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Pastafarians and the Rise of the Non-Believers

April 27, 2009

At the New York Times, an article about the dramatic increase in self-described atheists in this country. Following in the wake of popular books on the topic of atheism by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, as well as a backlash against an evangelical Christian movement so closely tied to the historically unpopular former president, the rise in the number of people openly characterizing themselves as atheists is not wholly surprising. It’s less likely that these people have recently lost their faith than that conditions have ripened for admitting their long held lack of belief. They also seem to have some sense of humor about the perception that atheists are humorless and severe:

At the University of South Carolina, in Columbia, 19 students showed up for a recent evening meeting of the “Pastafarians,” named for the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster — a popular spoof on religion dreamed up by an opponent of intelligent design, the idea that living organisms are so complex that the best explanation is that a higher intelligence designed them.

Andrew Cederdahl, the group’s co-founder, asked for volunteers for the local food bank and for a coming debate with a nearby Christian college. Then Mr. Cederdahl opened the floor to members to tell their “coming out stories.”

Andrew Morency, who attended a Christian high school, said that when he got to college and studied evolutionary biology he decided that “creationists lie.”

Josh Streetman, who once attended the very Christian college that the Pastafarians were about to debate, said he knew the Bible too well to be sure that Scripture is true. Like Mr. Streetman, many of the other students at the meeting were highly literate in the Bible and religious history.

In keeping with the new generation of atheist evangelists, the Pastafarian leaders say that their goal is not confrontation, or even winning converts, but changing the public’s stereotype of atheists. A favorite Pastafarian activity is to gather at a busy crossroads on campus with a sign offering “Free Hugs” from “Your Friendly Neighborhood Atheist.”

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