Atheist Ad Campaign Promotes Kids Without God; Already, Companies Are Refusing to Run Ads

The American Humanist Association has launched a $30,000 online and bus ad campaign in Washington, D.C. and Moscow, Idaho pointing to a new website for strengthening and supporting children and young adults who don’t believe in a God:

“Whether they already made up their minds to reject supernatural explanations, or are just questioning, it’s time to make available an online resource that’s built just for kids without God,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “These kids may be from traditionally religious families, or from families like that of President Barack Obama, whose mother was a secular humanist. will be a friendly online community for kids who might be too shy to ask an adult directly what it’s like to be good without a god.

On the new website, the character Darwin the Dog walks little kids through what it means to be a Humanist:

There are also instructions for a number of science experiments they can do at home with their parents’ help.

For teenagers, the site steers toward issues they may come across at school (like saying the Pledge of Allegiance or coming out to their friends) or in their personal lives.

And for parents, there is information on how to use the site with your children and raise your kids without religion.

The AHA also points out this piece of interesting news:

Requests to purchase ads on websites run by, National Geographic Kids and Time For Kids were turned down based on the content.

Riiiight. Can’t have kids thinking for themselves or being raised to believe they can be moral without going to church.

Just to be clear, this site isn’t here to brainwash children. It doesn’t say you’re a bad child or that you’re going to hell if you disagree. It’s to encourage kids to think for themselves and discover the world on their own (or with the guidance of their parents). That’s sorely needed right now.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • C Peterson

    The message is a good one, but I believe that this current focus of the AHA on atheism is damaging to humanists, just as atheists are harmed when atheist organizations promote secularlism or other political causes.

    These groups need to go back to their charters, they need to reconsider their names and their reasons for existence.

  • Joe Zamecki

    This is a very nice idea, imho. I wish it were available when I was a young Christian. It’s long overdue.

  • advancedatheist

    I’ve met a few people who had the good fortune to grow up as atheists. To me they seem like characters from an advanced, futuristic civilization out of science fiction. 

    I’d like to use the idea of atheists as “future people” in advertising, but lately Western culture has lost interest in “the future” as a focus of aspirations. Paraphrasing Bertrand Russell’s assessment of Roman Stoics, we’ve apparently come to view life in “the future” as a weariness at best, and at worst a horror. 

  • JenniferT

    Darwin the dog doesn’t look well. 

  • CdAHumanist

    I disagree with this campaign and feel that it’s message is a bit of a double-standard.   Richard Dawkins says “there are no Christian children, only children of Christians” and I feel the same applies to Atheists: there are no Atheist children.  Instead, change the target demographic to teens over 18 who are on their own and starting to figure out life for themselves, and then we will not come across as a group using the same methods the religious has used to indoctrinate kids.  Or, change the message to eliminate any mention of belief in god and instead focus entirely on the philosophies and ideologies of Humanism – which is not necessarily mutually exclusive of believing in god.

  • Gus Snarp

    The websites that turned them down are likely to want to steer clear of anything at all controversial. Do these websites have ads for churches or other religious ads? I honestly don’t know, but I doubt it. And if that’s the case, I understand this choice of editorial discretion. They’re websites trying to create kid friendly content that the maximum number of parents will find unobjectionable. They’ve every right to refuse this ad. It doesn’t matter that we don’t find it objectionable, too many of their target audience would, and that audience depends entirely on making parents happy with what their kids are up to. If this was a more general, public venue like buses or bus stops or billboards, I’d be upset. I find it hard to get upset about Disney.Com not carrying an atheist ad. At least as long as they don’t have ads for the Creation Museum.

  • Gus Snarp

    I just visited the three sites mentioned, and found that almost all of the ads are actually for products or companies associated with or owned by the same parent company that owns the website, which gives them complete editorial control. The ads were all fairly seamlessly integrated into the websites, so much so that there are actually small disclaimers included to tell you what’s an advertisement. Disney had a couple of ads for products they didn’t own, Nintendo and Target, but I expect those ads are part of a large partnership agreement that includes the use and marketing of Disney products.

    So yeah, this isn’t about censorship, it’s about the way these companies handle and control their websites as a matter of routine, keeping it all in the family and enabling everything to look the way they want it to and avoid all potential controversy. The fact is these sites just aren’t like, for example, Patheos, with no market clout and accepting almost any ad in an effort to generate some revenue. They don’t have to do that, so why would they?

