From: Clint O'Dell (email@example.com)
Date: Mon Jan 21 2002 - 17:03:10 MST
This article was printed in Portfolio Weekly (January 22nd issue) and
written by D.D. Delaney.
I Want To Disbelieve
PAT ROBERTSON, take note. A young man has come to Virginia Beach with a
mission to make the world safe for atheists and free-thinking secular
humanists, and his organizational model is the Christian Coalition.
Clint O'Dell is just getting started, but, like Pat before him, he hopes to
go far. He has a vision of a global Atheist Coalition, with its own
broadcasting system, charities, and a political agenda to defeat faith-based
legislative initiatives and elect atheists to high office.
Describing himself, at 23, as "the youngest atheist activist there is,"
O'Dell believes there is an atheist awakening dawning in America.
I'm hoping to pick up (that) slow-moving ball," he says, "put it in a
cannon, strike a match, and set off that cannon."
In partnership with like-minded Lauren Floyd of Chesapeake, he has put out a
call for all doubters, skeptics, and non-believers to attend the first
meeting of Freethinkers and Atheists of Virginia on Sunday, Jan. 27, from
1-3 p.m. in the auditorium of the Virginia Beach Central Library.
The organization's purpose, O'Dell says, is to achieve legitimacy for
atheism and "to promote secular values." Membership is open to "anyone who
is for helping to make America become more secular."
"We have no idea" how many people might turn out for the first meeting, says
Floyd, who, at 43, is O'Dell's senior partner in the start-up. "Getting
atheists to join a group is kind of like trying to herd cats. They're
typically individualists, suspicious of any organized group."
O'Dell and Floyd both define atheism as the lack of belief in the
supernatural. "It is a mechanical doctrine," O'Dell explains, which affirms
a faith in the rational mind and in the methods of science. "God," on the
other hand, "is Santa Claus for adults."
Free thinkers, in contrast may believe in God but arrive there "on their own
merit and wit" rather than through acceptance of an authority, like the
Both men embrace a universally applied, humanist ethical code.
Floyd equates it to the Golden Rule. They are avid believers in the
separation of church and state and, says Floyd, in "doing what we can to
improve the lot of everyone."
But O'Dell and Floyd do not envision a typical political action group.
O'Dell foresees meetings as social and educational events, featuring
discussions on science, philosophy, and the great books - "like Plato and
his weird beliefs."
"Mainly," Floyd says, "we're trying to get a group of fellow skeptics,
non-believers, and freethinkers together to have fun, learn about things,
learn about each other. Whatever people want to do - go bowling, go to the
theater together. It's to get people used to the fact that it's okay not to
believe, and to meet others like themselves."
Floyd, a computer programmer with a background in chemical engineering, was
raised a Catholic but experienced "an erosion of belief over time. I can't
put my finger on when I came to the conclusion I was an atheist. I just grew
Says O'Dell, "I've always been an atheist," but, after his boyhood in Texas
under the stern eye of a Baptist father, "going to church was one of the
main reasons I stayed an atheist. Church is boring! I got a grudge against
it, having to go all the time or it's time for a spanking."
But the motivation to become an activist didn't strike until college in
Denver, CO, two years ago, "when Kansas took evolution completely out of the
schools and replaced it with religion. That got me really stirred up."
Agitating him further was proposed legislation in Colorado requiring the
posting of the Ten Commandments and a mandatory moment of silence in public
school classrooms. He looked for solidarity with other atheists but, to his
surprise, found none. So he posted notices announcing the formation of
Atheists of Denver. That group, he says, now has 180 members with 40 or 50
attending meetings regularly.
Meanwhile, his dream for an atheist broadcasting system has already been
born - www.freethoughtradio.com, streamed over the internet 24/7 from
Virginia Beach with a variety of information, opinion, and entertainment
"for secular thinkers."
Freethought Radio now has 500 listeners a day, he says, when "six months ago
it was just an idea." He and Don Souza, a beach musician, collaborated
between here and Denver to found the station last July. Once "we'd put
everything together, we thought it would work better if I moved here."
But, he adds, "I was a little disappointed that there weren't any secular
groups here." He believes Freethinkers & Atheists of Virginia, following his
Denver prototype, can fill that gap.
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