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Atheists and the 'Aints' — seeking to dispel preconceived notions about our (non)beliefs

photo
Courtesy of MN Atheists
Minnesota Atheists chair Heather Hegi, with an Aints
player in 2012.

Atheism and baseball is an unlikely combo, but nevertheless, the Minnesota Atheists organization is celebrating the atheist community with America’s pastime for the second year in a row. The Minnesota Atheists will again be secularizing the St. Paul Saints to the Mr. Paul Aints during their Aug. 9 game against the Sioux City Explorers. The purpose for the atheist-sponsored game isn’t to proselytize atheism or to disparage other people’s beliefs. Like last year, our agenda is simply to have fun, build camaraderie, and exhibit our happy and friendly disposition.

According to some recent studies, and a mountain of anecdotal evidence, atheists are perceived to be untrustworthy, unethical, and immoral. Atheists are also thought to be unelectable for public office and many have been shunned by work colleagues, friends, and even family for revealing their identity.

We atheists clearly have a public-relations issue we need to address. Intellectual arguments about the existence of a god(s) and church/state separation have an important place in public discourse but they don’t help portray our happy and friendly nature in the public eye. One of the major functions of Minnesota Atheists is to promote positive atheism partly through community outreach and volunteerism and partly by providing a safe and positive outlet for other freethinkers, whether they identify as “atheist” or not so they can talk freely and socialize with those who share their identity.

jayne
Courtesy of MN Atheists
Eric Jayne

By partnering with the St. Paul Saints, for what is being billed as “A Night of Unbelievable Fun: The Second Coming,” Minnesota Atheists is working to dispel unfavorable and unfair preconceived notions about atheists while emphasizing our desire and ability to have fun like everybody else.

Part of the fun on display will be the unique Mr. Paul Aints jerseys the players will wear during the game. These secularized jerseys will be auctioned off at the end of the game and a portion of the proceeds will go to the Family Place homeless shelter in St. Paul. There will be several other atheist-themed gags during the game which I don’t want to fully disclose at the moment, but don’t be surprised if you see a Doubting Thomas at Midway Stadium questioning some of the calls from the evening’s umpires.

There were nearly 300 atheists in our group section at last year’s atheist-sponsored ballgame and it was great to see that a large portion of that number consisted of families with children. It’s oftentimes difficult for these families to connect with other freethinking families even though Minnesota Atheists holds several family events throughout the year. Publicly celebrating our atheist identity with other families at a popular local venue was incredibly empowering and I am certain that it will be the same experience this year.

The Minnesota Atheists are grateful that the St. Paul Saints have shown exceptional tolerance in accepting us as a business partner again this year and allowing us another opportunity to showcase our happy and spirited character.

Our hope is that soon all of our family, friends, and colleagues will be as accepting and will also want to play ball with atheists.

Eric Jayne is the president of Minnesota Atheists.

WANT TO ADD YOUR VOICE?

If you're interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, email Susan Albright at salbright@minnpost.com.)

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Comments (22)

I've never felt the need

to celebrate my non-belief. Perhaps I'll start this year.

There are so many things I don't believe in I can pick a new topic every day: gods, the man on the grassy knoll, compassionate conservatism . . . the list is endless.

I'm not a religious person

I haven't been to church since my wedding a hundred years ago. But it's been my observation that people who go so far as to form or join an organization that exists solely to celebrate their disbelief in something, have issues.

That said, having attended my annual Saints game recently, I think the Aints promotion is pretty clever and only reinforces the notion that the Saint Paul Saints exist to have fun, not to win ball games.

RE: I'm not a religious person

From what I can tell Minnesota Atheists isn't an organization that "exists solely to celebrate disbelief." There is a common non-believing identity among members and participants but the purpose of Minnesota Atheists seems to be more about creating a social outlet for freethinkers and advocating for church/state separation. Nothing wrong with that!

If you're not a religious person

Dennis, I see your point but I'm not sure you're seeing the point of a group like Minnesota Atheists.

Here's the thing. If you randomly engage in social activities that interest you (like going to a baseball game or joining a softball league, whatever) it is very common to find yourself with a group of people who see religious activities as an expected normal part of the day. You're there at a meeting of some group you joined because of a shared interest, and suddenly there is a benediction or everyone is praying or whatever. For many of us atheists/secular people we take this in stride and ignore it. But there are a lot of people who for some (generally very good) reason or another are more than a little annoyed at the expectation of religiosity, and for some people, who had really nasty phases in their life where abuse was linked to religion, it is downright damaging. Imagine being a long term combat vet and after re-entering civilian life every event involved unexpected fireworks. That would be bad. Simple example but it makes the point.

MN Atheist and similar secular groups simply do stuff that other groups do but nobody prays at you. Which is nice.

Can't We All Just Get Along?

