After this month, hopefully it’s a little easier to be an atheist in Iowa.
On April 5, I proudly stood in the Iowa State Capitol and delivered what is believed to be the first ever atheist “prayer” (aka secular invocation) in the “people’s house”. Atheism was finally given the same platform and respect that had been extended to other religions and worldviews for years to start off a session of the Iowa Legislature.
The historic invocation garnered headlines across Iowa putting the words “atheism” and “atheist” front and center for many lawmakers and communities across Iowa. It also put our state government on notice that not all Iowans are Christians or even religious and that we deserve the same access to our statehouse.
While I’m not so naive to believe that achieving an equal voice at the statehouse and the subsequent attention it gained for atheism in and of itself will end bullying, bigotry and discrimination against atheists in Iowa, it is my belief — yes, atheists believe in some things, just not in the supernatural sense — that Iowans will begin to better understand that atheists are an essential part of the Iowa experience.
Atheists are presidents of companies, they’re doctors and surgeons, they may even be your child’s public school teacher. Heck, they very well could be the pastor of your church and just haven’t admitted to themselves and their congregation that they simply no longer believe what it is that they have made a career preaching about.
Don’t just take my word for it. Studies by the Pew Research Center continue to show the increase in the number of atheists and people leaving religion, declaring that they are religiously unaffiliated. They also show the rapid decline of religion and religious affiliation. It’s been reported that one out of every three millennial considers themselves a “religious none”. Add that to the number of us known as “religious dones” that grew up in religion but have studied our way out of it (like me) and you now have one of the largest and most influential groups in the country, one that will likely influence public policy and our society for generations to come.
And while I fully understand and admit that this doesn’t mean that these “nones” and “dones” don’t necessarily identify as atheists, they’ve already taken the first step to embracing atheism (which is simply the rejection of the god belief). Having future generations that exclusively use what I described in my invocation as the “holy trinity of science” (a phrase that was originally coined back in the 1850s by the infamous “Great Agnostic” Robert Ingersoll) the human race can finally break free from the “chains” that have been holding down scientific discovery and advancement for centuries.
Just like the LGBTQ movement of the 1970s, the atheist movement is starting to “grow legs” and become better organized and galvanized both here in Iowa and across the country. Atheist groups like mine, the Eastern Iowa Atheists, continue to appear and network with other groups, creating a powerful force of godless citizens that are committed to demanding atheist rights while defending the Constitutional Separation of religion and government. (Keep your theocracy off our democracy thank you very much!)
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There’s a tidal wave of atheism and secularism that’s been building for years and it’s about to crash onto the shores of religious America. If you’re an atheist or on the fence about your religious beliefs or upbringing, now is the time to own who you are and come catch the wave with other Iowa atheists!
• Justin Scott is the founder and director of Eastern Iowa Atheists. More information: www.facebook.com/easterniowaatheists