Why Atheists Have Become a Kick-Ass Movement You Want on Your Side
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This could easily have been a controversial effort. For one thing, the Honored Hero for the FBB in this year's Light the Night Walk is the recently deceased Christopher Hitchens -- a hero to many in the atheist movement, but a very controversial figure to many outside of it (and indeed, even to many atheists). But Hitchens' status as the FBB's Honored Hero is apparently not an issue. The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society is accepting FBB's partnership and generosity with open arms. And these efforts have been extremely effective. As of this writing, the Foundation Beyond Belief has already hit 50 LLS local teams -- halfway to the 100 team minimum goal. (By the way: If you were ticked off about the American Cancer Society thing, and you want to translate that anger into action? Participating in the FBB's Light the Night Walks in your area -- or starting an FBB LTN team in your area -- would be a great way to do that.)
And this isn't an isolated incident. In recent months, the atheist community has proven to be extraordinarily good at raising money, visibility, and support for people and causes that capture their imagination. And they have exceptional skills when it comes to fundraising and hell-raising on the Internet.
When high school atheist Jessica Ahlquist was being harassed, bullied and threatened by her schoolmates and community for asking her public school to enforce the state/church separation laws and take down a prayer banner from the school auditorium, the atheist community rose to her aid, with an outpouring of love, admiration, and emotional support... and a college fund totaling over $62,000. When high school atheist Damon Fowler was being harassed, bullied, and threatened by his schoolmates and community for standing up against prayer at his public high school graduation -- and was kicked out of his home by his parents -- the atheist community rose to his aid, with an outpouring of sympathy and support... and a college fund totaling over $31,000. When Camp Quest, the summer camp for children of non-theist families, was engaged in a major fundraising drive last year, several atheist bloggers (conflict of interest alert -- including me) teamed up in a fundraising contest involving a series of grandiose and increasingly ridiculous dares and forfeits, ultimately raising $30,074.80 for the cause.
Atheists aren't just raising money for their own, either. On Kiva -- the microlending organization working to alleviate poverty and empower people in need around the world -- the Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists and Non-Religious team is the #1 all-time leader in amount of money loaned... not just among religious affiliation teams, but among all the teams on Kiva . The Reddit atheist community raised over $200,000 for Doctors Without Borders last November, in a fundraising drive that came close to crashing Reddit with the traffic. The Foundation Beyond Belief has been supporting charitable and human rights projects for over two years -- well before the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society project began -- and to date has raised over a quarter of a million dollars to support human rights, the environment, education, child welfare, anti-poverty efforts, public health, and more.
And the power of atheist organizing extends beyond simple fundraising. To give just two recent examples: When preacher Sean Harris was caught on tape exhorting parents to beat their gay kids, the local atheist communities in the area immediately began sounding the alarm -- and rounded up activists to protest at the church the following Sunday. According to Priscilla Parker, President of Military Atheists & Secular Humanists, 27 of the Sean Harris protestors last Sunday were from secular/atheist groups. That may not sound like much -- but when you realize that there were a total of about 70 protestors at the event, the atheist presence suddenly looks a lot more significant. (Especially for an event in a highly religious, largely conservative town -- and especially for an event that was organized on extremely short notice.) And when American Airlines was planning to air an anti-vaccination ad on their planes' video systems and in their in-flight magazines, the atheist and skeptical communities dove into action: publicizing the Change.org petition against the Australian Vaccination Network's ad, and slamming the decision all around the Internet. The story went viral, in large part because of the Internet power of atheists and skeptics -- and the joint effort between heathens and other activists ultimately pressured the airline into rejecting the ad.