May 24th, 2014
06:00 PM ET

Atheists in the Bible Belt: A survival guide

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Editor

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Raleigh, North Carolina (CNN) – Back home, they erase their Internet histories, look over their shoulders before cracking jokes and nod politely when co-workers talk about church.

But in a hotel ballroom here on a recent weekend, more than 220 atheists, agnostics, skeptics and freethinkers let it all hang out.

The convention was called “Freedom From Religion in the Bible Belt,” and it was part celebration of skepticism and part strategy session about surviving in the country’s most religious region.

They sang songs about the futility of faith, shared stories about “coming out” as nonbelievers and bought books about the Bible – critical ones, of course.

“Isn’t it great to be in a room where you can say whatever you want to whomever you want without fear of anyone criticizing you for being unorthodox?” asked Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, as he opened the two-day convention.

The Wisconsin-based foundation co-sponsored the event with the Triangle Freethought Society, which draws its members from this state’s tech-heavy Research Triangle.

The nonbelievers came from as far afield as Ireland and France, but most described themselves as refugees from the heart of the South - atheist anomalies amid fiercely devout friends, family and neighbors.

We wanted to know what it’s like to be a nonbeliever in the Bible Belt, so over the course of the weekend we asked some of the folks here to share their secrets.

They had a lot to say, and some of their advice overlapped, but we came away with eight top tips. Some said they wished they’d had something like this list when they began their foray into religious infidelity.

So, without further ado, here’s a “survival guide” to being an atheist in the Bible Belt:

You may be lonely, but you aren’t alone

Not so long ago, every other letter sent to the Freedom From Religion Foundation would begin something like, “I’m the only atheist in Nebraska … “

It’s still lonely being an atheist in rural America, says Annie Laurie Gaylor, the foundation’s co-president, but there are plenty of skeptics and nonbelievers in God’s Country – if you know how to find them.

Even the most religious states like Mississippi and Alabama have secular meetup groups, although many keep quiet and require long drives to attend.

Gaylor’s favorite story about the secretive lives of Bible Belt atheists involves two neighbors in Georgia whose jaws dropped when they saw each other at an atheist gathering. Each had assumed that the other was a good, God-fearing Baptist.

“They were afraid to speak out," she says, "because they didn’t want to be stigmatized.”

Gaylor recommends looking online for atheist support groups in your area; and be sure to search for related terms as well: agnostic, freethought, skeptic and nonbeliever.

It’s no fun debating fundamentalists

Bart Ehrman doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who backs down from a fight.

The University of North Carolina scholar often seeks them out, regularly debating the Bible and early Christianity with evangelicals and other experts.

But Ehrman told the atheists gathered in Raleigh not to bother arguing with fundamentalists.

“You can’t convince a fundamentalist that he or she is wrong,” he says.

Their theology is a closed system, according to Ehrman, and their social bonds with fellow fundamentalists are too tightly knit to admit any wiggle room.

“You can point to any contradiction in the Bible and it just doesn’t matter. They will either find some way to reconcile it or say that even if they don’t understand it, God does.”

Technically, the term fundamentalist refers to a movement of 20th-century Protestants who rejected modernity and clung to a literal interpretation of the Bible.

But Ehrman has a different definition: “Someone who is no fun, too much damn, and not enough mental.”

People will think you worship Satan

Many Americans don’t actually know any professed atheists, according to surveys - which means they often seem to assume the worst about them.

Fewer than half of Americans say they’d vote for an atheist politician; a similar number say they wouldn’t want their children to marry a nonbeliever.

A recent study also showed that businesses in the South are more likely to discriminate against atheist job candidates.

“I don’t know what they think we are, Satanists or baby eaters or who knows what,” activist Todd Stiefel told the atheists gathered in Raleigh, “but it’s kind of scary."

A recent survey conducted for Stiefel's new “Openly Secular” campaign found that 20% of Americans can’t even define atheism. Far more don’t know what “humanist,” “freethinker” or “agnostic” means.

Behold, the six types of atheists

Based on “It Gets Better” and other gay rights campaigns, “Openly Secular” hopes to counter that ignorance by asking atheists to share stories online about their lives and beliefs.

“What we’re really trying to do is humanize us,” Stiefel says. “Frankly, most of the hate and distrust comes from misunderstanding about who we are.”

You don’t have to convince your friends, family and neighbors to accept all of your views, the atheist activist says. You just have to get them to accept you.

Sometimes it’s better to stay in the closet

After secular conferences like the one here Raleigh, many nonbelievers get so jazzed that they rush home and blurt out … "Guess, what? I’m an ATHEIST!!!"

That can be a really bad idea, says Sarah Morehead, executive director of Recovering From Religion.

It may help the atheist movement as a whole to share your lack of faith with friends and family. But it’s not always the best - or the safest - move for you, she says.

Recovering From Religion’s online support groups are filled with stories about people who lost their jobs, their kids or their spouses after coming out as atheist, Morehead says.

“It’s heartbreaking. People don’t realize how big a difference expressing their nonbelief can make.”

Recovering From Religion recommends having a plan in place before coming out as atheist.

“If you decide you’re a nonbeliever,” Morehead says, “you’re still going to be a nonbeliever in a year."

The group’s own 10.5-step plan includes creating a support network, declining to get into debates and preparing yourself for a “religious breakup” with friends and family. (The half-step assures budding nonbelievers they don’t have to be experts on atheism and points them toward educational resources.)

Don’t be the ‘office atheist’

Candace Gorham says her close family is accepting of her atheism - but she’s not completely “out” at work yet, and doesn’t know if she wants to be.

Gorham, who was raised in the black church, says religion is deeply embedded in the lives of many Southern African-Americans, and the borders between private and public spirituality often blur.

“I work for a black-owned company, and most of my supervisors are black females, and it’s just sort of OK for everybody to talk about God, or offer to pray for you,” says Gorham.

The 33-year-old is author of a new book called “The Ebony Exodus Project,” about black women leaving the church, which has pushed Gorham herself to become more public about being an atheist.

