So far, as a regular contributor to Feminism and Religion (and Emergent Village), I have interviewed a “pro-science” woman and one who started an online community for grieving unbelievers. In this post, I will interview Amanda Brown, an atheist activist who co-founded a project called We Are Atheism. Amanda grew up in Independence, MO, in the Assemblies of God and the Restored Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Since then, she has been involved in helping atheists “come out” and share their experiences. So without further ado, here is the interview:
Why did you start “We Are Atheism”?
I started We Are Atheism because I saw a gap in the age of atheists coming out of the closet. I also wanted a way for people to see for themselves that atheists are real people. We Are Atheism is focused on the fact that atheists are mothers, fathers, teachers, brothers, friends, and so much more. When I was at the 2011 Secular Student Alliance Conference in Columbus, OH, I heard most of the leaders tell stories about their groups and how many of them didn’t know other atheists. I thought this was horrible, and being a person who was in the same position, I wanted to start something that would bring our community together. Those who met on the internet could take their community from online to the neighborhood.
Can you say a few words on the need for atheist activism.
The need for atheist activism is still in high demand. But what needs to be focused on, and where I think we (atheists) can make the most difference, is in our cities. Then our States. Once things are good there, then I recommend joining organizations like Secular Coalition for America, Planned Parenthood, American Atheists, and other national lobbying arms. There are many of us who are fighting at the federal or national level (and that’s fantastic) but the real change that we need is at the city and state level.
Atheists, or non-believers, need to unite in the fight for separation of church and state, women’s rights, and LGBTQIAA rights. You can have your quarrels on the economy, socialism, and the military/defense spending. That is fine. But there shouldn’t be any secular reason that we cannot all come together to support the 3 measures I’ve said above. If you want to live in a country where everyone truly has equal rights under the law, then you need to pay attention to what is going on in your city and in your State. Stand up at your city hall meeting and tell the city another church is a waste of time and real estate. That space could bring in tax revenue for the city if they used that land for something else like a restaurant or shopping center. Don’t let your city officials do what they want and think no one is paying attention. There are 46 million (and counting) non-believers, if we come together we really can change the country.
What would you say to feminist who are religious?
I would say you aren’t a feminist who wants equality or equity in your life AND the law. How would anyone take a person seriously if they say they are a feminist then go ahead with the patriarchal structure that religion perpetuates. I’m not just saying this, I did my senior thesis (one you have to write at Kansas University in order to graduate) on this exact subject. I acknowledge that there are many different types of feminists in this world, but a religious one would be a hypocrite in my mind.
How do you see your work fitting into the broader secular movement?
Since I run We Are Atheism, a non-profit organization, and now its new sister organization Atheists Giving Aid, I know that the work I do fits into the broader secular movement by giving atheists and non-believers a place to come out of the closet safely and amongst people who have been in the same place. By giving a safe place to come out and grow, we have fueled others to join the movement, encourage their friends to come out, as well as help others be able to come out to their family and friends with solid information on what they may face.
Atheists Giving Aid is our new organization that is funded completely by We Are Atheism so 100% of the donations that come in to support AGA goes right to the place we are raising money for. In the news lately there have been a lot of journalists targeting atheists and secularists saying we don’t organize and help people when disaster strikes. Since Sandy Hook in Newtown, CT, where we raised 25k, we have also helped to raise money for the Boston Bombing (29k), for the fertilizer plant eruption in Texas (1k), and the Tornado disaster in Moore, OK (18k), we have been trying to figure out the best way to organize efforts to be on the ground and help more directly. Soon AGA and volunteers will be going out to Moore, OK, and donating not only money but hands-on-help. Cleaning up their yards, helping to rebuild their homes, and finding clothes, furniture, etc. for the people to resume their lives again.
In which ways can atheists and religious persons work together?
I think religious persons and atheists can work together in a variety of ways. We can come together to make changes in the community through education and service. This education can happen at debates, panels, seminars, and casual dining/activity together (like bowling, billiards, etc). Service is also a great way to get past the barrier of the “Evil Atheist” vs. “Goody Two Shoes Christian.” When you walk in and think OMG I can’t say a cuss word or blaspheme at all or they’ll think I eat dead babies, then you will be treated that way. Both parties need to remember we are all here for the same reason and neither side needs to proselytize. We are there helping the animals at the humane society, the elderly, or the VFW. There are many opportunities to do things in the world where religion doesn’t need to be brought up. Then afterwards you can have a discourse with someone if they want to. I think finding an approach between accomodationalist and confrontationalist will make life easier for the parties working together. Use tact and know when to talk about religion and when not to. Be open-minded and know there are always going to be some that NEED religion in order to survive day to day. Those are usually people who have their religion as a part of their identity and make it almost impossible for you to question. Leave them be, live by example, and show them that it doesn’t matter if you are religious or not, the same shit is going to happen to you regardless of all the prayers you say.
Brief Biography of Amanda Brown: I am truly a therapist at heart. I want to help people in any way I can, which is why I not only made this website (We Are Atheism) but am involved in many different secular organizations. I truly believe atheists are normal people who are “good without god.” We all want to help each other in times of need, we all want to make a difference. I know the best way to make a difference in this world is to always first lead by example. By doing this one simple thing others will see that atheists are not untrustworthy people, but normal everyday people. It’s ok to be an Atheist and it’s ok to say so. Check out Amanda’s Blog. Her blog, “The Sexy Atheist,” focuses on different aspects related to sex therapy and education.
Kile Jones holds a Bachelors of Theology (B.Th.) from Faith Seminary, a Masters of Theological Studies (M.T.S.) and a Masters of Sacred Theology (S.T.M.) from Boston University, and is a current Ph.D. in Religion student at Claremont Lincoln University. He also holds a Certificate in Science and Religion from the Boston Theological Institute. He is the Founder/Editor-in-Chief of Claremont Journal of Religion (www.claremontjournal.com). His interests include religion and science, atheism, secularism, and philosophy of religion. He also reviews books for Reviews in Religion and Theology (RRT) and is a Contributing Scholar for State of Formation (http://www.stateofformation.org/author/kile-jones), an academic blog for emerging religious and ethical leaders.