Freethinkers Activities Update 9/14


  • We will be posting the group pictures from the Cascades hike to the Facebook group soon! Thanks to everyone who participated!

Upcoming Events:

  • Our next meeting is Tuesday, September 20th, in McBryde 322 from 7 to 9 pm! The discussion topic is objectivism, a philosophical system developed by Russian American writer Ayn Rand and memorialized in her two fiction novels,The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. We will be discussing the pros and cons of this system, as well as exploring related topics such as libertarianism and capitalism. This should be an engaging discussion!
  • We are having a movie night this Thursday, September 15th, from 7 to 9 pm in Lavery 320! We will be watching the movie Saved!, a satirical coming of age story about teenagers at a private Christian high school. This will also be a potluck, so please bring a dish to share!

My Second Name

Trigger Warnings: Racism, Cultural Appropriation, Homophobia, Boy Scouts


Few of my friends in life and in Freethinkers know that I have a second name. It was given to me in 2011 by some of my closest and dearest friends at the time. It is:

Wulatenamuwi Kënchimokan

When I was given it, I was told it translated as Cheerful Piper, in reference to my relentless cheer and the fact that I play bagpipes (never mind that “Piper” would have referred to the bird, not the musician).

I cannot wear this name with pride, because it was stolen. Had I been given this name by a local Native American tribe, it would be one of the few events in my life of which I am very proud. Instead, this was given to me by a bunch of white, middle-aged men and the youth they led in the Boy Scouts of America. This racist tradition is part of the Order of the Arrow, the BSA’s “honor” society (quotes are mine, to mock the idea that the O.A. is honorable).

I sincerely hope that this racism doesn’t surprise you and does offend you. I hope that it doesn’t surprise you because I like to imagine that most of this country already knows what I am about to say. However, I suspect that is not the case, hence the impetus for this post.

To give a bit of background: the O.A. operates in many ways like a fraternity, particularly with regards to induction rituals (minus any institutionalized hazing). These induction rituals are performed by boys in Native American costumes, which are in almost every case historically inaccurate (to put it mildly). The claim, both implicitly and explicitly is that these inductions take their origin from Native American traditions.

Ironically enough, one of the things a ceremonialist is instructed to do is research how to be respectful of Native Americans’ cultures. One of the blogs I stumbled across in that research is Native Appropriations. And the more I read, the more unsettled I was, until I eventually quit the BSA entirely (this racism was a major factor, as was the LGBTQ-phobia, sexism, and religious discrimination).

I’ve been thinking for half a year about how I would deconstruct everything the O.A. does to whitewash Native Americans. Honestly, it’s overwhelming. What I can do right now is give you three things that illustrate how the O.A. is racist:

1) The induction involves several vision quests, followed by a naming ceremony, where a name is appropriated from a native language. This name is sometimes taken from a local language, but is frequently taken from Lenni-Lenape, regardless of the geographical location of the induction.

2) The induction requires (mostly) white boys to dress up in Native American costumes. These costumes almost always involve the boy wearing a double- or single-trailer headdress or warbonnet and looking like either a cigar-store statue or Hollywood caricature. The costumes are mostly a “ceremony culture” thing (rather than mandated by the instructions), because boys think that dressing as a stereotype looks “cooler.”

3) Almost everything said in the ceremony plays into the idea that Native Americans have a mystical and magical connection to the earth, an idea Hollywood loves to perpetuate, and a gross misrepresentation of actual Native American religious traditions.

I’ve tried pointing some of these things out to several leaders of the local O.A. organization. When these people bother acknowledging my concerns, they give two defenses of this racism. The first is that there are some people working to change “ceremony culture” to be more historically accurate and more appropriately represent Native American culture. The second one is that there is an organization called the American Indian Scouting Association (ASIA) that supposedly reviews and approves of the ceremonies. However, I have yet to find any evidence that this is true.

The problem with these arguments is that the core of the induction and traditions of the O.A. are built and maintained by racist traditions. Changing things to be “more sensitive” is a way of deflecting criticism without doing any work to actually expunge the racism. Additionally, with the deference to AISA, members can avoid thinking about the issue for themselves and provide a justification that their appropriation is acceptable. I don’t know about you, but this sounds very much like something an ex-friend of mine once said: “I’m not racist because my best friend is black.”

Most media attention given to the BSA today focuses on homophobia. However, the problems with the BSA don’t stem from just one misguided view. There are several unacceptable policies that the BSA has that are a result of the privileged nature of its members (being almost exclusively white, christian, of middle and upper class, and cisgender males).

