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Monday, July 30, 2007 | Reason : In the News | print version Print | Comments

Document The Out Campaign

by Richard Dawkins

In the dark days of 1940, the pre-Vichy French government was warned by its generals "In three weeks England will have her neck wrung like a chicken." After the Battle of Britain, Winston Churchill growled his response: "Some chicken; some neck!" Today, the bestselling books of 'The New Atheism' are disparaged, by those who desperately wish to downplay their impact, as "Only preaching to the choir."

Some choir! Only?!

As far as subjective impressions allow and in the admitted absence of rigorous data, I am persuaded that the religiosity of America is greatly exaggerated. Our choir is a lot larger than many people realise. Religious people still outnumber atheists, but not by the margin they hoped and we feared. I base this not only on conversations during my book tour and the book tours of my colleagues Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, but on widespread informal surveys of the World Wide Web. Not our own site, whose contributors are obviously biased, but, for example, Amazon, and YouTube whose denizens are reassuringly young. Moreover, even if the religious have the numbers, we have the arguments, we have history on our side, and we are walking with a new spring in our step – you can hear the gentle patter of our feet on every side.

Our choir is large, but much of it remains in the closet. Our repertoire may include the best tunes, but too many of us are mouthing the words sotto voce with head bowed and eyes lowered. It follows that a major part of our consciousness-raising effort should be aimed, not at converting the religious but at encouraging the non-religious to admit it – to themselves, to their families, and to the world. This is the purpose of the OUT campaign.

Before I go any further, I must forestall one major risk of misunderstanding. The obvious comparison with the gay community is vulnerable to going too far: to 'outing' as a transitive verb whose object might be an unfortunate individual not yet – or not ever – ready to confide in the world. Our OUT campaign will have nothing, repeat nothing to do with outing in that active sense. If a closet atheist wants to come out, that is her decision to make, and nobody else's. What we can do is provide support and encouragement to those who willingly decide to out themselves. This may seem trivial to people in parts of Europe, or in regions of the United States dominated by urban intellectuals where support and encouragement is unnecessary. It is anything but trivial to people in other areas of the United States, and even more so in parts of the Islamic world where apostasy is, by Koranic authority, punishable by death.

The OUT campaign has potentially as many sides to it as you can think of words to precede "out". "Come OUT" has pride of place and is the one I have so far dealt with. Related to it is "Reach OUT" in friendship and solidarity towards those who have come out, or who are contemplating that step which, depending on their family or home town prejudices, may require courage. Join, or found local support groups and on-line forums. Speak OUT, to show waverers they are not alone. Organize conferences or campus events. Attend rallies and marches. Write letters to the local newspaper. Lobby politicians, at local and national level. The more people come out and are known to have done so, the easier will it be for others to follow.

Stand OUT and organize activities and events in your local area. Join an existing local neighbourhood atheist organization, or start one. Put a bumper sticker on your car. Wear a T-shirt. Wear Josh's red A if you like it as much as I do, otherwise design your own or find one on a website such as http://www.cafepress.com/buy/atheist; or wear no shirt at all, but please don't carp at the very idea of standing up to be counted with other atheists. I admit, I sympathize with those sceptics on this site who fear that we are engendering a quasi-religious conformity of our own. Whether we like it or not, I'm afraid we have to swallow this small amount of pride if we are to have an influence on the real world, otherwise we'll never overcome the 'herding cats' problem. If in doubt, read PZ Myers's exuberant hortation at http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2007/07/come_out.php.

"Keep" OUT worried me at first, because it sounds unfriendly and exclusive, like the Barcelona Travel Agent whose travel poster, in well-meant English, read "Go Away!" "Keep OUT" here means, of course, keep religion out of science classes, and similar expressions of the US constitutional separation between church and state (Britain has no such separation, unfortunately). As yet another delightful T-shirt put it, "Don't pray in our school, and I won't think in your church." Lobby your local school board. Quote Christopher Hitchens: "Mr Jefferson, build up that wall."

Chill OUT (exhort others to do so). Atheists are not devils with horns and a tail, they are ordinary nice people. Demonstrate this by example. The nice woman next door may be an atheist. So may the doctor, librarian, computer operator, taxi driver, hairdresser, talk show host, singer, conductor, comedian. Atheists are just people with a different interpretation of cosmic origins, nothing to be alarmed about.

What other OUTs might we imagine? Well, suggest your own. Vote OUT representatives who discriminate against the non-religious, the way George Bush Senior is alleged to have done when he described atheists as non-citizens of a nation "under God". Politicians follow where the votes are. They can only count atheists who are OUT. Some atheists are defeatist in thinking we'll never be effective simply because we're not a majority. But it doesn't matter that we're not a majority. To be effective, all we have to be is recognizable to legislators as a big enough minority. Atheists are more numerous than religious Jews, yet they wield a tiny fraction of the political power, apparently because they have never got their act together in the way the Jewish lobby so brilliantly has: the famous 'herding cats' problem again. And the argument applies not just to politicians but to advertisers, the media, merchants across the board. Anyone who wants to sell us anything caters to demographics. We need to stand up and be counted, so that the demographically savvy culture will come to reflect our tastes and our views. That in turn makes it easier for the next generation of atheists. Fill OUT 'Atheist' on any form that asks for your personal details, especially the next census form.