Recently, a co-worker told Gorham she had seen her talking about being an atheist on Roland Martin’s television show.

“I was like, Oh my God, shhh don’t tell anybody!”

A mental-health counselor who works with children, Gorham worries that people will stop referring clients to her once they find out she’s a nonbeliever.

According to a survey Stiefel presented in Raleigh, more than 50% of Americans believe atheist teachers and day-care employees - people who, like Gorham, work with children - are likely to face discrimination at work.

She knows it's only a matter of time until more of her office mates find out.

“It’s getting to a place where I don’t have a choice. I’m just going to have to be comfortable with it - but it does concern me.”

The Internet is your frenemy

A co-worker isn’t the only person who saw Gorham talking about atheism on television.

Her aunt read about the Roland Martin interview online, which led Gorham’s mother to call and ask if she is really an atheist.

The conversation went well, Gorham says, and her mother understands and respects her beliefs.

But the unexpected disclosure shows why many atheists cover their Internet tracks, even as they increasingly look for like-minded communities online.

Gorham says she used to delete her browsing history on her laptop after watching atheist debates and lectures online lest her husband or other family members find out her faith was wavering.

“I was still early in my deconversion and I wasn’t sure how he would perceive it,” says the Greensboro, North Carolina, native.

Others here for the conference said they keep two separate Facebook pages, one for friends and family and one for their secular communities.

“Facebook is my happy place,” says one middle-aged woman who made a nearly seven-hour drive to Raleigh from Crossville, Tennessee.

The woman, who didn't want to be identified, teaches at public schools. She says most of her neighbors and co-workers are Christians.

“Crossville is a small Bible Belt community with churches on every corner,” she said, “and everything shuts down on Sunday except for Wal-Mart and the hospital.”

Most co-workers assume she’s Christian, but she joins as many atheist groups online as she can and keeps an anonymous Facebook page called “Within Reason.”

One recent post asks people to click “like” if they’ve ever been unfriended because of an atheism-themed status update.

Some people take Bible-thumping literally

Adults may face more real-life repercussions for coming out as atheist in the Bible Belt, but that doesn’t mean kids have an easy ride.

Kalei Wilson, 15, says she lost friends after trying to start a secular student club at Pisgah High School in Canton, North Carolina; and someone used a Bible to destroy her science project, leaving the holy book on her smashed model of the universe.

The blue-haired, nose-pierced freshman says she’s not the only atheist at her high school, but most of them are closeted.

“I didn’t want to come out at first,” Wilson says, “but in order to start the club I had to.”

In exchange for her openness, Wilson says, some students mutter "Jesus loves you” as she walks down the hall, and she regularly receives text messages with the greeting, “Hey, Satan.”

“I’ve lost friends because of it,” the teenager says of her atheism, “but they’re not real friends if that’s what they do.”

Have a sense of humor

For all the heartbreaking stories, if was there was a soundtrack to the conference in Raleigh, it would include a lot of laughter.

It seemed as if the atheists and freethinkers here had been storing their sharpest religion jokes for weeks, preparing for the day when they would find an appreciative audience at last.

“I’ve been living in the South for 13 years,” says Pat Meller, who came to Raleigh from nearby Greensboro, “and I’ve had to watch my tongue for just as long.”

So for two days, Meller and her kindred spirits cut loose.

They quipped about the folly of prayer, bought bumper-stickers calling the Bible a “Grim Fairy Tale,” and wore T-shirts proclaiming their belief in life before death.

Harry Shaughnessy, president of the Triangle Freethought Society, played the cut-up emcee for much of the weekend.

“For every activist-oriented event we have, we want to have three to five things that are just fun,” says Shaughnessy, whose group holds regular “Heathen Happy Hours” and meets for barbecues in each other’s homes.

At one point, the youthful 44-year-old donned a crown and a form-fitting, skin-colored costume to bestow Freedom From Religion’s “Emperor Has No Clothes” award on Steifel for his activism.

Perhaps appropriately for an atheist event, Shaughnessy’s get-up left little to the imagination.

- CNN Religion Editor

Filed under: Atheism • Belief • Black issues • Church and state • Culture wars • Discrimination • Internet • Lost faith • Nones • North Carolina • Prejudice • Religious liberty

soundoff (4,807 Responses)
  1. tunaman

    We are a nation of whiners. If it's not the Christians crying about a "War on Christmas" it's now the atheist moaning their imaginary plight. Give it a rest!

    May 25, 2014 at 8:14 am |
    • igaftr

      imaginary plight?

      The Blue Laws aren't imaginary.
      the exclusion of all atheists from the Pledge of Allegience when it was hijacked and changed by the christians by adding a reference to THEIR belief...is not imaginary.
      the laws still on the books EXCLUDING atheists from holding office in many states...is not imaginary.
      The law in Arkansas, preventing atheists from testifying in court...is not imaginary.
      The christians hijacking the national motto, turning it into the LIE they print on OUR money...is not imaginary.

      What "imaginary plight" are you talikng about?

      May 25, 2014 at 8:38 am |
    • danab1234

      The only thing imaginary is their invisible man in the sky who makes people out of ribs, the universe in a week, and other nonsense.

      May 25, 2014 at 9:12 am |
    • spacelasers

      The article you're commenting on gives many examples of the difficulties atheists face. There is no "imagined" plight. It is quite real.

      May 25, 2014 at 1:24 pm |
  2. dwhulk23

    Lets just say you are right. We both live a pretty good life, we pass, nothing happens. Let just say I am right. One of us is going to be in serious trouble. Most people disbelieve the bible because they don't understand it, like a baby trying to eat meat, a baby can only take milk. Here is some help for my loved athiest, Pasture Rick Warren has a book out called "Purpose Driven Life" It can enlighten you a bit. I am a Christian, Jesus has changed my life in so many ways you would not believe. There are people who can change, need change, and hope!! I love all of you in this post, we are all equal through the eyes of the lord!! Hows that for Christian??

