Atheist Coming Out Party 2008

| August 4, 2008 | 9 Replies

This Saturday, I visited the Atheist Coming Out Party in Westerville, Ohio. The event had numerous hosts and sponsors- American Atheists, Students for Free Thought, Secular Student Alliance, and many, many regional skeptical and atheistic groups. As such, the event drew in atheists, secular humanists, skeptics, and other assorted heathens from all around Ohio, as well as neighboring states.

Where, do you ask, does a group of such cursed godless people go to gather? A lovely event barn in a gorgeous park:

And what do atheists do at such a party? Well, they begin with a little bit of potluck dinner and socializing:

I sat at a table with atheists from Tennessee, Kentucky, and northern Ohio. Visitors had traveled for hours and hours on end for this lovely event. Our region, after all, does not generate many skeptical and atheist get-togethers. New England has Boston Skeptics in the Pub, Las Vegas has The Amaz!ing Meeting, but the midwest usually has a dearth of heatheny gatherings.

After a filling lunch of the unwashed souls of the damned (and carrot cake), we moved upstairs for a series of talks. First up was Hemant Mehta, Chicago-area atheist who wrote I Sold My Soul on Ebay, and who writes at the Friendly Atheist blog.

Hemant had one very important take home point in his talk: atheists need to capture the positive aspects of church culture. We need to provide a sense of community for one another. We need to advertise our messages as effectively as Christians do. And, especially, we need to use our organizations to do a boatload of charity work, like the Christians do.

Following Hemant came Edwin Kagin of American Atheists. He delighted the audience with a very impromptu series of atheist jokes and assorted ramblings.  Edwin does most of the legal heavy lifting for American Atheists, and has done so for quite some time. His take-home point was…well, I’m not exactly sure, but he definitely stressed the idea that atheists must come out of the closet, lest they remain a forever marginalized group.


Speaking of atheist marginalization, the event even had protesters! Unfortunately, my photo did not come out very well:


The protesters’ signs said things like “God Loves You”. They behaved in a very respectful and kind manner. We certainly returned the favor: some atheists brought the small group food and water, and I made sure to ask permission before snapping a quick shot of the gang.

Hopefully the group learned that atheists look normal, behave decently, and even have families themselves. Look at this beautiful family that attended the event:

Wow! This presumably atheist family has already taught its young daughters to play chess.

I had to leave the event not long after Hemant and Edwin’s speeches. I missed the “de-baptism” held later; formerly baptized theists were passed over with a large hair dryer, then given a certificate of their newly de-baptized state. I missed out on the certificate, but I did get a free shirt from American Atheists. It espouses the general, non-confrontational message of the event:

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Category: American Culture, Communication, Culture, Entertainment, Friendships/relationships, Reading - Books and Magazines, Web Site, Whimsy

About the Author ()

Erika is a PhD student in Social Psychology living in Chicago. Here on DI she most often writes about current events, psychology, skepticism, media and internet culture.

Comments (9)

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  1. Vicki Baker says:

    The slogan on the t-shirt is good but the logo makes me laugh. I didn't know atheists were radioactive!

  2. Erika Price says:

    Vicki: Yes, that logo has been American Atheist's symbol for quite some time. They explain the choice here. The debate over what logo, if any, an atheist should use can become quite lively in some circles. This page details some of the logos that have been proposed over the years. Somehow I doubt we'll ever settle on one, and maybe we shouldn't!

  3. Erich Vieth says:

    Erika: Thank you for your photographic report. Those photos are each worth 1000 words. And, yes, believers and non-believers can get along (many of them often have).

    Your post makes me wonder if there has ever been a television show based on a good-natured family that included some atheists.

    I'm sure that many believers would jump in and say that most TV shows feature "atheists" based on the fact that most TV shows don't show families engaged in prayer or going to church or talking about God. I would counter, however, that most TV shows simply avoid the topic. No, those TV families aren't shown going to church but they aren't shown expressing their strong confident beliefs that God is a made up fairy tale being, belief in whom is wholly unnecessary for those kind and decent people who want to live kind and decent lives.

