Serving Atheists

Canadian organizations can convey positive image of atheists

Canadian atheist organizations can support their members and all non-believers by presenting positive images of us as individuals and as a community.

Increase our visibility

“I think that something similar to the ‘atheist bus campaign’ would work, but with pictures of people with names, occupations and simply, ‘I am an atheist’. Letting everyone know that they all know someone without beliefs in the supernatural.”

“I believe that increasing the visibility of ‘average people’ who are non-believers would help dispel the idea that non-believers are ‘not like me’. Being more visible in the public sphere in everyday contexts such as participating in charitable events might help, as would encouraging the non-religious to readily identify themselves.”

Provide examples of how we can be good without god

“I think the biggest problem is defamation and discrimination based on a misguided concept of morality as religiously-based. Information campaigns to combat this insidious denial of humanity to atheists are a good deal more important than ‘there’s probably no God’ billboards which only taunt and antagonize believers.”

“Simply promote the position that atheists are just as good and just as moral as anyone. We need to eliminate the bigotry.”

“I think giving examples of successful and moral atheists is the best way to reduce the stigma of being labelled an atheist. Once the stigma is removed, I think more people will admit to being atheists.”

“Demonstrate that non believers are not vicious about religion, that we are good people, good without god.”

“Show that atheists aren’t bad people without morals, demonstrate that one does not need to believe in a deity to be a moral and productive member of a society.”

Show Canadians we care about our communities

“Provide visible opportunities for non-believers to contribute to their community.”

“Work towards increasing explicitly atheist community charity endeavours and volunteer opportunities for atheists.”

“Anything that encourages atheists to make a positive contribution to society rather than focusing on the negative aspects of belief will improve our public appearance, and it’s just the right thing to do.”

“Be helpful to everyone – food drives, road clean up, etc.”

“I think just by helping and being visible without proselytizing our non-belief. If we are seen helping the poor, for example, without pushing ideas on them and holding a sandwich ransom for listening to a sermon, people will see that we are moral, helpful, and modest.”


*all quotes are drawn from answers provided by Canadian atheists to Tom Arcaro’s Serving Atheists survey.

Posted in Views from the Great White North | Comments Off on Canadian organizations can convey positive image of atheists

Guidance for Leaders in Canada’s Atheist Movement

I’ve finally gotten around to reading all the comments that Canadian Atheists generously typed in while filling out Tom Arcaro’s Serving Atheists survey.

The answers to the question – what can leaders of atheist organizations do to better serve non-believers? – can be summarized as follows:

  1. Make the movement more visible to everyone (believers and non-believers);
  2. Provide the public with positive portrayals of atheists and non-believers;
  3. Get political – play an advocacy role to defend the separation of church and state, and defend the rights of non-believers;
  4. Welcome everyone – don’t get hung up on labels, make space for families, strive for inclusion;
  5. Provide educational, awareness-raising and social events.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing respondents’ detailed comments about each one of these recommendations. There’s so much for us to learn! What would you have Canadian organizations do to support non-believers? Leave a comment – let’s get this discussion started.

Posted in Views from the Great White North | Comments Off on Guidance for Leaders in Canada’s Atheist Movement


Sorry for no new posts of late, but the team is gathering and we hope to make more posts soon.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Update

Canadian atheists share experiences of stigmatization

Canadians are notoriously polite, which doesn’t mean we don’t discriminate or oppress each other. When it comes to religion and atheism, similar rules apply – believe what you will, just don’t talk about it.

“I live in Canada, where there is general indifference to one’s religious beliefs. If you casually mention your beliefs in a conversation, no one will care.” – Male survey respondent, Canada

Religion in casual conversation – “What did you do this weekend?” “I went to church.” – is generally ok. But speaking fervently about your belief or non-belief generally makes folks feel uncomfortable.

“Mainstream believers (Christians except for ultra conservative sects) are not stigmatized at all, while religious minorities (e.g. Muslims and ultra conservative Christian sects) are strongly stigmatized.” – Female survey respondent, Canada.

Similarly, if you are a quiet atheist, most people will not care. But if you start talking about it…well, that’s when stigmatization rears its ugly head.

When asked to provide a recent example of a social situation where they had experienced stigmatization because of their atheism, 57 women and 97 men from Canada shared their story.

Typical reactions they encountered included:

  • Questions
  • Doubt and fear
  • Surprise or ‘double-take’
  • A cold shoulder
  • Sadness and pity: You’ll never be happy or fulfilled, etc…
  • Social awkwardness
  • Shunning
  • Loss of friendship and family relations
  • Accusations of being immoral: lacking a moral compass

There were also more aggressive and discriminatory reactions that included being given a bible or crucifix, online death threats, being fired from a job, or being preached to during times of grief and loss.

