Seattle Atheists story in Seattle Magazine this month

Great story by Shannon O’Leary in the August edition of Seattle Magazine. Read the full story here.

Seattle’s Atheists Speak Out: A new public service campaign lets local nonbelievers come out of the closet

When I was growing up in Seattle in the 1970s, religion was still a mostly behind-closed-doors matter. Heated faith debates were as rare, and frowned upon, as indulging in political rants or gossiping about the divorced family in the neighborhood. It simply was not done. Not in polite company, anyway.

In those days, Seattle was famously regarded as one of the most unchurched cities in America. Today, much like any other major metropolitan area, megachurches are prominent here, and religion is overtly in our mix—from political figures (such as U.S. Representative Dave Reichert, who openly advertises his faith) to insomniac telecasts by local evangelist Casey Treat and town hall debates featuring charismatic Christian preacher Mark Driscoll of Seattle’s Mars Hill Church. This relatively new forthrightness of faith can be a social hazard for the uninitiated (like myself). For example, the time at a business lunch when a middle-aged companion suddenly became prostrate over his plate; fearing a cardiac episode, I worriedly inquired of his health only to learn he was in solemn pre-appetizer prayer. I couldn’t have been more startled.

I was even more surprised when Metro buses bearing overtly atheistic ads began touring the city in April, and this traditionally groundhog population suddenly popped into view. For eight weeks, some 80 ads in the form of pointed historical quotations were delivered up for public consumption. One ad quoted Susan B. Anthony: “I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.” (Imagine the bus-stop chatter that provoked.) The tagline by the ads’ sponsor, Seattle Atheists (seattleatheists.org), was “We Believe in You!” For polite, albeit progressive, Seattle, this mass-media atheism campaign was exotically in your face. (In keeping with the economic constraints of the day, however, it was exceptionally cost-conscious; the ads only cost about $400.)

It seems that our city has joined the nation’s growing atheism-empowerment movement. Although the number of avowed atheist Americans is small, according to a recent New York Times story on the trend, those admitting to a no faith base has almost doubled from 8 percent in 1990 to 15 percent in 2008, with an increase noted in all 50 states; during that same period, the tally of self-identifying Christians dropped from 86 percent to 77 percent. Also on the rise are local and national faith-free organizations, charitable donations to them and increasing public displays of disbelief, such as the bus ads, which began in London in January and quickly migrated to Canada and the United States. Widely credited for helping to bring the atheist message into the mainstream have been best-selling atheistic works by authors such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens.

About Amanda