President’s Column “Our Atheist Community”
By Bjorn Watland
What makes Minnesota Atheists different? In the Twin Cities alone, there are many groups which could fall under the “Freethought” banner. There is a student group – the Campus Atheists, Skeptics and Humanists of the University of Minnesota – and non-student groups like the Humanists of Minnesota, Atheists for Human Rights, and Minneapolis Skeptics. As I wrote last month, Minnesota Atheists’ slogan is, “Positive Atheism in Action.” What does that say about these other groups? Are they negative? Hardly. We are a diverse group, with many different political opinions and different thoughts about how to dialog with religious people, but the organization as a whole acts in a certain way, which I believe attracts curious atheists.
First, we strongly support equal rights. Regardless of religion, sex, race, ability, economic status, or sexual orientation, you deserve to be treated equally under the law. From this general position, we march in gay pride parades and speak out at the capitol about the importance of keeping church and state separate.
Second, we acknowledge that religious people are not stupid for having supernatural beliefs. From this, we make presentations to schools and in the public about atheists, stating our views and fostering understanding by engaging in respectful dialog. This is one of the most difficult things to do, because it is easy for those who grew up believing in a god to forget what that was like, and how strongly some us believed, only to have had someone ask probing questions, in person, through a book, or the Internet, which began a process of reasoning which led to atheism. Starting with respect does not mean pandering, but allowing a conversation to be built on what is presented, rather than on assumptions about each other.
Lastly, we join together as a community to bring dignity to the label we assign to ourselves as atheists. Some criticize atheist organizations for acting too much like a church by having regular meetings, pot lucks, picnics, signing songs, and having fun together. But our community is important to all of the people who are a part of it, and to all of those who don’t yet know that they are not alone.
I, for one, am proud to be a part of such a diverse community, and to feel free to mingle with fellow atheists, no matter where I am. We may not have much in common, but we have at least one thing.