Given all the coverage of the New Atheist movement, I'm surprised we haven't seen more religion beat stories on average atheists. Peter Smith of the Louisville Courier-Journal wrote a story about local atheists and freethinkers a few weeks ago that has been getting republished throughout the country. It begins with an anecdote about a woman who experienced a feeling of euphoria when she became an atheist a few years ago:
Her experience is shared by others who are part of Louisville Atheists and Freethinkers, a loosely organized group that meets monthly in an upstairs room at Kaelin's Restaurant for burgers, drinks, discussions and fellowship. About 35 attended a recent meeting.
"We believe in living for this life and this world and using science and reason to understand the natural world better," said John Armstrong, one of the organizers.
They're part of an increasingly vocal minority of atheists, and other Americans who claim no religious affiliation, who are fighting the influence of religious groups on politics, schools and scientific research.
Even though atheists comprise a relatively small percentage of the population (2 percent), Smith looks at the larger group of religiously unaffiliated (16 percent) for his story.
The story has a political angle and notes that Democrats have pretty much a lock on the irreligious while Republicans fare better with those who worship regularly. He provides a local example of how that electoral breakdown works out. But it gets back to the more interesting personal stories, including that of Alan Canon, who says he grew up in a fundamentalist household:
"For people openly to say they're atheist is similar to gay people coming out," Canon said. "It's not popular at all for people to say they're atheist, especially in these parts."
Members of the Louisville Atheists and Freethinkers reflect the complexities presented in the Pew survey -- that people with no religious affiliation often have some religious practices.
Some meditate or practice Wiccan spiritual rituals, tied to the rhythms of nature.
Several belong to Unitarian Universalist churches, which have no theological creed but proclaim values of love, justice and truth-seeking.
"We do believe in spirituality," said David Cooper, 59, who belongs to Thomas Jefferson Unitarian Church. "It may not necessarily be a type of theistic spirituality."
It's wonderful to hear from people in their own words and it's nice that Smith showed the diversity of the religiously unaffiliated. Although I don't understand characterizing people like Cooper -- who is a member of a Unitarian church -- as being religiously unaffiliated. I think Pew permitted people to identify as Unitarian.
The other nice touch to the story was that Smith got feedback from religious groups about the growing numbers of unaffiliated. He spoke with a representative from the Kentucky Baptist Convention about how the church is working to reach the group. And here's another perspective:
The Rev. David Emery, pastor of Middletown Christian Church, recently led a sermon series on the recent atheist best-sellers.
While he criticized them for ignoring the positive work of religious people for social justice, he applauded them for raising issues of religious violence and the problem of suffering.
"The questions that these atheists raise are questions people of faith have also, that they haven't been given permission to ask," he said.
It's just a nice and civil piece about an undercovered group. Smith discusses the piece a bit here.