Young Atheist's Survival Guide

Hemant sez, "I am the blogger at I'm also a high school math teacher. I just wrote a new book called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide: Helping Secular Students Thriveabout high school atheists and the obstacles they face as well as how they can overcome them (and how the rest of us can help)."

Nearly a third of Americans under the age of thirty have no religious affiliation, the highest in any recorded generation. In this growing segment of 'nones'are many young Atheists who have faced prejudice in their high schools and communities for standing up for their constitutional right of freedom from religion.

You'll hear some of their stories in this book, whether they're protesting their school's public prayers at football games and graduations or sitting out the 'under God'portion of the Pledge of Allegiance. These atheist students know their rights and have fought for them, sometimes at tremendous personal cost. Their examples serve as inspiration for all the young atheists out there who live in communities where school often feels no different from church and teachers are no different from preachers.

The Young Atheist's Survival Guide: Helping Secular Students Thrive


  1. Damnit, I really wish that people would stop lumping people without any particular religious affiliation in with atheists. It isn’t the same thing at all, and the people who have no particular religious affiliation who don’t identify themselves as atheists vastly outnumber those who do, according to all the recent polls I’ve seen.

    I am all for supporting secular students, but talking about the growing population of “nones” and then linking those percentages to those who explicitly identify as atheists just feels deeply disingenuous. I’m also in favor of fighting for the rights of atheists, but why do people feel the need to drag the “none” population into discussions that focus only on those who specifically identify as atheist?

    A desire for secular schools is not inherently linked with atheism, and a tendency to always link secularism with strongly-identified atheism feels counter-productive, when atheists are only a small segment of the secular community.

    1. I guess I didn’t read it as making the full link that you did.

      “Nearly a third of Americans under the age of thirty have no religious affiliation, the highest in any recorded generation. In this growing segment of ‘nones’ are many young Atheists…”

      It didn’t say that the young atheists are a significant percentage of the “nearly a third,” just that there are many of them, which I would guess is likely true.

      1.  Theism is fluid.  Most people are at different points of the spectrum, over the course of their lives.  Otherwise completely rational and intelligent people are contemptuous and dismissive of a position about god, for which great thinkers like Godel and Wittgenstein were advocates.  But “atheism” is often a psychologically motivated position, relating an individual’s relationship with perceived authority – and has little to do with real theology – or the vacation thereof…

        It’s easy to be an atheist, when reducing all conceptions of the divine to an equivalent of Jupiter.  It is also false argumentation – equivalent to a straw-man fallacy.

        The funniest part of this book is its TITLE!  “Young Atheist’s Survival Guide”. 

        No one here gets out of life, alive.

    2. The term “a-theism” (separated for clarity) means “lacking [belief in a] god.” That is, it’s the lack of an explicit belief in any particular deity. It’s not just iron-fisted anti-theism, as most people assume.

      So you see, @twitter-14386662:disqus, we’re not so different after all, you and I!

      1. I guess it’s just a knee-jerk impulse on my part against labeling someone with a label they do not desire to have. If someone takes a survey, and there are two options on it: “atheist” and “no particular identity,” I want to respect any given person’s decision to chose “no particular identity.” I don’t want to force a label on them that they do not choose for themselves. This is similar to how I don’t want to force someone to be labeled as straight because they happen to be dating a member of the opposite sex.

        I usually end up in the “other” category on religious surveys, myself. I can’t think of a single one where I’ve ever seen a label I would voluntarily choose as one of the options.

        I’m commenting not only on the quote above, but also on the full page at amazon. I followed the link, and there were many blurbs provided by the publisher that seemed to use secularism and atheism interchangeably, which rubs me the wrong way.

        1. Okay… but as a book title, “Young Atheist’s Survival Guide” is much snappier than “Young Nothing-In-Particular-ist’s Survival Guide,” and (IMHO) rolls off the tongue a little easier.

          1. What about “A Secular Survival guide.”

            Really, I have no problem with anyone publishing a “Young Atheist’s survival guide.” Atheists in areas that are heavily religious have a tough road ahead of them, and could definitely use resources to help them in that struggle.
            My problem is exclusively with the conflation of atheism and secularism.

            If you’re writing a book aimed primarily at atheists, why is the first phrase in your publisher’s copy “Nearly a third of Americans under the age of thirty have no religious affiliation.”

            It just feels like the authors want to have their demographic cake (a respectable “nearly a third” at the start of their copy) and eat it too (put the name of their favorite brand of secularism on the cover of the book.)

