Godless in America

It's time for atheists to show some pride, says the Infidel Guy.

"I'm really trying to show people that it's OK that you don't believe," he says.

The Infidel Guy, whose real name is Reginald Finley, is one of a considerable number of nonbelievers who feel they are dismissed as an insignificant group on the fringes of society. "I believed for a long time that atheists were evil people," says Finley, who hosts a series of "Infidel Guy" Internet radio shows about atheism.

Spurred on in part by controversy over the Pledge of Allegiance, the religious tone of 9/11 remembrance services, some atheists appear ready to speak out.

This week, avowed atheist Darrell Lambert faces expulsion from the Boy Scouts for refusing to profess a belief in God but the 19-year-old Eagle Scout says he won't lie about his views on religion. On Saturday, the American Atheists are organizing a "Godless Americans" march on Washington to draw attention to the concerns of non-believers.

"There's a high level of activism now," says Ellen Johnson, the American Atheists' president. "Maybe it had to do with Sept. 11 … I never saw such activism and anger from nonbelievers to the way the government treated them."

A ‘Sept. 11 Effect’

For nonbelievers like Johnson, the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks was particularly troubling. The overtly religious tone of remembrance services failed to acknowledge that some Americans were horrified by the attacks, but did not believe in prayer or looking to God, she says.

Johnson and other atheists stress they understand that many people sought comfort in religion after 9/11. They wish people recognized that religion was not the only way to cope, however.

"It's just a frustration at saying that only through faith can people come together," says Jeremy Warach, a 38-year-old project manager in New York.

In addition to raising the profile of atheists in America, the marchers cite a number of hot-button political subjects, such as teaching creationism in schools, abortion, stem-cell research, and First Amendment issues of the separation of church and state.

"Religion and morality are separate issues," says Ed Buckner, executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism, which is participating in the march.

It is tough to shake the image of atheists as a fringe group, however. The Godless Americans march made headlines when it agreed to allow some Satanist groups to participate, on the grounds that they were not actually religious organizations.

Atheists Minding Their Own Business

To the frustration of activists among their ranks, most nonbelievers seem content to live their lives without going to First Amendment rallies or attending "freethinker" workshops.

"It doesn't really affect me enough in day-to-day life that you would want to join an organization to try to combat it," admits Ross Johnson, an Internet software consultant in Chicago who is a skeptic on religious matters.

"I'm not here to promote atheism … I don't need to fight with everybody," agrees Phil Leone, a 35-year-old bank credit manager who lives outside Philadelphia. Leone says out of deference to his wife, who is a practicing Catholic, both his children were baptized.

Many unaffiliated atheists like Pam Sellman cringe at the combative approach of America's most famous atheist, Madalyn Murray O'Hair, who said she was proud to be labeled the "most hated woman in America."

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