The money quotation from Mark Melady‘s article about a campus atheist group in Massachusetts:
Activist secular college students from the Boston area said here last night that campus secularism is on the rise even if most nonbelievers are unlikely to advocate against the supernatural and are unsure what to call themselves.
“If I’m in a hurry, I say I’m an atheist,” Byung Min, founder of the Secular Student Alliance at Bentley College told the Greater Worcester Humanists. “If I have some time, I say I’m a non-theist and if I have a lot of time for a long conversation I say I’m a humanist.”
The line did get a laugh from the Humanist audience, but there’s a lot of truth to it. Tom Flynn of Free Inquiry has also written about how saying one is a Humanist requires some elaboration when speaking to reporters lest he be called an atheist.
The article also highlighted an ongoing debate between college atheists:
The students disagreed about whether their groups should aggressively push their beliefs or passively offer themselves as an alternative to traditional campus religious organizations.
“Very few of us are going to grow up to be atheist evangelists,” said Christopher Ray of Bates.
“We don’t want to abolish religion,” Mr. Min said, “but we want our views to be as acceptable as their views. We don’t want to eradicate religion just religious influence.”
This is a bit of a tangent from that remark, but it is sad that relatively few people stick with their activist ways post-college. You rarely see middle-aged people in the atheist world… it seems like so many people get passionate about the subject in college (when it’s new and religion is surrounding you) and in retirement (when you have more time to dedicate to it).
It shouldn’t be that way. It’s not like the wall of separation is only under attack at certain periods in your life. It also doesn’t mean your entire life has to be about preaching atheism. Speaking out in favor of it doesn’t take much effort. You also don’t have to be aggressive in a “Christian evangelist” sort of way.
You can criticize religion without being personally insulting, you can tell people you are an atheist when the situation presents itself, and you can speak up when Christian fundamentalists try to impose their views on everyone.
One of the goals of college atheist groups should be to empower members to continue their activism after they graduate.