Atheist, humanist and secular leaders gather in Temecula, Calif. for the first SoCal Secular Leadership Summit, which was held from Mar. 1-3, 2019. Photo by Heather Adams

Atheist summits aim to find community, and power, in networking nonbelievers

TEMECULA, CALIF. (RNS) — In early March, more than 30 atheist, humanist and secular leaders gathered at a residence overlooking Southern Californian vineyards to discuss politics, social issues and how to draw in more people at a first-ever SoCal Secular Leadership Summit.

The event was the first of three summits planned by Secular Coalition for America, an advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. Later this month, similar gatherings will be held in Greenville, S.C., and Nashville, Tenn. Like Temecula, Greenville is outside of an urban hub, and all three cities' event atmospheres are more seminar than corporate convention. The organizers of the summit wanted their attendees to be able to see each other.

Sarah Levin, director of grass roots and community programs at Secular Coalition for America, said that her organization recently found that nonbelievers felt well-connected to national secular organizations but disconnected from others like them locally.

“We realized we need to help strengthen these networks of local groups so that they can be mobilized for political advocacy,” Levin said.

RELATED: Atheist minister Gretta Vosper hopes to stay at Canadian church for the long haul

To that end, last weekend's summiteers broke the day up into frequent intensive discussions about common interests, rather than asking them to sit through lectures. The Angelenos talked a lot about homelessness and climate change, while San Diegans picked up on local buzz about offering their fellow residents a public-sector alternative to the corporate monopoly that provides energy.

The planners were also careful to insert long breaks into their days to encourage networking.

“It’s not like they can’t find each other’s information online,” Levin said. “But it’s just not the same as having a personal relationship.”

When they did sit to listen to a presentation, the atheists heard about how to take action on topics such as how to create conversations about atheism in public places or how to work with interfaith groups.

Phil Calderone of Inland Empire Atheists, Agnostics and Humanists spoke to the group about how interacting with faith communities in his area makes others more comfortable with secularism.

“Being in the room normalizes atheism,” he told the group.

Phil Calderone of Inland Empire Atheists, Agnostics and Humanists speaks about his involvement with interfaith groups at the SoCal Secular Leadership Summit on Mar. 2, 2019. Photo by Heather Adams.

Calderone stressed that atheists don’t have to take a back seat to believers when meeting with them on local issues. While Calderone doesn’t attend local prayer events held by interfaith groups, he said he still suggested interfaith groups add “action points” to these events to further the causes they were asking for help with in prayer — something he said benefited the whole group.

Levin led a talk on how to build relationships with state officials to make sure that policies that are being addressed on a national level, such as addiction recovery and voter registration, and local levels included secular options.

Like many faith organizations, they also spent time talking about how to attract members, especially younger people.

Rebecca Kitchings of the Inland Empire Atheists, Agnostics and Humanists group said they have the largest membership in Southern California with more than 2,500 people on their Meetup, a site and app used to organize online groups that host in-person events or meetings. But not all are active, paying members, something she hopes to increase.

She learned that there may be many more atheists and other secular thinkers in her area than she imagined. During her search she assumed she’d find a dozen or so secular groups in Southern California. Instead she found almost 70.

Kitchings said the summit was another sign that atheists should meet, talk and generally look to their fellow non-believers to be lifted up.

“You can get burnt out. It’s a lot of work, and you’re not getting paid,” Kitchings said. “It’s gratifying but it’s a lot of work.”

Communal sharing may be one strength of faith groups the secular leaders agree bears imitation. “In religious communities, retreats, leadership development, community building and physical spaces of gathering is very common,” said Evan Clark, executive director of Atheist United Los Angeles.

“We have much more common, shared goals and values than maybe we knew,” Clark said. “When we were all in the same room, we realized we are completely on the same team.”


  1. Supposedly believing in nothing religious runs the risk of turning away some of those whose “religion” is having a big heart for other people. The one thing I would recommend to these forming groups is that they adopt service-sounding names instead of emphasizing the atheism, and the agnosticism. SoCal Secular Leadership Summit and Secular Coalition for America sound so much better than Inland Empire Atheists & Agnostics. (IMHO)

  2. Considering how poorly women haven’t treated by the Pro secular movement I wouldn’t recommend anyone female go to such an event.

