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'None' leaders to chart path for more political, cultural power for religiously unaffiliated
The Reason Rally -- sponsored by secular organizations -- draws a crowd to Washington in June.
January 25th, 2013
08:51 AM ET

'None' leaders to chart path for more political, cultural power for religiously unaffiliated

By Dan Merica, CNN
[twitter-follow screen_name='DanMericaCNN']

Washington (CNN) - The religiously unaffiliated - the "nones"  - have noticed their ranks are growing. And at a meeting Saturday, a group of leaders will look to turn those swelling numbers into workable political and cultural power.

It's one of the top priorities of the eighth annual Heads Meeting, which will be held in Atlanta. Some of the nation’s most influential leaders, representing various organizations, will convene to chart a path forward and discuss the most important issues facing "nones" today.

“It is not enough that we are growing in numbers,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “We have got to find a way to bring those numbers to bear in an organized fashion so that people will take us seriously.”

A number of studies have found that religious “nones” - people who either don’t believe in God or do not affiliate with a religion - are increasing rapidly in the United States. A 2012 Pew study, for example, found this faction to be the fastest-growing "religious" group in America and determined that one in five Americans now identify with no religion.

These numbers have emboldened atheists, humanists, agnostics and other secular Americans, many of whom have long expressed a desire for more political power.

In particular, they point to the fact that they are widely underrepresented in the halls of the highest U.S. legislative body. Though 20% of the population classifies themselves as “none,” according to Pew, only one member of Congress, Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, identifies as such.

Speckhardt said it’ll take presenting “viewpoints in an organized way” to see change.

Dale McGowan, executive director of Foundation Beyond Belief and one of the Atlanta meeting's hosts, said building awareness through community engagement will be a key topic of discussion.

“Part of it is trying to consolidate that cultural presence,” McGowan said. “That has something to do with politics, but it is also more generally cultural.”

Much as churches and synagogues foster and nurture communities, McGowan said he thinks atheists can do the same to gain clout and broader acceptance.

But the meeting is more than just a forum for "none" leaders to outline their plans going forward. It is also a way for these leaders to meet face to face and discuss differences that they may have with one another.

According to McGowan, finding ways to work together was the original goal when the meeting was first held in 2005.

For years, McGowan said, “These groups operated separately from each other and sometimes at odds with each other. There was a realization that we should meet once a year and come together on the goals that we have in common.”

Other leaders echoed this viewpoint.

“One of the biggest benefits of these meetings is that it is human interaction,” Speckhardt said. “You get people face to face, and you dispel these negative ideas. You realize that we are all endeavoring toward very similar goals and that we can cooperate to make them happen.”

But while the leaders stress the need for cohesion, they also have long highlighted, even celebrated, diversity of opinion in their movement. This diversity has, at times, caused friction.

For example, the Christmas season revealed a growing rift among American atheists. Some activists want to seize the holidays to build bridges with faith groups, while other active unbelievers increasingly see Christmas as central to confronting religion.

“We certainly do disagree,” said David Silverman, president of American Atheists. “But we are on the same side. What we have to do is sit down at the table and say, ‘You are going to do your thing, and I am going to do my thing.’ ”

McGowan called cohesiveness “really the central challenge” for people who thrive on independence. “This is a group of people accustomed to taking a critical approach to things, and that means not just letting differences slide and saying, ‘Hey, these differences matter.’ ”

Other attendees in Atlanta will include Ron Lindsay, president of the Center for Inquiry, and Margaret Downey, founder and president of the Freethought Society, according to Silverman.

- Dan Merica

Filed under: Atheism • Politics

soundoff (1,751 Responses)
  1. Marie

    Why can't we be friends?

    January 28, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
  2. Marie

    Why do fools fall in love?

    January 28, 2013 at 4:18 pm |
  3. Dyslexic doG

    Christianity is just a poor copy of earlier sun based religions, in particular Egypt's.

    The Bible is a storybook plagiarising earlier mythology from the Middle East.

    Genesis and Exodus, for example, are clearly based on earlier Babylonian myths such as The Epic of Gilgamesh, and the Jesus story itself is straight from the stories about Apollonius of Tyana, Horus and Dionysus (including virgin birth, the three wise men, the star in the East, birth at the Winter solstice, a baptism by another prophet, turning water into wine, crucifixion and rising from the dead).