    May 25, 2014 at 8:10 am |
    • mc_hale

      You need to understand – keep your briefs to yourself.

      May 25, 2014 at 8:23 am |
    • seedenbetter

      Let's say the Muslims or Jews are right and you've been following a false god all this time. You're going to be in deep shit.

      May 25, 2014 at 8:26 am |
      • dwhulk23

        Can Muhammed do this? Luke 21:20 (NIV) "When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, you will know that it's desolation is near. Mark 13:23 (NIV) "So be on your guard, I have told you everything ahead of time." Stars will fall from the sky, and you still will not believe. There is truth and life in Gods Word (HOLY BIBLE). Read it, believe it, live by it. There's no other way. Again, you have the right voice your belief, but I do not have the right? Who is being victimized here?

        May 25, 2014 at 8:47 am |
        • seedenbetter

          You answer by quoting some bronze age text written by sheep herders? That is as meaningless to me as the book of Mormon is to you.

          May 25, 2014 at 9:31 am |
        • fintronics

          My imaginary god is more powerful than your imaginary god.

          May 28, 2014 at 1:35 pm |
      • dwhulk23

        BTW I did not single your post out, I just wanted to be at the top of the forum. My apologies.

        May 25, 2014 at 8:49 am |
    • G to the T

      " Jesus has changed my life in so many ways you would not believe"

      I absolutely would. Like many non-believers I used to be a christian. I can remember the glow of certainty, not necessarily of what was going on but KNOWING that there was someone who did.

      I am no longer so arrogant.

      May 25, 2014 at 8:39 am |
      • dwhulk23

        I guess you joined a lodge. Bahah, You can't serve two masters.

        May 25, 2014 at 9:41 pm |
        • G to the T

          Ah, you're a troll. Forgive me, I thought you were to actually have a discussion, not type one-handed while you're other is occupied...

          May 26, 2014 at 4:06 pm |
        • dwhulk23

          You will have to forgive me, I had to google the word troll. I rarely get on any chat website or blog. I am a very real person, with a real message here. I hope you take what I say serious and not some mumbo jumbo. I actually enjoy talking to some of you you guys. Take care.

          May 27, 2014 at 6:54 pm |
        • G to the T

          "I guess you joined a lodge. Bahah, You can't serve two masters."

          This is not a reasonable response to what I stated. I shared with you some details about my history and you reduced it to a snide remark. "Bahah" indeed.

          If you are here to discuss, then discuss. What you provided was vapid and without merit.

          May 28, 2014 at 10:06 am |
        • gulliblenomore

          GT....they rarely do provide decent discussion points.

          May 28, 2014 at 10:17 am |
    • jerkpork

      " Most people disbelieve the bible because they don't understand it"

      Really? Please tells us about the study you conducted that led to this conclusion.

      May 25, 2014 at 8:41 am |
    • TruthPrevails1

      Pascals Wager fails again. Such a weak, lazy stance to take.

      May 25, 2014 at 8:48 am |
    • FranticRed

      Incorrect – most people do not believe the contents of the Bible because there is no proof, much of it is consistent, and a great many of it's "believers" choose to carry on their lives in violation of its precepts without any sort of correction from either their god or other followers of their faith. It most certainly is not a lack of understanding – to indicate that because you have faith (which is not the same as knowledge) you have understanding while another who does not have faith likewise does not have understanding smacks not only of arrogance, but of ignorance as well.

      May 25, 2014 at 8:50 am |
    • inkblot12014

      I'll be sure to prey for you, Xian.

      Just love how everyone who's wrong is damned in the eyes of the Christians. And, I especially love their pity that we're all going to burn in hell for our simple lack of blind faith in something that has provided no substance nor validity in our lives. Perhaps Jesus has given you a sign. Or, perhaps you need some form of psychological studies conducted.

      In billions upon billions of solar systems, people are still clinging on to the geocentric views and the "God loves us because we're special" nonsense.

      May 25, 2014 at 8:52 am |
    • ediebeatscancer

      That is just so condescending and arrogant. Many atheists were once as 'religious' and self righteous as you but came to realise that the delusion of faith is not a path to truth.

      May 25, 2014 at 8:56 am |
    • MidwestKen

      Isnt that a bit condescending to assume that non-believers just "don't understand" the Bible? Perhaps it is that believers just don't understand logic and reason? Your use of Pascal Wager is evidence of that.

      May 25, 2014 at 8:59 am |
      • dwhulk23

        I apologize, I am not on here to argue with anyone, just stating my belief while we still have freedom of speech. Thank you for you comments. This was a great country at one time, our founding fathers, in God we trust. Look at it now.

        May 25, 2014 at 9:25 am |
        • G to the T

          Based on your comments it appears you anticipate a time when free speech will not be available.

          " This was a great country at one time" I would also be curious as to when you thought this was and why?

          Last note – "In God we Trust" is a modern convention (added in the 50's in response to "godless communism") – the original motto on the money was "Mind your business". A much better slogan in my mind.

          May 25, 2014 at 9:48 am |
        • MidwestKen

          I was initially going to say "no problem", but you don't seem to be sincere.

          "Thank you for you comments. This was a great country at one time, our founding fathers, in God we trust. Look at it now."

          You say you don't want to argue and the seem to be claiming that the US has deteriorated since removing God, seemingly, in opposition to what the founders intended.

          1) Any deterioration, if real, is not traceable to a lack of God. Remember that correlation does not equal causation.
          2) "In God we trust" was added to the pledge and money in the 50's (that's 1950's) in response to Communism and McCarthyism, not as you seem to imply by the founders.

          If you want to debate, that's fine but feigning an apologetic att.ittude doesn't help.

          May 25, 2014 at 11:52 am |
        • sam stone

          dwhulk: can you point out when in this nation's history the utopia you described existed? was it when we could own other people? was it during the good old lynchin' days? how about when a husband could legally r-a-p-e his wife?

