Why Should We Help Young Atheists?

I wrote a piece for the Washington Post On Faith blog about why we need to help young atheists. Read it. Love it. Caress it. Share it.

Here’s the beginning:

Stephanie Kirmer attended high school in Kansas in the late 1990s, around the time the state was embroiled in a battle over teaching Creationism in science classes. She wrote letters to the editor of her local newspaper and testified in front of her school board to oppose the state Board of Education’s removal of evolution from the high school science curriculum. It wasn’t a very popular position for a high school freshman to take.

A few years later, when she joined the board of a fledgling organization called the Secular Student Alliance, she knew she wanted to focus on helping high school students. Not far removed from high school herself, she knew what it was like to become an atheist and feel like you were the only non-believer out there. She remembers the emails she received from students who, like her, didn’t know there was a growing movement for non-religious people. They would send her messages reading, “Oh my god, you guys exist! I’m the only atheist in my town!”

In response, Stephanie would send them reading material — books or magazines written from the atheist perspective. What surprised me was the way she prevented the potential problem of parents discovering the packages:

“We sent plain brown envelopes. I’m not making that up … There was no labeling on the outside to indicate what was in there. And if kids couldn’t receive it at their house, we’d send it to a friend’s house… It made a big difference for a lot of kids who didn’t otherwise have an outlet.”

In other words, books and magazine promoting science, critical thinking, and the idea that God doesn’t exist were treated no differently than issues of Penthouse.

The rest of the piece is here.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/GodVlogger?feature=mhee GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    Similar to the idea of using brown envelopes…
    Personally, I think it would be a good idea for freethink magazines/newsletters to NOT print the name/address of the member directly onto the newsletter itself.

    For those who are still “in the closet”, it
    makes it easier to share the materials with others (coworkers, neighbors, relatives) If the address label is a removable sticker, or printed on the outer envelope.

    For those who are out of the closet, it probably doesn’t matter. But for those in the closet, or during the transition period, it’s good to help people control how they release information to others.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rocky-Morrison/100001552602936 Rocky Morrison

      I encourage people, especially those in leadership positions…ministers and so forth…to come out.

      We need to know who they are.

      Ex ministers like Loftus, Barker, MeBain, DeWitt, etc., who admitted that they continued to preach after they no longer believed, could have done even more damage had they remained in the church.

      In fact, I think that is one reason the Church has had so many problems…leaders who did not believe at all but who were just in it for the power.

      We have one here locally, and I want to see him outed if at all possible.

  • Nick

    We still have a lot of work to do, the comments on the Washington Post page are very facepalm worthy.

  • Octoberfurst

    I found it amusing but also sad that Stephanie had to mail atheist literature in plain brown envelopes as if it were pornography. (We truly are a hated minority!)  But I admire her courage in speaking out against the crazy creationists.  It is not easy to go against the majority. She is the type of young person who gives me hope for the future.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rocky-Morrison/100001552602936 Rocky Morrison

      If you truly are a hated minority, do you think your constant claims that you are all so much more moral and intelligent than all the religous fools and losers could have anything to do with it?

      It must be a terrible burden to be so superior to everyone else.

      • Octoberfurst

         It is a hard burden Rocky but we learn to deal with it. And yes, on the whole, we are smarter and more moral than you Bible-thumping, brain-dead baboons.  Sucks to be you doesn’t it?  Have a great day!


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