Thousands of people are expect to descend on the Mall in Washington, D.C., on Saturday to celebrate not believing in God. It's being called a sort of "Woodstock for Atheists," a chance for atheists to show their power in numbers and change their image.Read the rest here.
The "Reason Rally" could attract up to 30,000 people; organizer David Silverman says it marks a coming-of-age for nonbelievers.
"We'll look back at the Reason Rally as one of the game-changing events when people started to look at atheism and look at atheists in a different light," Silverman says.
Silverman, president of American Atheists, says this is a celebration, with famous atheists like Richard Dawkins, funny atheists like Eddie Izzard, and musical atheists like the rock group Bad Religion, who sings about "a careless creation where there's no above ..."
But the main point of the rally, Silverman says, is not to tweak the faithful. It's to encourage closeted atheists to take heart.
"The message is that if you can come out, you can out come out," he says. "And if you can't come out, at least you'll know you're not alone, and maybe sometime soon you'll be able to come out of the closet to your family."
'Coming Out Of The Closet'
Silverman says this is their moment, as important to atheists as the Stonewall riots were to the gay-rights movement four decades ago. But fellow nonbeliever Hemant Mehta says it's not easy to reveal your nonbelief. Atheism has an image problem.
"Every time you hear the word atheist in the media, there's always an adjective before it," he says. "It's always angry atheist, militant atheist, staunch atheist. It's never happy, smiling atheist."
Mehta, who writes a blog called The Friendly Atheist, says openly dismissing God in the most religious country in the West requires courage: You risk losing friends, family and even jobs because of your nonbelief. In poll after poll, he says, people say they don't like atheists; one showed that people think an atheist is more likely to steal than a rapist.
"People have this notion that atheists are immoral, not trustworthy, unelectable," Mehta says. "How do you change that at such a huge level? It starts by people everywhere just coming out of the closet as atheists."
Mehta helps run an atheist charity, and he's been invited to megachurches, such as Willow Creek near Chicago, to explain why he doesn't believe in God. He says atheists need to take a page from the gay-rights movement: If people know and love an atheist, they'll be less likely to stigmatize them.