Discussion: what has your local atheist group done for you?

I have a confession to make: it’s been more than a year since I’ve been to the meeting of any atheist group. I occasionally get e-mails from people saying they’re coming to Korea soon and want to know about atheist groups here, and I have to tell them I have no idea about them.

Why not? Well, partly, it’s because I’ve been so busy with other things, but partly it’s because among the English teachers, we’re mostly liberal 20-somethings (plus some liberal folks in their early 30s), and while not everyone’s a full-blown atheist, I’ve never felt out of place as an atheist here (though I imagine it’ll be different for military folks). I just don’t feel much need for it, given the (English-speaking) people here.

Similarly, the two cities I’ve spent the most time in since leaving college were Madison, WI (liberal) and South Bend, Indiana (conservative), and I was involved in atheist groups in both of them, including leading the Madison student group for a couple of years. When I discovered the Indiana group, it was a breath of fresh air in the conservative environment, and I got the feeling this was even more true for some of the members. The Madison group, on the other hand, more often than not was just a place to have nerdy discussions with like-minded people.

These are the sorts of thoughts that come to mind when I hear debates about what goals atheist/skeptic/humanist/whateveryoucallit groups ought to have. But, before I over-generalize from my own narrow experiences, I want to hear from my readers: what have your experiences been with local atheist groups? What have you gotten out of them?

  • Randomfactor

    Given me an occasional connection to people I don’t have to stay silent around.

    It gets lonely out there.

    • http://www.facebook.com/chris.hallquist Chris Hallquist

      Where (feel free to be vague) are you located?

      • Randomfactor

        Bakersfield. Think of it as a little patch of Oklahoma in central California.

        • http://www.facebook.com/chris.hallquist Chris Hallquist

          Oh yeah. I’ve heard California can be surprisingly conservative once you get away from the coast.

          • Reginald Selkirk

            Orange County isn’t far from the coast.

  • jamessweet

    I haven’t gone to any of the meetups with the local atheist group per se, but the fact that there is an SOS group in my city has been invaluable to me.

    • jamessweet

      Oh, and as for location… Rochester, NY, which is a moderate-sized city upstate. I don’t feel at all out of place as an atheist here; it’s unusual, but not scandalous. Particularly in the under 40 crowd, being non-religious is pretty normal. In fact, I have found on Facebook that many of my friends are just as fed up with religion as I am, but they just don’t talk about it as much.

      So that’s probably why I don’t feel a need to go to the regular meetups. I’ve already got friends whose metaphysical beliefs are compatible with mine. The SOS group is important, though, because I wouldn’t be able to stand AA. Yuck.

  • jhendrix

    Wish there was one around where I live (in southern NJ), I’d definitely go to hang out.

  • Anonymous Atheist

    Here’s what I found about atheist groups in South Korea:

    South Korea is reportedly 41-46% atheist/non-religious, 30% Christian, 23% Buddhist.

    There are atheist student groups starting at some of the Korean universities now: http://www.koreabang.com/2012/stories/students-launch-atheist-clubs-to-counter-rising-christianity.html

    And here’s an article mentioning a couple of public groups: http://view.koreaherald.com/kh/view.php?ud=20120319001270
    - Rational Thinkers of Korea: http://www.meetup.com/RationalThinkers/
    - and the Atheist Community of South Korea: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Atheist-Community-of-South-Korea/250945708251278

    There’s also the Korea Atheist Society: http://www.atheism.kr/ (site is in Korean; here’s a post about it in English: http://www.atheist-community.org/boards/read_message.php?b=1&t=3260 )

  • Onamission5

    I finally, after living where I am for 7ish years, got up the nerve to join a meetup list for local atheist parents. I have yet to attend any gatherings just because I seem to be the only one on the list with kids not in diapers, but I’ll keep you abreast if that changes! (me attending, not the nappies)

    I’m in NC, US, roughly western.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    I live in a blue city in a blue state, and have been steadily involved with the local atheist group for ~ 8 years. For the first few years, we discussed arguments for theism, separation of church & state, etc. For the last few years it has been much less seriously intellectual, and just a social group.
    The local university does not have an atheist group, despite its reputation for liberalism. I guess the nonbelieving students do not feel persecuted.

