Improving the Image of Atheists (Blogged by Courtney)

Sarah Moglia, James Croft, Chris Ho-Stuart, Stephanie Zvan and Kaoru Negisa

10:00 AM

Introductions –

Stephanie Zvan – Writes at Almost Diamonds

Sarah Moglia – Campus Organizing Communication Specialist for the Secular Student Alliance

Kaoru Negisa – Writer at Reasonable Conversation, atheist/LGBT activist in Orlando, FL

James Croft – Writes at Temple of the Future on Patheos

Chris Ho-Stuart – Atheist for 30 years!

Stephanie asks if anybody doesn’t think atheists have an image problem, and the panel clarifies this conversation is going to be about atheists in America.

Kaoru says normalizing atheists (such as Eddie Izzard) who his friends like, helps improve the image of atheists because it’s already someone they know & like.

10:10 AM

Sarah says focusing on positive activism (helping in poorer communities, helping natural disaster victims) helps improve the image instead of just running around yelling about how religion is wrong (Kaoru points out that this would be very tedious). Sarah points to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and tells us that Foundation Beyond Belief and the SSA raised over $430,000 (the largest amount ever raised by a first year non-corporate team).

“[The atheist movement] thinks that provocation is the same thing as positive publicity,” says James Croft. Stephanie Zvan doesn’t necessarily agree and asks Jame to clarify. He cites the “Slaves, obey your masters” billboards from American Atheists and says that if anyone had put any thought into the billboard, they would have seen it wasn’t an effective way to communicate the message.


Sarah says she prefers quiet activism, and gives the example of when she first became a vegan and was very outspoken and it was all she talked about. She thinks atheists will often do the same thing and thinks this is offputting to people. She states her partner is actually the opposite and rarely talks about his vegan and Kaoru asks if he has vegan powers.

A commenter asks how to deal with atheist discrimination at work. Sarah says she dealt with discrimination in at a job once and she states she faced it head on and confronted people kindly. She had a positive experience with this tactic and usually their fear came from not understanding what atheism is. Kaoru says after they stop being uncomfortable they will often start trying to convert you; however, Sarah says she’s had the opposite experience.


Chris says that most of us aren’t *just* atheists. We do other things in our lives and we can often find common ground.

“Shame is not an effective motivator.” – Sarah Moglia, discussing how fat shaming isn’t positive and we shouldn’t use the same tactics with religious people.


James states that he doesn’t see as many of the same parallels between the LGBTQIA movement and the Atheist movement. Stephanie explains that many people who suffered abuse at the hands of religion and have a lot of justified anger. James says these people, who are recovering from abuse, maybe aren’t the people we want to be the heads of organizations because they aren’t at a point in their life. He is careful to say we shouldn’t silence these people, but would like to help these people heal instead.

Sarah points out that there should be (and already are in some cases) separate spaces where people can express their anger, but then when we are in the public eye (doing volunteer work, for example), we focus on the positive things. She states it’s helpful to not say “Don’t do X” and instead say “Do Y.” Give a positive alternative instead of just silencing their anger.

James says he’s more focused on organized atheism, and individuals should express their anger as they please. He doesn’t like when organizations spend tons of money being provocative, which much of the empirical evidence says is not effective.


Sarah Moglia says you can visit the Secular Student Alliance website to find information about starting local groups, and find groups existing in your area to meet up with. Some student groups are even open to non-student attendees.

Nicole in the chat room asks, “How do we improve our image to the non-movement atheists.”

Kaoru says that it helps to have atheist examples within pop culture helps us seem like actual complex individuals as opposed to “just” atheists. Chris bring ups the FFRF banner campaign that puts a person’s face next to a quote of them being an atheist.

Sarah makes a good point about channeling anger into effective action (such as the Texas protestors) can have a positive impact.

James Croft says to be specific about anger in a positive way. Instead of saying “I’m angry at the Catholic church!” say “I want children to be safe, and therefore I’m very angry about what is happening.”

Thanks to the panelists for an enlightening conversation!