  • C Peterson

    The same does not apply to atheists. Children are atheists by nature, since they will not believe in a god unless they are actively taught to do so. You don’t teach somebody to be an atheist, however. Fundamentally, a lack of belief in something is completely different from an active belief.

    Certainly, young children are unlikely to be reflective atheists, in the sense of having a well developed personal viewpoint on the matter. Children seldom have any well developed personal philosophy derived from reflection. But a passive atheist is still an atheist.

  • MariaO

    “Starting to figure out life after 18″???
    In all but the seriously retarded or completely brainwashed this happens much, much earlier. That’s, for example, why (lutheran) confirmation is at 14. Don’t you want people to have alternative world-views presented to them at the same time? Or before?

    As a personal example, I was an agnostic til 14, an atheist from 15 and after a breif period as a stoic I became a life-long epicurean at 17. “After 18″ – sheesh. !

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    My daughter just turned 14 and while she does consider herself agnostic she doesn’t really like to discuss things either way. She knows I’m an atheist, she has friends that are atheist but she also has friends that are religious. She attended a Bat Mitzvah this year and had a blast.

    She says the pledge every morning and says under god but it has no meaning to her but she knows other kids who leave out the under god part but being that we live in Maine nobody really cares.

    Being an atheist teenager in Maine for the most part is not a big deal because most people just don’t care either way. We tend to live and let live.

  • CdAHumanist

    Perhaps I should have worded it a little differently so as to not upset you so much.  Does “starting to figure out life without being under their parents roof” help? 

  • CdAHumanist

     If you don’t teach somebody to be an atheist, then what would the point of this campaign be?  To un-teach them, I suppose.  I agree that we as a group to work on this “un-teaching” but we should be focusing on adults, not children.  Lest we appear hypocritical.

  • MM

    Ah Moscow…I went to university there.  It’d probably be harder to find a starker contrast between bible-thumping evangelical locals (home of Doug Wilson) and a fairly eclectic and liberal mix of hippys, college profs, and students.  But the kids in town mostly belong to the evangelicals, so their parents will probably freak the f**k out and get them removed by city ordinance or something.

  • machintelligence

    It might surprise you to find how a love of science fiction tends to encourage atheism. With only a few notable exceptions, most science fiction stories feature principal characters who are rational materialists. God is almost never mentioned.

    we’ve apparently come to view life in “the future” as a weariness at best, and at worst a horror.

    In the immortal words of Tonto: Ugh, paleface, what you meanum we?

  • Blacksheep

    Living in a city in a creative business, I’ve met quite a few people who have grown up as atheists. People who know me on this site may not like my viewpoints, but I’m not trolling with false reports of my experience:
    Every one of the people who I know who were raised as atheists or who gave up their faith early on were great in their 20′s, but are unhappy sometimes to the point of depression later on, and almost all of them are in therapy because they are unhappy or just “don’t feel right.” Sometimes it’s coupled with drugs / alcohol. With (practicing) Christians that I know, some are unhappy and/or depressed, but it’s at a rate of at least  1/5th that of my atheist friends and acquaintances. I see a big difference, but of course YMMV. 
    I also acknowledge that the happiness factor could also be the result of living life with a thankful/giving/”I am second” attitude, which could simply work well for humans. But since those ideals are so often wrapped into religion, (albeit not always practiced by religious followers), and I can see them clearly spelled out in Christ’s words, it makes sense to me as a path.

  • TheExpatriate700

    Yeah, I have to admit, my suspicion is that this is less about a negative attitude towards atheists than a blanket policy of avoiding anything controversial. They reject anything that is likely to result in parents cancelling their children’s subscriptions or blocking the website on their browser.

  • Anna

    I think the point is to teach them that it’s okay to be an atheist. The idea that it’s perfectly fine not to believe in the supernatural is not a perspective that most children growing up in America encounter very often, if at all.

  • Anna

    Where is this city, Blacksheep? If I recall correctly, this is also the place where you encountered “many teachers” in school who tried to convince children that gods were not real. I’m curious to know where you live, since your experiences are so unusual.

  • C Peterson

    The point is to teach them that it’s okay to be an atheist. The point is to emphasize that religious belief is a choice, which can help them put into context what they hear from others. The point is to arm them with some defenses in a society that will seek to actively teach them to be theists.