  • http://teethofthebuzzsaw.blogspot.com Buzz Saw

    My local group in Cedar Rapids, IA, has given me some place to hang out with people who are more like-minded, and, perhaps more importantly, more concerned with the state of the world, so to speak, than the people I know from work. I’m perhaps in more need of a good political hangout, though. The people I work with don’t seem to bring religion up much at all, so my atheism really isn’t a big issue. However, there are a few outspoken conservatives that really get on my nerves from time to time…

    • http://aceofsevens.wordpress.com Ace of Sevens

      What group is that? I was rather disapointed in the libertarian slant of the Kirkwood student group.

  • http://deusdiapente.blogspot.com J. Quinton

    When I was going to NYU in the 2004 – 2005 school year, I checked out the atheism/skepticism club. I had just moved (back) to NYC — after having gotten out the military — and didn’t know anyone there, so that was the first place I decided to meet people. The most obvious reason for this choice was that there were no atheists that I knew of in the military. A year later I transfered from NYU to another school, where I went to one atheist club meeting and I never went back. Not because it wasn’t fun or anything, I just got involved with a much more vibrant club (swing dancing). That was the last time I’ve explicitly went out to meet other atheists.

    The city I live in there are a few atheists I know, so it’s not so lonely. And I’m still involved with the swing dance community where there are also other atheists that I know so I haven’t really had a need to make it a point to go out and meet other atheists.

  • Erista (aka Eris)

    My local atheist group (a university group) cannot seem to give more notice than “later today.” Thus, I have yet to make a meeting.

  • mnb0

    My local atheist group never has done anything for me, because there wasn’t and isn’t any where I live(d). I have been a member of the Dutch freethinkers organization De Vrije Gedachte, but only read their magazine. It gave me a good idea what freethinking is.

  • Jag

    I’m in Minnesota, and the thing I value most about my local groups is being able to speak my mind. I tend to crack a lot of sarcastic jokes, and it’s nice to not have to bite my tongue halfway through a remark about birth control and Republicans, for instance.

    I don’t know how common this is across the country, but I find a lot of political activism within the organizations here. That’s what drew me in, in the beginning, but a large part of what keeps me involved is just being able to speak freely about things I care about, and make the occasional joke that would likely offend a true believer.

    I get tired of having to catch people up on the “back story” of an issue before we can have a conversation about it. The atheists I know tend to be well informed about the world and current events – it’s refreshing to just talk without having to first educate.

    Frankly, the more time I spend with atheists, the harder I find it to be with theists. Some of it’s about politics, definitely, but some of it’s really just a degree of awareness of the larger world that the non-atheists in my life seem to lack.

  • http://templeofthefuture.net James Croft

    My local Humanist community changed my life. It was in the surroundings of that community that I was able to come out as gay, and being engaged with it has given me a sense of purposes and direction which I was lacking before. I love the opportunity to consider and discuss profound ethical and social issues each week, and welcome the fellowship of people who share my values. I particularly enjoy going out with the community into the world doing service projects and outings. And the small group discussions we have weekly were great when I could attend them.

    My personal preference would be for some music, some singing, perhaps a little more structured experience, but generally it;s one of the highlights of my week.

  • http://defendingreality.wordpress.com/ roldt

    My university’s atheist group is a great organization ideologically but not practically as its hard for them to actually do events that carry an impact (very much like a lot of university secular groups). That may not be their fault though as their posters and fliers are constantly torn down across school, oftentimes hours after posting them. Luckily, their Facebook page is very active and discusses important issues pertaining to atheism, our local community, and the intersection of both. I consider that to be their value to me.

    But, my hometown’s atheist group that I have been somewhat involved with in the past has consistently disappointed me to where now I do not interact with them. While there is the occasional humorous or interesting news item, mostly they just make fun of believers (somewhat unfairly often) or plan ridiculous crusades against things in our community- for example, as my hometown is in SoCal we have a historic mission in the center of our city that is now a museum, and this group has contemplating suing the city to tear down or discontinue funding the mission.

  • http://askanatheist.tv Becky

    I’ve gotten a network of friends and family that will jump to your hospital bedside, offer to cater your wedding, drive 20 miles out of their way to give you a ride home from an event, host parties and meetings in their homes and offices. Others around me have gotten landing grounds after being kicked out of their homes for not being religious, furniture and bedding when possessions became contaminated and had to be discarded, money to stay afloat and money for their charitable projects, a non-religious sleepaway camp for their children, positive media exposure, and more. It’s still not enough, which is why many of us are involved in creating a state-wide federation of orgs that will support and sustain member organizations and individuals.

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