          2. I explicitly identify as an atheist, and even an anti-theist, and I completely agree with you.

            For the current political context in the United States, at least.  I am a stronger secularist than I am an anti-theist, however, as the clerics (in my particular society) don’t wield significant political power. Had I been an atheist in, say, 1930s Spain, where the local Catholic Church had quite explicitly allied with the fascist Franco, I imagine I would have different views on the matter. My point is that there is political context to all of this that tends to get ignored in the Internet comment discussions. 

          3.  I grew up atheist in a community that frowned on those with that “label.” Although I personally always understood it, due to being brought up with it being explained this way, that being atheist simply meant I didn’t believe in god, nothing more, nothing less. People attaching the anti-religion thing I always saw as people being ignorant, and otherwise having nothing to do with me. It didn’t occur to me until my teen years that people identified atheism as anti-theism instead of the correct a-theism. I personally identify atheism as a-theism, and anyone thinking otherwise as ignorant of what it really means or that they’re simply looking to insult/start a fight/whatever, in which case its a matter of bullying more then anything else.

            Ignorant people are always going to use labels, intelligent people often do it too. Just follow what many parents tell their kids, “Never discuss religion or politics.”

          4.  Since you’re nitpicking about word definitions, then no “A Secular Survival Guide” won’t work either.

            I am a secularist. I am also a theist. I don’t want other people’s religions involved in my government just as much as I’m sure they wouldn’t want me imposing my beliefs on them.

            I have a religious affiliation but I’m still a secularist.

      2. The term only means this to a certain class of people.  In usage it has a lot of meanings including, but not limited to that.

    3. Hmm, that’s not how I read that excerpt at all. The writer seems to take care to explicitly distinguish atheists as a sub-set of the ‘nones’.

      Also, I’m interested in the polls you refer to. Admittedly I don’t pay a huge amount of attention to such stats for America, but I can’t say I’ve seen one that digs down that far. Interesting.

    4. Believe me when I say that Hemant Mehta is well aware of the statistics on religious identification among “nones” and it was not his intent to do this lumping.

  2. Living as I do in a very progressive, university area, I see the opposite problem. Those poor theists have it tough. Not that we have any in our family, thank God. 

    1. In my blue state high school, some kids started a Church of Satan group. The Church of Satan kids would sometimes bully or troll the wiccan kids.

      The only thing that kept the Church of Satan kids from forming an officially sanctioned school group was the fact that they couldn’t find a faculty adviser.

      The more things change, the more they stay the same.

  3. It’s interesting to see this. In my high school it was the other way around with a lot of Atheists persecuting the religious kids. Nobody wanted to lead a group of tolerant Atheists because people get nailed to trees and turned into Martyrs for that.

  4. I didn’t see anything in the table of contents, or on the blog site, that suggests that the author has any idea what kind of a legal mine field the subject is. In most countries, including the United States, it’s accepted common law that minor dependents don’t get to pick their own religion (or lack thereof), that the parents’ right to practice their religion (or the state’s right to mandate a religion) includes the right to inform minor children what their religion is, and to enforce that decision.

    1. Tee hee. I informed my parents at the ripe old age of five (when they handed me a New Testament) that I didn’t see the point in that Jesus stuff. They never argued with me, and ended up as atheist as me.

    2. >>In most countries, including the United States, it’s accepted common law that minor dependents don’t get to pick their own religion (or lack thereof)

      I don’t think this is accurate.  The 1st amendment specifically speaks to the *non* state-establishment of any religion.  You also used the misleading phrase “common law”; there’s really no such thing.

      1. Could be Mr. Hicks is speaking to us via transdimensional teletypography from his Philadelphia basement in 1788.  James Madison is e’en now peeping through his dusty window, goggle-eyed with horror.

      1. I’m having trouble finding the case law citations (I don’t have access to a case law database), but when I was studying the subject, two court cases were given as examples. In the first, a college student, kidnapped by deprogrammers on behalf of her parents after joining a cult, tried to sue the deprogrammer and the kidnappers and the case was thrown out, citing the parents’ constitutional right to practice their religion. The more recent case involved a Baptist vacation bible school that recruited kids from the neighborhood without parental consent, and baptized them; the Jewish parents of one of the kids sued the church for interfering in their parental rights and won. I know of no US court case in which the religious belief or practice “rights” of the child were upheld over the competing religious belief or practice rights of the parent(s).