    There was no Jesus. There is no God. Come into the 21st century people and leave your fear of the dark and your mysterious Daddy figure behind!!! Sheesh, you'd laugh if it wasn't so sad that you believe this tripe!

    January 28, 2013 at 4:09 pm |
    • niknak

      Unfortunately doggiestyle, they will never let go of their stone age myth.
      It does not matter how much evidence piles up that disproves any kind of a creator, they will just cling even more to the lie.
      Plus, if they did let go, all the scammers would go hungry, and we wouldn't want that.....

      January 28, 2013 at 4:14 pm |
    • lol??

      Them thar grandiose sweeping yappings, dogggie mommie.

      January 28, 2013 at 4:21 pm |
    • December

      Wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong.

      Jesus Christ lives.

      January 28, 2013 at 4:34 pm |
  4. Dyslexic doG

    Without Honey BooBoo or the Kardashians to watch 2,000 years ago, people had to make stuff up to entertain themselves. The Bible is just a collection of the best of those stories. It's like America's Funniest Home Videos from the bronze age. 🙂

    January 28, 2013 at 4:02 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      As bad as the Bible is, it has some intellectual appeal, at least the King James Bible does in terms of prose. Honey Boo Boo and The Kardashians put things like the Inquisition and the Islamic Conquests to shame with the damage they are inflicting on humanity.

      January 28, 2013 at 4:06 pm |
  5. lol??

    Modern psychology is built on a sandbar. Freud and friends had wet nurses, like most of the rich of his day. His sampling size was rather small and from the same incestuous group. He jumped to wrong conclusions from the unnatural data. Too bad it impressed the rich, who like to be the movers and shakers in any society.

    January 28, 2013 at 4:01 pm |
    • Saraswati

      Freud is not modern psychology and very little of today's work is dependent on anything he wrote.

      January 28, 2013 at 4:21 pm |
    • lol??

      saraSWAT, I saw how you handled the Dawkster a few pages back when you said, "He would never say that!"

      January 28, 2013 at 4:32 pm |
  6. Rational Libertarian

    Why does it hurt when I p,ee?

    January 28, 2013 at 3:40 pm |
  7. Marie

    Why did atheists in control of the Soviet Union enslave millions of people in the Gulag?
    If atheism is so much more liberating, then why did this enslavement happen even after the lessons learned from the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition?

    January 28, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
    • sam stone

      because they were totalitarians and they were protecting their power

      January 28, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
    • The Truth

      Because patriotism to their socialist government was more important than their atheism or humanism.

      January 28, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
    • GodFreeNow

      Because insanity is not limited to religious people. This is why "reason" must be pursued beyond selfish emotions. Blind faith in governments can be as dangerous as blind faith in god.

      January 28, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
    • Primewonk

      You posit a cause and effect association when it does not exist. It wasn't being an atheist that did this. It was being a power-mad despot.

      I could just as easily claim that millions were killed because Stalin had a withered left hand. And this is proof that people with withered left hands are evil and they will try and kill you.

      January 28, 2013 at 4:12 pm |
  8. Who Invited Me?

    6
    6
    6
    6
    6
    6
    6
    6
    6
    6
    6
    6
    6
    6

    January 28, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
  9. Dawkins is an idiot

    They also believe that a frog can turn into a prince!! The s@v@ge races like blacks were sub-human....

    January 28, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      Obvious troll is blindingly obvious.

      January 28, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
    • God is a top, Dawkinsisanidiot is a bottom

      Well of course you have been racing, straight to the bottom of humanity with your silly comments, only to be pooped on by more educated tops.

      January 28, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
    • hal 9001

      I'm sorry, "Dawkins is an idiot", but your repeated assertions regarding atheism are unfounded. Using my Idiomatic Expression Equivalency module (IEE), the expression that best matches the degree to which your repeated unfounded assertions may represent truths is: "IDIOTIC – EPIC FAIL". Perhaps the following book can help you cope with the problem of repeating unfounded assertions:

      I'm Told I Have Dementia: What You Can Do... Who You Can Turn to...

      January 28, 2013 at 2:55 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      godidiot, Give it a rest.

