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Imagine No Religion? Atheist Movement Gains Momentum

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is using quotes from famous atheists to spread the message in its national billboard campaign.

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And they get angry at us, I guess. But I think that there's a backlash against Dawkins, et al., and they don't deserve it. I think Richard Dawkins and all these people are doing a wonderful service. It's time to speak out and own our dissent from religion. And free thought is an intellectually respectable position. Religious people are the ones who should be on the defensive.

They're the ones who think there's a god. Well, they should prove it. They're the ones who think that the Bible is a holy book. Well, then, we might have to disagree.

And if they would confine it to their own homes and churches, that would be one thing. But when we are constantly fighting a battle against this campaign to inflict dogma in our law, that's a different thing.

That's why our group started. We were so fearful of the campaign to put dogma into our law, like abortion, gay rights and so on. Look how stem-cell research was held up, just because President Bush wanted to kowtow to the Catholic hierarchy.

That's so destructive of progress. It's that war between science and religion that we are continually having to refight. The fact that 50 percent of Americans reject evolution is a frightening figure. And we have a billboard on Darwin -- because it's his bicentennial year -- to fight that.

AlterNet: What do you think about more progressive religious leaders and groups that try to reconcile science and religion?

ALG: Well, we're all for that, if they understand that evolution should be taught in schools. We're not going into the churches, dragging people out of the pews. We're not going knocking on doors like the Mormons and everybody else. We're live and let live, to a certain point.

But, we do think that speaking out and reaching the masses through the mass media is a very powerful thing. Many people who join our group call and e-mail us and say, "I thought I was the only atheist in North Dakota." They feel so isolated. And they feel afraid to let their neighbors know they don't believe.

And we have a classic story out of Georgia, where we have this chapter in Alabama and they have a meeting every year that gets people from all across the country, especially the South, and there were two neighbors, who'd lived side by side for years, and both of them members of our group and not religious. And they never knew it until they saw each other at this meeting at our chapter because they were afraid of the reception, of being stigmatized, or turned into neighborhood pariahs.

And that's sort of a classic case of people, especially in the South, they don't know friend or foe. And they're afraid of the damage that can be done if they're known to not be religious. Especially if they have businesses. It's easier to be a free-thinker in San Francisco. Yet we think a lot of people in San Francisco recognize especially after Proposition 8 the harm of the religion lobby. There's a lot of anger about that. We hope they'll sign up.

AlterNet: There's a very popular argument nowadays that the aggressive atheism of Dawkins and Harris and Hitchens -- at least the way it's presented in the mainstream media -- hurts your cause because it alienates people. And your strategy is to also aggressively present atheist views. What do you think about that?

ALG: I think if people argue that Dawkins hurts the cause of atheism, they have not had the great pleasure of meeting him. Because he's an absolutely charming person. He's somebody whom people, when they hear him lecture, are abashed because they understand his scientific credentials. Maybe they think, "I can't go on talking about the spook in the sky that I believe in, in front of him." And that's good.