  3. Someone please tell me why this is a story on RNS?

    Unless Ben or Spuddie are directly involved in these meetings, I’m not really interested in what a bunch of deviants are up to.

  4. Christians burned women at the stake for centuries, are ordered to shut the F up in church , encourages men to rape women in war zones, condones rape as long as the father is paid and he marries her, and allows daughters to be sold into sexual slavery.

    So go ahead and show us examples of how the “secular movement” did something worse than that. And if you’re going to mix them all together, then I will too and add the current day beheadings, female genital mutilation, and burkas from Islam to my list.

    You might want to read that bible you carry around if any of this is ‘news’ to you.

  5. Speaking of deviants, how’s are those child rape cases in your church going? Anyone figured out whether your god enjoys a child rape and chooses not to stop it, or is he too powerless, or just non-existent?

  6. THIS IS AS SILLY AS IT IS ELITIST. Don’t tell me Ashiests & Eggnogshticks don’t know why is it that “nonbelievers felt … disconnected from others like them locally”? Or why “find[ing] each other’s information online [i]s just not the same as having a personal relationship”? Or why at this “first-ever SoCal Secular Leadership Summit”, they “spent time talking about how to attract members, especially younger people”? Or why “the Inland Empire Atheists, Agnostics and Humanists … have [a] membership in Southern California [of only 0.21% or] 2,500 people” – out of a total population of 24,122,237 in 2018?

    My answer to their SILLY, IF ELITIST, MINDSET, bears GOOD NEWS IN JUST 2 WORDS:

    Three percent. Repeat after me, “Three lousy percent!” That’s 3% as in:

    (1) Per “The 2015 Pew Religious Landscape survey”: “Of the American population … atheists made up 3.1%”!

    (2) Per “The World Factbook [of 2013]”: “Non-religious people [in the U.S.] make up 9.66%, while one fifth of them are atheists”!

    (3) Per “Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project [2009]”: “In the United States, only 5% of the population did not have a belief in a god and out of that small group only 24% self-identified as ‘atheist'”!

  7. Wow – the anger is strong with this one. Maybe at your next athiest anonymous meeting you could open with a prayer to help you cope with your anger issues.

  8. If there are so few of them, why are you so upset about them existing?

    Why did you lie? The Pew Survey said 22.8% if American week “non religious”, up from 16% just 7 years earlier. Do you not know how to read a chart?

    Since you claim to know your stats, why didn’t you mention the stats that show Christians are more than 10 times more likely to commit felony crimes as non-religious people?

    And do we even need to get into the stats on child rape in US churches?

  9. No rational person would interpret asking a question as “anger”.

    But then a person so gullible as to believe in talking snakes and talking burning bushes can’t be expected to have an adult level control of their emotions, can we?

    I’ll take it that your lawyer has warned you not to comment on the child rape cases in your group.

  10. You cool, then, with Neil deGrasse Tyson, David Silverman, Lawrence Krauss, Al Franken, Devin Patrick Kelley and Craig Stephen Hicks?! Atheists all, except Tyson, an Agnostic.

  11. Oh so you cool, then, with Neil deGrasse Tyson, David Silverman, Lawrence Krauss, Al Franken, Devin Patrick Kelley and Craig Stephen Hicks! Atheists all, except Tyson, an Agnostic.

  12. Thanks for confirming that you’re cool with Neil deGrasse Tyson, David Silverman, Lawrence Krauss, Al Franken, Devin Patrick Kelley and Craig Stephen Hicks! Atheists all, except Tyson, an Agnostic.

  13. MORE GOOD NEWS for A is for Ashiest:

    “Evangelicals Once Again Dominate List of Top-growing Large UM Congregations”, Juicy Ecumenism”, November 20, 2018.

    “Some U.S. Christian Groups May be Declining, But Not Evangelicals”, Facts and Trends, March 22, 2018.

    “‘Mainline’ churches are emptying. The political effects could be huge”, Vox, July 14, 2017. Note: “[NOT ‘Evangelical’] churches are emptying”!]

    “Liberal churches are dying. But conservative churches are thriving”, Washington Post, January 4, 2017.

    “Examining the Sources of Conservative Church Growth: Where Are the New Evangelical Movements Getting Their Numbers?”, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Volume 36, Number 1, March 1997, pages 71-80.

  14. Which one of those are you suggesting killed millions of women? Which one owns slaves?

    Or are those just men you want to sleep with?