      January 28, 2013 at 2:57 pm |
    • Dawkins is an idiot

      Mutations DO NOT CREATE NEW SPECIES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! NATURAL SELECTION DOES NOT CREATE NEW SPECIES !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The fairy tale MYTH of evolution is NOT supported by science

      January 28, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @Dawkins is an idiot

      And yet, we have studies that prove you wrong. We have not only obsreved speciation in a lab, we also have the fossil record and DNA evidence.

      January 28, 2013 at 3:00 pm |
    • Dawkins is an idiot

      @hawaiiquest , you are wrong. It has NEVER been observed in a lab.

      January 28, 2013 at 3:10 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      I refer you to
      http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/speciation.html

      January 28, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
  10. Dawkins is an idiot

    Atheists believe a lighting bolt struck a mud puddle, and magically the earth appeared. The origin of life on earth came about by space aliens....

    January 28, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
    • God is a space alien

      Watch out yall!! I'ma comin to do some butt probin!!

      January 28, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      Your ignorance is astounding.

      January 28, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      This bozo sounds an awful lot like captain azzhole.

      January 28, 2013 at 4:46 pm |
  11. Dawkins is an idiot

    Christopher Hitchens was a chain smoking drunk

    January 28, 2013 at 2:43 pm |
    • Christians love Mike Hunt

      "17 And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely." Rev 22:17

      January 28, 2013 at 2:46 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      Idiot, That doesn't make him wrong.

      January 28, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
  12. Dawkins is an idiot

    Darwin was married to his cousin and they had kids!!!

    January 28, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
    • Jesus was gay

      My cousin John "baptized" me in his man juice...

      January 28, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
  13. Dawkins is an idiot

    Joseph Stalin was an atheist

    January 28, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
    • Jesus was gay

      I like sticking the pope hat in my butt....

      January 28, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
  14. Dawkins is an idiot

    Charles Darwin wrote that the civilized Caucasians would replace the s@v@ge races.

    January 28, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
    • Jesus was gay

      "Now there was leaning on Jesus' bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved." John 13:23

      January 28, 2013 at 2:43 pm |
  15. Who Invited Me?

    666

    666

    January 28, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
  16. Dawkins is an idiot

    Richard Dawkins believes the origin of life on earth is from space aliens

    January 28, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
    • ME II

      This is incorrect.
      You shouldn't use "Expelled:..." as a source of real information.

      January 28, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
    • Dawkins is an idiot

      Nope, that's what he said. And u probably believe it, idiot

      January 28, 2013 at 2:35 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      Idiot, Where is your evidence of that?

      January 28, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
  17. Dawkins is an idiot

    'Tom, Tom' is a big fat dog face cow. U miserable ugly idiot!

    January 28, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Aww, honey. Still bruised, are you?

      January 28, 2013 at 4:50 pm |
  18. Who Invited Me?

    666

    January 28, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
  19. Thomas Jefferson

    Whenever... preachers, instead of a lesson in religion, put [their congregation] off with a discourse on the Copernican system, on chemical affinities, on the construction of government, or the characters or conduct of those administering it, it is a breach of contract, depriving their audience of the kind of service for which they are salaried, and giving them, instead of it, what they did not want, or, if wanted, would rather seek from better sources in that particular art of science.
    ..

    January 28, 2013 at 12:57 pm |
  20. SoldierOfConscience

    its pointless. im trying to show how the fetus is human and y'all go in 20 different directions about unwanted yadda yadda. I give up. no point. All I was saying was If it was indeed "unwanted" there then dont do the thing that causes the fetus to come into this world. I have said my piece, and have nothing more to say. ciao.

    January 28, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Buh-bye, poe.

      January 28, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      So you approve of sex education and availability of contraceptives?

      January 28, 2013 at 12:54 pm |
    • gary

      That's right, SOC because you have no valid point.

      January 28, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      I wonder if the only time SOC gets any is when he's trying to make her pregnant?

      January 28, 2013 at 12:57 pm |
    • I wonder

      Tom, Tom,

      I thought that a "poe" is an expert imposter or parody, almost indistinguishable from a true zealot.

      I'd say SOC is more of a crank:
      " Cranks characteristically dismiss all evidence or arguments which contradict their own unconventional beliefs, making rational debate a futile task, and rendering them impervious to facts, evidence, and rational inference."