What is bothersome about the focus on the homophobia is that it paints not just an incomplete, but ignorant view of the BSA’s problematic policies. Homophobia in the BSA is not something that needs my voice. But the racist, sexist, LBTQ-phobic, and christian-focused policies and culture of the BSA doesn’t have much of an opposition. I’m merely in a position to be able to argue in detail about the BSA’s cultural appropriations of Native Americans.

The thing that makes this racism so dangerous is the same thing that makes the OA so appealing: the mystery. In order to make the OA a more attractive organization, the induction process is shrouded in mystery (even though it is not technically a secret). I hope in this post and future posts to be able to turn the spotlight on these issues and cut through the shroud of mystery.

And, if you are a Scout reading this post, I ask you: Do you want to be a part of an organization that cannot be trusted to treat each person equally, who isn’t loyal enough to their own oath and law to correct their privilege, who isn’t a friend to those marginalized by oppression, who doesn’t have the courtesy to respect their traditions, who isn’t brave enough to challenge their own preconceptions, and isn’t reverent of everyone’s religious beliefs?



Tuesday evening: a faculty panel discussion on social science and religion

Tomorrow we host the Viewpoints on Social Science and Religion Panel! Here’s the scoop:
Tuesday, 4 March, 7:00pm (doors open at 6:30pm)
GLC Multipurpose Room

Five VT faculty, from a range of disciplines and spiritual backgrounds, will discuss their work, their worldviews, and how they come together. The panelists are

If you’ve ever wondered what religious and spiritual traditions on one hand, and the social sciences on the other, have to say about each other—how do the sciences inform religious practice? how does a spiritual outlook inform research? are they mutually reinforcing? are they in tension?—then come forth and participate in the exchange! We’ll have plenty of time for questions from attendees.


This event was inspired by the Viewpoints on Science and Religion Panel.

Weekly Announcements 10/13/13

We’re almost halfway through the semester now, if you can believe it. Hopefully your academic obligations don’t keep you from another week of fun Freethinker events:


Tuesday, Oct. 15th from 7:00-8:30pm: This week’s meeting, in Brush Mountain A of Squires, will be a presentation by Christian Matheis entitled “What do we make of one another?”. Here’s a brief description of the presentation in his words:

Why do historically underrepresented groups who might benefit from working together find it difficult to foster solidarity? Where do we begin if we hope to ameliorate widespread injustices, to end oppression, and to bring about collective movements that respect differences? In this session, I discuss common misconceptions about “solidarity” that have hindered liberatory social movements, and instead I propose an alternative strategy for describing relationships. If workable, this strategy opens up the feasibility for scholarly and activist work to bolster not just one form of solidarity, but multiple conceptions of solidarities as resources for liberation.

Christian Matheis is a PhD candidate in ASPECT, the alliance for social, political, ethical and cultural thought. Here’s a link to the Facebook event page:

Wed, Oct 16th at 8:00pm: The Secular Support Group will be meeting this week in the Shenandoah Conference Room (314) of Squires Student Center. This is a more private, mellow, and laid back group conversation than what you’ll be able to find at the regular Freethinkers Meeting. The general body meetings are great for guest speakers, educational workshops, good lively discussion, and even a heated debate or three. If you want a safe space to explore ideas you may not yet have fully formed, or you’re seeking some advice about how to interact with friends and loved ones who do not share your views, or simply want a place to speak your mind then please join the Secular Support Group!

Thursday, Oct. 17th at 7:00pm: There’s a group of us that go climbing at Crimpers Climbing Gym in Christiansburg. It’s a lot of fun as well as a good workout. It costs $14 to rent shoes and climb for the night. Here’s a link to their website:

Friday, Oct. 18th from 11:00am-12:30pm: Friday morning, the Breakfast Club will be meeting again in the large first floor dining hall in Turner Place. This week the discussion topic is religion. As always, find the group by looking for the person in the magenta (pink) hat. Here’s a link to the page for the Breakfast Club:

Friday, Oct. 18th from 10:00pm-2:00am: Friday night, we will be having a bake sale outside of Moe’s. We currently need people both for staffing the table and providing baked goods. If you have the time to help out with either task, even if you can’t stay at the booth for the entire time, please RSVP on the Facebook event page and leave a comment about how you can help:

Sunday, Oct. 20th at 2:00pm: If you can’t go climbing on Thursday (or can, and want to go again) come climb at Crimpers on Sunday!

Sunday, Oct. 20th at 5:00pm: Our exec. group will be having a business meeting in Squires Student Center near Au Bon Pan. In order to allow more time at meetings for discussion, we will be meeting Sunday to handle the business our club needs to organize. Everyone is invited to come and participate. It’s a great way to play a part in the workings of the club and gain leadership experience.


Visit our website ( or our Facebook page ( for more information