Religious skeptics gathering in Pittsburgh

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For the third year in a row, and for the first time in Pittsburgh, a coalition of atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, humanists and other skeptics of the supernatural will gather for an annual conference beginning today at the DoubleTree by Hilton, Downtown.

In between musical performances and comedians’ routines, they’ll be hearing speakers raising concerns about issues ranging from the treatment of women in religious communities to the promotion of creationism in schools and religious displays such as creches on government sites. They’ll be affirming that people can be ethical without a religious worldview — and they’ll offer people an opportunity to literally come out of a makeshift closet and proclaim themselves atheists.

The Pennsylvania State Atheist/​Humanist Conference opens at 6 p.m. and continues through Sunday.

The conference website describes its aim as “to promote evidence-based thinking, humanist values, the separation of church and state, and acceptance, community, and moral inspiration for those who reject supernaturalism in all of its forms and instead embrace science, reason and logic as their governing life principles.”

Among the sponsors are various secular groups that meet regularly in the Pittsburgh area, working under the Coalition of Reason banner.

Ann Norman, an organizer, said she is among a growing number of people who are declaring their atheism in spite of the potential conflicts it could lead to with religious family members and friends.

“A lot of people felt very lonely because their whole life, [religion] never made sense to them. They were made to feel ashamed,” she said. “Finally, we look up and go, ‘Wait a minute, maybe it’s not us, maybe it’s them.’ ”

A 2012 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found about 5 percent of American adults declared themselves atheist or agnostic. That’s part of a larger group of nearly 20 percent who claim no religious affiliation, although many in the larger group say they believe in God and other aspects of the supernatural. While still a minority, both the unaffiliated and the smaller core of atheists and agnostics have been growing in numbers and outspokenness.

More information is at atheistpa.org.


Peter Smith: petersmith@ post-gazette.com, 412-263-1416 or on Twitter @PG_PeterSmith.

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