          May 25, 2014 at 3:04 pm |
  3. jls639

    My tips from growing up as an atheist in the Bible belt:
    1. Graduate high school. A lot of high school students are jerks.
    2. See step one. After high school, the number of jerks drops a lot and people rarely bother you.

    May 25, 2014 at 8:09 am |
    • igaftr

      IN arakansas, an atheist is not allowed to testify in court, in several states, atheists are not allowed to hold public office.
      There is a lie on our money, and atheists are excluded from the PoA.

      All of these things were done by people AFTER high school. Ignoring it is not an option. Ignoring it, leads to MORE.

      May 25, 2014 at 9:05 am |
  4. jcs6

    Just don't bring Jesus up. Or any imaginary fables people actually believe. Or politics. I haven't met a republican in Texas that wasn't in love with Jesus. There are crazy people out there you have to deal with. They have an imaginary friend that they talk to – as adults. But you have to live, work and play amongst them. If you can avoid bringing up the fact that they're technically insane, everyone will get along fine.

    May 25, 2014 at 8:05 am |
    • dubiago

      ...or maybe you could give up your own prejudices and show them how it's done...

      May 25, 2014 at 8:15 am |
      • inkblot12014

        Interesting – your incorrect use of the word "prejudice, as in to pre-judge.

        How is it prejudice if what the individual encountered has actually occurred and these people they're talking (unlike Jesus) actually exist?

        May 25, 2014 at 8:55 am |
    • benhoody

      It must be horrible living with such hate.

      May 25, 2014 at 11:58 am |
      • jcs6

        Well yeah, but Christians are like that....full of hate.

        June 3, 2014 at 2:17 pm |
        • kermit4jc

          you being general..or all Christians full of hate?

          June 3, 2014 at 4:31 pm |
        • Dalahäst

          I'm sure he meant some Christians are full of hate. Suggesting all Christians are full of hate is not true.

          June 3, 2014 at 4:39 pm |
  5. jsharp861

    Since the Bible and the church are obviously mistaken in telling us where we came from, how can we trust them to tell us where we are going?

    Not me, that book is so wrong about so many things.

    May 25, 2014 at 8:00 am |
    • dwhulk23

      Lets just say you are right. We both live a pretty good life, we pass, nothing happens. Let just say I am right. One of us is going to be in serious trouble. Most people disbelieve the bible because they don't understand it, like a baby trying to eat meat, a baby can only take milk. Here is some help for my loved athiest, Pasture Rick Warren has a book out called "Purpose Driven Life" It can enlighten you a bit. I am a Christian, Jesus has changed my life in so many ways you would not believe. There are people who can change, need change, and hope!! I love all of you in this post, we are all equal through the eyes of the lord!! Hows that for Christian??

      May 25, 2014 at 8:13 am |
      • jsharp861


        I do not need a boogeyman to act responsibly. Nor am I going to "hedge" my bets like some small child in "case" I am wrong.

        That is a sophmoric argument that has no place in this conversation.

        Save that one for the little children on Sunday. I am a critical thinker.

        May 25, 2014 at 8:36 am |
      • jsharp861

        You quoted that slime preacher.

        god help you little person.

        keep reading his book. it will probably work for you.

        May 25, 2014 at 8:37 am |
      • nepawoods

        "Lets just say you are right. We both live a pretty good life, we pass, nothing happens. Let just say I am right. One of us is going to be in serious trouble."

        The problem with that argument is it presumes only two possibilities: No God, or a God who punishes non-believers. A God who punishes non-believers would be evil, and therefore not trustworthy. If such a God exists, I wouldn't presume only one of us will be in serious trouble. A third possibility is a God who rewards those who use their capacity for reason, and who punishes those who make Him out to be an evil schmuck, as you do.

        May 25, 2014 at 10:00 am |
        • lotus10

          @nepawoods – The best post I've read so far. Well said!

          May 25, 2014 at 10:28 am |
    • dubiago

      The Bible is a metaphysical guide, not a science textbook. Why can't both sides see this?

      May 25, 2014 at 8:17 am |
      • igaftr

        metaphysical...otherwise meaning no base in reality.
        Too many believers think it is real, and pass laws against those who don't believe.

        May 25, 2014 at 8:44 am |
      • nepawoods

        Both sides? This 'metaphysical guide' drives people to pass laws against science education.

        May 25, 2014 at 9:54 am |
  6. samsstones

    The mental gymnastics and word games you play are quite cute. Lets try and make it simple for you. Theism is a belief based on faith in the existence of a god or gods. Atheism is having no faith or belief in a god or gods, they do not exist other than in the minds of the believers. Deism, who the hell knows, but I will observe the universe and nature and maybe someday find a reasonable explanation for a creator; in the mean time I certainly do not believe in a personal god that looks down on me to ensure I wipe my ass correctly.

    May 25, 2014 at 7:58 am |
  7. jvance83

    Christianity is at heart an evangelical religion, spreading the word is an inherent responsibility. This is not a demand made to members of most other mainstream religions. The intent may be good, but the effect can be perniciously oppressive as it requires an implicit assumption by the proselitizer that he or she is in a position of inherent moral superiority. This is an invalid assumption.
    The Sermon on the Mount is the last word in Christian ethics, and if all the world lived by those tenets it would be a wonderful world indeed. But there are other ways to achieve and maintain goodness and felicity with our fellow man that do not require swearing an oath of fidelity – or hostility – towards any religion.

    May 25, 2014 at 7:46 am |
  8. somersetcace1

    I lived 15 years in the bible belt, and aside from some over zealous Christians trying to convert me, I never had a problem. Probably because I don't care how people choose to define meaning in their lives. So long as we agree on how to lie together peacefully, I couldn't care less. I didn't have to hide who I was. I just had to understand that not everyone sees the world the way I do.

    May 25, 2014 at 7:42 am |
    • samsstones

      On purpose or Freudian slip, but living with all those fundies it would be imperative "to lie together peacefully", of course that is their MO.

