When I was walking toward the parking lot on Saturday, a young lady walked toward me carrying a sign that read “This is what an Atheist looks like.” As she began to cross the street a security guard stopped her and made her throw the sign away. I asked him why and he said that no picketing is allowed on post. That situation demonstrated the atmosphere leading up to Rock Beyond Belief (RBB). It seemed many people were concerned there would be trouble. But that is to be expected when a social precedence is set. And while RBB doesn’t rank up there with Rosa Parks’ famous bus ride or Harvey Milk’s successful run for office, it indeed set precedence. RBB, like the Reason Rally a week earlier, demonstrated that normal people with normal families live normal lives without religion. Unlike any other secular event, though, RBB also showed the world that America’s military is full of non-believers. And it did so without incidence. No riots, no mob violence. I am sorry if that disappointed some. But, as anyone involved with the secular movement could tell you, a firm but friendly stand is what you can expect from rational people fighting for acceptance. Because of events like RBB, we no longer need to carry a sign that says “This is what an Atheist looks like.” People already know.
What members of our group may not know, though, is that we trace the history of our current organization to the roots of this event. When the Billy Graham Evangelical Association held “Rock the Fort” on Fort Bragg in 2010, an event advertised to convert Soldiers to Christianity, the secular community on Fort Bragg and in the surrounding Fayetteville area were outraged. “Rock the Fort” became the proverbial straw that caused secular people in the community to say enough is enough. And they sought an organization around which to rally. With the momentum gained from this outpouring of interest, a cadre of members from the Cape Fear Atheists and Agnostics (CFAA) decided to take their local Meet-Up group to the next level. Led by Geri Weaver, a seasoned veteran in the cause for secular rights, the group decided that the best way to counter religious pressure was not by plotting an anti-religious counter attack, but by showing the friendly face of rational thinkers. Geri set up a meeting between CFAA members and Mike Werner, a former president of the American Humanist Association (AHA). CFAA members weren’t long into Mike’s presentation before realizing that Humanism was the core principle around which we wanted to build a new organization. And thus was born a new chapter of AHA, the Central North Carolina Atheists and Humanists or CNCAH (pronounced “Seen-Ka”), Fayetteville’s first non-profit organization for freethinkers.
Since our founding on 12 February 2011, we more than double in size while tackling fun, new, and challenging projects. The first was a double hitter with the After Rapture Party and Greydon Square Concert. Afterwards, we added a regular line-up of events to include our monthly Critical Drinking, Happy Humanist Hour, and family oriented science programs; all the while participation in various festivals, scholarly debates, and secular celebrations. Recently, we joined forces with other secular groups in North and South Carolina to create a speakers tour to bring acclaimed personalities to these states at a fraction of the cost of independent efforts. And now with RBB, we add our first Humanist vendor booth to CNCAH’s repertoire of activities. Thanks to the members who manned the table throughout the day, booth sales exceeded our expectations. Also, even though we were not allowed to solicit membership on post during the event, the publicity we received from our booth resulted in a surge of new members.
So what’s next? Well, there’s no time to rest. On Easter Sunday, we are going to show Fayetteville that community service is a better alternative to worship service with our first Adopt-a-Highway clean-up event. A year in the making, CNCAH is finally and proudly responsible for 2 miles of Ramsey Street starting directly across from the Methodist University Golf Course. (Coincidence I assure you.)
So come out this Sunday, meet our new members, and let’s show the community who we are!