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Atheist group wants to join with community

James Gillham, president of Albany Georgia Atheists, said his organization wants only to provide a social network for other “free thinkers,” and to dispel misconceptions and prejudices about atheists and agnostics. The two and a half year old group has grown to 65 members, Gillham said.

James Gillham, president of Albany Georgia Atheists, said his organization wants only to provide a social network for other “free thinkers,” and to dispel misconceptions and prejudices about atheists and agnostics. The two and a half year old group has grown to 65 members, Gillham said.

ALBANY, Ga. -- James Gillham says he's a happier man these days, now that he's with others of his kind. Gillham is an atheist -- a rare bird in Southwest Georgia -- and that can be a solitary life. For the two and a half years since he arrived from California, he's managed to ease his loneliness through Albany Georgia Atheists, a group he serves as president.

"So much here is on the foundation of the church," said Gillham, a contractor at MCLB. "It's a huge part of the culture."

While he was warmly welcomed as a newcomer, a typical question posed by residents was "Have you found a church yet?" or "Why don't you visit my church?" Gillham said. While the well-intentioned comments were appreciated, it seemed to intensify his sense of isolation. He missed the relationships he'd had back home in California.

"Albany Georgia Atheists (albanygeorgiaatheists.com) is a place where free thinkers like myself can come together and build those social networks," Gillham said. "Our first meeting was in December of 2011 -- just myself and one other guy at Joe Muggs coffee shop at the mall. Now we have 65 members."

Gillham said that while he and other atheists are destined to view things differently from most other people, those who embrace religion have no reason to fear them.

"There's nothing wrong with their perspectives," Gillham said. "We could argue certain points within each religion, but that's not what our group is all about. We're about building those social networks and encouraging free thought."

In fact, Gillham says the young group has gone beyond the social club concept and wants to be a part of building the community. For the most part, he says, that effort has progressed with little incident. But not always.

"We sponsored a 5K run out at Darton (State College) a couple of weeks ago," Gillham said. "Some of the runners there took sharpies and colored out the logos on the shirts. We got a chuckle out of that, but you know, if we'd done the same to a church logo we never would have heard the end of it."

On another occasion, Gillham was in the office of a local service organization he declined to name. The purpose of the visit was to offer help, Gillham said.

"The conversation seemed productive until I mentioned who I represented," Gillam said. "Instantly, communications shut down. They were quick to push me out the door."

According to Gillham, the mission of Albany Georgia Atheists is two-pronged: to provide a social outlet for members of the group, including activities such as game nights, movie nights, weekend canoe trips and the like; and also to work toward dispelling negative ideas many people hold regarding any form of atheism.

"A lot of people go automatically on the defensive," Gillham said. "They want to accuse us of being Satanists or in league with the devil."

Gillham never had a strong belief in God, he said. Since he was very young, he felt something just wasn't right. Nothing made real sense. Then, during the first of two tours of Marine duty, he came to an understanding with himself.

"By the way, the old saying about 'no atheists in foxholes' is just not true," Gillam said. "The idea is that if someone is shooting at you, you're going to pray just didn't work for me."

According to Gillham, it was during heavy fighting in Iraq -- before Fallujah was taken the second time -- that he happened to read an article on atheism.

"Suddenly, everything made sense," Gillham said. "I understood why all those years I could never find faith in a higher power -- because I was an atheist."

Gillham said that a common Christian misconception is that only religious people can be moral. The idea tends to make his blood boil.

"That human beings can't understand that things like rape and murder are wrong without a 4,000-year-old book is just ridiculous," Gillham said. "It's actually insulting to me. Morality is innate in all of us. It comes from our ability to empathize with other people. We do the right things because they are the right things to do."

Comments

Mike_in_SWFL 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Glad to see these folks have found each other and organized. It's not going to be an easy battle dispelling the myths and such that have been built up around atheists and atheism, but I wish them the best.

