Atheists Celebrating Independence Day July 5, 2010

Atheists Celebrating Independence Day

Monica Hesse of the Washington Post has a wonderful light-hearted piece about atheists celebrating Independence Day, one of the few major holidays that isn’t based in religion.

She attended a party in Washington, D.C. where several local atheists got together. The piece focuses on the party, but it also uses it as a setup to talk about atheism in general:

On the food table, there is a get-well card for “God Is Not Great” author Christopher Hitchens — who recently learned he has cancer — which the picnickers are encouraged to sign.

If you’re an atheist, then you don’t attend a house of worship, [Shelley] Mountjoy explains. This means that atheists — who are about 5 percent of the U.S. population, according to a 2009 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life — generally miss out on at least one form of communal experience because most atheist organizations don’t have space to host gatherings. Events like this one give them a chance to congregate, see who else is out there, compare stories of persecution.

Most of them have been told, at one point or another, that they are going to hell, which, when you think about it, is a fairly pointless threat to an atheist, like warning someone that you’re sending them to Narnia.

The most common misapprehension they encounter is that they must be immoral — that, lacking the promise or threat of an afterlife, they have no incentive to be good. The atheists here find this particularly offensive, as they say they believe in kindness for the sake of kindness, making the most of the brief existence they believe humans are allowed.

In any article, there’s always something you wish the reporter had gotten right. I think the definition of Agnostic (“withholding judgment until all the facts are in”) is debatable — will agnostics ever think the facts are in? — and the remark about people thinking the opposite of “Bright” is “dim” is misinformed. But, hell, even atheists argue over definitions, so I wouldn’t expect a reporter to settle it for us.

Overall, this is part of a trend I’m seeing with articles in major newspapers being sympathetic to atheists and portraying us in a good light. Hopefully, that trend will continue.

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  • It helped a little that I was the humanist celebrant who officiated at the author’s nonreligious wedding! So she felt good about us even though she isn’t a member of any freethinking group or part of the movement. Moreover, thinking of having children of her own, she was genuinely curious about how those at the picnic, who were and weren’t raised as humanists or atheists, grew up. So she spoke with my adult daughter Livia and others and may later follow up on Camp Quest next summer. We all do well to build relationships with friendly non-movement people, provide services to the community, and the like. This can only improve our social image.

  • JD

    Huh. I’m not sure I would go to some kind of humanist, atheist or skeptic gathering. I am atheist and somewhat skeptic & humanist, though maybe more apathist than anything.

  • Carlie

    I read that this morning and was gobsmacked that it didn’t include the standard disclaimer from a pastor about how they were misguided and still going to hell and destroying the country and whatnot. Very refreshing.

  • Dan W

    Wow. That’s an incredibly positive news article about atheists. That’s not something you see very often. I like it, and I hope there’ll be more news articles like this one in the future.

  • “…like warning someone that you’re sending them to Narnia.”

    What a fun line! I love it!

  • Beth

    I love the Narnia bit as well. I will happily yoink it for my own use, methinks.

  • This is one reason why I capitalize ‘Atheism’ and all its derivative forms. Many people can’t bring themselves to respect someone’s lifestyle or global outlook unless it’s covered by a concept that involves enough pride to get the capitalization treatment.

    The question (for me anyway) is: Do we take that much pride in our Atheism? My answer: Yes, few other things are as imporant and pride-inspiring to me as my Atheism. It’s an idea that could save humanity.

    Just my opinion…

  • I am glad that the article is positive overall but I’ve certainly learned a few things about speaking to reporters. In reference to the second paragraph quoted above, I did not say atheists don’t attend church – plenty do to appease their families, friends, co-workers, etc and I’m sure there are numerous other reasons as well. Perhaps they like the music or belong to a UU.

    I was, however, speaking to the reporter about how many of our local organizations do not have physical facilities and more recent cooperation among groups has assisted in that regard. For example, this Spring a local non-profit – Washington Area Secular Humanists ( brought Tom Flynn to DC and co-hosted his two speaking events with secular student groups at American University and George Mason University – which could provide a venue for the events. The event Saturday also provided a place for members and leaders of many groups to finally come together. I believe my exact quote was along the lines of not being able to rent out a church basement for book discussions.

  • stogoe

    I did not say atheists don’t attend church – plenty do

    I’m glad* to hear that you were misquoted on that – I’d hate to think someone was trying to kick me out of the club just for enjoying singing.

    *Well, not glad. You know what I mean.

  • ahh i would celebrate such a day regardless, your not really free of the empire’s chains we just let you think that, WE’LL BE BACK! and on that day new york will be renamed.. chillinham on sea! muahahahah (anybody who doesnt get the joke btw needs to watch some of harry enfields old stuff :P) but now you know too much *shifty eyes* UP UP AND AWAY! (yes somone IE me has been very bored today lol)

  • Dylan

    To world domination!

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