“I was fired from a job after one month. A week after my born again Christian boss found out I was an atheist.” – Female respondent, Canada

“I once casually told one of my managers at work that I was an atheist. Turned out he was a member of some kind of evangelical Baptist church. After that he started causing me grief and eventually invented reasons to get me transferred out of his team and leaving me with a huge black mark on my personnel file.” – Male respondent, Canada

“My children were attacked (physically) when they innocently told playmates they didn’t believe in a god. When I confronted the parents of the attackers, only one reprimanded their child. The rest called me an unfit mother and a satan worshiper. After that, I was no longer asked to participate in school functions, community events. My children became ‘persona non grata’ as well.” – Female respondent, Canada

These go beyond stigmatization to outright discrimination. But when compared to the responses of American atheists (many more rejections, death threats, much more fear and social consequences to being out as an atheist), most examples of stigmatization provided by Canadians were relatively mild. One respondent compared her experience in Canada with her previous experience of living in the States.

“I don’t have a recent experience, but I did have an unpleasant Thanksgiving while living in D.C. I was pressured to go to someone’s (from work) for dinner. I was asked to say grace, which I found extremely presumptuous and I replied that I didn’t say grace, I was an atheist. You would have thought I had horns, the way they all looked at me! I had never experienced anything like that in Canada.” – Female respondent, Canada.

Indeed, when I read the examples from our American counterparts, I can’t help but think we’ve got it easy. Of course, politeness should not be confused with acceptance – we still have a long way to go. How can we talk about the wacky beliefs of our politicians if speaking about people’s religion is seen as impolite? That’s one of the challenges facing the atheist movement up North.

Posted in Views from the Great White North | Comments Off on Canadian atheists share experiences of stigmatization

Is Canada more accepting of atheists?

Well, I’ve reviewed the U.S. and Canadian data and one thing stands out. Canadians feel less stigmatized and more comfortable letting others know they are atheists.

35% of Canadians who completed the survey felt no stigma related to being an atheist. Only 14% of their U.S. counterparts could say the same.

When asked how stigmatized they felt atheists are in their culture, 15% of Canadians said not at all, but only 2% of U.S. respondents could say the same. 49% of American respondents said atheists were very stigmatized, compared to 10% among Canadians.

Canadians were also less likely to feel that there would be any social impact to having people at their workplace find out about their atheism. 70% felt that there would be no impact at all, but only 45% of Americans agreed. In fact, 67% of Americans said there would be moderate to major negative impact if people in their workplace found out. Only 27% of Canadian respondents felt there would be such an impact.

The results were similar when we asked if they felt there would be any social impact if people from their local community found out they were atheists. 70% of Canadian atheists felt there would be no impact, compared to only 38% of American atheists. 59% of U.S. respondents felt there would be moderate to major social impact.

It’s little wonder that Canadian atheists feel more comfortable being open about their non-belief. When asked if they would feel comfortable telling people they were atheists at a social gathering (if the topic came up), 58% of Canadians said yes, while 40% of American atheists agreed. Maybe that just means American atheists are extra courageous for coming out in such a hostile environment.

Posted in Views from the Great White North | Comments Off on Is Canada more accepting of atheists?

There are polls below! Scroll down and have your voice heard on all the polls.

Scroll down and have your voice heard on all our “mini” polls.  All of the posts with polls are also listed under “Blog posts containing polls” on the right side of the main page under “Categories.”

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

How do you view the net impact of religion on the world?

That author and activist Christopher Hitchens left a massive legacy cannot be questioned. Perhaps one of his finest moments was in 2010 when he debated Tony Blair in Toronto on the question “Is Religion A Force For Good In The World?”  Inspired by that debate and in order to be able to more thoroughly describe the atheist population, I added this item to the survey.  For this question (as well as many others in the survey) I allowed a space for respondents to provide narrative support for their answer.   2,873 individuals took advantage of this opportunity, and some of their responses are below.

From this wide array of self-identified atheists I found that there are some very strong views about the impact of religion.  As you can see the vast majority of the respondents viewed religion to be, overall, a “force for bad” in the world.

How do you view the net impact of religion on the world?