      May 25, 2014 at 8:02 am |
    • jsharp861

      I agree for the most part, I have lived quite a bit of my adult life in the south, never had a problem.

      I mean there are still traditional practices based in Religion which are childish and annoying. Like alcohol not being sold before noon on Sunday. This can be annoying when you leave for the beach on Sunday at 10 and stop off to buy beer for the group.

      But there are really dangerous ones as well. The anti-science movement in Texas and Louisiana is based solely on the fact of evolution and the fact that it contradicts many religious beliefs. The religious are trying to get their religious text book with so many obvious inaccuracies taught in public schools as a counter position to science. This is frightening.

      Teaching our children to be stupid because life has proven your religious beliefs wrong is morally repugnant.

      You always have to be on guard with the christians they will always try to legislate their primitive beliefs on regular good honest decent people.

      May 25, 2014 at 8:15 am |
      • vancouverron

        "I agree for the most part, I have lived quite a bit of my adult life in the south, never had a problem."

        Sounds like you HAVE had a problem.

        May 25, 2014 at 8:53 am |
        • jsharp861

          Okay let me be more pointed. Never had a problem in the way I was treated or the way people reacted around me because I am an Atheist.

          But the political wing of this religious cult is in the south is very dangerous. They are very scary people trying to force their beliefs on everyone, while they smile and tell you their imaginary friend loves you. Just really creepy people.

          May 25, 2014 at 9:01 am |
    • zelda1975

      wear your lack of religion on your sleeve the same way christians profess their faith and you would have a problem, I can assure you of that. I have lived in the south most of my career and if I was as overtly atheist as the christians are christian I would be blackballed. I refuse to lie to people about my lack of faith, but when at work someone has asked what church I go to and I have told them I do not attend and that I do not believe I am treated like a freak and have had many of those people refuse association going forward. Not that I want to associate with a bible thumper, but there is a definite prejudice in the south for those who are atheist/different.

      May 25, 2014 at 10:39 am |
  9. Ron Travis

    It's great to hear that atheists congregate to talk about God, the church, Christians and sing songs that reflect those sentiments...

    Christians get together to discuss about their God given purpose in life and how they can be an effective change agent to make a positive impact in this world!

    Christian way of life > atheist reason.

    Go Christians, be everything God wants you to be, be a shining light in a dark world!!!

    May 25, 2014 at 7:41 am |
    • harlow13

      It's satisfying to pretend to be one of the good guys. It is fun to feel good about one's self. Perhaps it is a bit too easy and a bit too common. The truth is, Christians cast both light and darkness into our world, not unlike other religious groups.

      May 25, 2014 at 8:01 am |
      • dubiago

        True, but you must avoid prejudice and lumping them all in together.

        May 25, 2014 at 8:18 am |
    • jsharp861

      Blind faith is an ironic gift to return to the Creator of human intelligence.

      May 25, 2014 at 8:17 am |
  10. pourmonamijc

    “You can’t convince a fundamentalist that he or she is wrong,” he said. True. But that's true of pretty much anyone whether they are believers, agnostics or atheists. The problem? Most people lack the objectivity needed to assess the probabilities – The information and the expertise are out there if you seek with and open and objective mind. I am a believer and I agree with my atheist friends when it comes to a literal interpretation of the Bible. The problem? Sola Scriptura! It's been called an heresy since the XV century and that's exactly what it is.

    May 25, 2014 at 7:38 am |
    • grr82cu2

      Actually – calling 'Sola Scriptura' heresy is from Catholicism's battle with Martin Luther, not as you contend!

      Sola scriptura is not as much of an argument against tradition as it is an argument against unbiblical, extra-biblical and/or anti-biblical doctrines such as prayer to saints and to Mary, purgatory, indulgences, etc.

      May 25, 2014 at 8:12 am |
      • G to the T

        Sola Scriptura has caused more splintering of the christian belief than any other theological concept.

        What you are also saying is that any person can pick up any translation of the bible and know the will of god as well as those that helped write/compose the book in the first place. It would also require the end of continued revelation, with no good reason to suppose why...

        May 25, 2014 at 9:54 am |
        • grr82cu2

          It's not "Sola Scriptura" that is the cause of the problem of divisiveness in the Christianity "G to the T" – it's the resulting literal fulfillment of the Parable of "The Wheat & The Tares" (Wheat and Weeds = Matthew 13: 34-30)

          May 25, 2014 at 11:32 am |
        • G to the T

          Sorry but at this point I'd say we're out of wheat.

          Either way, what you say doesn't disprove what I was saying. You only provide another mechanism at work "behind" the splintering.

          May 25, 2014 at 11:39 am |
        • pourmonamijc

          Absolutely, 40 000 different protestant denominations in the US alone and counting. That’s why Sola Scriptura is considered a major heresy; it is playing the hand of the divider. And if grr82cu2 wants to oppose verses to point out his position I can give him 2 Timothy 4:3-4 and we can go on and on and on until we reach what conclusion? Futile! And you are right Sola Scriptura negates continued revelation. That’s why the Tradition (the deposit of continued revelation) and the Magisterium (the right interpretation of the Bible) are much needed and that’s what the Church has been saying all along since the 1500’s.

          May 25, 2014 at 1:31 pm |
  11. dcobranchi

    I moved to Fayetteville, NC for work back in 2005. The very first day I was asked what church I attended and had I found a "church home" yet. And then a couple weeks later my manager invited me and my family to his mega-church. Yes, it's pervasive.

    May 25, 2014 at 7:08 am |
    • coyotesayswhat

      The herd mentality is what is driving these people to "fit in". Stop caring what other people think of you. They are not supporting you. They are not your parents or your kids. As a 35 year veteran of being a transplant in the "belt". I have found that there is nothing of any value that a native of the belt can offer. Their education was sub-par. When they come to the door I tell them I am a witch and that its all physics baby! but I walk around with miss-matched socks and no bra and I do not care what they think. I never have. – I care what I think.