  15. There is that list of men you want to sleep with AGAIN. Fine, send them an email, ask them for a date, I don’t care.

    But in the meantime, we have the issue of you lying about the 2014 (not 2015 as you claim)…. although your original post was hilarious as is: “WAAAH! I feel persecuted by the mere fact that 0.21% of the population doesn’t believe in talking snakes and hatred of women like me! WAAAAHHH!”

  16. More headlines about Hp0’s cult:

    Is this you, or just another member of your cult?
    emecula Pastor Accused of Raping Choir Girl
    Joseph Jermaine Spencer, 26, allegedly raped a 16-year-old girl who he led in a Temecula church choir.

    More headlines:
    “Church leaders caught F**KING children”
    “MORE Church leaders caught F**KING children”
    “MORE Church leaders caught F**KING children”

  17. Ahhh, more anger.
    You should probably see if your mom can get you into counseling. Check that; I’ll let her know myself when I see her in an hour.

  18. Actually your proven inability to accurately summarize the Pew study, or even name it correctly, suggests you have an anger issue.

    No need to worry about my mom, she’s not your type because 1) she’s female and 2) she’s not a toddler.

  19. Wow, jesting that you’re going to sleep with someone’s Mom. Good Christian that you are.

  20. You say this over and over, as if it actually is significant. So what if they are avowed atheists or agnostics?

  21. Yes. The link appears to express a more effective “messaging” style (IMHO), even if they might be totally aligned with what “atheists” would say of themselves. “Naturalistic” is a way-better sell.

    We do live in the age of “sell”. In fact, some of us suddenly notice that nonsense is now often outselling good sense, thanks to assistance from churches, Fox News, talk radio, religious broadcasting, the National Enquirer, conservative think tanks, foreign-source crap placed on our Internet and other tainted message machines. We are late catching up to what a hard sell from our side is supposed to look like. It is NOT supposed to defeat itself with off-putting words, no?

  22. Why shouldn’t it be a story on RNS? And why are the members of the meeting deviants?

    Have these people done something wrong here…or are you just unhappy about a meeting?

  23. Oh I’m sorry did it upset your delicate sensibilities when I rightly pointed out how badly women have been treated by you people?

    Your attempt to distract has not gone un noticed.

  24. I would’ve thought that a site called Religion News would post news about religion. So the bigger question is: Why shouldn’t this story be on this site?

  25. That’s not the fault of secularism though. Just like any demographic, you’re going to find monsters. If you know of a secular group that is misogynistic in nature, then call them out so that they can either clean up their act or lose out on members who don’t condone that.

  26. It proves them arrogant self absorbed children that’s for sure.

  27. Just want to say that I appreciate the neutral tone of this article. Some people don’t handle the existence of atheists well. In fact, I see some of those in the comments, but you can’t help that. Good tone though. Thanks.

  28. Oh, speaking of “Which one owns slaves?”, there’s 1 more name now to be added to The Atheist Hall of Fame: Richard Dawkins.

    FYII (For Your Insult to Intelligence), so relax, A is for Ashiest:

    (1) “Slaves at the root of the fortune that created Richard Dawkins’ family estate: The ancestors of Richard Dawkins, the atheist campaigner against superstition, intolerance and suffering, built their fortune using slaves, it has been revealed”, The Telegraph, February 19, 2012, by Adam Lusher.

    (2) “Revealed: How atheist Richard Dawkins’ family fortune came from the slave trade”, Daily Mail, February 20, 2012.

  29. Only on Planet LGBT is to “see her” = “to sleep with someone’s Mom”. That’s so messed up – if on Planet Earth, I mean. But not over there, apparently, according to one David Allen, the tour guide.

  30. “So what if they [Devin Patrick Kelley and Craig Stephen Hicks] are avowed atheists”.
    – David Allen, March 8, 2019.

  31. (My bad but I find it puzzling that irondrake has got my vote here, given our history.)

  32. DITTO: ” I appreciate the neutral tone of [Ashiests & Eggnogshticks].”

  33. So that’s why you’re so sexually attracted to Dawkins? Because like millions of people around the world, he had ancestors hundreds of years ago that had slaves?

    I’ve seen so weak accusations before, but man, you are pathetic. If you want him so bad, contact him. I don’t need to be involved.