Break OUT! Some might like to throw 'coming OUT' parties where they joyously celebrate the courage of those who have decided to put behind them the habits of a lifetime, or the habits of their ancestors, embrace a realistic and superstition-free life and Break OUT into the real world. Break OUT of religious conformity and, in celebration of your new found freedom, Break OUT the champagne.

http://OutCampaign.org


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1. Comment #59761 by ksskidude on July 30, 2007 at 3:08 pm

 avatarIts scary as hell coming out in a red state like MO. But I did indeed do just that. Here is my letter to the editor called, "The New Brights, and Why I Am One Of Them."
I understand that many have issues with the term Bright, but my local paper would not print anything I wrote with Atheist in it. So I altered it a bit, and got a response. They have confirmed that I wrote it, and said they plan on printing it. Only time will tell

I am a liitle nervous, but all in all pleased with what I have done.

Here is the Editorial I wrote,

What is a Bright you ask? According to the Brights Web site http://www.the-brights.net , a bright is a person who has a naturalistic worldview. Whose worldview is free of supernatural and mystical elements. In a nutshell, we do not believe in a god or gods. Brights are individuals who do not think alike on many issues, and it is not our desire to press for conformity.

My journey to becoming a bright started long ago. I have always been skeptical and inquisitive. So when my questions about god or the bible were unanswered or answered with, "God works in mysterious ways," I would walk away frustrated, angry and dejected. As I became more educated I learned of many other religions and many other ways to view the world. With this knowledge I was forced conclude, they all can't be correct.

So who was right? Talk to a Christian and they will tell you, they have the one true path to God. Ask a Muslim, they will tell you that they have the one true path, etc.... This was no help either. So I read the bible, and the more I read, the more I was aghast at the cruelty and vengeance of God in the Old Testament. But when you are dead in the Old Testament, that was it. The New Testament God, while he has a great many lessons to teach, wants to punish you forever if you choose not to believe. This did not sound like a God of love to me.

All of this led me to become an agnostic. I felt that I could not prove whether god exists or not. Nor could anyone else for that matter. So agnosticism seemed the correct decision.

Then Amendment 2 (www.missouricures.com) became a huge issue in our state. I am a proponent and a staunch advocate for all forms of stem cell research, and was a member of the Missouri Coalition For Life Saving Cures. I would argue with opponents, and the one constant attack on the research was that it was against God's will. I would ask, how do they know? Former Senator and Episcopal Minister John Danforth, says otherwise. Of course I would ask Senator Danforth the same question.

I could not understand how one could make that argument, when they can not prove that God even exists. They were arguing on faith. All other arguments are easily countered because of science. This attack by the religious on the potential cures that could from stem cell research, was the tipping point for me. I began to read and study once again, and this time I read a book, called the God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins, and The End Of Faith by Sam Harris, Atheism, A Case Against God by George Smith, and many many more.

The more I read, the brighter I became. The more knowledge I consumed about astronomy, biology, physics, geology, etc..the less and less the probability of the existence of god became. I became a bright, because my worldview does not include any supernatural or mystical elements. If you want to believe in the supernatural,that is your choice, just don't try to legislate it.

Other Comments by ksskidude

2. Comment #59765 by quicksilver on July 30, 2007 at 3:20 pm

 avatarI'm in Lafayette, LA, aka Hell for Atheists. I will order a couple of large ones in red. It's either this, or physical infrastructure sabotage...while I live in this hellhole it's my duty to awaken the sleeping. :-)

Other Comments by quicksilver

3. Comment #59768 by Macho Nachos on July 30, 2007 at 3:23 pm

 avatarksskidude, good for you! While I'm not a big fan of the term 'bright', that's a really good letter, and writing it to your paper is a courageous move - just the ticket for the OUT campaign.

I'm off to fight the good fight against an IDer trying to preach at Australian universities tonight. I only hope I get the opportunity to make my voice heard, and hope that anyone in the audience who is wavering doesn't buy his tripe.

Other Comments by Macho Nachos

4. Comment #59769 by Happy Hominid on July 30, 2007 at 3:25 pm

 avatarI like it. Could we do better? Maybe. But who cares? The point is to stand up and say what you are and if most go along with The Scarlet A then it will become KNOWN. It's not much of a statement if a million atheists have a million different ways of showing it, because the average person won't recognize the symbol. If we can rally around one, even if we disagree whether it's the BEST, it will have impact. I'm in. It's already up.

http://evolutionarymiddleman.blogspot.com/

Other Comments by Happy Hominid

5. Comment #59772 by Milton on July 30, 2007 at 3:34 pm

How about FIND OUT? The more you learn about how the world works the less likely you are to find a need for belief in the supernatural. Could also mean 'find out' more about how many atheists there actually are.

