Atheists Celebrating Independence Day

Monica Hesse of the Washington Post has a wonderful light-hearted piece about atheists celebrating Independence Day, one of the few major holidays that isn’t based in religion.

She attended a party in Washington, D.C. where several local atheists got together. The piece focuses on the party, but it also uses it as a setup to talk about atheism in general:

On the food table, there is a get-well card for “God Is Not Great” author Christopher Hitchens — who recently learned he has cancer — which the picnickers are encouraged to sign.

If you’re an atheist, then you don’t attend a house of worship, [Shelley] Mountjoy explains. This means that atheists — who are about 5 percent of the U.S. population, according to a 2009 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life — generally miss out on at least one form of communal experience because most atheist organizations don’t have space to host gatherings. Events like this one give them a chance to congregate, see who else is out there, compare stories of persecution.

Most of them have been told, at one point or another, that they are going to hell, which, when you think about it, is a fairly pointless threat to an atheist, like warning someone that you’re sending them to Narnia.

The most common misapprehension they encounter is that they must be immoral — that, lacking the promise or threat of an afterlife, they have no incentive to be good. The atheists here find this particularly offensive, as they say they believe in kindness for the sake of kindness, making the most of the brief existence they believe humans are allowed.

In any article, there’s always something you wish the reporter had gotten right. I think the definition of Agnostic (“withholding judgment until all the facts are in”) is debatable — will agnostics ever think the facts are in? — and the remark about people thinking the opposite of “Bright” is “dim” is misinformed. But, hell, even atheists argue over definitions, so I wouldn’t expect a reporter to settle it for us.

Overall, this is part of a trend I’m seeing with articles in major newspapers being sympathetic to atheists and portraying us in a good light. Hopefully, that trend will continue.

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