Atheist organization seeks 'closeted' unbelievers
BY BILL SHERMAN World Religion Writer
Saturday, June 16, 2012
6/16/12 at 5:28 AM
Atheists are the fastest-growing philosophical segment of every state, according to the president of American Atheists, an organization created in 1963 by the late Madalyn Murray O'Hair.
David Silverman, who will address the Oklahoma Freethought Convention on June 23 in Tulsa, said 15 to 16 percent of Americans are atheists, and nearly 30 percent of people under 30.
He said about 70 percent of them are Democrats, 15 percent are libertarian and 15 percent are Republican.
The main mission of American Atheists now is to call fellow atheists out of the closet, he said.
"The biggest problems that atheists face in this country all go back to the fact that we're closeted. People don't know how many atheists there are in this country. There are more atheists than Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists combined, and doubled."
Silverman said the public attitude toward atheists historically has been remarkably negative, because "religion hates us," but that is shifting dramatically in recent years.
"We're seeing the beginning of a true change in America's attitude toward atheists. It will not be long before we'll have an atheist president," he said.
American Atheists is leading the change, he said.
"We're the Marines of the free-thought movement, the first to raise a voice, to raise a fist, and to raise a picket sign.
"We're the hardliners. We say what needs to be said even if it's not politically correct: that it's silly to believe in a myth. ... God is a myth."
The organization puts up billboards, confronts bigoted politicians, files lawsuits and provides a social setting to strengthen atheists and help them come out of the closet, he said.
It has 3,500 members who pay $35 a year dues, a quarterly magazine and newsletter, a budget just over $500,000 and seven employees, three of them part time.
Silverman has made numerous national media appearances.
"It's about raising awareness," he said.
Silverman was raised in a Reform Jewish family near Boston.
When he was 6, sitting in the back seat of his mother's car, he said, he had an epiphany, realizing that God and Santa Claus and the tooth fairy were really all the same thing - myths.
As he questioned his religious leaders about it, their answers were lame, he said.
He went through his bar mitzvah at 13 as an atheist, "lying the whole time," he said, and cemented his philosophical position debating Orthodox Jews at Brandeis University, debates he says he always won.
The problem of explaining how a good, all-powerful God can allow evil is the silver bullet that has baffled religious people through the ages, he said.
"I've done my reading, I've come to the conclusion based on my own research that there is no God. Does that mean I know everything? Of course not. Certainly if God shows himself, I'll change my mind."
Silverman married a religious, theistic Jew. They have a 15-year-old daughter.
"My daughter agrees with me that religion is bunk," he said.
Silverman said he is not sympathetic to officially atheistic regimes like China or Cuba because they are dictatorships that force atheism on people, but he believes the democratic, mostly atheist nations like Holland, Denmark and Sweden are the "healthiest, happiest countries on the planet."
Agnostics, he said, because they do not have a belief in God, are a type of atheists, and most atheists are agnostics, acknowledging that they do not know everything in the universe.
How does he address questions about the existence of the universe, and life on planet Earth?
"The answer is very simple and very honest. I don't know. That's a reasonable and adequate answer," he said. "We don't have to make up answers and pretend that we know."
He said atheists find their moral foundation from the same place that religious people do.
"Morality comes from within," he said. "That's why there are good and bad Christians, and good and bad atheists."
He said atheists can be found on both sides of the abortion debate, but are 100 percent behind gay equality.
Oklahoma Freethought Convention
8 a.m. to 6 p.m. June 23
Tulsa Convention Center downtown
Speaker: David Silverman,
President of American Atheists
Sponsored by the Atheist Community of Tulsa and Oklahoma Atheists.
For more: tulsaworld.com/atheists
Original Print Headline: Organization wants fellow atheists out of closet
Bill Sherman 918-581-8398
David Silverman: The president of American Atheists says popular attitudes toward atheists have warmed in recent years