Other Comments by Milton

6. Comment #59773 by Bonzai on July 30, 2007 at 3:40 pm

As an urban Canadian the vast majority of my friends are atheists or agnostics, I have occasions to know some religious people but they are the ones in the closet. I don't know, it may be different in the U.s. But I haven't heard of atheists being bashed by having base ball bats descending on their skulls like gays do even in the red states. The analogy with gays is over the top IMO.

Some atheist chap from the U.S. came to my university to speak against ID. In the end he got a standing ovation and everyone in the Q&A segment agreed with him. He said, "what the hell is wrong with you people? It is the first time I have a 100% approval rating! I have prepared some brilliant points to debate creationists in the Q and A session and now I can't use them !" It was apparently the first time he visited Canada, all his previous speaking engagements were in the U.S. He oughted to have gone to Alberta if he wanted a good debate.

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7. Comment #59778 by ricey on July 30, 2007 at 3:59 pm

Are you uncomfortable with this "A" stuff?

As atheists we have the right to assert our opinions and a need to support one another in practical terms. However, I have misgivings about the net outcome of the "A" campaign (though it is infinately better than the "brights" idea).

Is the whole "out" thing becoming a little too politicised? Does it not run the risk of becoming a bit "cultish". Dosen't atheism abhore cults (I do)? Cults have the nasty habit of becomming "revered". Next thing you know, the texts of Dawkins et al become "the way" rather than the "out".

"The way" is individual self-examination based on reasoned contemplation. It is not cultish; not T-shirt wearing or manifested in any other form of flag-waving.

That said, if "A" draws attention to science and reason, perhaps there is a case to be made for it. But its dicey.

Other Comments by ricey

8. Comment #59780 by theocide on July 30, 2007 at 4:00 pm

I have recently decided to come out. It is really scary because all my family are fundamentalists Christians. I can directly thank Richard Dawkins & Dan Barker for giving me the courage to come out and proclaim that I won't keep quite any more regarding my lack of belief in any gods.

Thank you Richard and Dan! Please keep up this important work. I'm sure there are many millions more like me that don't believe but don't speak out either.

Other Comments by theocide

9. Comment #59782 by Henri Bergson on July 30, 2007 at 4:02 pm

 avatarWell said.

I'm glad you are sympathetic to the fact, Richard, that this movement smells like "quasi-religious conformity". Also that it is confined to the US and would be less effective in Europe.

But, if this is the only effective method by which to oppose religious political power in the US, so be it. Swallowing pride may be necessary there (note to my dissenters: it is swallowing pride).

On a more practical point, what would you suggest that Europe does to aid the US movement, as wearing 'A' t-shirts would be useless here, if not counter-productive?

Personally I think the first step is outlawing all faith schools (extreme child manipulation). But how?

Other Comments by Henri Bergson

10. Comment #59783 by CruciFiction on July 30, 2007 at 4:03 pm

Theocide,

Good for you! And a special thanks for sharing with us.

Other Comments by CruciFiction

11. Comment #59786 by dazzjazz on July 30, 2007 at 4:11 pm

To Deja Fu,

Perhaps Richard can use his new found fame to get the copyright owners to release that font!

I don't like it much, but I do think it's important for us to rally around some symbol for the medium term.

Darren

Other Comments by dazzjazz

12. Comment #59787 by Morro on July 30, 2007 at 4:20 pm

 avatarI still don't like the parallel with homosexuality, but at least Richard addresse the issue. Thanks, Richard!

My problem with the parallel is that it seems to compare a state of being (straight/gay) with a set of beliefs (theist/atheist.) There are completely different rules as to how each may be treated, and should be treated. A state of being, whether it be gender, race, sexuality, etc. is not a choice. A world-view is. It's an opinion, albeit a fairly all-encompassing one.

I feel like the parallel is a reach for special respect that atheism, being a philosophy rather than a trait, just shouldn't be asking for. Just as the religious should not be able to claim that their views are equal to a race, neither should we be able to claim that our views are equal to a sexual orientation.

Other Comments by Morro

13. Comment #59788 by Happy Hominid on July 30, 2007 at 4:25 pm

 avatarDeja Fu said, " don't think any books from Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, Stenger, Hitchens, Sagan, et al, will overcome the embedded generation's brainwashing as children."

A couple of posts later Theocide said, " have recently decided to come out. It is really scary because all my family are fundamentalists Christians. I can directly thank Richard Dawkins & Dan Barker for giving me the courage to come out and proclaim that I won't keep quite any more regarding my lack of belief in any gods."

People DO change their positions. Yes, it can seem impossible with some folks and it may be so, in their lifetimes. The point, to me, is to start moving the numbers in our direction. Most atheists today were brought up in a religious tradition. We all changed. We probably didn't just "do it" in some vacuum. We read the thoughts of great minds and we paid attention to the realities of history and science vs. what we were taught and came to a conclusion - to COME OUT. Others will too. How many is partly up to us who are already there.