      May 25, 2014 at 7:28 am |
      • dubiago

        It's certainly not what drives me. I'm a Catholic in the south. We are few and far between, so I experience much of this evangelicalism that you do; many of them want to convert everyone to their own denomination, it seems, not just Christianity. I don't hold it against them, though I do find it kind of arrogant and annoying.

        May 25, 2014 at 8:22 am |
      • FranticRed

        The problem isn't so much caring what people think of you, it's caring how they will treat you when they find you don't attend a church. You do get looked down upon, and a fear that a super-religious boss might pass you over for promotion in favor of someone else simply because of your religion, or might find an excuse to fire you is palpable. Belief that someone is somehow less moral because they do not hold your faith is a real thing, and it is pervasive in the south – and many other places where people are hyper-religious. I agree that people can think whatever they want about you – it is a free country after all – however the minute that they start treating you as lesser we have a problem. We've had numerous civil rights fights over the lifetime of our nation to keep stuff like that from happening. If another becomes necessary, have no doubt that it will happen.

        May 25, 2014 at 8:57 am |
    • jls639

      I have been invited to churches, as well. I tell them I am an atheist and we move on to other topics. Mostly they are just being friendly.

      May 25, 2014 at 8:13 am |
      • G to the T

        Based on my own and the experiences expressed by others, I'd say you were lucky.

        May 25, 2014 at 9:55 am |
  12. Woody

    "A recent survey conducted for Stiefel's new “Openly Secular” campaign found that 20% of Americans can’t even define atheism."

    Many of the those 20% seem to be the fundy loonies that post on this blog. They just fail to understand that atheism is simply the lack of belief in deities or other related mythical characters such as Satan, so how is it possible for an atheist to be a "Satanist", as one of the people interviewed claimed the believers thought of non-believers.
    Remember, all of you newly free Bible Belters, "The price of progress is trouble". – Kettering

    May 25, 2014 at 3:29 am |
  13. kermit4jc

    “You can point to any contradiction in the Bible and it just doesn’t matter. They will either find some way to reconcile it> this is ridiculous...first of all..one has to PROVE a contradiction...atheists seem to blindly say "contradiction!" without actually looking at the text or even coinsidering the FACT it was written in a differnet language by people of a differebnt culture..that matters nothing to them...thus they can find a contradiction in just about anything...basically I see they are hypocritical to treat the Bible any differently than other pieces of literature

    May 25, 2014 at 2:56 am |
    • sam stone

      really, kermy? what other literature do you treat as the Word Of God (TM)?

      May 25, 2014 at 4:50 am |
      • harlow13

        Right on, Sam. I, for one, would expect greater clarity and profundity from the All-knowing Ruler of the Universe. I can improve the Bible in 20 seconds. "Thou shalt not enslave other humans." Boom! Done. What it is.

        May 25, 2014 at 8:09 am |
        • kermit4jc

          boy words of an ignorant fool..the Bible is very clear.....once one realizes it is NOT written by westerners in todays day and age and culture......you seem very culturally ignorant.....it wwas very clear back then...today if you want clarity..you must look at it from Jewish point of view from those times......

          May 25, 2014 at 4:12 pm |
        • kermit4jc

          also.it sounds like you don't wanna put any work into it..just be lazy.....

          May 25, 2014 at 4:13 pm |
      • kermit4jc

        irrelevant question...its about COMMUNICATION wise......try to read my post again..i made it very clear.....and anyways..even from God it STILL gets same treatment in reading (interpreting) as any other piece of literature..there are no special rules.....and as I pointed out..seems the atheists in the blog are the ones giving it special treatment....interpreting it differently, using different set of rules to interpret than from any other piece of literature

        May 25, 2014 at 4:05 pm |
        • fintronics

          "When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she will not be freed at the end of six years as the men are. If she does not please the man who bought her, he may allow her to be bought back again."
          Exodus 21: 7-8

          May 28, 2014 at 3:45 pm |
    • sam stone

      also, kermy, you take what was written for a long ago desert dwelling culture and apply it to 21st century man. why do you do that?

      May 25, 2014 at 4:53 am |
    • Reality

      And we still are waiting for you to peruse the references on the historic Jesus.

      May 25, 2014 at 7:02 am |
      • kermit4jc

        off topic....talking of Hitler earlier....you wanna do that...get on another thread....otherwise youre using red herrings

        May 25, 2014 at 4:08 pm |
    • nepawoods

      "basically I see they are hypocritical to treat the Bible any differently than other pieces of literature"

      Nobody makes ridiculous claims that other pieces of literature are the word of God.

      May 25, 2014 at 7:33 am |
      • G to the T

        He also neglects to acknowledge that this is exactly what most biblical scholars do, and that when they do, they most certainly find contradictions and/or factual errors in the bible.

        May 25, 2014 at 10:07 am |
    • worldlypatriotusaveteran

      I've been led to believe the Bible is the word of a God.

      If your God is as perfect, all-knowing, and omniscient as most believers claim, why would he be so imperfect and ignorant and FAIL to avoid ANY perceived mistakes or contradictions by readers?

      May 25, 2014 at 7:54 am |
      • dwhulk23

        Do you think it would be fair if everybody passed the test even if some decided not to do their homework?

        May 25, 2014 at 10:20 am |
    • harlow13

      "An eye for an eye" and "turn the other cheek" are contradictory.

      May 25, 2014 at 8:38 am |
  14. Sheik Yerbouti

    A line from "Clifford's Credo" by the 19th-century British mathematician and philosopher William Kingdon Clifford perhaps best describes the premise of freethought: "It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence."

    May 25, 2014 at 12:36 am |
  15. Sheik Yerbouti

    18 years in Oklahoma. Small redneck town, church on almost every corner.

    I was out of the closet at around 7 or 8 years old. I thought church and bible school were ridiculous and I said as much. In truth, I got hassled a lot more for having long hair tan being an atheist in high school. I never advertised being an atheist, but I never lied about it either.