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Sherwood_Eagle_Alum 11 months, 2 weeks ago

We will have to agree to disagree, Mr. Gillham. While I wish you the best, I wish your cause (to grow your organization) the opposite. I truly hope you have a change of heart, Mr. Gillham, and please know that I believe you are loved by our Creator.

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FryarTuk 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Turn off the neon sign and bull horn and come on in. The fishing and hunting are great. Pretty decent restaurants which are interested only in the color of your money. Civic groups which don't care what you believe. Bowling, movies, Lake Chehaw, Flint River, football, college and high school baseball games, nobody will ask, we don't care. Methinks thou doth protest too much.

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kingd00 11 months, 2 weeks ago

What ever you do don't ask an atheist if they don't believe in God, why is He all they ever talk about?

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Mike_in_SWFL 11 months, 2 weeks ago

I'll answer for you, at least in my case, "There is no compelling evidence for the existence of any Creator being, let alone for the one depicted in the Abrahamic faiths."

The notion that all we talk about is God is amusing, but false. We actually discuss a wide range of topics, particularly science. We also discuss history, art, literature, medicine, economics and lots of other things. But then, if you want to be lazy and rely on unfounded stereotypes, be my guest. I can't stop you.

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chasia 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Most likely, the article writer asked questions which he responded.Most of the article was about Gillham's experiences in a Christian-dominated community, the history of the group, and its activity. It was 3/4 of the way down the article that his non-belief in God was discussed --- and wouldn't you have asked that of an atheist?

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FryarTuk 11 months, 2 weeks ago

" . . . and wouldn't you have asked that (God) of an atheist?" Why? You don't believe in one.

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chasia 11 months, 2 weeks ago

"....wouldn't you have asked that [his non-belief of God] of an atheist?" From your previous comment, you appear disinterested in the atheism, in as far as creating a group. But given the amount of comments to this article, there appears a fair amount of curiosity and opinion about it.

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RedEric 11 months, 2 weeks ago

I've got news for you Mr. Gillham what you are forming IS a church. We have churches all over town that are full of non-Christians. They are members for social and/or business reasons. You just think your being radical and edgy.

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agirl_25 11 months, 2 weeks ago

OMG you are soooooo right as far as the reason most are in church. I quote Mr. Gillham...."Gillham said that a common Christian misconception is that only religious people can be moral." That is so funny but true, and for the most part the ones who profess to be the most righteous of the masses are the most immoral. I give you...ta da drumroll... ......http://home.earthlink.net/~19ranger57/halosham.htm

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Puck_Rickenbacker 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Human beings are by nature social creatures. It was a good day when I found other non believers in the area. We are here, but we are marginalized at best, hated at worse, for no other reason than we don't believe what the majority believe. It doesn't seem to matter if we are good, kind hard working folks, if we don't believe, we are seen as someone to ignore, or deride. So often I think, who would Jesus hate? The christian's own bible talks about loving others, it talks about how Jesus associated with unsavory characters, the sick and poor. Yet modern christians seem to turn to hatefulness the minute they find out their fellow human being doesn't believe in their god. They express no interest or curiosity in what we might believe or why. They turn to insults and smug contempt. It's a shame, really. And were there a god I would like to think god would disapprove such malice in their hearts.

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FryarTuk 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Why are you trying to form a ghetto community? No body hates you. We have atheists and agnostics who come to our Sunday school class and one at another church's men's group. Guess what - mixed group, black & white, Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, priest, wine, steaks, laymen, noodle salad, 1 woman (host's wife), agnostic, Unitarian. Conversation topics - Golf, Mozart, motorcycles, football (UGA, AU, UA, Clemson, Yale (yes you read it right), professional BB, alternative fuels, and on and on. Ask yourselves why are you being defensive? What purpose does it serve?

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Conf3d3rat343var 11 months, 2 weeks ago

I just want all atheist`s in SW Georgia to turn over [to me would be great!] all money with the inscription "In God we Trust" to the nearest Christian. I know it would be blasphemy to carry such things on their person!