Other Comments by Happy Hominid

14. Comment #59789 by Sten on July 30, 2007 at 4:29 pm

I live in a working class estate in the north of the UK, and I can tell you that no one here discusses religion much - I mean there are lots of folks who have 'faith', but very few know the texts in the bible beyond what they remembered at Sunday school or at the morning prayers when they were at regular school. They don't want to come out or in. I reckon most folks just hope they can continue somehow after they've dropped dead. I think it's wishful thinking, but that's the way people are. My gut feeling is that many folks who 'believe' round here, will not be told (or persuaded), to believe or not believe, they just want the comfort of the faith thing. Personally I think it's time the human race got a grip and took it on the chin when they expire, but humans have huge ego's so that's not going to happen just yet. Roll on evolution.

Other Comments by Sten

15. Comment #59790 by jaydon64 on July 30, 2007 at 4:36 pm

Good to see Aussies prepared to fight the good fight especially at our Universities, which are supposed to be places of higher education. Hope your voice was heard loud and clear Macho Nachos.

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16. Comment #59791 by firemancarl on July 30, 2007 at 4:39 pm

 avatarHey, I work with another athiest firefighter here in the Daytona Beach area. I canna wait for my T Shirt. I will wear it with pride, ready to dash the bible thumpers with logic and reasoning which will no doubt cause their heads to explode!

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17. Comment #59792 by Damien White on July 30, 2007 at 4:42 pm

I've got a t-shirt winging it's way to me down here in Adelaide, The City Of Churches, and once it's arrived i'll be wearing it, and eagerly looking out for others!
United we stand, divided we fall.

Other Comments by Damien White

18. Comment #59793 by firemancarl on July 30, 2007 at 4:42 pm

 avatarSide note.

I would like to see the "A" large and in the backround and the atom superimposed on top of it. that wuold look kickass in my opinion!

Other Comments by firemancarl

19. Comment #59794 by Jack Rawlinson on July 30, 2007 at 4:42 pm

 avatarGood to see Richard weigh in on this, and to see him do so with his customary clarity.

By nature I am not a "joiner". I am not a very clubbable chap. But I feel so strongly that atheists need to become more visible, more open, more exposed. Remember that chilling recent statistic which showed that atheists are amongst the most mistrusted people in America? That, right there, is why this is a worthwhile campaign. It's not about getting in people's faces in order to be provocative or aggressive; it's about being open, about showing all those people who so mistrust atheists that we're actually decent, moral, non-scary people. And it's about making it okay to be openly atheist in those many areas of the world where it is anything but that right now.

I've always been an extremely vocal and unapologetic atheist, but I've also always recognised that to be so isn't easy for everyone. The anti-atheist prejudice is real, and in some areas quite vicious. So I'll wear the shirt as an expression of solidarity with those people more than as a personal expression of belief (or lack of) And also because I agree with Richard when he says, "We need to stand up and be counted, so that the demographically savvy culture will come to reflect our tastes and our views. That in turn makes it easier for the next generation of atheists."

Those of us who grew up in the relatively enlightened post-war era, in which religion was very much in retreat in the west, have been complacent. That has allowed the madness to take root and thrive again. No more complacency. This is worth shouting about.

Other Comments by Jack Rawlinson

20. Comment #59795 by dhweaver on July 30, 2007 at 4:50 pm

 avatarI live in Lancaster, PA. Yeah, I'm talking about the place where thousands of people are partying like it's 1699. Ok, so most people around here aren't Amish, but the red here is deep and dark. 75% of my relatives the women wear coverings and the men drive black cars. In their churches, the women sit on the one side and the men sit on the other (in order that they don't have sexual thoughts during prayer service. I'M NOT KIDDING!!!) Coming out scares me to death. I envy you people who live in areas of the world that are so tolerant to individual beliefs.

Other Comments by dhweaver

21. Comment #59798 by USA_Limey on July 30, 2007 at 4:59 pm

 avatarOk, that's it: time to put up or shut up. I have been toying with the idea for around a year now of trying to start up some kind of atheist/humanist group in my own patch, (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), but have kept coming up with excuses not to.

My pledge: I will now try to do so.

Oh and I'll get a T-shirt.

First step: anyone on this site in my neck of the woods who'd be interested in exchanging ideas?

USA_Limey

aka Ian the ex pat Brit in Pittsburgh, PA

_________________________________________________
Carousel is a lie! There is no renewal!

~ Logan

Other Comments by USA_Limey

22. Comment #59799 by Sten on July 30, 2007 at 5:10 pm

Folks - (FiremanCarl, Damien, Jack, DhWeaver, Macho, USA_Limey), you must be under siege out there from religious dogma etc. It's unknown where I live. I've been mulling over the idea of going to some church just see if there are any folks up here who actually believe in the actual literal word of the bible....I have no one on the ground out here to argue over religion with. It's soul destroying!! Cheers.