  • Anna

    It’s also kind of ridiculous to have an animal mascot. I mean, I don’t see how “Darwin the Humanist Dog” is any more acceptable than something like “Christopher the Christian Chipmunk.” Since animals can’t have a view on deities one way or the other, using them seems like emotional manipulation, trying to appeal to kids via the cute factor.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Of course. When everything that happens in your life is the fault of someone else and you have no responsibility, what is there to be upset about? Christianists don’t have to face reality, they have their sky daddy to do it for them.

    Also, depression is a mental illness. It isn’t a sad feeling brought on by a situation. 

    Lastly, the reason some of your Atheist friends are in therapy may well be that they need professional help unpacking all the damage years of indoctrination did to them. Been there, done that. Still working on it.

  • Heidi

    None of that makes gods real.

  • Chris Jones

    Secularism is one of the most important things atheists and humanists could possibly strive for. 

  • Ewan

    Not really, it isn’t your wording that’s the problem, it’s your idea. Young people may not know exactly who they are by eighteen, but the idea that they’re ‘just starting to figure it out’ in any way is completely nuts. It’s like you imagine parents just store their children for a couple of decades rather than bringing them up.

  • C Peterson

    But it does not inherently follow from either. It is possible to be an atheist or a humanist and not support secularism, and it is possible to support secularism without being an atheist or a humanist.

    By conflating humanism with atheism, the AHA is hurting humanism. I’m quite sure that if their ads were actually about humanism, they would not find so many advertising channels blocked.

  • jdm8

    Unless those services serve pro-religious ads, I don’t really see it as unfair discrimination.

  • Kevin Kirkpatrick

    In your own words, can you tell us what “confirmation bias” means, and what influence you think it might have on your quantitative assessment of the mental health of those around you.

  • Tainda

    I wasn’t “raised atheist” but I have known gods don’t exist since I was around 12 or 13.  I am one of the happiest and most well adjusted people you will ever meet.  I am NOT an exception.  I am thankful and giving without the need of a sky fairy to tell me to.  I am second to my daughter.  Though now I am running third because I have a granddaughter :P

  • Jake

    So, another add campaign that uses what atheists are not in order to define what they are?

  • AxeGrrl

    just as atheists are harmed when atheist organizations promote secularlism or other political causes

    I still have yet to here any compelling arguments to support this assertion.

  • C Peterson

    Well, I’ve made the arguments. Based on responses, many have found them compelling. Obviously, not all.

  • freemage

     I have no problem with the animal mascot–but I do wish they’d named him something other than Darwin.  There are plenty of secular humanists out there that could be honored in this fashion; using Darwin specifically is just meant to target a specific sub-debate in the larger culture wars.

  • Stonyground

    The differences between secularism and atheism are often debated in the UK by our National Secular Society, as they are two separate things. When the NSS was first established, people from minority religions were much in favour of secularism because they were disadvantaged by the privilages enjoyed by the Anglicans. In modern times, the result of around 150 years of tireless campaigning by the NSS, is that minority religions now enjoy privilages equal to those that the Anglicans enjoy, while the Atheists are the only ones left without any. Part of the reason for this is that the secularists are campaigning against privilage and for everyone to be treated fairly. The end result is that the membership of the NSS is almost entirely atheist.

  • Glasofruix

    So the place where you live has (according to your previous comments):
    -An atheist majority
    -Unhappy and depressed atheists
    -Christian teachers who do not proselytize in class
    -Atheist teachers, despite knowing that it’s wrong, who do so
    list not exhaustive

    Sounds like Narnia to me…

  • C Peterson

    I think the membership of most secularist organizations is mostly atheist. Nevertheless, if you want to encourage secularism among the general public (which is surely the goal of most secularist organizations) you will be MUCH more successful if you separate secularism from atheism. Religious people should be just as interested in legal secularism as atheists, after all.

  • WhiteBirch

    “Humanist dog” strikes me as inherently funny. Shouldn’t he be a … Doggist? 

  • 3lemenope

    LOL. Perhaps the notion is that dogs like humans more than most humans do.

  • Quintin

    Weren’t you all about going back to the charters? Because, you know, the Humanist Manifesto II affirms secularism as its ninth principle. Is that worth nothing now?

  • 3lemenope

    Children are atheists by nature, since they will not believe in a god unless they are actively taught to do so. You don’t teach somebody to be an atheist, however.

    Childhood lack of belief (“baby atheism”, if you like) is different from adult atheism, because it is different to lack a belief in something from never having considered it, than to choose to reject a notion after due consideration (especially if that consideration was of a long duration and/or was accompanied by strong existential commitment).