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FryarTuk 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Cover your neck. That red glow is scaring the sun.

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erock 11 months, 2 weeks ago

I might have known. California. I don't want to be anywhere close to this guy during a thunderstorm.

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cloudious 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Why? Do you not feel your god would save you in some miraculous fashion? Of course the pope-mobile is bulletproof and churches have lightening rods, so probably not quite enough faith for that.

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Trustbuster 11 months, 2 weeks ago

He has a right to believe or not to believe in God. That is the purpose why God gives us a free will. We all have choices presented to us throughout life. Jesus is at the door but ONLY YOU can let him in!

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Cartman 11 months, 2 weeks ago

What a sad article. I hope that not many children read it.

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Mike_in_SWFL 11 months, 2 weeks ago

How is it sad? A lack of belief in the supernatural isn't sad at all. The universe is amazing and wondrous enough without having to populate it with gods and fairies and ghosts.

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Ihope4albany 11 months, 2 weeks ago

This man is brave to speak up. In western culture, so much about the connection between God and humans had to be buried in order for the behaviors of certain groups of people to be accepted as truth. When God finishes His story whether Mr. Gilham and others like him believe it or not, they will know that there is a God. Not only that, but that God will reckon with all those who distorted nature and history for their perverse needs and exalted themselves against God.

A great example is Albany, GA. This city is so cursed by the past of slavery, lynching, raping, segregation, racism, and God knows what else. The majority of the citizens in Albany are living corpses because their souls were stolen along time ago from the "great fathers" of this forsaken city.

I still hope though that there is hope for redemption.

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Sister_Ruby_Two 11 months, 2 weeks ago

ihope, where do you go to teach Black Liberation Theology during the summer? Or do you take your annual pilgrimmage to Africa where everybody's doing GREAT these days?

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Ihope4albany 11 months, 2 weeks ago

For anyone's information, I enjoy being a white male who happens to have Native American and African American ancestry. While I get to benefit from so much of the tragedy that happened to both of these groups, here in Albany racism against blacks is so strong. I rarely talk about it in public because my friends are so like many of the bloggers. I have accepted the fact that my dominant ancestry of Europeans have exploited so many people around the world, not just in the U.S. Trouble is ahead for the whole globe because of the sins of forefathers.

That is why I always try to hope for Albany, which seems to have such a high degree of unwarranted hatred against blacks. It's almost like the rapist hating to see the child he produced during the rape of his own daughter.

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FryarTuk 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Oh jeez. What unvarnished bullshiza. Next you'll be wanting reparations.

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cloudious 11 months, 2 weeks ago

These comments are exactly the reason he felt the need to form his group. So many of you people are christians in name only - you are the most judgmental (and mental) group of people around and yet you feel persecuted. What amazing hypocrisy and what even more amazing lack of self-awareness to realize it.

Cartman, you hope no people read this article? Really? What would happen to organized religion if you were unable to indoctrinate children? What would happen to that which you call the truth? It would fade like the gods of old. You're an atheist with respect to nearly all gods. Why do you dismiss them?

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LashLarkin 11 months, 2 weeks ago

James, glad you are here. You are giving us some serious spiritual issues to consider. I struggle with some of the same issues you did, but at least you made a decision about your beliefs. I'm 71 and still struggling.

I hope to catch up with your group. Gotta say, the Southern Baptist teachings I got as a child are still with me - burned in my psyche. I'd pray in foxholes and I definitely pray on planes, unless there's a good supply of booze. (Just joking).

I don't consider myself an antsiest, but I'm not totally satisfied with the alternative - churches. No doubt a lot of people might feel threatened by what you represent, which for many means the unknown. I welcome the opportunity to be exposed to new ideas, and I totally agree with your final quote: "We do the right things because they are the right things to do."

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Hoodie 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Finally with all the hate and murder in the bible who would want their kids reading about a creator asking others to murder in his name including ones own children it's for the unintelligent human animal....

