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Why Atheists Gather: And It's Not "Churchy!"
I attended the American Atheists National Convention in Des Moines, Iowa two weeks ago. There, I listened to lectures on science, atheism, critical thinking, diversity, and several comedians as well as a premier of a new movie.
But more importantly, I was hanging out with friends: both old and new. I was enjoying a weekend with my fellow atheists.
Blair Scott with Jesus (comedian Troy Conrad) at the 37th Annual American Atheists Convention in Des Moines, Iowa.
I often hear from religious people (and a few fellow atheists) that attending atheist groups or meetings "sounds churchy." That perception is completely wrong.
When members of the American Academy of Neurology gather each year for their convention to discuss the latest science and research is that "churchy?" When members of the Sierra Club gather each month is that "churchy?"
After a lecture at an atheist event, the audience is allowed to question the lecturer. The questioners can ask for more evidence, ask for clarification of a statement, or disagree with the lecturer and offer a counterpoint to their view. Atheist events are full of debate and discussion of ideas. I debate my fellow atheists more than I do theists because there is no atheist Pope telling us what to think and do. Atheists don't have a Bible or Koran that tells us what to believe or not believe. We don't start with a prayer, we don't sing hymns, we don't preach, we don't "sit, stand, kneel," and we don't do anything else that one would expect to see in a church.
Local atheist events can be a mix of lectures, movies, parties, and other social outlets. The local group here in Huntsville, the North Alabama Freethought Association, offers a wide range of events for local Freethinkers to participate in. The atheist friends I have through the local group are sometimes more like family to me than my actual family (some of whom have shunned me for my atheism).
That leads us to the social aspect of any group or community. As social creatures we enjoy social outlets with our fellow human beings, especially when we share a common idea with those fellow human beings. It is for this reason that Christians hang out with Christians, firefighters hang out with firefighters, Trekkies enjoy Trekkie conventions, and stamp collectors enjoy sharing their collection with fellow stamp collectors.
It's the social aspect, more than anything else that makes anything we do as a species more enjoyable. The importance of being around like-minded individuals and having social outlets is a key part of the human species. Polls show that most religious people enjoy the social aspect of their church more than anything else that goes on in the pews.
Fellowship is not a religious word: it is a human word.
By Blair Scott
A variation of this editorial appeared in the Huntsville Times on 4/27/2011 (the same day tornadoes ripped the state apart). So far no one has blamed me for the tornadoes. ;)