Headstones denote rarely worshipped deities of today’s modern world. Photo by Jasmine Baxter

Constructed amidst the Halloween season, the Graveyard of the Gods was meant to be the Secular Student Alliance’s (SSA) “farewell to humanity’s forgotten deities”; it was meant to demonstrate how many previously revered gods have become mere symbols of mythology. Its purpose was to prompt a conversation about religion at the national level – one that the SSA has been encouraging for several years. 

“The event started in 2013 at the University of North Georgia,” said Erin Green, the president of UM’s chapter of SSA. The students in the UNG Skeptics club used provisional headstones to describe dead or dying faiths, and, soon after, the national organization adopted the idea and began distributing resources to help their affiliates do the same.  

Naturally, the alliance recognized that in several cultures, the month of October gives rise to the celebration and remembrance of the dead, and the season could be used to showcase the histories and legacies of the deceased deities as well.  

Thus far, the SSA has reported several university successes, including Daytona State College, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Montevallo. Alongside their shared mission, each organization had its own internal goals.   

Green hoped that the display would afford UM students a “better way of having a conversation because a lot of people have a set idea of what they feel about gods and religion.” 

According to Green, “The Graveyard of the Gods is supposed to get people to think critically about their own faith and to listen to other people’s opinions.”  

He acknowledged, however, that this type of discussion can be difficult to have locally.  

“We live in the South, and it’s extremely religious, and right now, especially if you’re thinking of politics, people are having a really hard time talking about their views and having a civil conversation,” Green said. “This is just another example of the importance of communication. People are talking about things that they don’t agree with but trying to understand why people feel the way they feel.”  

Reportedly, this is the first year that there were no bad reactions from the public. The exhibit’s incorporation of gods that people still worship is usually a point of contention, especially since some groups may view the display as a personal attack on their beliefs.  

“People who identify with polytheism might say something like ‘I worship that god and I don’t think they’re dead,’ and it’s valid that they still worship them, but that worship has declined over time. They’re not as mainstream as Buddhist, Hindu or Christian gods,” Green said. “We explain that a dead god doesn’t mean they’re physically dead; it means the followers of that faith either don’t exist or have progressed or that the gods are considered mythology instead of religion.”  

Frequently, this logic leads to questions about whether today’s popular religions will stand the test of time, and Green admitted that he is unsure, but he predicts that the paradigm might shift into something less orthodox – a claim substantiated by the amount of people beginning to identify as “spiritual” rather than part of a set faith.  

Regardless of religious affiliation and progression, however, he believes people shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions.  

“You learn more about yourself and other people if you don’t stay set in your ways,” Green said. “That’s not saying to become an atheist, but asking questions allows you to become more intelligent, and to learn how religion affects you and other people. SSA is a safe place to do that.”  

Students interested in joining the SSA can attend meetings on Tuesdays at 6 p.m. in Comer Hall 100.