OA in the News
We Want to Live and Let Live
From The Papillion Times, June 25, 2014:
Coming to the end of a rally — the Omaha Atheists’ first such public event — on June 2 outside La Vista City Hall, Meagan Wilson, the president of the group, invited all in attendance, atheists and believers alike, to a potluck picnic being held a few blocks away at Central Park.
“Come meet an atheist,” Wilson said with a semi-plaintive tone. Then, she quipped in a deadpan: “Come see we don’t eat babies. Much.”
With that bit of hyperbole, Wilson touched the third rail of American tolerance and acceptance: the misunderstood world of the atheist.
“That one just kind of popped out,” Wilson said, laughing, of her valedictory comment at the rally. “But you’d be surprised. It’s something we joke about, but it’s something people still have this mindset about of atheists.”
On the whole, Wilson, 37, and a Papillion resident for four years, said we, collectively, have accepted — or are evolving toward acceptance, in greater or lesser degrees — the differences among us in race, color, creed, sexual orientation and religion.
As long as there is a religion.
When it comes to an absence of religious faith — even for those who don’t go to church on a regular basis or choose to practice spirituality rather than religion — the conscious lack of a divinity in one’s life can elicit emotions of confusion, frustration, even rage, from among the believers.
For Wilson, who grew up as the daughter of a peripatetic wholesale grocer in the Methodist faith but began turning away from it in her early teenage years, her atheism has evolved gradually, as has her involvement with the Omaha Atheists, a group to which she has belonged since 2009 and the presidency of which she assumed in January.
As an atheist, the road to firm non-belief and its aftermath, she said, is never easy. But the presence of atheists in all walks of life and the work of the Omaha Atheists has made it easier for those who are transitioning out of their faith lives.
“We all have stories,” Wilson said. “Family, friends, colleagues, jobs, all being lost. There’s a lot of fear in coming out as an atheist. Because we have a unique camouflage, a nice kind of camouflage. You can’t look at someone, usually, and say, ‘Oh, that person’s an atheist.’ We can walk into a church and nobody would know. When new people come to one of our meetings, the first thing they want to bring up is their coming out story and the next thing they see is that there’s a whole roomful of people just like them.”
Dustin Acri, a longtime Papillion resident and graduate of Papillion-La Vista High School, doesn’t have as many of those heartrending stories of a split with family over walking away from faith.
But he does have a story, and he said in discovering the Omaha Atheists, he also came to the realization he wasn’t alone.
Acri, 36, grew up in a family where religious faith did not factor, but neither did atheism.
“We slept in on Sundays,” he said. “I knew nothing of the concept. I knew there were buildings called churches and people went there and did something, but that was about it.
“My parents just didn’t introduce it. I said ‘God’ in the pledge and in the Boy Scout motto, but it wasn’t really until my mid-20s, when a friend was getting married and it was in a church, that I thought much about religion. That’s when I had to start investigating some of this for myself.”
Based on his experience, people sometimes called Acri an atheist.
It was a label he resisted for a long time because, just as with religion, he couldn’t put a firm definition to the word and, when he did, he saw it was heavy with negative connotations that all but cemented a special kind of social ostracism.
“I didn’t even know that word existed until I started this exploration process,” he said. “When I did understand it, I didn’t want to be called an atheist. People didn’t like atheists. But as I went further along, I came to the realization: that’s what I was.”
Acri wasn’t pilloried, though he lost some friends after his decision to come out as an atheist. And he said he still identifies with people who do have the tales of being completely shunned by their entire support network.
“It’s so sad,” he said. “Some people, their whole family has walked away from them. The people who said, ‘We’ll love you no matter what,’ just up and quit you. That happens every day. If it’s not that, it’s being pestered forever after the fact by people who quote you Bible verses and continue to try to bring you in. I understand that they think they’re helping but really, you’re doing more damage.”
Wilson said such overreaches of people of faith — all faiths — are part of what turned her off from religion in the first place.
“My thing is that not everyone can be right,” she said. “Christians claim theirs is the true God, Muslims claim theirs is the true God. Christians, Muslims and Jews all believe in the same basic God and yet, they’ve all wanted to kill each other at some point or another in history. Two thousand different sects of Christianity, add in Muslim sects, Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, we just will never get beyond it, yet everyone is claiming the true God.”
Wilson and Acri said, speaking generally, atheists just want to peacefully coexist with people of faith and be left out of the conversation.
For the most part, they’ve had success in that regard. But occasionally, as happened last month with a religious service that took part under the aegis of a city-sponsored event in La Vista, there are battles area atheists said are worth fighting.
“We just won’t tolerate anyone who tries to push religion on anyone else,” Wilson said. “Especially when it comes at the level of government.”