    And the process of converting and deconverting is asymmetrical in all sorts of ways. In a very real way, deconversion *is* the process of teaching someone who is a theist how to be an atheist. It is not the mere subtraction of a term from the whole psychological equation, but a dismantling and renovation of all the things that that prior belief was used to support, justify, and explain. Very little of a person’s world-view comes out of that unaltered. You don’t, after going from theist to atheist, magically forget everything and negate every mental structure that was built with the assistance of theism, nor does the person that comes out the other end generally have the same attitude towards metaphysical as well as social matters as the person as they were before they were a theist; believing in something for a long time has an indelible impact on who they are as a person, long after they stop believing it.

  • Boykin

    So atheists are now evangelicals?

  • WhiteBirch

    True. My dog thinks I am the greatest no matter how broke I am. The same cannot be said for my parents. 

  • ZenDruid

    Speaking as an atheist, I agree with the sentiment that atheism should not be conflated with humanism.  The theism/atheism question erects barriers between people, while the point of humanism is to acknowledge the things all humans have in common. Speaking as a humanist, my hope is that universal human understanding of our common human experience can serve to surmount the barriers that religion and politics have erected.

  • SeekerLancer

    Going after the kids is likely to cause a much bigger flare-up than the usual atheist campaigns. It’s not surprising nobody wants to touch it.

  • C Peterson

    Secularism is not atheism. And secularism is not the most important piece of humanism, by far.

    In overemphasizing atheism, the AHA is actually driving many people away from very important humanist ideals that they might otherwise find quite easy to accept.

  • Wkdkween

    If it were my child, I wouldn’t want them to be indoctrinated by anyone. They can believe what I believe or not, but they need a foundation to base other ideas on. You may want the foundation to be atheist, but I would prefer Christian. I studied science in college and graduate school and read Sci Fi since I was about 12, so I’m not a blind follower. My choice, and I should choose for my children, until they are of an age to make decisions 0n their own.

  • Quintin

    Of that whole post, one sentence came close to addressing my concerns. Sure, secularism is not necessarily the most important part of humanism, but it is an inherent part of it unlike what you claimed earlier. You can acknowledge that or be a hypocrite and deny it.

  • C Peterson

    I don’t think that secularism is an inherent part of humanism, but I do think it’s an important ideal that most humanists share.

  • C Peterson

    Atheism isn’t a foundation for anything. It is a consequence of a rationalist foundation.

  • Anna

    If it were my child, I wouldn’t want them to be indoctrinated by anyone.

    Er, you contradict yourself in the very next sentence. You want to be the one to indoctrinate your children, but let’s not pretend it’s not indoctrination. You say you should choose for your children, not let them come to their beliefs on their own.

  • Anna
    Requests to purchase ads on websites run by, National Geographic Kids and Time For Kids were turned down based on the content.

    Riiiight. Can’t have kids thinking for themselves or being raised to believe they can be moral without going to church.

    I see nothing wrong here. Disney, National Geographic Kids, and Time Kids are secular organizations. They’ve never catered to religious groups. Since they’re not running ads for the Catholic Church or the Creation Museum, I don’t expect them to run ads for AHA. They’re not in business to promote any particular religious or political viewpoint, and I wouldn’t want them to, no matter if I agree with it or not.

  • Anna

    Where is the dividing line between baby atheism and adult atheism, though? I’ve been an atheist all my life, and I don’t think I was any less of an atheist when I was eight years old simply because I didn’t have the words to express it clearly. There was no “aha!” moment  for me, nor did I have any kind of long, drawn-out process of consideration.  

  • Guest

    Do those companies also turn down similar advertisements for religious groups?

  • 3lemenope

    I’d say the most clear dividing line is the moment at which you become aware of, and understand at a basic level, the concept of a god or gods. Before that point, any atheism that exists isn’t a choice; after it, it is.

    Like you, I’ve never been a theist. However, I don’t think it is reasonable to say that my eight-year-old self, or yours, is an atheist in the same sense that you or I are today. There may be no “eureka moment” (and believing one to be necessary is, I think, implicitly endorsing the soggy end of a sorites paradox), but there is a difference in quality between a default belief and one that has been tested–through life, learning, and experience–against competing beliefs. I also think there is something rather fundamental to the notion of being able to articulate what one believes; since we think of abstractions almost completely in terms of language, I suspect there is a fundamental difference in the structure of a belief that is fully articulable by the person who holds it than one held by a person who lacks the terms to articulate large portions of its structure.