As an atheist, I've spent far too much time defending myself to theists. I certainly don't appreciate spending time defending myself to other atheists. If you're not a joiner, that's fine, don't join; but PLEASE don't assert that there is something WRONG with people who gravitate toward like-minded people. I assert that if someone has a NEED for that, then they should fulfill it. For many of our members these events/gatherings are the only time that they feel safe and free to express themselves, where their views are validated, where they get support, where they can engage in intelligent debate, where they can share ideas on how to raise children in secular homes, where they can be themselves. The board members and organizers are all volunteers who work very hard to plan events for non-believers of every flavor, to bring people together. Let's not be divisive.

There's no use squabbling over how to label ourselves either. Christians routinely refer to themselves as "Believers", perhaps that's why the term "Non-believer" was coined? Some people aren't comfortable with labels at all, esp. not if they have to defend that label to another atheist. Everyone's journey is unique and personal, yet we all arrive at pretty much the same conclusion. That's good enough for me. I'm grateful to have found MN Atheists; my social, emotional, and intellectual well-being have improved since being a part of this organization. Come and have FUN with us!

we are a social species...

Hey Dennis...

Guess what!? Humans are a social species and want to hang out and do things together! I think it's pretty arrogant of you to imply that only religious people have a reason to hang out together. I've enjoyed my time meeting people from MN who are atheists that I'd never have a chance to meet if it wasn't for the MN Atheists working so hard to plan activities. It's nice to be able to be with a group of people and -not- get asked/told "I just don't understand how someone can be moral without god."

Socializing

As an atheist I don't really feel the need to socialize with other atheists, the exception being my girlfriend. That said, I certainly don't mind if some people do as socializing is one of the great attractors that bind us all together. Religious people do it all the time and call it "church," so what's the big deal if a few atheists go to a baseball game and enjoy the afternoon?

To each their own to live and let live.

Typical fundamentalist thinking

It's typical for fundamentalist to assume that all human activity is a "celebration" because that's what they think their religion tells them to do. This is the core of intolerance, the notion that all human activity must be a celebration or endorsement of something. This is how the fundamentalist ends up concluding that merely recognizing same sex marriage amounts to government endorsement, and Hip-Hop is a celebration of violence. This is why the Nazis outlawed Jazz and Taliban behead people who dance. This confusion is also behind the bizarre claim that Atheism is a actually a religion. A lot of religious people just can't get their heads around the fact that God is simply irrelevant to an Atheist, we don't organize our lives around NOT believing.

Speaking of not believing let me yet again assail my fellow Atheists with my disapproval regarding the phrase: "non-believer". Every Atheist I know carries with them a number of deeply held beliefs that typically produce a profound sense of morality, God just isn't one of those beliefs. This business of referring to Atheists as "non-believers" is both inaccurate and self destructive. We already have a problem with people thinking Atheists are immoral and now your running around telling people we don't believe in anything? That only buttresses assumptions of poor character and lack or morality. There's no need to rephrase "Atheism", and rephrasing it as "non-believers" in the name of public relations is a downright whackoo rhetorical practice that focuses everyone on the one irrelevant thing non of us believe in. If you want people to know us better then talk about who we are not what we are not. Talk about what we believe, not what we don't believe.

I believe that quibbling over semantics is silly

I'm an atheist and I'm also fine with being labeled a "non-believer". It seems like your grievance is silly and trivial. The term "non-believer" is a pretty generic term that is commonly understood to be used when speaking of deists or theology. I BELIEVE that those who extrapolate the term "non-believer" to literally mean a belief in nothing at all in all aspects of life (including the areas of political persuasion and philosophical worldview) are being awkwardly irrational.

"Celebration"

I agree that the term "celebration" is misused and over used --- in fact, that was my reaction the moment I read it --- but I think you're reading into it something I don't see at all. I don't ascribe the term to fundamentalism. I blame it on (as cliched as this is) the media and the ever-decreasing vocabulary of the country. "Celebrate" is attached to anything and everything that involves a group people doing anything remotely positive. It's a feel-good, public relations term and since we have become atrociously lazy, writers go for the trending verbiage of the moment.

Disapproval Noted

Looking forward to the game again this year, it was fun to meet a lot of new atheists and see some that I hadn't seen in a long time.

Paul - one of the things that I found irritating about religion was arguing over terminology. " What should we call ourselves? Hmm. Well, I disapprove of this term so you shouldn't use that. I disapprove of this term, so you shouldn't use this. And, this other term, well that's right out of the question."

I, for my part, am not concerned with what my fellow atheists choose to call themselves. They have their reasons, and if those aren't mine, it is not my call to police them. What is your authority on the matter?

Sure....

You think terminology is trivial now. Later you'll be sorry. Remember, you're not just defining yourselves, and your not creating a discourse, you're entering one that's been under way for decades, it may be new to you, but it's not new. I don't think it's dictatorial or silly to ask for some consideration.

Not all terminology is trivial...

...but your grievance about not using "non-believer" just doesn't seem very cogent. I gave the article a second read and it doesn't make one single mention of "non-believer" anyway. I believe it's pretty clear that the "(non)belief" in the title refers specifically to deists.

Not to nit-pick but..

"non-belief" IS in the title, that's what I was referring to. Deism on the other makes no appearance either in the title or the body of the article. You do know that Deists are not Atheists right? It's even more confusing to refer to Deists as non-believers.

