Sunday, December 23, 2012

Twelve Apostates - Omaha Atheists (And Other Local Groups)

I never actively sought out an atheist group to join.  When I joined the Omaha Atheists Facebook group, it was one of many atheist pages/groups I had liked/joined that day.  I didn't put enough thought into it to even realize it was a group who met in person.  I just joined the Facebook group & forgot about it.

A little bit later, I got an invite to the Facebook event for their New Member Meetup.  I was free then & curious, so i decided to check it out.  My first regular event was the May 21 (End of the World) picnic.  I was welcomed as part of the group immediately.  And it wasn't in that creepy cultish, "We're going to pretend to be nice until we dull your senses to the brainwashing that's coming" kind of way I get when I visit some churches.

It was a sincere welcoming that has persisted since.  It's done so because it's a community.  Several of my favorite people in the world are in that group, and I haven't even known them that long.  And many of them are people I could have already known but did not.  Many are gamers, like me.  So, we now have a monthly Game Night, and many of us meet more often to play the games we enjoy together.  Some worked at the same company as me, for as long as I have.

They're not just random people who happen to be in the same group as me.  They're my closest friends.  They're like family.  Many of them helped me move, without me even having to ask.  I've done the same for many of them.  It's a support structure, for both problems relating to religion and otherwise, both online and in person.  We've gone on vacations together, including sending more than 20 people to the Reason Rally.  We've also gone camping together multiple times, visited Kansas City to party with some KCAC folks, and gone to Skepticon as a group.

We have so much going on, with 3 events that each recur monthly and many more things going on, that we don't often go more than a week seeing each other.  And when we do go a week without seeing someone, it is noticed and they're told they've been missed.  Even with all the events, we still see each other on a regular basis in between them.

Like I said, we're a community.  It's a community I've not even been a part of 2 years yet, but it's certainly one I wouldn't want to go without.

As much as I care for Omaha Atheists, and the people of it, I don't think they're entirely unique.  I also think it's a good thing that we're not unique.  Hundreds of local atheist groups exist around the country and the world.  I've seen similar community from the other local groups I've interacted with so far.  

We're at a point where even just simply participating in an atheist group is itself activism.  It does a lot to normalize atheism.  I don't mean the groups make being atheist normal, as I already think it's normal.  But it's, sadly, not viewed that way by many people.  These groups provide the perfect evidence to show people they're wrong about us.  We're just like them, except for that one thing, and they already like us.  One excellent example of what I mean by this was given by JT Eberhard in his submission to the We Are Atheism project.

If you haven't found a group, I hope you will give it a try.  They can be found in a variety of ways.
  • See if your area has a Coalition of Reason, by visiting their website and using the tool they have right on the front page.  If your area has one, it will give you a list of the atheist groups in your area.
  • - Log in and search for groups in your area.  Searching for atheist usually does the trick, but some places do use other terms for their names such as "freethinkers", "secularists", "rationalists", "skeptics", "humanists".
  • Use the same search options I gave for Meetup in a Google search.

If you find your town doesn't have one, please start one.  It's incredibly easy to do, and your town (depending on its size) probably has more atheists other than just you.  Even though it often feels like you're the only one.  The Atheist Community of Austin was started with an ad in the newspaper.  But at the time, they didn't have such effective resources available via the Internet.  Start Meetup and/or Facebook group, and grow from there.

It will be worth it, I promise.

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