    I’d say the line is certainly more clear in cases where a person has been a theist for a while, because there is a convenient difference in the content of the belief to demarcate the transition (both ways). But the deep structure of a belief doesn’t rely on its content, any more that different tokens of a type differ only in incidental details. A car is a car is a car, perhaps, but a Model-T is different from Honda Civic is different from a Hummer in often very relevant ways, some of which are pragmatically distinct (i.e. you can do some activities with one which the others are not capable); eating is always taking in sustenance, but the experience of eating an artichoke is different in nearly every phenomenological way than eating a slice of pizza. Because we humans must think in categories, it is easy for us to sometimes elide the very stark differences that can exist between tokens we’ve chosen to group under the same type. Likewise, just because the point of similarity between childhood atheism and adult atheism is the lack of belief in a deity, I contend that everything else about those two states tends to be distinguishable (in most cases). 

    If there were an adult atheism that was most like childhood atheism, it would be apatheism, since although the process of becoming aware of the concept of god(s) is irreversible (without a gaping head wound), a person can choose to commit none or very little of their existential resources, their commitment, their reflection, to the question of whether the idea of god(s) has any merit or bearing on their lives.

  • Jikarlsson

     Wait— how is it possible to be an atheist and not support secularism? You are right that the two are not the *same*— however, whereas it is possible to be religious and support secularism, it is not possible (or at least, not in the least bit logical) to be an atheist and not support it. It *helps* atheists to support secularism, because the goal of secularism is to remove religious influence from politics. How could focusing on that possibly harm atheists? Your argument makes no sense.

  • Jikarlsson

     Now, on this point, I agree with you.

  • Jikarlsson

     Yeah… I understand your argument regarding why the secular movement can be harmed by too strong an association with atheism, but I fail to see how atheism can be harmed by association with secularism (which is all about removing religion from government and therefore entirely aligned with atheism).

  • Robert Bishop

    Not astounded that companies won’t run these ads – the christian right is too strong and absolutely immoral and vicious in its responses to such attempts at education.
    The ad companies would be bombed, the executives would be assaulted or shot, or their children would be mercilessly bullied into submission.
    You can’t blame the companies – you can only blame the loony reactionaries.

  • chicago dyke, Blonde

    hi, my name is Chicago Dyke, and i was raised as an atheist. i spent some time, of my own free will and with my parents’ approval, looking into religions, when i was young. they believed in the idea that i should “make up my own mind” and didn’t inject their opinions into my discovery process. in the end, i remained the atheist i was raised to be. it’s awesome!

    fwiw: i was also born and raised and schooled in extremely conservative areas/cultures of this country. believers and haters and anti-science types were everywhere, where i grew up. somehow, none of that ever “took” in my case. 

  • chicago dyke, Blonde

    or the mythical land created by Fox News that’s about to invade “real murka.”

  • chicago dyke, Blonde

    way to utterly miss the point. try a reading and logic comprehension class, next time. 

  • chicago dyke, Blonde

    i can’t really agree. 

    for me, and my sisters, it was quite simple. 

    our parents lied to us about santa, and the tooth fairy. when we learned the truth, all of us were disappointed. but it was a transitional moment, in which we took our first steps towards adulthood. 

    we were very glad, upon coming to understand, the “concept of gods,” as you put it, was not something they also lied to us about, when we developed that understanding. it was nice to realize we could be friends with other children of any belief system, because they were all the same fantasy. 

    i count it as a seminal experience in my upbringing, the realization that santa and the easter bunny were in the same league as jeebus. i thank my atheist parents for never making that hard for me to understand. 

  • Peekaboo

    So is this a “if you can’t beat them, join them” mentality? For a long time I’ve heard about the horrors of Christians indoctrinating kids and how terrible it is because they are just kids. 

    Now, the non-religous side is doing the same thing. Imagine that. It’s okay for you to do it, but we Christians are terrible humans to teach and pass down our values to our own children. Interesting.

  • Jake

     Overreact much?

  • C Peterson

    I have atheist friends in Germany who are not secularists. That is, they like the fact that the state supports churches out of special taxation, and affords churches special privileges. They see Bavarian Catholicism as an important part of their culture and history.

    Granted, there is a difference between the sort of “soft” nonsecularism of modern developed nations, and something like you find in Saudi Arabia, but the point is, an atheist need not be a militant legal secularist. An atheist can legitimately hold the view that there might be value in a government maintaining a degree of nonsecularism. That idea, while not common, is not intrinsically at odds with atheism.

