Last week, I attended a forum at Pomona College sponsored by the Pomona Student Union on "The Future of American Atheism." I had not heard of the three speakers - Hemant Mehta, David Silverman and Chris Mooney - but while they are not big names like Sam Harris, Christopher Hutchins and Bill Maher (who they often referred to), they are apparently respected commentators, bloggers and leaders in the "atheist movement." The basic question of the evening was "Now that not believing in God isn’t a big deal, now what?"
Who knew there was "atheist movement?" I didn’t. Well, there is - not unlike there is a "gay movement." In fact, what struck me is that, throughout the 90 minutes, I kept thinking that I could well have been listening to three gay men. Indeed, they repeatedly mentioned the gay community.
In answering the initial question about how they discovered atheism, all three men talked about thinking that they were the only person who didn’t believe in God until they went to the library or went on-line and stumbled upon writings by other people who didn’t believe in God. Near the end of the forum, someone asked the panelists how they realized that they were atheists, and all three answers sounded like when gay people talk about realizing that they weren’t attracted to or aroused by people of the opposite sex (as opposed to people of the same sex). Classic coming-out stories.
Things really got going and the gay analogy just kept showing up when the panelists were ask to talk about their goals as atheists, what they want to accomplish in the greater society. While all insisted that they are not out to recruit or convert people - a hoary gay stereotype, right? - but there was some disagreement about how active and "militant" - how "out," it occurred me - one should be.
Mr. Silverman, who is the vice-president of American Atheists, was continually ribbed by the other two about being "angry," but he kept saying that he is just "honest and blunt." He pointed out that he doesn’t like the term "militant," but he did sound a bit like a member of ActUP or Queer Nation and was the one who is most concerned about the U.S Supreme Court is one vote away from tearing down the wall between church and state. Despite or because of this, he was quick to agree with the others that America shouldn’t be an atheist country.
No, these atheists - at least - don’t want to push their non-belief onto others or live in a country where religion is banned. What they want is to be accepted and able to live openly and comfortably in the society at large. Sound familiar?