My intent was to give believers a chance to discuss atheism after seeing a movie that depicts atheists as angry, immoral and condescending. I wore my Omaha Atheists shirt so everyone would know my position on the "god question" and that I'm comfortable discussing it.
Was I worried about putting myself out there like that? Not at all. One of the (few) advantages of approaching retirement is knowing that other people's opinions can't have an effect on my career. Besides, as Richard Feynman's wife counseled him, "What do you care what other people think?"
What kind of reception did I get? Everyone was unfailingly friendly and respectful. I was disappointed that only 15 people attended but that was enough to support a long and vigorous conversation. The chaplain and I kept getting off topic by arguing philosophy instead of focusing on perceptions. Others in the congregation pointed out that their opinions of atheists were formed by the "loud and angry" ones.
What can we do?
There are several nationwide programs aimed at presenting atheists in a positive way.
The Richard Dawkins Foundation's "Openly Secular" project is a good nationwide program. http://www.openlysecular.org/
The #normalizeatheism hashtag trend is easy and fun!
Letters to the editor and Facebook comments are useful...as long as we keep the high ground. We make money if our comments are concise, fair and reasonable. It's also useful for us if an angry and intolerant believer says something hurtful and stupid. We lose it all, though, if we respond in kind.
But the biggest impact for any movement is made at the local level. For the expense of sitting through an awful movie I left a handful of believers with a better informed, more positive view on atheism. I wasn't grudgingly included in the conversation - everyone was eager to talk with me. The chaplain is open to having a "Meet an Atheist" event with a larger group - we have our foot in the door.
Who wants to be part of this conversation?
What opportunities do you have in your life to free believers from the lies they've been told about us?
Tom Gray Secretary, Omaha Atheists (712) 326 1199
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