    May 25, 2014 at 12:32 am |
  16. Vic

    The convention was called “Freedom From Religion in the Bible Belt,” ...

    They sang songs about the futility of faith, ...

    They quipped about the folly of prayer, bought bumper-stickers calling the Bible a “Grim Fairy Tale,” and wore T-shirts proclaiming their belief in life before death.

    That's the problem, that's all negative. How can someone's belief be just the opposition of another?! That's not bona fide.

    Also, the article mentions atheist activists and atheist activism events, that's an oxymoron, a paradox.


    The logical negative —which is a passive state— of Theism is Atheism. One can only be an atheist if he/she is passive. The moment you actively pursue the Atheism stance, it is automatically a belief system, hence non-theism or anti-theism.

    May 24, 2014 at 10:24 pm |
    • MidwestKen

      "That's not bona fide."

      No, it is not a belief you are right, but an organization to support others without belief is still valid. Also, while activism for non-belief may seem contradictory, activism for rational thought and separation of church and state is not, hence the "freethought society" and the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

      May 24, 2014 at 10:49 pm |
    • observer


      You are just playing silly games with words. If you want to play games, then "nonfiction" is negative, but it actually means "not NOT TRUE" which makes it true (a positive condition).

      Such attempts at making everything "black and white" seems typical of right-wingers. Are you one?

      May 24, 2014 at 10:52 pm |
      • MidwestKen

        Nonfiction. Nice analogy. Just like non-theism, "not not true".

        May 24, 2014 at 10:55 pm |
      • Vic

        'A' as in Atheism is not the equivalent of 'non' as in non-Theism, hence, Atheism is not the equivalent of non-Theism.

        I am a moderate, I relate to both sides of the aisle on issue by issue basis.

        May 24, 2014 at 11:13 pm |
        • observer


          Again, you are just PLAYING with words. If when the words were originally created, instead of "theism" it could have been just as easily called "non-reality" or "anti-reality".

          May 24, 2014 at 11:19 pm |
        • MidwestKen

          As I said "nice analogy", not nice definition. Technically, it would be "without not true", right? (kidding, mostly)

          Based on what are you considered moderate?

          May 25, 2014 at 12:10 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      "How can someone's belief be just the opposition of another?!"

      Apparently anti-war activists, slavery abolitionists, capital punishment abolitionists, anti-regime rebels in authoritarian states, etc. all have egg on their faces too. Because, really, what kind of a ridiculous person ever defines themselves by what they’re against?

      May 24, 2014 at 11:23 pm |
    • dandintac


      A few questions for you.

      1) How is someone not believing in something "not bona fide"? I'm going to assume you do not believe in any sort of elf or fairy. Is this "not bona fide"? Is this just all "negative"?

      2) Why do you feel the need to make a distinction between "active" atheists and "passive? I've seen believers make distinctions like this before–and unfortunately, judging from the context and their various vitriolic comments about atheists, it seems to be an excuse to hate, or hold on to stereotypes.

      3) Isn't this a false distinction, given that human beings are seldom either/or, but are usually shades of gray in-between anyway?

      4) What exactly do you mean by "active" with regards to atheists? I struggle with this, because there are not actions one needs to take to be an atheist. It IS passive, because there are no rituals to observe, no actions one must do, etc. By "Active" do you mean just speaking out and saying we do not believe in God on forums like this? Are we supposed to just shut up about our opinions on religion, otherwise we are "active" and "negative" and "not bona fide?" Would it be okay if we held Christians to that standard also? That they should not be "active"?

      May 25, 2014 at 1:14 am |
    • jsharp861

      That is the most childish post I have seen in a while. Trying to simple mindedly create the illusion that choosing not to believe in your silly god makes that belief a religion.

      Besides you are incorrect. We are all Atheists about 99.9% of the gods ever created by man on this planet.

      I am just an atheist about one more god than you.

      May 25, 2014 at 8:24 am |
  17. Doris

    oops – sorry for the double video – maybe this keyboard needs cleaning

    May 24, 2014 at 8:18 pm |
  18. thefinisher1

    Atheists are crying persecution as always. Poor whittle babies!! Nobody agrees with your atheism. Get over it.

    May 24, 2014 at 7:20 pm |
    • tallulah131

      Hey! Finny's here. I bet Sally shows up before too long. Both personalities like to travel together, after all.

      May 24, 2014 at 8:41 pm |
    • evolveddna

      finisher.".no one agrees with your atheism". you do not have to agree..just prove your selves right and that takes care of it. Batting zero so far.

      May 24, 2014 at 11:00 pm |
      • observer


        Do you really think he/she is sincere and an actual believer?

        May 24, 2014 at 11:03 pm |
        • evolveddna

          Observer... I absolutely do not think he/she is sincere..and the least likely to even hint at any proof. Occasionally I feed a troll out of compassion !

          May 24, 2014 at 11:45 pm |
        • observer


          It's sad when someone is so hung up on getting attention that they don't care if it's greatly negative. They can get help if they want.

          May 24, 2014 at 11:53 pm |
        • redzoa


          May 25, 2014 at 12:41 am |
    • jsharp861

      Well shut us up forever. Prove that your little little god exists. And we will all shut up.

      Isn't that easy....

      Oh wait, I forgot. Your little god doesn't exist so you will have to formulate a lot of mumbo jumbo to explain why you can not prove your god exists.

      Here is a little clue. There are approximately 4200 religions on earth today.

      They all share one common characteristic.

      They can not prove their god exists, lmfao

      May 25, 2014 at 8:27 am |
  19. Reality

    And a suggested Creed for this group:

    The Apostles'/Atheists’ Creed 2014: (updated by yours truly and based on the studies of historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven??

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of

    Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
    many semi-fiction writers. A descent into Hell, a bodily resurrection
    and ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    (references used are available upon request)

    May 24, 2014 at 6:40 pm |
    • lngtrmthnkr

      Think reality, would we still be having this debate 2000 years later if there was't something to it? Do you have such small regard for the intellect of over 2 billion people.? Things do not continue to flourish if there is not someone feeding it.

