe category:

Poe Response 1: “FREAKS!!”

Takes one to know one! And yes, that is all the person had to say. This could also qualify as a “PISSED” reply.

Poe Response 2: “Whaaat? What a sad, pathetic group of losers. Funny how they discuss “indoctrination” but they don’t think that what they’re doing is indoctrination. Stay away from those meetings so you can avoid the lightening bolt when it strikes!”

Pure gold – Seriously, we ought to stuff this in a vault somewhere and let it accrue interest. I’m wearing a tin-foil lightening rod hat to the next meeting in celebration of this email. This reply earns Poe status primarily because I don’t know who the person thought they were speaking to. The reply was sent to AHA, and not to any other recipients… So, who are they warning about “lightening” bolts? Personally I think AHA can be en-lightening, but it’s all in the eye of the beholder, I guess.

Poe Response 3:
“No, I’m not an atheist so stop sending me these emails. I’ve gotten 0 emails from Christian groups on campus and 2 from atheist groups….thats really messed up. I guess thats what you get from the liberal stronghold that is Madison. #Idon’twanttoliveonthisplanetanymore”

Nice #hashtag, braaah. Actually, I’m kind of concerned for this person’s well-being. Empathy aside though, this person is either misinformed or being dishonest, because we know that at least two religious student groups sent mass emails to the student body this year. Madison is fortunate to have an outlet for the irreligious to feel comfortable and safe – the same cannot be said for many other cities across the nation. If providing a safe environment for differing viewpoints is troublesome for you, I suggest you do find a way off of this planet, because openness and equal representation in society are growing themes in social spheres around the globe. I hear that commercial space companies are looking for test-astronauts – Godspeed.

Poe Response 4: “Don’t ever send me an email again. Words can’t describe how disappointed I am that there are groups like these. Especially if you’re doing things like a “War on Christmas.” I hope you turn your beliefs around quick before it’s too late. I better not get anything from this group again.”

Okay. First – we’re not waging a war on Christmas. Some of our members love celebrating Christmas – it’s a cultural thing that many people enjoy because of the time they spend with their families. We discussed the way in which fundamentalists and conservative religious-types tend to label secular opinions about the holiday as a “war on christmas,” We also talked about the massive, media-led crusade to commercialize the holiday. But I know it’s much easier to imagine us lobbing grenades of blasphemy into Santa’s sleigh, and protesting nativity scenes in Christmas camo. (Um, holiday party theme for 2012, anybody?) Looks like we’re going to have to keep disappointing you by actually talking about stuff that you’d rather sweep under the rug.


I want to wrap up with some of the positive responses we got. This kind of stuff is encouraging, and I want to commend those who took the time to reply to us with insightful questions or comments instead of religious talking points, scripture, or hate. We made a media contact, and received appreciative responses from a number of like-minded folks – Thanks!

Here’s a provocative question contained within one of the responses (in meme format):

As a skeptically minded person, I also found the following reply to be insightful – though it indirectly flirts with Pascal’s Wager:

“It is OK to question God, but do not forget to question yourself.”

The final friendly message I’d like to share is pretty moving to read, and ought to bolster our sense of purpose in AHA. We want to promote a society in which the following situations NEVER arise:

“Thanks for sending this. I really wish I could come, but unfortunately I am stuck being a closet atheist due to pressure from family and friends. Perhaps next year. Keep up the good work 🙂

So to all of those who question the “need” for us to send mass emails – The words above should suffice as an answer. Maybe next year will be the year that it is safe for non-believers to step out and speak up. Realistically though, it probably won’t – and that should motivate the egalitarian in us all. There needn’t be a stigma associated with atheism, humanism, agnosticism, secularism, or any “ism” that doesn’t pander to one of the thousands of religious beliefs in this world. We need skeptical questions to be asked of our cultural beliefs, and the reasons we hold them. We shouldn’t sideline those who are willing to forward such questions. By the way, if you want to meet some of these people who do stand up and question religiosity – we’ve got you covered.
AHA Meetings: Van Hise 155, Wednesdays at 7:00pm. See you there.

– Brian

3 thoughts on “AHA is a massive lightning rod…”

  1. *Moved below comment to reply to this one*

    I can almost picture Prof. Farnsworth writing that comment. It's just crotchety enough.

    I've always taken it to be an expression of one's disappointment at the credulity of others – which makes it supremely ironic in this context. I doubt they caught that.

    It's particularly funny considering the evolution/creationism debate origin, though that's somewhat unrelated to this person's comment.

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