    That is the thought that I had as you showed the photos of the folks gathering together, including the families.

    Can anyone help me with my question? Has there ever been a popular TV show on which the main characters unambiguosly expressed themselves to be happy, confident atheists who were nonetheless wholesome taxpaying members of society?

    Here's a few other things I'm wondering. What does "atheist" mean to people in the gathering, as best you can tell? Were meaningful distinctions made between atheists and agnostics? http://dangerousintersection.org/2007/03/03/the-s

    For instance, did you have many Einsteinian theists among the atheists? http://dangerousintersection.org/2007/04/08/einst

    How much pain would a devout, yet open-minded religious believer feel as he/she listened to the presentations? Maybe what I'm trying to ask is whether there was tolerance in the air, or was there a sustained attack on the "lack of intelligence" of believers?

    I'm asking because I've never been to a gathering of people who assemble together, the exuse being their commonly held atheistic world views.

    Thanks, again, for sharing.

  4. Erika Price says:

    Erich: the group consisted of, as far as I can tell, an amalgamation of nonchristian perspectives. Many were ex-Christians; Hemant is an former Jane; there were atheists, "brights", ignostic (me, anyway) and agnostic atheists, and I even overheard one person explaining their friends' deism! I know the local Students For Freethought that attended this event has a few "first unmoved-mover" type deists as well.

    Atheist is just the most common and recognizable handle, I think, for this wide group of people. Perspectives on respect for Christians, too, varied a bit. Hemant of course argues for friendly, nonconfrontational atheism, and many members at the event agree. Even the more strident atheists were very welcoming and tolerant to the "believers" waving signs across the street; the protesters were invited in, but they wouldn't come into the barn.

    I think only a Christian with a severe persecution fetish would see this event as at all threatening. The event aimed to celebrate atheism and help form a kind of open, helpful atheist community- not take down or insult Christianity.

    As far as atheist TV characters go- I draw an unsurprising blank. I'll let you know if I think of any!

  5. Geoffrey says:

    Whaaaat?!

    I live in central Ohio and I never knew about this event, otherwise I would have been there with (heathen) bells on!

    Dang.

  6. SkepMom says:

    You now have it officially confirmed that the family in the picture are indeed atheists. That is my husband and I sitting next to each other with our dear friend who is playing chess with our eldest. The other two young men in the picture are from Camp Quest and were giving us great information about their summer program.

    Our little ones did get the chance to meet other atheist children there, which was the primary reason for us going. We had a wonderful time! Now, if only we could find more people to play chess with our children, or even better, Go.

  7. Dan Klarmann says:

    Are we going to let her get away with the label "Atheist children"?

    What if they mature to be Humanists, agnostics, pagans, or even (shudder) theists?
    http://www.atheistrev.com/2007/01/religious-indoc

    I'd buy irreligious children, though.

  8. Erich Vieth says:

    Dan: Good point. I have two children, aged 8 and 10. I don't refer to them as Democrats or Republicans, Determinists or Believers in Free Will, Vegetarians or Carnivores, Pro-choice or Anti-Abortion, nor Believers or Atheists. When they get a bit older, I assume that they will have opinions deep enough to justify labels. At this point, though, they are simply my children and they are only starting to think through some of these issues.

    In short, I hesitate to project my own beliefs on my young children and I too am distracted when others do this regarding their own young children.

  9. SkepMom says:

    Valid points all around, except we were there specifically looking for 'atheist' children for our eldest to socialize and chat with. We could debate the term 'atheist', but it was used mostly for convenience. There is no presumption she will still be an atheist tomorrow, or that any child she would meet today wouldn't change their own mind either.

    I am curious about the assumption of indoctrination. Why would one automatically presume a child is not capable of deciding for themselves what they wish to believe? I'd be more then happy to discuss the details, but our daughter came to her own conclusion before even knowing what her parents believed or didn't believe. Who are we to deny her a social environment, free of prejudice and alienation where she can meet other children of a similar mind to what she believes today? We'll worry about what she believes tomorrow, you know, tomorrow.

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