Other Comments by Sten

23. Comment #59801 by Lil_Xunzian on July 30, 2007 at 5:18 pm

Thank Tlaloc I'm living to see all this go down. I really actually didn't even realize how big of a problem religion was in my own damn country (America) until I left Ct and went to college. Ct's famous for two things (aside from cash-monay and cuteness): Yale New Haven and the pharmaceutical companies (namely, Bayer, Pfizer, and Bristol-Myers Squibb). So, we had A LOT of scientists and doctors around, so religion didn't play a very big part in most people's lives, even if most people weren't out-and-out atheists. Research scientists, neurologists, neurosurgeons, neuropsychologists, regular psychologists, professors, etc. abounded! Then, however, I went to college and got acquainted with many of my schoolmates' religious beliefs, and my responses ranged from "you can't be serious" to "you must be joking." For me, part of college was about leaving the Ct-bubble and learning about what kind of country I lived in. It was my sophomore year when I started doing some research into the matter that I really began to realize how bad the evangelical infection is. And it was in my senior year that truly began to notice how nasty Catholicism and Catholics can be. I'm just thankful to Tlaloc that at the same time I was traumatized by the wretchedness of my countrymen that atheists took the next step. COME OUT!

Other Comments by Lil_Xunzian

24. Comment #59802 by briantw on July 30, 2007 at 5:18 pm

Here's an example of what can be done. I attended Rock Against Religion here in South Africa. There were some people outside praying, but they got cold and went home. Other than that it was peaceful and, I think, productive.

http://www.iol.co.za/index.php?set_id=1&click_id=180&art_id=vn20070626040504282C606400

http://www.news24.com/News24/Entertainment/Local/0,,2-1225-1242_2117677,00.html

Other Comments by briantw

25. Comment #59804 by Jef on July 30, 2007 at 5:22 pm

Now I feel all left out because I've never been anything but a completely unapologetic atheist... :/

I want to come out too!

Hmm.. never thought I'd ever be saying that.. :P

Other Comments by Jef

26. Comment #59808 by Dr Benway on July 30, 2007 at 5:30 pm

 avatarHere's an idea: rubber wristband with "ATHEIST" on it, like those yellow wristbands with "LIVESTRONG" promoted by Lance Armstrong for cancer research.

I can't wear icons to work. But I'll get a mug if you got one.

Other Comments by Dr Benway

27. Comment #59810 by Charlou on July 30, 2007 at 5:39 pm

 avatarThe following comment to the article struck a chord and has made me ease up on my sweeping opposition to the idea of the T-shirt, and while I, as an already open atheist, am still not personally interested in the idea of supporting the T-shirt I'm willing to sit back and wish all those who feel it important in taking that step of 'coming out' all the best.

" 20. Comment #59794 by Jack Rawlinson on July 30, 2007 at 4:42 pm
Good to see Richard weigh in on this, and to see him do so with his customary clarity.

By nature I am not a "joiner". I am not a very clubbable chap. But I feel so strongly that atheists need to become more visible, more open, more exposed. Remember that chilling recent statistic which showed that atheists are amongst the most mistrusted people in America? That, right there, is why this is a worthwhile campaign. It's not about getting in people's faces in order to be provocative or aggressive; it's about being open, about showing all those people who so mistrust atheists that we're actually decent, moral, non-scary people. And it's about making it okay to be openly atheist in those many areas of the world where it is anything but that right now.

I've always been an extremely vocal and unapologetic atheist, but I've also always recognised that to be so isn't easy for everyone. The anti-atheist prejudice is real, and in some areas quite vicious. So I'll wear the shirt as an expression of solidarity with those people more than as a personal expression of belief (or lack of) And also because I agree with Richard when he says, "We need to stand up and be counted, so that the demographically savvy culture will come to reflect our tastes and our views. That in turn makes it easier for the next generation of atheists."

Those of us who grew up in the relatively enlightened post-war era, in which religion was very much in retreat in the west, have been complacent. That has allowed the madness to take root and thrive again. No more complacency. This is worth shouting about."

Other Comments by Charlou

28. Comment #59812 by _J_ on July 30, 2007 at 5:46 pm

 avatarDr B, 28 - it's a nice idea, although there are already so many different coloured bands for different causes. Still, the more the merrier.

I actually still like the idea of putting WWJD? on the wristband, alongside the 'Come OUT' or 'A' logo. A URL for Dawkins' 'Atheists for Jesus' article would finish it off, making it all sincerely, but ironically, consistent.

Other Comments by _J_

29. Comment #59814 by Yorker on July 30, 2007 at 6:04 pm

 avatarI applaud those Americans who have decided to come "out" in the hard states, I understand how you feel.

I once gave a week long seminar in the Southern Indiana/Kentucky border area, the first day all went well, many delegates were keen to tell me of their Scottish ancestry and they took me to lunch and dinner. During after dinner conversation someone raised the subject of religion and I got quite a shock. They began to tell me how they admired the devout Scottish christians and automatically assumed I was one of them, when I said they were describing a nation unknown to me and that I was myself an atheist, well, my words seemed as welcome as a fart in a spacesuit. It dawned on me their notion of religion in Scotland was the kind the pertained in the days of John Knox.

I decided that a diplomatic change of subject was in order so I indicated my desire to see the fossil beds that are close to the bridge over the river that runs along the border between Kentucky and Indiana, it might be the Ohio river but I can't quite remember; locals from that area will know the place I'm referring to. I was hoping maybe one or two would offer to accompany me on an evening visit to the site, all I got were terse replies that indicated a lack of interest in fossils.