The Omaha Atheists, with 110 dues-paying members and another 550 people who have joined the organization’s Facebook group, have made it clear that along with helping people coming out of a faith community, their main focus is not at all to destroy religion, but see that the Constitutional protection keeping religion out of state affairs and vice versa, is upheld.
“There’s just no reason to try to push it into a city council meeting,” Acri said. “Same for teaching creationism in a public school classroom.”
At base, what the atheist community wants, Acri and Wilson said, is recognition that atheists walk amongst people of faith in every community in the nation and, indeed, the world. They want to be left to live their own lives and hope people respect that, Acri said.
“Living in the U.S., we have the freedom to be of any religion we want, or to stay away from it if we want,” Acri said. “That’s a very basic right. People think we’re out to destroy Christianity. We’re not out to destroy anybody. We just want to live and let live. We want to live life to its fullest because we don’t believe there’s another life coming after.”
La Vista Mayor Doug Kindig
“Minorities Are Not Going to Run My City” Snaps La Vista Mayor
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Omaha, NE— May 26th 2014 — Omaha Atheists, an educational nonprofit focused on local secular issues, invites La Vista Mayor Douglas Kindig to meet and discuss his recent disturbing comments to La Vista resident Mr. Robert Fuller, board member and treasurer of Omaha Atheists. Mr. Fuller approached Mayor Kindig after the “Faith and Freedom Day” Memorial Day service at La Vista Daze. Mr. Fuller explained he respectfully gave Mayor Kindig his business card indicating his concerns about possible church and state separation issues and his desire to speak with the mayor another time. Mayor Kindig’s response to Mr. Fuller was “Take me to fucking court because I don’t care,” and later, “Minorities are not going to run my city”.
Josiah Mannion, Army veteran and former board member of Omaha Atheists states, “As someone who proudly served my country defending Mr. Kindig’s rights, I am heartbroken he used the memory of my brothers and sisters in arms to defend bigotry.” Meagan Wilson, president of Omaha Atheists states, “Mr. Kindig’s comments are insulting and dismissive of the rights of citizens to bring concerns to their elected officials. He clearly has strong opinions about this topic, but we are saddened and concerned that he would rather demand legal action that wastes taxpayer resources than have a respectful conversation.” Mr. Fuller stated, “Such an emotional reaction was shocking and I was baffled. I don’t understand what being a minority has to do with anyone’s right to be heard by their mayor.”
Omaha Atheists have been the target of discriminatory behavior before. Their “Adopt A Highway” road sign was recently vandalized and they reacted positively, inviting the public to meet and dispel misconceptions about them. Continuing this trend of meeting adversity by embracing opportunity, OA welcomes Mr. Kindig to publicly explain his offensive comments. According to the Papillion Times 2012 Election Special Coverage article written by Scott Stewart located at:election.papilliontimes.com/la-vista/douglas-kindig, Mr. Kindig stated “I am willing to listen to our citizens because they are the ones suppose [sic] to direct our future.” Omaha Atheists walked in the La Vista Daze parade in support of their La Vista members and to promote their sponsorship of Apostacon, a secular conference coming this September featuring renowned astrophysicist Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, star of the popular Cosmos show.
Adopt-A-Highway Sign Vandalized
On Thursday, May 1st, OA Board Member, Beverly went to have a look at our Adopt-a-Highway site before our scheduled cleanup only to find that our sign had been defaced.
Here's the response from the OA Board:
Our Beverly posted this photo of our highway cleanup sign. This is a tough thing to deal with. For some of us, it is our first time experiencing this type of prejudice. Some of us may be all too familiar with this story. Of course, that doesn't mean it hurts any less. How do we respond to this in a way that shows our community who we really are?
There are a lot of emotions going on, and that's understandable. Personal feelings aside, this is an opportunity to reach out to the person that did this, or to anyone who might want to talk to us about it. We are not going to let this stand, and we are not going away. Gone are the days when people like us were expected to just slink away when something like this happened.
We are here, and we are staying. This is our chance to make ourselves heard, and give the vandal an opportunity to be heard as well. We'll be posting far and wide to find the person/s responsible. We also want to invite anyone else who wants to talk to us about this matter. We’ll be inviting interested parties to meet us at Caffeine Dreams, Monday May 12th at 7pm, to sit down and discuss the matter. If no one comes, we will still have done our part to educate this community on what it means to be an Omaha Atheist.
After all, it's what we are about. Here are some ways to take action immediately:
* Read Beverly's story on the website, and distribute it heavily. Here’s the link: http://goo.gl/m2wsaa
* Use this incident as an opportunity to educate the community. We want to get as many people as we can in this conversation, theists and non theists alike. Post far and wide, my friends. Engage and educate! The internet is our friend.
* Meet us at Caffeine Dreams, 7pm on Monday May 12th to join in the conversation.
* Join our Service committee. Hell, join any committee! We need more heathens!
Thanks, everyone. Let us know if you have questions. Post here, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.