A Gainesville woman has made it her mission to combat anti-atheist stigmas – one waffle at a time.
According to a Pew Research Center study, the American public looks as negatively on atheists as it does on Muslims.
On a scale from zero to 100, with zero being the worst rating of religious groups and 100 the best, atheism received an average rating of 41, while Muslims received an average rating of 40, according to the study.
Gainesville atheist Brunch, a gathering where atheists can talk openly and socialize in an outdoors setting, is spearheaded by creator Adrienne Fagan, a research coordinator at the University of Florida.
Those who attend the gathering can bring food and games. The purpose of the Gainesville atheist Brunch’s first meeting, scheduled for Feb. 1 at Thomas Center Gardens, is to introduce atheists to each other in a space they can meet and create a community.
“We don’t necessarily congregate or have that built-in community that religious people do,” Fagan said. “But this gives atheists a chance to have that community.”
Only two weeks old, Gainesville atheist Brunch aims to foster a sense of friendship and openness among local atheists, Fagan said.
“The word atheist can be vilified,” Fagan said. “This is a non-dogmatic space people can get together and feel less isolated.”
The isolation atheists feel can be paralleled to the isolation of those in the LGBT community, according to Melanie Brewster, Fagan’s friend and an associate professor in psychology at Columbia University.
“There is a similar stigma in the marginalization of these groups,” Brewster said, who wrote a book in 2014 entitled “Atheist in America,” further exploring the parallels she found.
“People in the South and Midwest especially might feel it more because there are people who are much more religious,” she said.
In the eight years Brewster lived in Gainesville while pursuing her undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of Florida, she said there was never a space like the one Fagan is creating.
Gary S. Edinger, a Gainesville attorney who specializes in First Amendment law, said he thinks since Gainesville is generally socially progressive, people gathering for the brunch shouldn’t run into criticism from local residents. However, other parts of North Central Florida might differ.
According to Fagan, she first wants to gauge how local atheists are feeling and what they want to talk about. She hopes to explore the idea of diving into a more guided discussion on atheism at future meetings.
For now, Fagan said she is hopeful for its future and simply wants to enjoy brunch with fellow atheists.