Atheist Group Meets Needs
Of General Community
We don't require people in the area to belong to the group. I am not group oriented myself although I have been instrumental in forming this one. We are more concerned with building the atheist community in the area. To do this we use the group to fund general community activities and publications.
For instance, we send our newsletter to any atheist in the area who would like it free of charge and free of commitment. We hold socials where anyone may attend member or not. In fact, you can attend these socials even if you are not an atheist but merely support our purposes.
We have found that concentrating on building community is greatly appreciated by all the atheists and freethinkers in the area whether or not they are members. Especially, if they are the type who don't feel that they have to join a group to be an atheist. In some cases these are exactly the people who appreciate the community without required commitment the most.
From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: "Bret Blakeslee"
Subject: Re: Atheist Groups
Date: January 30, 2002 6:56 AM
This is excellent!
This is the first I've ever heard of an atheist group which (if I hear you correctly) does not have a religious test! Or is it simply your functions that do not have a test? Either way, we've tried to suggest that people experiment along these lines since last summer. I have advocated integration (of sorts) since my first year of putting together a magazine (see "Getting Along Outside the Oasis," July, 1996).
In any event, we think we should be able to get quite a bit of mileage out of your letter. Be that as it may, we would appreciate any further details describing your experience: any successes and, most importantly, any failures, including your suspicions as to what caused those elements or aspects or incidents to go awry.
We would be interested in hearing from the others as to how your "outreach" (for lack of a term) to those who are not atheists is working. What is your approach to "the God question: do you agree not to discuss it while together? Also, do you feel the need to protect yourselves from being "taken over" by an organized group of theists who would see your group or functions as a "mission field ripe for harvest" (as they say)?
We'd also be interested in hearing from those who are not atheists but who would support an atheist group's function or mission! That would be right up our alley, considering our desire to mingle and communicate with the general population, as humans who happen to be atheists. We've heard from a few such people ourselves, and we even, at one time, had an "official pastor"! (Roger! Are you still out there?) We have another pastor friend who has expressed interest in playing that role for us (examining our statements and giving feedback from a theist's perspective), who may, albeit reluctantly, be getting a lesson in dignifying atheism in spite of his beliefs. We are a "friend" of the Center for Progressive Christianity, though we cannot be a member organization without being theistic. We are members of the Universal Life Church, I being an ordained minister of that denomination, because you don't have to believe in God to be a member there (you don't even have to be human to be an ordained minister at ULC!).
But we want to hear more: if you could ask one or two of those theists who are outspoken in their support of your cause to contact us and describe what this is about and how it feels and why they do it, we would be able to get a lot of mileage from insight such as this.
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six years of service to
people with no reason to believe
Added: February 5, 2002
It's true. We do not have a religious test as a pre-requisite for membership. We did until recently when a friend of my wife's and mine elected to join. He is "priest of Horus" (ancient Egyptian religion) and was raised a theosophist (not sure what that is). His opinion was that we were already friends, he truly enjoyed coming to our socials, we have all the same enemies and most of the same friends, and he supports our cause. So he joined. We don't specifically reach out to non-atheists as our focus is atheists and the promotion of atheism. But we don't reject help wherever we find it either.
It did present a problem though. Our membership app specifically stated that membership was open only to atheists. We did this to protect ourselves from the rabid christians that infest this area. However we removed that specific language and added two check boxes. One for atheists and the other for "non-atheist supporters" with the specific definition of that on the back of the app. It seems to work for us.
The "god question" is not really addressed. We definitely do not avoid the topic. We get lots of mileage out of laughing at the godist's antics. Our only non-atheist member (mentioned above) seems to appreciate this and laughs too. He joined voluntarily after being at several socials so he knew what he was getting into. We have always tried to be a fun group rather than a serious group. Also, we generally don't sit around discussing what is wrong with the godists and their books. Most of us feel that topic to be "done to death" and if we need information on that subject we can do a quick web search and come up with vast quantities of data. Especially, since the Skeptics Annotated Bible is the work of a friend here in Idaho.
As for problems! There have been many. I and a few cohorts started this org in late '97 and it has gone through some serious changes since then. Apart from the regular volunteer problems that everyone goes through, two others in particular stand out.
The first issue we had to deal with was that the term atheist means only lack of belief in god. It says nothing else about the views, politics, etc. of the person. Most of the originators of this group were liberals and we seem to be the majority. However, there are several conservative atheists here who feel that the group is liberal-biased (we are) and they don't feel they want to join such a group. One thing we tried is to keep the liberal/conservative issue out of the newsletter as much as possible. This works to some extent but is not the final solution.
The second problem we had was the "cross on the hill" fiasco. There is a 60-foot lighted cross on the hill above town. The land for this was sold to the Idaho Jaycees by the Parks department. The sale was explicitly to avoid the separation law and therefore was highly questionable. However, we had decided not to attack this issue as we were a new group and really didn't have a clue yet.
Later we invited Rob Sherman to town to give a talk that was open to the public. In this talk he used the cross as an example of questionable acts by government. Channel 7 (the local NBC channel-owned by a rabid Christian) got into a long-distance and very public pissing contest with Mr. Sherman about the cross. This channel called every atheist they could find for a daily statement and wouldn't take no for an answer. Due to this harassment, our president stepped down and we lost several members and much energy and focus. (Unfortunately, I was out of town at the time.) After several months of hand-wringing about what to do, I decided to send the IA newsletter to every atheist in the area that wanted a free subscription. I have found only one atheist who refuses our newsletter since it is free and incurs no commitment. All atheists appear interested in keeping current on the state of atheism in this country, members or not.
The free newsletter is, more than anything else, responsible for the resurgence of Idaho Atheists (we were down to three members at one point). A fairly small percentage of people who receive the newsletter join, but enough to keep us going and growing. Also, giving people something of value before they incur any cost or commitment is a tried and true way to get people involved. I mail nearly 100 newsletters a month and each month the number grows as I locate new people.
This solution has also been a great help to the liberal vs. conservative issue. The local conservative atheists can keep up with what's happening and be notified of socials and such (many of them have started to attend again) without commitment to a "liberal" organization.
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