New York Times Reports on the National Atheism Explosion April 27, 2009

New York Times Reports on the National Atheism Explosion

The New York Times is reporting it this morning: “More Atheists Shout It From the Rooftops.”

We are making more progress in getting our message out than ever before.

There are several wonderful anecdotes in reporter Laurie Goodstein‘s article.

One is about the reaction to an atheist billboard in South Carolina:

Two months after the local atheist organization here put up a billboard saying “Don’t Believe in God? You Are Not Alone,” the group’s 13 board members met in Laura and Alex Kasman’s living room to grapple with the fallout.

The problem was not that the group, the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry, had attracted an outpouring of hostility. It was the opposite. An overflow audience of more than 100 had showed up for their most recent public symposium, and the board members discussed whether it was time to find a larger place.

The organization I chair, the Secular Student Alliance, is mentioned as well, as is one of our affiliate groups:

Part of what is giving the movement momentum is the proliferation of groups on college campuses. The Secular Student Alliance now has 146 chapters, up from 42 in 2003.

At the University of South Carolina, in Columbia, 19 students showed up for a recent evening meeting of the “Pastafarians,” named for the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster — a popular spoof on religion dreamed up by an opponent of intelligent design, the idea that living organisms are so complex that the best explanation is that a higher intelligence designed them.

Andrew Cederdahl, the group’s co-founder, asked for volunteers for the local food bank and for a coming debate with a nearby Christian college. Then Mr. Cederdahl opened the floor to members to tell their “coming out stories.”

Andrew Morency, who attended a Christian high school, said that when he got to college and studied evolutionary biology he decided that “creationists lie.”

Josh Streetman, who once attended the very Christian college that the Pastafarians were about to debate, said he knew the Bible too well to be sure that Scripture is true. Like Mr. Streetman, many of the other students at the meeting were highly literate in the Bible and religious history.

In keeping with the new generation of atheist evangelists, the Pastafarian leaders say that their goal is not confrontation, or even winning converts, but changing the public’s stereotype of atheists. A favorite Pastafarian activity is to gather at a busy crossroads on campus with a sign offering “Free Hugs” from “Your Friendly Neighborhood Atheist.”

What a fantastic, positive piece about atheism. (And kudos to the Pastafarian group for doing such great work.)

If you’re able, the Secular Student Alliance is still trying to raise money with our $5 fundraiser! The donation box is in the upper right part of this website. (Please help if you can — We’ve nearly hit the $2,000 mark, but you can help us top that!)

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  • DeafAtheist

    I agree with the article’s likening the atheist movement to the gay movement. I recently saw the movie Milk which I throughly enjoyed and saw how Harvey ignited the movement by encouraging gay people to come out to everyone they know so potential voters of Prop 6 would know they would be directly impacting the life of someone they know and care about by supporting it.

    While atheism is a different issue, I think it’s a positive thing that more of us are coming out and saying, “Hey, yeah we’re a minority among theists, but it’s okay to be an atheist. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. In fact it’s a positive thing.” The more of us that come out the better off we are especially if more of us are politically and socially active. We can hold the Christian desire for a National theocracy at bay.

  • Matthew

    Even though I am a theist, I see this as a positive thing. Whenever people feel the freedom to be more open about their views, it goes a long way toward removing false stereotypes and promoting more honest dialog, and I’m glad to see that. And I hope more Christians will take time to get to know atheists and become familiar with atheist ideas rather than making up their own false images out of fear.

    DeafAtheist said:

    We can hold the Christian desire for a National theocracy at bay.

    I am one Christian who does not want a national theocracy.

  • This is awesome!

    It would be nice to see atheist campus groups like this in New Zealand. Even though I’ve heard that about half (don’t quote me on this!) of our population claims to be without religion, I don’t recall any atheist/humanist “clubs” at uni.

    Maybe it’s time we did something about that… a project for my postgrad year perhaps…

  • Luther Weeks


    Let me mention that after seeing the Milk movie, I also ordered the Milk documentary from Netflix, with photos of the real person and interviews with others portrayed in the movie. Both are great and complement each other.

    As a straight person, all I can say is we lost a lot when we lost Harvey Milk. Would he have gone on to Congress? Senator? or Governor? We would have been well served.

  • My wife, who is involved with a church that very much DOES want a national theocracy, has just recently started reading my copy of “Jesus for the non-religious” by Spong. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that she will move on over to the bright side or at least find a more open minded church (like the Unitarians). I don’t force my beliefs on her and let her make her discoveries at her own pace.

  • Guess I’m a bit contrary this morning. Here’s my response to the article… I’m a little less impressed.

  • Beth B.

    As a former member of the Pastafarian club featured in the article, I couldn’t be prouder to see it in this article! The club is a great group, and Andrew Cederdahl in particular has done a great job of promoting a positive image of atheists on the USC campus and Columbia area through his encouragement of charity work and the like. In particular I like the “free hugs” sign, which is a new innovation since my graduation. Congrats guys!

  • DeafAtheist

    Luther Weeks-

    I haven’t seen the documentary, perhaps I should add that to my Netflix queue. But I agree with you I think Harvey Milk could have gone on to bigger things… could have further advanced the gay movement. I’d bet if he was still around today he’d be making headlines against Prop 8 in CA probably as a Senator.

    But gay or straight we can all appreciate civil right issues. We don’t need to be gay to be affected by issues affecting the gay community especially as a minority group ourselves as atheists.

  • dvsrat

    There is the quote, “trying to get a group of atheists together is like herding cats.” We have all seen this countless times.

    Now it looks like we really can herd cats.

    The internet really did change society.

  • Elijah

    The internet…what a beautiful resource. How lucky we all are to be alive and live in this age.

  • I thought it was a nice piece–I’m glad that a mainstream journalist can write about atheism without mentioning the “Four Horsemen.” I appreciated Goodstein’s comments on our movement’s diversity of belief and attitude, and especially enjoyed her remark that the Pastafarians are “highly literate in the Bible and religious history.”

    One news article like this isn’t going to persuade flocks of theists to re-evaluate atheism, but there’s no denying that it’s a step forward for our public awareness.

  • Dani

    I’m glad that atheists are coming out and stating who they are. I suppose it would be really uncomfortable for anyone to be living a lie and this topic is no exclusion. i hope that one day people will get over religion, race, and disabilities and judge people by their personalities and/or their humanity.
    P.S: I’m catholic so I hope some atheists start to view us in a better light. peace be with you. ^^

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