Who's Speaking to the Atheists at 50th Annual Convention?

PHOTO: American Atheists billboard
Anthony Behar/Sipa USA

This time "celebrating 50 years of reason," American Atheists Inc. today kicks off its annual national convention in Texas.

Founded in 1963 by the late atheist-activist Madalyn Murray O'Hair, the Cranford, N.J.-based nonprofit defines atheism "as the mental attitude which unreservedly accepts the supremacy of reason and aims at establishing a life-style and ethical outlook verifiable by experience and scientific method, independent of all arbitrary assumptions of authority and creeds."

READ MORE: Is Religion Good for Your Health?

The list of scheduled speakers for the four-day event in Austin is an interesting mix of supporters who include a heavy-metal guitarist, the first openly atheist congressman, a founder of Black Nonbelievers Inc. and a preacher-turned-atheist.

Here are a few of them.

American Atheists Convention

Former Rep. Pete Stark

The first member of Congress to identify publicly as an atheist, Pete Stark served his California constituents for 40 years until January. After acknowledging his nontheism in 2007, the Democrat, 81, joined with the American Humanist Association to introduced a resolution in Congress naming Feb. 12, 2011, as "Darwin Day." (Evolutionist Charles Darwin was born on Feb. 12, 1809.)

American Atheists Convention

Mandisa Thomas of Black Nonbelievers

Black Nonbelievers Inc. President Mandisa Thomas has her work cut out for her, given her mission to pull black atheists from the shadows of a community that has historically held religion in high regard.

"The more we make our presence known, the better our chances of working together to turn around some of the disparities we face. We are not alone," she says on the African Americans for Humanism website.

Thomas cites a childhood of reading stories about gods of different cultures, and noticing the "similarities and differences between those deities and the God of the Christian Bible. I couldn't help but wonder what made this God so special that he warrants such prevalence in today's society."

American Atheists Convention

Jay Jay French of Twisted Sister

Jay Jay French, lead guitarist and founder of heavy-metal band Twisted Sister, is scheduled to speak.

"We are thrilled to have Jay Jay French join us for our convention," American Atheists President David Silverman said in a statement. "Not only is Jay Jay a renowned guitarist but he is providing leadership as an atheist in the music industry and as a role model."

French, 60, born John French Segall in New York City, also founded the Pinkburst Project after his daughter was diagnoses with uveitis, an eye disease, to help find a cure.

American Atheists Convention

Former Minister Teresa MacBain

Preacher-turned-atheist Teresa MacBain lost her faith to the point of founding The Clergy Project, "a confidential online community for active and former clergy who do not hold supernatural beliefs."

MacBain, raised a conservative Southern Baptist, came out as an atheist at last year's American Atheists' convention in Bethesda, Md.

"My name is Teresa," she began, according to an NPR report. "I'm a pastor currently serving a Methodist church -- at least up to this point" -- the audience laughed -- "and I am an atheist."

After hundreds of people stood and applauded for more than a minute, according to NPR, MacBain, who's in her mid-40s, apologized to them for being "a hater."

"I was the one on the right track, and you were the ones that were going to burn in hell," she said. "And I'm happy to say as I stand before you right now, I'm going to burn with you."

MacBain, whose church was in Tallahassee, Fla., told NPR that her conversion began with too many questions to overlook, including conflicts in the Bible and the role of women.

"I just kind of realized -- I mean just a eureka moment, not an epiphany, a eureka moment -- I'm an atheist," she said. "I don't believe. And in the moment that I uttered that word, I stumbled and choked on that word: atheist."

American Atheists Convention

Hispanic Freethinker David Tamayo

David Tamayo is the founder of the Hispanic American Freethinkers, billed as the first and only such group for Latinos. He formed the group "out of concern for the lack of Freethought and critical thinking skills within the Hispanic community," according to his American Atheists biography. Among other things, the organization strives to promote "scientific criticism of the supernatural within the Hispanic community."

American Atheists Convention

Blogger Greta Christina

Author and blogger Greta Christina writes about a wide range of issues, but her blogs and titles about atheists appear to be among the most provocative, including "Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless" and "Everything You Know About God Is Wrong."

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