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mrcrappy1 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Great job, Mr. Gillham. I applaud your courage. Just remember, Albany is a lot like Iraq- you are outnumbered by a bunch of vicious, ignorant religious fanatics.

Best wishes. We admire you and will support your efforts any way possible.

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agirl_25 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Wonderful analogy, mrcrappy....how true that is. But I wonder if he is truly outnumbered by them or if they just don't have the brass to be honest about their true belief. Like someone said in another post, who thinks most are in church for business purposes.

CLWelch made an excellent observation too, on morality...why does someone need to be told by a god to be moral?
One last thing...those of you who speak of your god...what does he look like? I see pictures of the one you speak of all the time, Jesus, but want to know what your god looks like.

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FryarTuk 11 months, 2 weeks ago

I am so glad you have a group. I'll bet the meetings get boring as hell if you don't have somebody to argue with about a theistic concept.

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KaosinAlbany 11 months, 2 weeks ago

I think you have missed the point. No arguments at all. The article is about the group being peaceful and helping the community no matter who you are or what you believe or don't believe.

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FryarTuk 11 months, 2 weeks ago

No, you didn't understand. The point is there is no fing reasons to bring up religion if you don't want to. There is no reason to engage it unless it's the topic of a philosophical meeting. Look at the comments on the thread. Do you think they are not defensive and argumentative. Hell, what's the fun in that?

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FryarTuk 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Well, I love martinis and single malt Scotch. That'll at least insulate the boredom.

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candybob2000 11 months, 2 weeks ago

"That human beings can't understand that things like rape and murder are wrong without a 4,000-year-old book is just ridiculous," Gillham said. "It's actually insulting to me. Morality is innate in all of us. It comes from our ability to empathize with other people. We do the right things because they are the right things to do."

As an intellectual, I just don't understand, Mr. Gillham, how you can without a doubt say that there isn't a God, but make a statement like this at the end of your article. Without God, who even determines what is "right" or "wrong"? Seems to me, it takes a good bit more faith to believe that morality is innate in all of us...just happens to be...from nothing...especially when the world today shows exactly the opposite. As someone who believes with all her heart that there is a God and has experienced the fullness of His blessing, the answering of His prayers, the Holy Spirit speaking and working directly in her life, and the fulfillment that comes from following Him with all of her heart, I just plead with you to take your faith to the fullest outworkings of it and see the darkness that is there.

Praying for you to find the Saviour. There is no hope without Jesus.

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RevOxley 11 months, 2 weeks ago

If you are struggling with the morals of rape, incest, and murder I suggest you find a new god to believe in, as the Bible is full of special permissions for each of these.

If god were the foundation for my morals I would be an irretrievably dark and heinous person, thankfully the morals I do have are based on empathy and have kept me out of jail so far - and from doing great evils upon my fellow humans.

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CLWelch 11 months, 2 weeks ago

You don't need a god to determine morals. Humans are communal animals. We live in societies. The only way we've been able to survive and advance is through cooperation with one another. In order for that cooperation to exist, we must be able to trust one another. In order for that trust to exist, we can't allow people to go around committing acts of violence against others and stealing from others. What we think of us "right and wrong" is really just a set of rules that encourage co-operative behavior and help assure our survival. Over the course of about 200,000 years, these things have become innate within us. No god necessary.

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FryarTuk 11 months, 2 weeks ago

CLW "Over the course of about 200,000 years, these things have become innate within us." You can't honestly make a declarative statement like that. A number of anthropologists will easily stand you down in so far as modern human behavior or consciousness is concerned. Regardless of your no god remark. When you even introduce a god argument in the discussion of anthropology you violate fundamental structures of logic and reason. That's the problem with public discussions of atheism vs. theism. You can prove neither. The popus dictum of science is if something is capable of proof, it has to be capable of disproof. God is neither and so is not in the realm of science but of faith hence the discussion is nothing but an impasse where opinions are expressed, louder and louder. Pointless! Believe and think what you want but to attempt to proffer and sustain a thesis is tautological sophistry. The thread reminds me of the Argument Clinic of Monty Python's Flying Circus.

