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Meet your friendly neighborhood atheists 

Religious beliefs, or the lack thereof, should be respected and free from government intrusion

Atheists United of San Luis Obispo (AU-SLO) is a group of thoughtful, sincere people who want to encourage independent thinking about religion and inform our community about the many positive aspects of atheism. We want to tell everyone who does not believe in God there is a community of people like them.

We want to recommend to our neighbors who are searching, who have questions about religion, atheism is a logical choice, and we want to reach out to our neighbors who are religious to engage them in a respectful, civil conversation about our differences.

Atheists in general are committed to clear, logical thinking and the scientific method. We think it is reasonable to believe in something only when sufficient evidence and logic confirms it. A maxim atheists support is: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Whatever evidence or logic supports the idea that a god exists falls short of confirming it, in our opinion.

Atheism, strictly speaking, means only a lack of belief in a god. To be an atheist, one does not have to say there are no gods, only that no one has provided good reasons to believe there is a god. Whoever claims there is a god has the burden to prove a god exists. Atheists contend that burden of proof has not been met.

Atheists understand, because we may not know everything about how our universe came to be, it is better to say, “We don’t know everything,” rather than accept an answer that is not really justified. In any case, atheists think gathering evidence, evaluating it, subjecting it to challenge, and trying to fit the evidence that survives with what we already know (in other words, the process of science) is the best way to answer that question of faith.

Even without a god, atheists care deeply about their families, their friends, and the wider community, as much as does anyone else. Instead of attributing what they experience as having been created by a god, atheists think science can best explain why people want to do good and care about others, and why we sometimes fall short of our ideals.

If you are religious or believe in a god, you may be thinking, “I feel sorry for anyone who doesn’t know the joy of believing in God and what that can mean in one’s life.” We appreciate anyone who expresses concern for another person, and we atheists feel a deep sense of wonder and joy at the amazing natural world, which is described to us by science. Our universe, our planet, and even our selves are no less wonderful to behold even if the entirety were not produced by a creator. Without a belief in the afterlife, atheists are intensely committed to savoring and living every day fully.

Atheists come in all stripes and are very likely some of your neighbors or your coworkers, or perhaps some of your friends, or someone in your family—you may not even suspect they are atheists. A 2008 survey revealed that 12 percent of Americans say they do not believe in a god or a higher power, a larger number than many people assume.

You may not realize someone you know is an atheist because they may sense a social bias against their views. AU-SLO wants to help create an environment in our community in which atheists will feel comfortable to come out of the closet. Atheists believe in political and social equality for all people in matters of church and state. We think religious belief, or the lack thereof, is a personal choice that must be free from government intrusion.

AU-SLO offers our community a wide range of activities for neighbors who lack a belief in god or who might be questioning their religion. In March, for example, AU-SLO co-sponsored a panel discussion at Cal Poly with theists and atheists on the question, “Does God exist?” We hold book discussions, socialize at coffee shops, and we often have a booth at Farmers Market in San Luis Obispo. We raised money in support of the Food Bank during the recent Hunger Walk. We are planning discussions with local clergy toward better mutual understanding, and are working on political advocacy concerning the separation of church and state, along with other activities.

We encourage everyone to find out more about us at meetup.com/San-Luis-Obispo-Atheists.

Paul Rinzler is member of the Board of Directors of Atheists United of San Luis Obispo and is a music professor at Cal Poly. Send comments via the opinion editor at econnolly@newtimesslo.com.

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