For the rest of the week I ate lunch and dinner alone, no more invitations were forthcoming. Had it not been for the fact that their employer had paid for them to attend my software seminar so they could learn how to use it, I think many of them would have skipped the course after the first day.

That was my first experience of rampant religion in the USA and it took me aback because I'd already worked in Florida for several years and most of my colleagues were democratic and atheistic. I had another more serious run in with religites in the USA but that's another story that I won't bore you with just now. Perhaps due to the efforts of you American "outers", I'll notice a difference if I have to visit that part of the country again.

Other Comments by Yorker

30. Comment #59815 by konquererz on July 30, 2007 at 6:04 pm

 avatarFirst off, I have lived in Missouri most of my life, and now I live in Indiana, and Indiana is much much worse than Missouri. City officials have have this slogan going in their offices "god is great all the time". People look horrified when I explain exactly what my flying spaghetti monster t-shirt with the fork on a cross is about.

Whats even greater, is when I get asked my religion or what church I go to up here. It happens all the time. I put on my best friendly face and simply say, "I don't believe in invisible things" which usually gets a chuckle. Then they try to be cool about it and say something to the effect of "ha ha, like bigfoot and the lockness monster?" and I say "yeah, those too".

Its funny because religious people will always put themselves into those awkward thinking positions. However, I thought I would weigh in on the big red A thing. I have some issues with it, since it seems like the scarlet letter for adultary. And the whole "out" think seems to steal to much thunder from the gay pride movement, something worth coming out about in its own right.

But something is better than nothing, and if you don't like the ideas out there, why not start a new one yourself? After all, freedom is absolute, creativity embraced, and unity important. We still need to let the countless atheist wannabees know that its Okay to not believe and that there are others out there. Those of us born and raised christians know what its like to try and come out among religious peers, friends, and family, and I for one will not stand by and force others to come out all alone like I did. I took me months of actively looking to find others like minded as me in my area. I want to be supportive of someone elses choice to stop believing the lie.

Other Comments by konquererz

31. Comment #59819 by Yorker on July 30, 2007 at 6:15 pm

 avatarGood presentation Richard and diplomatically engineered to give the least offence whilst remaining firm on the main point; ever considered a political career?

I liked your TED speech when you mentioned the need for politicisation of the atheistic movement, this latest idea is certainly a step in the right direction.

Other Comments by Yorker

32. Comment #59820 by Yorker on July 30, 2007 at 6:33 pm

 avatar7. Comment #59776 by Déjà Fu

"I don't think any books from Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, Stenger, Hitchens, Sagan, et al, will overcome the embedded generation's brainwashing as children."

A couple of years ago I would've agreed with you, but now I think you're wrong, I've seen evidence that books can change minds, especially, but not exclusively, in younger people. My own cousin used to argue the merits of religion with me, I told her not to take my word for anything but to promise to read the books I gave her. You guessed it, she is now an atheist.

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33. Comment #59821 by neilcreek on July 30, 2007 at 6:34 pm

I support this idea 100% and I think it's long overdue.

I am starting to do my bit with this post to my blog: http://neil.creek.name/blog/2007/07/30/out-campaign

By its very nature, the commonality of disbelief is so vague that it is practically impossible to unify all who share this opinion under a single banner. Like most people here I think some tweaks could improve the image of the campaign, but such a diverse 'membership' will never reach agreement, and it's time to put aside the small differences and unite as one.

We are many notes, but together we can become a symphony.

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34. Comment #59822 by jonecc on July 30, 2007 at 6:35 pm

At last, a proper political campaign, and some inspiring words to get us going. Oh, it's not the end, it's not even the beginnning of the end, but it is perhaps the end of the beginning...

I think the gay analogy works quite well, for a number of reasons. Firstly, it's probably the case that atheists, like gay people, are on average better off, whereas for women and black people discrimination is most crucially experienced in the economic arena. Secondly, atheists in religious families often have to go through a process of coming out, as do gay people in straight families. Thirdly, many superficially religious people aren't actually quite as religious as they make out. Doubt, like gayness, is often experienced as shame in repressive environments.

Of course, as said above, atheism is a choice rather than an orientation, but otherwise the analogy holds.

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35. Comment #59823 by Yorker on July 30, 2007 at 6:39 pm

 avatar8. Comment #59778 by ricey

Sorry, ricey this is irrestible.

"That said, if "A" draws attention to science and reason, perhaps there is a case to be made for it. But its dicey."

Maybe ricey, it's dicey, but so what? We can handle dicey ricey, let's just get on with it and be less nicey nicey ricey.

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36. Comment #59824 by Bonzai on July 30, 2007 at 6:49 pm

Firstly, it's probably the case that atheists, like gay people, are on average better off,..