Religion is, overall, a strong force for good in the world.
0.31% (26)
Religion is, overall, a moderate force for good in the world.
1.41% (117)
Religion is a roughly equal force in the world with respect to good and bad.
10.86% (902)
Religion is, overall, a moderate force for bad in the world.
41.42% (3,439)
Religion is, overall, a strong force for bad in the world.
45.99% (3,818)
Total 8,302

Here are some of the narrative responses:

  • Nothing has been completed with religion that could not have been completed without it. Religion has been the cause of millions of deaths worldwide, and continues to be a source of hatred, bigotry, misogyny, racism, homicide, and inequality.
  • Religious War, Religious Genocide, Honour killings, Honour rapes, bigotry, racism, slavery, anti-scientific barbarism, dogmatic rejection of simple life-saving things such as: Condoms in AIDS-ridden parts of Africa, indoctrination and enforced ignorance of Children, Rape of children (both passivly allowed and actively covered up), and massive oppression of women and minority “out-groups” generally over thousands of years.
  • Depends on the religion. Some are considerably more harmful than others. It’s almost impossible to put Quakers and Islamic fundamentalists in the same equation.
  • Religion has done some good things, but I believe the suffering caused by religion has been indescribably huge. Judging people and punishing them for “wrong doing” e.g. (and these are just words to give a snapshot of what I mean) attitudes to women, hunting “witches”, persecution of people who belong to a religion other than own – for power, for god, for cruelty, attitudes to LGBTQ people, rape and abuse of children in care. Religion has been responsible for so many wars and suffering.
  • This is one of my core beliefs. In my reading of world history, there can be no other conclusion. More innocent people have been killed in the name of religion than for any other reason.

That the respondents of the survey had a negative view of religion is quite obvious, but though there is much about the survey data the research team has not yet explored, one result, germane to the above, is quite interesting:

Which statement below best describes your perspective relative to organized religion versus individual believers?

Answer Choices Responses
I have a “live and let live” attitude with respect to both organized religion and individual believers.
3.63% (238)
I have negative feelings towards organized religion, but a “live and let live” attitude towards believers.
 72.58% (4,765)
I have a “live and let live” attitude toward organized religion but negative feelings towards believers. 1.23% (81)
I have negative feelings for both organized religion and individual believers.
22.56% (1,481)
Total Total   6,565
As you can see, though very much against religion the respondents have a very strong “live and let live” attitude toward believers.
What is the take home from all of this?  Perhaps it is that as the atheist/freethought movement moves forward in the coming months and years there should be some effort into examining what tactics might be inclusive of those who have some beliefs in higher powers but who also feel as if organized religion is not a positive choice.  It may be that some of the “nones” are these people.


Your thoughts?
Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on How do you view the net impact of religion on the world?

Excited about Canadian Data

Let me start with a short introduction.

I’m an atheist and I have a naturalistic perspective on the world. That means I reject god and other extraordinary claims that lack  supporting evidence.

I first met Tom a couple of years ago after reading the results of his last study on non-believers/atheists and stigma. I wrote him an email and we’ve been chatting ever since.

I’ve just had a peak at the survey responses from Canadians. I can’t wait to delve into them and see what’s there. I’ll be posting findings and my thoughts on what they might mean on this blog.



Posted in Views from the Great White North | Comments Off on Excited about Canadian Data

What specifically could the leaders of national atheist organizations do to better serve the population of non-believers?


 What specifically could the leaders of national atheist organizations do to better serve the population of non-believers?

This question was open-ended in the survey; respondents were just asked to fill in a text field.  An impressive 4,058 people took the time to write something, and many of the comments were thoughtful and, I think, useful feedback for those in leadership of the various organizations that focus on issues related to atheism.  Here are just a few examples:

  • Lay off all the goddamn infighting (not criticism of ideas, but intolerance and ad hominem attacks). I have lost a lot of my zeal for the atheist movement because of the petty rivalries and endless navel gazing and dissection of one quote or sentence and the implications of the implications of the blog post about the quote that criticized x, y or z, ad infinitum. I was strongly involved in the feminist movement previously, but left for the same exact reasons. While I was heartened by the evolution of “Atheism-plus,” I quickly became discouraged again when I saw how divisive and angry many atheist communities were about this offshoot. Watching women being pilloried for expressing their opinions and concerns about sexism and lack of cultural understanding does not endear me to many atheist organizations. At all. A little more respect and consideration of minority opinions would be great. More specifically, talk to and learn from LGBT organizations, which, at least outwardly, manage to maintain cohesiveness and commit to national causes despite being very diverse. They have successfully organized for over 40 years to promote their interests – something I hope to see from national atheist organizations in the future, if they can ever agree on a set of goals….
  • ONE website, accessible in all major languages where we can find information of legitimate non religious/lgbt friendly organizations that are involved with humanitarian efforts. I would like to donate my time/money to these types of organizations without fear of scams
  • Keep working on visibility, being more and more in the public eye. Continue making forceful, clear statements–no wishy-washiness, no accommodationism–of the beneficial effects of rationality and skepticality, and of the harmful effects of god belief. Continue to show that a lack of god belief is actually a more healthful, happy way to live: for people, for animals, for the planet in general. And for the good, healthful, and happy future of all three. Continue, or in some cases begin, to foster in the non-belief community the good aspects that membership in a religious organization gives to its members. Some of those good aspects being a sense of community, a sense of belonging.
  • Atheists/nonbelievers are a significantly large segment of the religious spectra in the U.S., but have almost zero political clout. It seems to me that there are too many atheist organizations, a balkanization which dilutes the influence of all. Look at Bill Donohue and the Catholic League, which is basically Bill Donohue and his laptop. This guy is making several hundred grand a year, but he is worth it. The man is everywhere on the media, and he gets there because he demands to be there. Representatives of the atheist movement are only just starting to get media exposure, but we are the second largest religious denomination in the country – we should have a seat at the table, a place on the couch, a mic in the booth every single time there is a discussion involving religion in the media. Where is our Bill Donohue? I also see the atheist face as too timid, as not aggressive enough. We need to have a legal wing that will not hesitate to bring charges. There were some examples in the past year of advertisers refusing to air messages of atheists whilst happily putting up religious messages. One of these entities was a city transportation office. I felt these are good examples of the relative passivity of the movement. Ask yourself, WWBDD? What would Bill Donohue do? Another aspect of the timidity of the atheist movement has to do with messaging. There seems to be no understanding of the concept of the Overton window yet. Example – there have been examples of Catholic hospitals refusing treatments to women which caused them to die. We should have been calling for elimination of religious control of hospitals, and an expose of how very little the churches actually contribute financially to the institutions, yet they actually feel entitled to make medical decisions. Instead, we get ad campaigns that say “Atheists are people, too”. We need to be jumping on every opportunity to move the Overton window. We should be challenging the authority, worldview, and lack of rationality of religionists, not just saying there is an alternative, or we are nice people too. Example – I believe there is at least one country where children are not allowed to receive organized religious instruction until they are in their teens. Can you even imagine such a discussion being brought up by American atheist organizations? Yet, why should it not be discussed? Why is the mass program of brainwashing of children to believe seriously irrational things not a proper topic of discussion and debate? We can and possibly should be making a pretty cogent case that people who believe irrational and self- contradictory ideas such as Abrahamic religions, should not be allowed to hold public office. Seriously – we have U.S. senators denying global warming because of their religious indoctrination. Totally irrational, totally dangerous to society. Overton window again. 

 I have yet to do a thorough analysis of all the responses, but the theme of more organization and coordination comes up frequently.  I’ll be doing more postings on this topic soon.  There are many aspects of these data for me that will be particularly interesting, for example how the responses and themes vary by region of the US, by nation, and by gender.  My personal view is that there is much to learn from the successes and failures (in terms of organization, coordination and communication) of the feminist and LGTBQ movements.

What do you think? 



Posted in Blog posts containing polls | Comments Off on What specifically could the leaders of national atheist organizations do to better serve the population of non-believers?

President Obama’s inauguration speech and references to God

President Obama’s inauguration speech and references to God

I listened to President Obama’s inauguration speech with interest today because I believe myself to be a responsible American citizen. How he frames his next term is important to me and all citizens of the United States and, indeed, to everyone around the world.   But I also listened to his speech to see how often and in what ways he would invoke religion and make references to God.  In short, Obama mentioned God no fewer than five times.  He ended his speech with, “Thank you. God bless you, and may He forever bless these United States of America.”

When Obama -or other public speakers in the United States- refer to God they think that they are being inclusive of all believers since the three Abrahamic religions refer to “God” in some form. But what of the large number who are non-theists?  Can you imagine a President or other public speaker knowingly saying something that they know marginalizes, for example, Jewish people?

As a researcher examining the world of atheists for the last five years, I know that his words made a large number of people in the United States uncomfortable.

Here is the relevant question from my most recent survey and the responses:

Which best describes how you feel in public gatherings where religion is invoked (for example when a speaker refers to God or says a prayer)?

I feel no discomfort
I feel slight discomfort
I feel moderate discomfort
I feel great discomfort
Total 6,450

From these data I think it is safe to say that the nearly 20% of US citizens who fall in “none” category when it comes to religion were made at least somewhat uncomfortable, many extremely so, by President Obama’s overt religiosity.  How about you?


Posted in Blog posts containing polls | Comments Off on President Obama’s inauguration speech and references to God