  5. My personal view of life, the Universe and everything evolves over time, crossing colourful secular labels as it does so.

    However I label myself as an atheist for practical and political purposes.

    If strength comes in numbers and we kept our many changing ‘none’ labels, we would never be able to contest the stronghold of the christian church in every aspect of our lives.

    ‘atheist’ becomes a useful term we can use to gain momentum, discuss our varying views on life and achieve change while walking under the same banner. (for whatever reason, ‘secularist’, ‘humanist’, etc. haven’t gotten the same energy or support as a movement)

    I know what I believe in. But I am happy to wear the atheist hat for the purpose of chipping away the power that christian entities have and enjoy my personal freedom. It provides me with useful tools to discuss issues with christians (and ‘nones’ who haven’t had to defend their positions yet)

    This is in the context of Spain and Australia, in case it makes a difference to how it’s perceived in the US.

    1. I think there may be a difference in perception in the US, and possibly a difference in demographics as well.

      In the Pew study from which this original “none” assessment comes, agnostics outnumber atheists, and are growing at a greater rate than atheists (3.3% vs 2.4%). The “nothing in particular” people greatly outnumber the atheists and the agnostics, at 13.9%. So we’re naming a whole group of people after their smallest percentage.

      Let’s look a little closer at the nones. Of the “nones” counted in the original poll, more than 60% say they believe in god or a universal spirit with some degree of certainty (30% absolutely certain, 38% believe but are less certain), while only 27% say they do not.

      Given those numbers, using “atheist” over “agnostic,” “secular,” or “non-religious” to describe the growing secular community doesn’t make sense to me.

      I wish I had actual data about public perception of agnosticism versus public perception of atheism. Alas, I can’t seem to find any data on that subject… because once again, people habitually group the two together in every public opinion poll I’ve been able to locate. So this tendency to lump the two together makes it impossible for us to make informed decisions about public perception.

      The demographic breakdown might be different in your country, but that’s what the demographics look like here. My family is a perfect example: none of us would identify as atheists, at least half of us would probably be “nones,” but all of us support secular education and secular government.

      For more information on the demographics in question, you can download the entire report here:

    2.  Your false perception of Christianity as a uniform, monolithic cultural force seems to be leading you to knowingly lump yourself into a false uniform, monolithic category of Atheist. I suppose calcifying your worldview into a stark black/white one makes things easier, but it’s also symptomatic of exactly the type of thinking you probably find objectionable in religious types.

      1. I’m talking politics, power and influence at institutional levels – not at personal levels. In Spain, the Roman Catholic Church is indeed monolithic when it comes to politics. Money from your taxes gets assigned to the Church by default unless you specifically opt-out. And so your name goes on a black list and you start realizing how much power the Church has. Opus Dei, the far right, the old money and power hierarchies have far reaching influence into education, health, finance…

        There might be many ways of being a Christian, but the link Church-State still exists, no matter how many variations of christianity are contained within.

        Therefore I stand by my initial comment: everybody is free to believe as they please – but some institutions have too much power and influence that goes unchecked unless an equal, opposing power rises. So for all the different flavours of god-loving people out there, there is an equal variety of non-god believers. But there is one Church that has power and influence, and no-one specifically to play the role of Opposition… and atheists are as close as it gets, for now.

  6. Black cover with red text in a rather Soviet looking font…  Interesting.  It does make for a nice volume to shake and pound at a pulpit.

  7. Wow…

    The existence of this book is surprising to me, having grown up in New York with a mostly secular student body with plenty of every religion ever invented thrown in for variety.

    “The Young Atheists Survival Guide, Abridged version”
    “Chapter 1. Move to New York”
    “The End”

    1. For “New York”, read “Europe”.

      I trust there’s a companion book.  “Young Anarchists Survival Guide – Helping Non-Political Students Survive”.

      We currently have a real problem with language as discussed below. “Atheist” (and perhaps “Anarchist”) gets defined by believers as being “Not our belief”. People who actually feel that way typically have little or no opinion and don’t define themselves via the negative, they simply don’t care or pay any attention. Atheist (and agnostic) zealots are in the minority of non-believers with the rest seeing belief as simply irrelevant if they think about it at all. So why should the believers get to define the language used to describe us, and why should we get lumped in with the zealots?

      1. Because there are many atheists – of your non-zealous flavour I surmise – who will describe themselves as atheist precisely because “they see belief as simply irrelevant if they think about it at all”?