I think atheism is probably correlate to education level so it is plausible that atheists as a group have higher education level and hence better off. But I don't think it makes sense to say that gay people are better off as a group. I can't see how sexual orientation may be a function of economics. I would like to see some serious research other than just anectodes. It is probably true that gays who are better educated and work in professional enviroment are more likely to be open about their sexuality(and accept it) because of the more liberal attitude, this creates the wrong impression that gays are in general better off economically.

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37. Comment #59825 by Yorker on July 30, 2007 at 6:51 pm

 avatar33. Comment #59815 by konquererz

"I don't believe in invisible things" which usually gets a chuckle. Then they try to be cool about it and say something to the effect of "ha ha, like bigfoot and the lockness monster?" and I say "yeah, those too".

What?? do you mean The Loch Ness Monster? How dare you say it doesn't exist!! Are you trying to rob my highland countrymen of their tourist dollars?? :)

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38. Comment #59826 by firemancarl on July 30, 2007 at 6:57 pm

 avatarYorker,

My dad lives in Kentucky. I know how you felt. he often feels like he is the lone voice of sanity and reason in his town.

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39. Comment #59827 by Yorker on July 30, 2007 at 6:57 pm

 avatar39. Comment #59824 by Bonzai

"I think atheism is probably correlate to education level so it is plausible that atheists as a group have higher education level and hence better off."

Not in the UK, wealth has more to do with location. A thickoid living in the South of England may well be better off than a university educated Scottish atheist.

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40. Comment #59828 by Richard Morgan on July 30, 2007 at 6:57 pm

I live in France, where declaring one's atheism doesn't interest anyone. Being opposed to the right to go on strike certainly attracts a lot of hostile reactions, but "not believing" something is just a non-subject for most (if not all) French people.
So, having announced that bit of good luck, like others, I would really like to know how I could help my trans-atlantic friends for whom being an overt atheist causes so many frightful problems. I'd really like to help and encourager y'all - but how?

Send me a personal message if you want, and let's chat about it.

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41. Comment #59830 by firemancarl on July 30, 2007 at 6:59 pm

 avatarSten,

We are fighting the battle and out lack of overt numbers just makes the game more exciting!

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42. Comment #59831 by steve99 on July 30, 2007 at 7:01 pm

 avatar
atheism is a choice rather than an orientation


I am not sure things are that simple. I have heard of many who have struggled with their faith, and would really choose to believe if they could, but in all honestly they can't. For some, atheism is a wonderful discovery. For others it is a sad discovery, that once made leaves their lives with a little less magic. But however it is arrived at, I really don't think one can so easily choose disbelief - it is a condition one arrives at.

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43. Comment #59832 by Bonzai on July 30, 2007 at 7:05 pm

Of course there is no parallel between atheism and sexual orientation. If atheism is not a choice than neither is religion, if that is the case criticising religion would be morally equivalent to racism. I don't think anyone here would agree that such an equivalence exists.

Aside: There is nothing wrong about being gay even if it is a choice. The origin of sexual orientation is probably interesting to scientists but IMO gay people shouldn't need to "blame the genes" to justify who they are (or what they do). We don't ask whether a prefence for hot food is born or learned, no one bloddy cares and this is exactly how it should be with sexual orientation.

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44. Comment #59833 by tuibguy on July 30, 2007 at 7:09 pm

 avatarI am adding the "A" to my site despite the detractors. I am all ready a member of the Minnesota Atheists, so it won't be a surprise to the state legislators and senators I volunteer for and occasionally get to hang out with. I am fortunate to be in Minnesota's Twin Cities Metro area, so it is not as scary a proclamation to come out of the closet as an atheist as it is in other parts of the state. Certainly it is not as much of a challenge as it is for my brothers, who live in Oklahoma (atheists both, I proudly add.)

http://tuibguy.blog-city.com/my_name_is_mike_and_i_am_an_atheist.htm

I don't take it lightly, and I understand why some atheists are hesitant to adopt a herd mentality, but I think that the least we can do is show some support for people that feel like they are surrounded on all sides.

We're here for you, folks, if you need us.

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45. Comment #59834 by Bonzai on July 30, 2007 at 7:15 pm

Ok there is a fallacy in my last post, a product of nuture doesn't necessarily imply choice.

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46. Comment #59835 by jonecc on July 30, 2007 at 7:24 pm

Bonzai:

As I understand, it isn't that gay people have higher incomes, it's that because that they're on average less likely to parent, their disposable incomes are higher.

The gay thing here isn't a parallel, it's a metaphor. Atheists are coming out like gay people, that's the similarity. I wanted to point out a few ways in which the metaphor works. What you've done is find one way in which it doesn't. Metaphors are always like that. If I jumped out of a plane, I would fall like a stone, even if I wasn't small, round and shiny. Love is not precisely like a red, red, rose, but both have beauty and thorns.

Politics is like this. You find symbols, metaphors, dramatic ways to make a point. Even if you think the metaphor is crass, or the logo is banal, you wave the banner anyway, because that isn't what's important about the banner.

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47. Comment #59837 by Russell Blackford on July 30, 2007 at 7:28 pm

I'm not sure why we make such a fuss about whether something is "a choice". One of the points often made against Pascal's wager (certainly by me) is that belief is not volitional (certainly not in any simple way). Indeed, this is one of the reasons why Christian doctrines of hellfire and damnation are so abhorrent: what strikes you as true is not a matter that you can simply choose.