I meant deities. And...

When I said that it seems pretty clear that the use of "(non)belief" in the title refers to "deists", I meant to say DEITIES; as in supernatural beings. I misspoke...or mistyped.

And, your gripe was about people calling themselves "non-believers." Your exact quote was: "This business of referring to Atheists as 'non-believers' is both inaccurate and self destructive." First of all, the word "non-believer", or the idea of replacing "atheist" with "nonbeliever", is not in the article. Granted, "(non)belief" is in the title but again it seems pretty clear that that is a simple and specific reference to the non-belief in deities (not deists, as that would be a ridiculous proposition). To your point about discussing what atheists do believe, I believe that the partially parenthetical "(non)belief" word serves as a way to indicate both the beliefs and non-beliefs of atheists. I don't think, however, there really are any universal "beliefs" among all atheists to point to.

Secondly, as I've stated before, your grievance and reasoning do not come across to me as cogent anyway. If YOU don't like the label "unbeliever" (which, again, is not in the title or in the article anyway) that is just fine, of course, but you are coming across as pushy and arrogant if you demand that everybody must refrain from using the word "unbeliever".

I don't know why....

Mr Zatsin thinks I should be more impressed with his opinion of my cogency than he is with my observation? At any rate I'm not.

If there's nothing to share, why get together? In fact Atheist tend to have a lot of ideas and attitudes in common not only with each other but religious people as well. I've found over the years that discussing what have in common with religious people is much more effective strategy than focusing on what we don't have in common, which is the belief in God. In the end if Atheist are drawn together, they're drawn together by what they believe in, not what they don't believe in. Go the event, see what people talk about. They're not going to be all standing saying: "So you don't believe in God? Neither to I". That's short and uninteresting conversation.

This is the core of my complaint. Wouldn't the title have even more engaging if it had been: "Atheists and the 'Aints' — seeking to dispel preconceived notions about our beliefs" Don't you think people would be more interested in what other people believe? They already what Atheist don't believe. That's how I handle encounters with religious people, I don't argue with them about God, I say: "Well let me tell what I believe in."

Regarding my cogency, I've already pointed out that this is not a new discourse that's being created, it's an ongoing discourse that's decades old. If you're aware of that discourse you know that the term "non-believers" has been popping up with increased frequency over the last few years. I'm just explaining why I think it's a bad idea. If you're not interested in what other people think, you should probably avoid social events like this because we don't all think the same things and we should be able to discuss our differences.

By the way,

My gripe wasn't about people calling themselves non-believers, I don't care what you call yourself. My gripe is about people calling Atheist's non-believers.

Windbags

I am disgusted by the comments. PEOPLE, we are reading about a baseball game. Where does the need come from to sound more intellectual than the last person by scrutinizing each comment?

Any event that must distinguish itself, and exclude themselves from the whole are wrong in my opinion. Mr. Paul Aint's - let the St. Paul Saints represent everyone (athiests, non-athiests, whatever) in St. Paul. If it bothers you to smell a toot... you don't make a "NO SMELL" baseball team. Sheesh.

It is getting wind-baggy

Joel C - I don't see how the game is exclusionary. Is Latino night at the Saints game "exclusionary"? I do accept your point about the irritating tone. It got to be a pretty ugly digression so I'm letting it go, but I would like to ask one more honest and direct question to Paul U:
What universal thing(s) to atheists believe in?

Sorry Joe

Didn't mean to trod on your baseball.

Michael, actually many Atheists share a lot universal moral convictions when you get right down to it. We share them not only with other Atheists but on a very basic level we share the same morality with most religious people, i.e. murder, theft, rape, etc. are wrong. As general rule Atheist share the belief that we ought not do harm to other people or allow harm to happen through our inaction. We just don't get to our morality the same way religious people do, and that's another area of commonality we tend to share. We don't believe morality emerges from scripture or religious revelation. As a general rule an Atheist will tell you that morality is an emergent property of sentience, a rational social property driven by nature and compassion rather than inspiration by a God or Gods. Our morality also tends to be broader, we're more likely to extend our morality to animals because Atheists tend to view humans as members of the animal kingdom rather than apart from it. You never have completely universal agreement in any group but you'll find a lot of agreement on the basics. Atheists also tend to be more interested in the rational acquisition of knowledge rather than revelation from some authority figure.

I kind of agree

I agree that atheists and most everyone else understand that murder, theft, and rape are wrong but that isn't what connects atheists. Some atheists care deeply about animals, but some don't. Some atheists are compassionate and giving humanists while others are cold and selfish objectivists. Some are in the freewill camp and others are in the determinism camp. There are several differing beliefs among atheists, but the only thing that universally connects atheists is their non-belief in deities.

Fun is good

I'm a little surprised to see these comments. At any rate, the motto of the St. Paul Saints is *Fun is Good* and that is really what the Minnesota Atheists and St. Paul Saints are trying to offer with this event....good family fun.

Hope to see some of you there!