  • C Peterson

    My view is that atheism is harmed by anything that gives the impression that atheists should have any particular beliefs. There is no belief, not one, that characterizes atheists. Atheism should not be tied to any political opinion at all.

    An atheist organization should not be politically active. Its function should be to provide a sort of safe haven for atheists in areas where they are social outcasts, and to make the case for social acceptance of atheists as ordinary, good people (okay, that’s a sort of weak political stance). Anything more than that, and that organization risks pushing away atheists who might otherwise benefit by an association. And it gives the broader public a false idea about what it means to be an atheist.

    That’s what I mean by harming atheism (although harming atheists would probably be a better way of putting it).

  • allein

    I was not raised atheist. My issues with depression started in middle school (undiagnosed at the time; I was not officially diagnosed until my 20s), when I was still involved in church, confirmation classes, and youth group. My major anxiety issues started in my early 20s, after I had stopped going to church but well before I ever identified as atheist. I didn’t really start thinking about that until I was about 30 or so. I don’t have any “post-traumatic stress” stemming from my religious upbringing, which was quite benign, and my lack of religion is not in any way a factor in my mental health issues (which are problematic but not debilitating). These things run in my family, and I believe that genetic factors are a much more likely explanation.

    In fact, I find the thought that there is no god out there supposedly watching out for us more comforting than if there was. Just for a recent personal example, if he’s out there and taking care of us, why did he let a hurricane just decimate a good portion of my state and destroy the contents of my best friend’s house? It’s a lot easier to deal with the thought that nature just is and things happen sometimes, than the he either willed all this destruction for some mysterious purpose or just didn’t care enough to stop it.

    If religious people truly are happier, I would speculate that it has more to do with the built-in social support that tends to come with being active in a church than the religiosity itself.

  • Gus Snarp

    It’s really all about the values you pass down. The values being passed down here are critical thinking, respect for others, and moral behavior for the good of one’s self and humanity instead of fear of damnation.

    We don’t complain when Christians want to pass on values of kindness and respect, or even faith as long as they don’t utilize government resources to do it.

    We do complain when the values passed down are mistreating others because they’re different, living in fear of endless torture, ignorance of scientific and historic fact, and attempting to foist your beliefs on others.

    And we protest any effort to promote religion within public schools or government

    See the difference?

  • Gus Snarp

    If you think this makes us evangelical, you haven’t seen much evangelism.

  • Anna

    Well, I don’t know. I have a hard time distinguishing between the two forms. I can’t really look back and say there was a clear line in the sand. There’s the point at which an atheist child first becomes aware of the god-concept, but for me there was a lag of several years before I realized other people actually believed deities were real. And even when I did realize that, atheism seemed like the only logical way to look at the world. I didn’t do any “soul searching,” I didn’t read books to bolster my point of view, I didn’t spend time in deep reflection. My energy and attention were elsewhere. But certainly by that age (11? 12?) I was a confident atheist and capable of expressing it , albeit in rudimentary terms.

  • Anna

    I think it’s only indoctrination when children are told that they must believe certain things and are not presented with alternate points of view. For example, a five-year-old in a Christian home is generally taught religious concepts as a matter of fact, not opinion. They learn from their parents, Sunday school teachers, songs, books, etc. that “God is real” and “Jesus loves you.” They are not told that other people think their god is imaginary, that people in different parts of the world have reasons for believing in different gods and goddesses, etc. They are told that what their parents believe is the truth, not that it’s merely one view out of millions of different views on the existence of the supernatural.

    Atheist parents in general, and this website in particular, does not tell children that they must be atheists. It does not tell them categorically that gods are false. It does not try to keep information from them, in the hopes that they will become atheists without knowing about the existence of other points of view, the existence of a variety of world religions. Not many atheist parents are going to tell their five year old: “You are an atheist!” By contrast, how many Christian parents are willing to refrain from claiming that their young children are Christians?

  • 3lemenope

    I actually think you identified something that was missing from my account. A key part of this transition I’m describing is not just becoming exposed to the god-concept, but actually realizing that there are people (in some places, *lots* of people) who actually believe in it. At a certain point, I think, there is a practical intersection where a person has to come to terms–one way or another–with the fact that their peers don’t hold this idea merely as an idea, but as a belief that guides some of their actions, including those towards you. Coming to internalize the fact that one shares a society with theists is, I think, an important difference between the atheism of youth and the atheism of adulthood.