The main point about homosexuality is not that it is unchosen (that's not very relevant, even if it's true) but that it is essentially harmless. The main point about having dangerous beliefs is not that they are "chosen" (they are not ... not in any simple way) but that they are dangerous.

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48. Comment #59838 by savagemickey on July 30, 2007 at 7:35 pm

I live in the Twin Cities where I own a restaurant. I find that I am constantly having to put up with god-talk from people who just assume that I too am a believer. The worst shift is Sunday brunch with all of the self satisfied churchies coming in. Since I am in the business of trying to get people to return often to spend their money at my place, I smile and put up with it and usually don't let on that I am an atheist.

The other day I had a bunch of regulars came in for lunch. By regulars I mean 2-3 times a week. The main guy is real nice, but very in your face with his religiousness. I am always very diplomatic and friendly. That day he made a comment about how I have such a positive attitude and am so friendly that I must be a Christian. Usually I would make some vague comment and change the subject, but this time I told him that no, in fact, I am an atheist. I think his jaw hit the floor. I guess I really didn't fit his picture of an atheist. After a moment he said the standard, "You know jesus died to save you." To which I replied, "So they say." Then as he left he said…you guessed it, "I'll pray for you."

Well that little coming out party cost me about $100 a week in sales, because while he may be praying for me he sure isn't coming to eat at my restaurant anymore.

That's the reality of being an atheist. While blatant discrimination can usually be addressed in some manner, what about people that just stay away to protest your non-belief. I know that a lot of people could care less one way or another, but as a business owner, why take the chance. It's hard enough trying to make any money in this business as it is. My family and friends certainly know that I am an atheist, and my employees also, but I just would not advertise the fact to my guests.

I have talked to some guests about being an atheist, but only the ones that out themselves to me first. I imagine that the atheist market could be a good one to tap into, but try to pin that demographic down!

Anyway, it gives me hope to see that the religious in America are not as numerous as they make themselves out to be.

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49. Comment #59839 by CruciFiction on July 30, 2007 at 7:38 pm

"Religious people still outnumber atheists, but not by the margin they hoped and we feared. I base this not only on conversations during my book tour and the book tours of my colleagues Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, but on widespread informal surveys of the World Wide Web. Not our own site, whose contributors are obviously biased, but, for example, Amazon, and YouTube whose denizens are reassuringly young." ~ RD

Reassuringly young?? Young, yes. Maybe not so reassuring however.

As Dr. Dawkins referred to the YouTube community here, I just felt a need to call attention to a video that has been currently selected by the YouTube staff as one of the "featured videos" on their main page.

The video link is here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OruQy-X32O0

"AngryLittleGirl (Jessica)" is obviously an extremely bright and young freethinker. In the video she states that 95% of all Americans are scientifically illiterate, and then pleads with viewers to just question all "facts" whenever confronting them. She speaks of the gullibility factor by not doing so, and adds that this also applies to religion.

Well, the video will soon be approaching nearly a half-million views. But check the comments from theists that must account for well over 90% of the total. They're grotesque and appalling. It is a veritable burning at the stake of a perceived heretic!

Remember, this is an overwhelmingly young crowd on YouTube -- tomorrow's leaders and teachers. Browsing the comments, one might easily lose all hope for the future of humankind from a fast growing inability to reason and think critically by a preponderance of its members. It certainly has shaken mine. And the responsibility for this breakdown lies squarely in the ever-expanding influence on young minds from the inculcation and indoctrination of religion.

Now, inasmuch as this applies to our issue at hand, let me just add one thing here. I simply do not know how atheists/freethinkers who truely want a better and brighter future world, if not so much for themselves, then perhaps moreso for their kids and their kids' kids, could read through these ugly and ignorant comments that effectively comprise a [cyber] religious crusade and still not feel compelled to "COME OUT". We each must make a personal contribution to try to stop this nightmarish spread of mind cancer running amok in the world today. I really do consider the present day situation as an emergency, and if ever there was an urgent need for freethinkers to make ourselves known and rise up en masse against religious dogma and superstition, IT IS NOW! I think it's absolutely imperative.

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50. Comment #59841 by Ohnhai on July 30, 2007 at 8:14 pm

 avatarThe 'A' shirt is as good a symbol as any, but it's not for all. I am ordering several so I can wear it frequently. If it is not for you then find your own OUT cry, but cry OUT you must.


Dawkins is right about that.

What ever else divides us atheists, we need to raise our voices as one and call OUT "ENOUGH". We will not tolerate interferance in public life,or our own personal life, from religions, or the religious.

We will NOT be ignored and marginalised, and deamonised by religions, or the religious

We need to stand together and shout OUT god does Not exist and THIS is our freedom, you will not deny us.

We need to shout OUT we are more numerous than you think. Not only do we know where you live, we LIVE where you live.

come OUT
reach OUT
speak OUT
stand OUT

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