      May 24, 2014 at 6:53 pm |
      • realbuckyball

        Nope. 2000 is irrelevant. Many other religions lasted FAR longer then 2000 years. If length of time is the standard, Christianity falls flat. Oops. The argument over which one is right is FAR older than 2000 years. The ones that lasted the longest yu don't even know the names of.

        May 24, 2014 at 7:15 pm |
      • MidwestKen

        Atheism has been around just as long and in some ways longer.

        May 24, 2014 at 10:52 pm |
      • evolveddna

        ingtrmthnkr..2 billion plus intellects must be able to find some proof after 2000 yrs.. plus the intellects of the other believers of other gods and Prophets.. so far nothing... other than stories passed along from adult to child..using fear as a motivator.

        May 24, 2014 at 11:07 pm |
      • solesaver

        "Do you have such small regard for the intellect of over 2 billion people.?"

        Yes, I do and so do you if you think about it.

        World's population of Muslims is approx 1.6 billion. World's population of Hindus is approx 1 billion..... That's 2.6 billion people who's beliefs you are prepared to ignore.

        Meanwhile, Islam is growing, so I look forward to your conversion to Islam once their global 'score' passes the Christians.

        May 25, 2014 at 8:02 am |
        • lngtrmthnkr

          @sole ,no I don't ignore or write off those other religions, whatever flavor they choose to use to find meaning and purpose in life is ok in my mind.

          May 25, 2014 at 1:50 pm |
      • igaftr


        It is not so much a matter of not caring what 2 billion people think, it is more a matter that I understand how they think. People who want to believe something will convince themselves of it.
        This is why superst!tioons get started, why people do various things "for luck" like rabiits feet and four leaf clovers.
        It is the same reason peopleknock on wood, or throw salt over their shoulders. Somewhere enough people wanted to believe baseless nonsense, and those beliefs permeated the rest of society.
        The psychology of belief is fascinating, but it bolis down to people WANT to believe, so they will do incredible things to validate the belief, and convince themselves that what they believe is real.
        How many believers have told me the KNOW god is real, that they have PROOF, at least to themselves, but when you ask them how do they know it is their god, and not Satan tricking them, or how they eliminated any other possibility, they cannot answer, and tap dance away from the question. Not one of them knows if there are any gods, yet they will dig their heels in, and completely ignore logical questioning about their "knowing" god.
        These people WANT to believe, so their mind will do anything it can to placate that desire.

        May 25, 2014 at 8:18 am |
        • lngtrmthnkr

          igaftr, many people through the history of our world have had encounters with a devine being. You may not believe they were real and that would make you a normal skeptic. But for you to say no one knows for shure if God exists is I believe a false statement. How can you know what experiences people have had?

          May 25, 2014 at 1:57 pm |
        • igaftr

          Many people throughout history have CLAIMED to have had divine experiences. It really is amazing what people will convince themselves of, but not ONE has ever shown any "divine" anything, so to presume "divine" is simply leaping to an unjustified conclusion as to the nature of the experience. For all anyone knows, what they felt as "divine" could well have been Satan tricking them, but most likely was simply the self-delusion phenomena. It is easier to believe in something and accept what you WANT to believe, than to realize you do not know.

          May 28, 2014 at 10:35 am |
      • jsharp861

        We would not be having this debate if they could prove their god exists.

        And for 2,000 years they can prove nothing.

        Not one thing.

        May 25, 2014 at 8:29 am |
        • dwhulk23

          Mat 24:36-42 (NIV) "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. Therefore, keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come."

          May 25, 2014 at 9:00 am |
        • jsharp861

          Wow you posted something from that ridiculous book of contradictions.

          Not so smart are you.

          May 25, 2014 at 10:33 am |
      • nepawoods

        "would we still be having this debate 2000 years later if there was't something to it?"

        Hinduism is much older, and still alive. You believe that makes it true?

        May 25, 2014 at 9:50 am |
        • dwhulk23

          The devil have been around since the beginning of time.

          May 25, 2014 at 10:00 am |
        • G to the T

          "The devil have been around since the beginning of time."

          And what a loving god to relegate the majority of his creation to damnation for so long...

          May 25, 2014 at 10:39 am |
    • coyotesayswhat

      Plus we have seen the "he's not really dead." reaction thingy twice now in our lifetimes, once with Elvis fans, and once more recently with the people that felt that the late... well, you know, someone we all watched die. I think that is when I realized how these things get started. – Someone called me a humanist here once, and I did not even know what it was and had to look it up, but apparently I am a person who wants mankind to survive. (not sure about the men though if they are going to continue to create weapons) –

      May 25, 2014 at 7:37 am |
      • igaftr

        " well, you know, someone we all watched die"

        You mean Agent Phil Coulson, from S.H.I.E.L.D...millions watched him die, and then come back to life.

        May 25, 2014 at 8:22 am |
    • jsharp861


      May 25, 2014 at 8:27 am |
    • dwhulk23

      You cannot see the air that you breath out of your mouth, yet you believe its air. You need it to live. God works the same way.

      May 25, 2014 at 10:37 am |
      • igaftr

        yes we can "see" the air...Though it is invisible in the visual spectrum, it still can be seen.
        Not so with your god.
        I have not needed any god to live.
        Yes, we need air to live...but since you cannot show this god of yours to exist, you don't know if it is needed at all.

        May 25, 2014 at 11:01 am |
  20. kudlak

    Fundamentalist _ "Someone who is no fun, too much damn, and not enough mental.” Bart Ehrman

    Good one!

    May 24, 2014 at 6:10 pm |
    • sam stone

      fundamentalism: the fear that someone, somewhere is having more fun than you

      May 24, 2014 at 7:02 pm |
      • kudlak

        Or the fear that someone, somewhere likes something different than you do.

        May 25, 2014 at 1:59 pm |
        • Doris


          June 9, 2014 at 10:03 am |
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About this blog

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.