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Atheists create a Facebook page

What do you need to do to get featured in the New York Times? Just get a Facebook group of about 800 people, apparently. The website Stuff Journalists Like noted a trend of journalists who love the social network.

There are two types of journalists – those who use Facebook and those who don’t get Facebook. Those of the latter often dismiss cell phones and power car windows.

Not since the phone book has there been a tool journalists used more than Facebook.

Facebook is a favorite tool for journalists to find stories, and it just takes is a page to attract some attention. Last week, Bobby noted what looks like an increased number of puff pieces on atheists. His post nicely prepared us for the Times profile of black atheists, a group the paper just discovered and found it best to fit in front of Sunday's style section.

Ronnelle Adams came out to his mother twice, first about his homosexuality, then about his atheism.

“My mother is very devout,” said Mr. Adams, 30, a Washington resident who has published an atheist children’s book, “Aching and Praying,” but who in high school considered becoming a Baptist preacher. “She started telling me her issues with homosexuality, which were, of course, Biblical,” he said. “ ‘I just don’t care what the Bible says about that,’ I told her, and she asked why. ‘I don’t believe that stuff anymore.’ It got silent. She was distraught. She told me she was more bothered by that than the revelation I was gay.”

This is a fairly dramatic lead to the story that only serves as a mini anecdote with no further explanation. What was the path he took from considering being a Baptist preacher to becoming an atheist? From the opening, you might guess it has something to do with his sexuality, but the piece doesn't flesh that out, making the lead anecdote a lazy way to get into a flat story.

In the two years since, Black Atheists has grown to 879 members from that initial 100, YouTube confessionals have attracted thousands, blogs like “Godless and Black” have gained followings, and hundreds more have joined Facebook groups like Black Atheist Alliance (524 members) to share their struggles with “coming out” about their atheism.

Listen, a Facebook group of 879 members for something is basically nothing. I understand this is in the style section and may not need a hook, but framing the story with these numbers makes it seem like it's some sort of trend, when 800 really isn't that many for a place like Facebook.

While some black clergy members lament the loss of parishioners to mega-churches like Rick Warren’s and prosperity-gospel purveyors like Joel Osteen, it is often taken for granted that African-Americans go to religious services. Islam and other religions are represented in the black community, but with the assumption that African-Americans are religious comes the expectation that they are Christian.

This is stated with authority but with little to back it up. Why not attribute this to anyone?

Given the cultural pull toward religion, less than one-half of a percent of African-Americans identify themselves as atheists, compared with 1.6 percent of the total population, according to Pew. Black atheists, then, find they are a minority within a minority.

I don't doubt that this story is true. It would probably be difficult to be nonreligious--especially atheist--in a black community. It just annoys me that the Times would print something so obvious. If there were a mass trend towards atheism in the black community, I might find it more interesting. But nothing in the piece taught me anything new about faith, race or culture, and breaking new ground is where I would hope the paper would devote its resources.

Simple photo via Shutterstock.

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