      January 28, 2013 at 1:20 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Could be. But in his original farewell, he stated that he didn't actually believe the nonsense he'd posted. Crank, poe, or troll, he's a dishonest creep.

      January 28, 2013 at 1:27 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      "All I was saying was If it was indeed "unwanted" there then dont do the thing that causes the fetus to come into this world."

      SoldierOfNonsense,

      People have a built in extreme se.xual desire, telling people to "just say no" is ignorant, irresponsible, and if you are truly against abortion, immoral. But as you keep proving with your posts what you really want to do is make children a "consequence" for having s.e.x. Your true position is completely immoral. You know you are backed into a coroner and now you are going to cut and run because you know your argument is unconscionable.

      January 28, 2013 at 1:40 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Curious Cheesy, How do you reconcile your stance with Margret Sanger: Sanger was opposed to excessive seexual indulgence. She stated "every normal man and woman has the power to control and direct his seexual impulse. Men and women who have it in control and constantly use their brain cells thinking deeply, are never sensual.

      January 28, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
    • The Truth

      "So you approve of s.ex education and availability of contraceptives?"

      SoC reasoning- "Of course not because that put's your everlasting soul in jeopardy!!"

      So we are back to arguing whether an invisible spirit resides inside of us that can't die and has only two possible outco.mes, eternal pleasure or eternal pain?

      January 28, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
    • The Truth

      @Bill Deacon – I do not see any conflict with Sangers work and our current abortion laws. The fact that she points out that those who can control their appetltes are considered better examples of civilized society makes no claim to do so for the express purpose of protecting ones everlasting soul.

      January 28, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
    • lol??

      Cheezie sayz, "......People have a built in extreme se.xual desire,...." In the body of Christ it is handled like this, "1Ti 5:14 I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully."........In americult, the gubmint god encourages them to kill.

      January 28, 2013 at 2:46 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Truth, I'm not sure you addressed my point. The consequences to one's soul are of no interest to me in this discussion. I often hear from abortion advocates that people have nearly uncontrollable seexual impulses which abortion and contraception allow them to indulge. Cheesy seems to ascribe to this thought line. I'm asking how that can be reconciled with MS's opinion that humans can, indeed manage their urges. Those two positions seem contradiictory to me.

      January 28, 2013 at 2:57 pm |
    • The Truth

      @Bill Deacon – I think you answer your own question with "nearly uncontrollable seexual impulses " notice your own addendum of "nearly" so even you know that no one is claiming those desires are truly "uncontrollable". Can most people control their urges? Yes, but the question that the religious bring up is "should we?" with their resounding answer being "Yes! Because God cares about your s.ex life and your everlasting soul is in jeopardy!!"

      January 28, 2013 at 3:10 pm |
    • Saraswati

      Bill, why would you cite a woman on questions of psychology who did a one year nursing program a hundred years ago over modern day psychologists with doctorates and ongoing research? No one cares what Margaret Sanger thought on psychology any more than we care what Aristotle thought on biology.

      January 28, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Bill,

      I don't give a hoot what Margaret Sanger agreed with or did not agree with. S.exual desire is a normal human function and regardless of any church teaching telling people to practice abstinance with little to no s.e.x education and readily available contraception is irresponsible, and if you are truly trying to stem abortion, immoral. Your Catholic church has the WORST possible stance on the issue to the point that huge portions of Catholics completely disregard it. Christianity tries to make consensual s.e.x a "moral" issue and is creating much of the problems they claim to be fighting against.

      January 28, 2013 at 3:37 pm |
    • lol??

      "1Cr 7:8-9 I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn."

      January 28, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
    • Saraswati

      1) What Cheese said.

      2) You're really not asking the right question when you ask whether people *can* control se.xual urges. Until you understand why that question doesn't make sense in the way you mean it, you don't really understand just how far your thinking differs from that of modern psychology, and even the philosophy of the last 200 years.

      January 28, 2013 at 3:44 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      "In americult, the gubmint god encourages them to kill."

      lol??

      In Christian cult, reasonable precautions to stop unwanted pregnancies are "immoral", creating more unwanted pregnancy and cultists like you are happy unwanted children are used as "consequences".

      January 28, 2013 at 3:46 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Trust me when I tell you this Sara. I understand how different my view is than the modern philosophy. You surely understand that you are making the argument from modernity do you not?