    In case this point is misleading I want to clarify that I don’t mean to imply that “adult” atheism is something that happens to legal adults. Perhaps it’s the wrong term; by eleven or twelve, for example, a person can come to be confident in expressing to others their own atheism, like you, and there is certainly no lower age limit on when a person goes from being ignorant of the concepts involved to being aware, capable of articulating, realizing through empathy that other people have internalized the god-concept as something a bit more than a mere idea. Certainly most religions place the point at which a person is expected to be cognizant of the ideas the religion encapsulates as much earlier than what we usually think of as an adult.

    In the end my intent is to push back against the (IMO, truly ridiculous) meme of “everyone is born atheist!” as meaning, really, anything. People are born without concepts in most things; this has no bearing on what happens when they do become cognizant of those concepts, nor does it indicate in any way the worth of those concepts. They stand and fall on their own. If we judged every idea by what babies don’t know, it would be quite an impoverished landscape. My notion atop that as to how much baby atheism and what comes after truly differ is just speculation fueled by my own experiences of talking with people, especially following conversion and deconversion, and some philosophical assumptions about the structure of human thought.

  • CdAHumanist

     Way to be a complete jerk in your response.  Try a “how to discuss topics in a civil and rational way” class, next time.  I continue to find it completely ironic that so many of us fellow atheists and humanists treat other humans like sh*(.  We’re not going to win too many people over that way.

  • Stonyground

    My point is that, in the UK at least, religious people do not want secularism, they do not want a fair system because they now have a system that is unfair, but it is unfair in their favour. They are exempt from laws that, while being totally reasonable, contradict the edicts of their religion. Their organisations are exempt from paying tax. They get to have their religious schools paid for by the tax payer. Why would they wish to give up their privilages by joining an organisation that campaigns for just that?

  • TracieH

    These ads are incredibly interesting to me. In reading some of the posts above (admittedly not all), I see a question about secularism, atheism, and humanism. I had to talk about this in a Q&A at an atheist meeting, and they are not the same things, and being in any one group does not require being in any of the others, even though they often do go together for many.

    An atheist can live in a country and not care if religious laws govern that country. I know many nonpolitical atheists who do nothing and do not care if laws are passed in the U.S. that accommodate religion. I care, and am active, but that’s what helps me to notice the others who don’t. So, being an atheist does not require that you support secularism. Nor does it require a person to be humanist, as I know atheists who are quite anti-social and not pro-human at all, or who have nonegalitarian views toward others.

    I looked at many different descriptions and definitions of humanism, and broadly speaking, a theist could be a secular humanist–a person who, although they believe a god exists, holds to the philosophy that reason and evidence are the best modes of making decisions and running their lives and society for the betterment of all. There is absolutely nothing about pure theism that would not allow for that philosophy. And there is nothing about pure atheism that would require it.

    That being said, I’m amazed at the tone of these ads from a Humanist group. As an anti-theist, myself, I love the ads. I think at least some segment of atheism *should* make messages that are bold and aggressive and that don’t beat around the bush. “Your god is imaginary,” is a fine statement for an atheist, anti-theist. But I’m a bit surprised to see it from Humanists, though. One of my concerns regarding my anti-theist, atheist position was that I could cause problems for the Humanist agenda by aligning with Humanists. That is, it might not be in *their* best interest to have me as an associate. My reasoning was that I had seen many Humanist groups working alongside religious groups to find common ground in efforts that benefit everyone’s best interests. And I have zero problem with this as a goal, and would not wish to hurt their efforts. I think it’s a positive and necessary effort, and I’m glad they’re out there doing it.

    From my own perspective, ads like this are also something that needs doing–but on another front and from another group that won’t suffer from the hit (an atheist, anti-theist isn’t likely to lose friends by saying “your god is imaginary,” since the atheist, anti-theist has already lost all their friends who would be offended by that statement). I would spare the Humanists taking an unnecessary hit, when they can continue the more positive bridge-building work, that is also necessary between the two communities of theists and atheists for common good where it can be found.
    On the one hand, I hate to see the Humanists get any negative publicity, or suffer as a result of coming out and telling people god is imaginary; but on the other hand, I don’t know of an “American Anti-theist Association,” that is set up to do it as consistently as I would love to see it. I was hoping that A+ might fit that bill, since it would be atheist-only, and so not have to concern itself with working together with theistic entities; but it looks like the Humanists here have offered to step-up into that role.