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CLWelch 11 months, 2 weeks ago

I don't see how you could possibly read what I wrote and interpret it as me using anthropology to disprove the existence of god. I was using it to show that there is at least one explanation for our moral code that doesn't require a god. It's possible that a god exists, but you can't prove it using the "argument from morality." That's the point that was made earlier and the one to which I was responding. If you're going to interject in the conversation, please take the time to understand what the conversation is about.

Earlier you wrote, "Do you think they are not defensive and argumentative?" Now, you're going on about opinions being expressed "louder and louder." I'm sure that you would love to have an argument with this "angry, screaming atheist" stereotype that you have in your head, but I really don't think that's who you're dealing with here. Sorry.

In fact, if you read back through all of the comments, the person being the most "defensive and argumentative" is you.

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FryarTuk 11 months, 2 weeks ago

"I don't see how you could possibly read what I wrote and interpret it as me using anthropology to disprove the existence of god."

Well, I didn't say that. Re-read your above text and then mine. I said you don't bring the God argument - moral or otherwise into anthropology which you did. Read your last sentence. "Over the course of about 200,000 years, these things have become innate within us. No god necessary." Apart from your introduction of the "god issue," anthropologically that is a declarative statement that will not wash! Take the last three words of that sentence "No god necessary" and you still can't make your thesis about morality stick. You included the god element into a poorly constructed anthropological declaration to serve an argumentative purpose. That's the point I made. I suggest you at least read what you have written if you can't think about it before hand.

As far as stereotypical presuppositions about you I have none. I am merely responding to what you have written very poorly. If you haven't discerned by now I am not defending any position other than to say you have made illogical statements. That could be described as offensive but definitely defensive.

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j1shalack 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Am I to assume that only atheists are "free-thinkers"...? (Whatever that means)

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RevOxley 11 months, 2 weeks ago

I think that might be a faulty assumption.

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FloridaLionGuy 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Welcome to the Bible Belt! Here you will find opinions embedded in tradition without a shred of education backing them up! They are some of the most bigoted selfish folks who will smile to your face and talk behind your back. I hope you scare as many as I have with your rational thought, informed discussion, and fact based arguments. Good luck, you will need it with these dolts! Love, a fellow atheist.

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agirl_25 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Good one FloridaLionGuy and how true. I have never seen so many bigoted people in my life, white and black, since we moved to Sowega more than 30 years ago. I don't think the group is scaring the people, but I honestly think he is making a lot of them think long and hard about the lives they live. I always like the reference Bertrand Russel's (British philosopher, logician, essayist and social critic) gave - the celestial teapot. I like the way he summed it up: He argues that although it is impossible to know that the teapot does not exist, most people would not believe in it. Therefore, one's view with respect to the teapot would be an agnostic "ateapotist", because while they don't believe in the existence of the teapot, they don't claim to know for certain. Maybe I am ateapotist. Athiests, agnostic, ateapotist, does it really matter? We are free to believe what we like...and I do.......Welcome Mr. Gillham, I wish you much success. ........sincerely, Mrs. Dilligaf

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rosaharris 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Great to see this! I will be looking ya'll up. I'm a native South Georgia Atheist. It has always puzzled me why Christians in this area react to it as though you just insulted them by having a different view of the world than them.

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FryarTuk 11 months, 2 weeks ago

I think you folks are just a crowd of attention seekers. I have lived in SWGA and attended protestant church services most of my life and I have yet to hear anybody insult atheists or make exclusive remarks about people thinking different. But I will tell you this, I would never go where I am unwelcome.

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lowercasejesus 11 months, 1 week ago

I implore you all to research the origins of religion on earth. Not from last year or 4000 years ago but from early man. It is a coping mechanism made up by our conscience that helped us survive a scary world. All. Ill repeat all religions on earth were born out of this.

And to the person who also believes in 'curses' please understand those definitely dont exist either.

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