      January 28, 2013 at 3:48 pm |
    • Saraswati

      @Bill, my point is not that the modern view is right (though I suspect it is right) but that your question doesn't even make sense in the world view of most modern educated people (who you may well thin are wrong). That said, many who disagree with you either don't differ from you in their view of human action, or, more likely, don't realize that they do and still are bogged down by the old methods of discourse. But in these cases all your likely to do is confuse people who don't understand their own premises and the constrictions of their language...you're not likely to win them over by using language that doesn't fit with their world view.

      January 28, 2013 at 4:00 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      "You surely understand that you are making the argument from modernity do you not?"

      And why is that a problem?

      January 28, 2013 at 4:09 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      "I often hear from abortion advocates that people have nearly uncontrollable seexual impulses which abortion and contraception allow them to indulge. Cheesy seems to ascribe to this thought line."

      Bill,

      Of course people "can" control their urges....it is not a questions of "can" it is a question of "will they" control them. Look at it this way, pedophile preists have every incentive (moral, legal, threat of everlasting punishment, social stigma, ect) to control their desire for r@ping children and yet they choose to do it anyway. And you think overly hormonal teenagers are going to pick the best choice? I am going to teach my daughter that s.e.x should reserved until adulthood, but i am not going to stick my head in the sand and hope she makes the right choice. I am going to give her all the information possible so that if she does indulge in s.e.x it does not turn into a bigger problem than it needs to be...

      January 28, 2013 at 4:33 pm |
    • Maybe

      I've been following this tread, lurking. Just playin the devil's advocate. Maybe we should allow people to raise their children as they see wish, and leave all s.e.x education and moral stuff to the parents. Then S.o.C can teach his/her kid to be a prude and Tom can teach his/her kid to be as open minded. S.o.C tellng Tom what to teach his/her kid is bad. Tom telling S.o.C what to teach his/her kid is bad. Im on the fence here. What IF the school district, government, everyone just kept totally totally quiet 'bout sensetive topics like this?

      January 28, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
    • RCC Dogma

      Do not under any circu-mstance allow Billy D. or his ilk provide s-ex education to your children or any children, they may grow up to be screwed up priests or nuns, and get none, so to speak.

      January 28, 2013 at 5:30 pm |
    • RCC Dogma

      Bill Deacon considers himself a man of honor, not the priestly kind but the Mafia kind, hard to tell the diference.

      January 28, 2013 at 5:38 pm |
    • Maybe

      Mr/Mrs RCC Dogma is as bad as S.o.C. Billy D. is 100% equipped to give s.e.x education to his children. It is his right and privilege. His doing so will not cause them to grow up to be "screwed up priests or nuns" any more than your teaching your children will cause your kids to grow up "without morals" like S.o.C brays. Behave!

      January 28, 2013 at 6:08 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      "What IF the school district, government, everyone just kept totally totally quiet 'bout sensetive topics like this?"

      Maybe,

      What other "sensitive" subjects are we going to avoid? Evolution, can we teach about flowers procreating? How about Hippos? Where are you going to draw the line? Se.x is a public health issue and avoiding it is not doing our children or ourselves any favors and is in fact making it worse. If someone doesn't want their children "exposed" to sensitive subjects they can home school or send them to a parochial school.

      January 28, 2013 at 8:15 pm |
    • Maybe

      We can make s.e.x education optional for those who want to give different values to their kids.

      January 28, 2013 at 9:57 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      It already IS optional. No kid can be forced to participate in a s3x ed class. Parents can opt them out.

      As for "different values," schools present factual information. They're not in the business of promoting teenage s#x.

      January 28, 2013 at 10:04 pm |
    • SoldierOfConscience

      I tell my kids that s3x even w/ c0ndoms can give them AIDS. that the c0ndom industry is covering it up so they can get all kinds of resources that tells them otherwise. Not interested in the truth. scare them silly I say.

      January 28, 2013 at 10:26 pm |
    • LinCA

      @SoldierOfConscience

      You said, "Not interested in the truth. scare them silly I say."
      How utterly unsurprising.

      January 28, 2013 at 10:29 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      "Not interested in the truth. scare them silly I say."

      And when they figure it out they will not trust anything you told them....good....I hope you lie to them every day.

      January 28, 2013 at 11:23 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.