    I think they could suffer from such a bold statement. If they’d gone with something more soft-sell, such as the “Don’t believe in god? You’re not alone,” billboards of COR, a few years back, they’d have stuck more to their regular M.O. and, although you’ll never avoid all criticism when trying to appease everyone (especially religious zealots), this campaign appears to be a bit more of a challenge to any/all theism (even liberal, secular, humanist oriented theism), and not just supportive of atheist youth.Again, I applaud the boldness of the ads. I just wonder it this fits in with the “work together” focus many Humanist groups tend to strive for. I will just have to watch and wait, I suppose. If Humanists do want to shoulder the now-neglected-but-much-needed role of stronger, outspoken anti-theism, moving forward, then I may have found my new home. But we’ll need someone to come in and cover the bases they’ll have trouble fitting back into as a result, possibly? It could become hard to find theists willing to work together with your group for humanitarian efforts, if, in addition to doing good works with them, you’re also telling them openly you think they’re just plain nuts with what they believe.

  • TracieH

    I think a major difference is that this site is merely available to children who desire to access it. There is a world of difference between making information available, and foisting it onto a young mind incapable of critical examination of the idea. Generally information is presented to children at age-appropriate levels, and kids are taught why X is considered a good idea or true–such a math and demonstrations of numbers, or grammar and how and why these rules apply and where they derive. Ultimately you want kids to understand not only what to believe, but why it’s correct. Religion, most especially Christianity, actually discourages this sort of examination and consideration by adherents. Some threaten hell for nonbelief. Some simply encourage not thinking critically with praise of things in the form of ideas such as “faith is a virtue.” Faith is certainly not a virtue as it’s presented in religion–belief without sufficient justification. It’s a horrible idea. It’s a person’s right to accept and adopt beliefs in an unexamined way–but to load that onto developing minds and then encourage them to not question or threaten them if they do question, is what makes it indoctrination rather than actual learning. But at any rate, this site is not requiring anyone to visit it. It’s merely available. That’s leagues different than toting the kids off to Sunday school and services multiple times each week before they’re even old enough to consider such questions as “does a god exist?”

  • TracieH

    It’s also a natural default. As I once heard someone point out, if civilization collapsed and had to rebuild from nothing, one day we would again have the same scientific principles we have now; but we’d never again dream up the Christian religion as it is today. It’s a fully artificial construct of a particular time, place, cultural tradition. The odds of that identical construct happening again would be so close to “never” as to be dismissed. But science and math and secular realities would stand unphased.

  • Gary

    Did you view The God Murders website?

  • Ashton

    I grew up in a Christian environment.  And not just Christian -  Seventh day Adventist.  Aside from a couple of neighbors everyone I knew was Adventist.  I went to Adventist schools, Adventist summer camp, Adventists’ own version of boy and girl scouts, and I had music lessons from Adventist music teachers.  I never once believe and felt that there was something completely wrong with me for not believing.  I spent years trying during which time my anxiety level was constantly increasing.  I’m now a depressed atheist.  I’m far psychologically healthier than I was before, though.  I envy kids growing up with atheist parents.  If I had grown up that way, I doubt I’d be depressed at all.

    If there’s any truth to what you’re saying (atheists are more likely to be depressed), it’s probably that 1) a lot of people were treated badly while leaving and possibly after leaving and 2) people who are already depressed may be more likely to question the ideology that they grew up with since it obviously doesn’t have all the answers.  I don’t know anyone who grew up with atheist parents so I can’t really judge that part, but I’m sure that your sample size is so small as to be negligible.  Don’t draw conclusions so quickly.

  • Rayanne Stemmler

    I grew up in Maine as well and when we said the pledge it didn’t include the “under god” part. And this was in the 70′s after it had already been “inserted” into the pledge. Looking back it seems to me that I rarely encountered religious people of the “bible thumping” variety.

  • ReadsInTrees

    I’m from Maine as well, and I agree that it was probably a lot easier to grow up here than in other states. But, it does feel like the number of “Bible Thumpers” has grown…or is more vocal? It may just be the marriage debate making religious folks more active.

  • ReadsInTrees

    In addition to what others have said, I imagine that if there ARE more atheists that are depressed than there are Christians, it just might have a little bit to do with being ostracized by their friends and families. I’m an atheist, and am not depressed in the slightest, but I also have friends and family that are totally fine with my atheism. I consider myself lucky.