      2. I’m an atheist because I can no more accept the concept of a universe ruled by unseen supernatural powers than I can a universe where addition is not commutative.

        That does not mean that I disparage the beliefs of those who do, unless they try to enact those beliefs into legislation which affects my life. 

        For example, the fact that my city’s official seal has had (since the early 1900’s) a cross as one of its elements bothers me not one iota.  The sort of atheist who gets his panties in a wad over such things is the sort of atheist with which I don’t choose to associate.

  8. Atheists are boring.  People who think the US Constitution protects them from their parents and others in their community are hilarious.

    1. Atheists are boring.

      Agreed, and nothing is more exciting than watching a bunch of headless chickens running around bumping into each other attempting to please an invisible sky wizard.

      1. One of my tips for getting along as an atheist in a non-atheist society:  Using phrases like “invisible sky wizard” may give one a temporary frisson of “daring iconoclasm”, but in the long run really aren’t worth the trouble.

        1. I’m not an atheist. And, I enjoy using the phrase because I think it’s funny. I gave up a long time ago trying to appease conservatives, religious people, corporate types, party poopers, etc.

          And, I’m happier for it. So there’s my CowTip for you.

  9. Atheism is just another crutch, a belief is you will, for certain types of people to grasp onto. You’d think opting out of religion wouldnt mean going straight into another one…

    How long until “The Atheists Bible” is (unironically) published?

    1. “You’d think opting out of religion wouldnt mean going straight into another one… Actually that’s exactly how it works. You often find that the most militant self-defined atheists are the ones who used to be religious zealots until they had to part with their previous cult for whatever reason. Opinions change, behavior stays the same. And then sometimes it’s really just about personal vengeance.

      Meanwhile, us folks who have been raised with an agnostic worldview are just as dissassociated when an “atheist” claims to speak on our behalf as we were when the pope or an imam did.

    2.  You should probably let atheists decide what atheism means.  To me it’s a straight-forward conclusion from everything else I know about the universe.  It’s certainly not a crutch — since it’s a conclusion for me and not a premise it doesn’t actually do any work to support any other part of my worldview.

      But yeah, casting aspersions on the beliefs of people you don’t know is more fun (something you have in common with a lot of atheists in fact).  So go you.

    1. I do know there is no evidence for the existence of any god. Particularly any of the gods as described in our species’ various mythical texts. Indeed many of those gods are most definitely do not exist given what we now know about physics and the cosmos. And that includes the Abrahamic god as desribed in the Bible. So, while you are strictly correct, you are also deeply wrong.

  10. I’ve been an atheist since I was 11 or so (early 90s). I’ve also attended a Catholic school (as an atheist) and a school that was primarily evangelical. You know how much grief I got for it? None. The key to surviving as a minority opinion is to be respectful, articulate and overwhelming avoid being a dick. There’s sticking up for your beliefs and then there is calling people who believe in God dumb, uneducated, misled, etc. Granted telling most teens to avoid being dicks is next to impossible.

  11. Harshest (or funniest in hindsight) experience as a young agnostic in middle school Latin class. Can’t remember the context, but our teacher asked if anyone in the class doubted the existence of God. I was the only student to raise my hand. His immediate response was of outright rage asking me what kind of sick person I was. He then tells me I should come to his farm and watch animals get born and then tell him I don’t believe in God. (Okaaaay???) Pretty sure my grade got lowered a point because of it. Back then (the 80s) you never felt comfortable admitting you were a non-believer to anyone except your closest friends. Glad that atheism is not some secret shame one must keep to themselves anymore.

    1.  *amen* (cough) to that, but I would say that admitting you don’t believe in God to somebody can still harm you in relationships, family, employment etc. etc. It is still unacceptable to a lot of people.

      1. Yeah, but like most forms of intolerance, it varies wildly depending on who you are, where you live, and what kind of people surround you.  I was brought up mildly Methodist (in the snoozing, Reverend Lovejoy ice-cream-social sense), and lost that faith in high school in the mid-80s.  But I was in Southern California, and though nearly all of my friends and neighbors were Reagan Republicans, none of them ever seemed to feel that my faith (or lack thereof, which I didn’t exactly hide) was any of their concern.  I was lucky.  And back then I thought that large communities of extra-conservative Evangelical people, like the small town in Footloose, were kinda rare and getting rarer.

        Hell, what did I know?

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