  34. Good article, but the comments are a downer. Regardless of different attitudes towards religion, people should, can and do work together in common cause for human betterment.

  35. That is so arrogant! I cringed when Dawkins and friends made that suggestion.

  36. People getting together due to a lack of belief in something? To spread the good secular news? To want people to like or understand us? To get our share of power and influence? To make official our status as being the most hated (maybe the second most hated) group in America according to Pew? Then we can subdivide in conservative and liberal camps. We can have weekly articles on RNS.

  37. Please! Christianity believes it is god’s chosen religion and that the others are false. There’s plenty of arrogance to go around.

  38. “I’m not really interested in what a bunch of deviants are up to.”
    If your comments on RNS are believable, you are not only interested in but you are obsessed with people you believe to be deviants. But I sometimes suspect that your RNS persona is a deliberate caricature.

  39. And their Declaration of Reality? The Great Kibosh of All Religions!!

  40. What does an athiest coffee clutch have to to with religion?
    Absolutely nothing.

  41. Here’s an interesting sales tactic: Just Tell The Truth.

    Just say “Atheists of Los Angeles,” or “Atheists, Agnostics & Humanists, Inc.”
    Don’t play no games with da folks.

  42. Why not? Religionists are playing games with da folks. Remember the “Moral Majority”?
    I don’t know why they didn’t name it “Biblical Literalists For Unregulated Capitalism”, but I guess ole Jerry Falwell Sr. understood a little about messaging. I don’t know why conservatives hire people like Frank Luntz to poll-test everything they say these days, but you know? They do. That’s how Estate Tax became Death Tax. Soooo—libs need to wake up and realize what they are competing with in marketing words.

  43. I agree that “The Brights” is a poor choice of names. Like “Pro-life” it is meant to denigrate the other side. They are dim and dumb not intelligent and Bright, Enlightened like us!

    Why not just call it SoCal Leadership Summit?

  44. High I’m bright what are you?

    See the problem?

  45. While it’s true that atheism is not a religion in its own right, the atheist club meets to discuss how to deal in a world with religion. The club exists because of the impact religion has on atheists within America.

    But it’s not just atheists. The club also caters to humanists and secularists, which consist of a lot of atheists but are not solely populated by them.

  46. I know I’m bright – my momma called me sun. My Dad said I was a wit. Half or dim, not sure which one.

    I said it’s a bad name/idea. See my comment below. Plenty of arrogance on all sides.

  47. What do we atheists have to deal with that we need support?

  48. How to cope with growing up in a predominately religious town and feeling isolated. Recognizing and combating attempts to legislate morality such as blue laws, anti-sodomy laws, and attempts to criminalize abortion. Networking with others of similar beliefs–or lack of. Opportunities to discuss alternative aspects of religion without being immediately branded a heretic.

    I was recently asked by a religious friend to eulogize his son. He knew his son was an atheist, and he respected his son’s wish to not have someone religious speak at his funeral. I reached out for support from other nontheists to give a fitting eulogy that respected the beliefs of the religious while not cleaving to anything regarding religious.

  49. Thank you for sharing a story about non-religious people coming together in community. We’re no different than anyone else looking for connection, and are your fellow citizens entitled to the same rights. We are growing in number, so the religious might as well learn to accept rather than condemn us.

  50. Atheists really rattle the crutches of the Religious….

  51. As Satchel Paige once observed :

    ” Don’t turn around – somebody might be gaining on you. ”

    In your case HpZero – it’s the Nones.

  52. Appointment for another of your sadomasochistic spankings I see.

    But a mom ?

    Did your hermaphroditic- dominatrix cut you off again for another bounced check ?

    Trump got his spanking with a copy of Forbes.

    Does Mein Kamph come in paperback ?

    Or would you get your jollies better enhanced by the hardcover ?

    Silly question.

    Of course you would !

  53. More anger from another deviant.
    At least you tried to be creative.

  54. Now see, rat-trick, actually, the brother was predicting Nones abandoning The Pee-ew Owned, Ship of Fools belonging to Unaffiliated Americans – already to the well-deserved chagrin of your fellow Ashiest:

    Even the only Nones-sensical in Congress, “Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona … seems to think ‘atheist’ is a dirty word. … Her campaign released this statement shortly after her victory: ‘(Rep. Sinema) believes the terms non-theist, atheist or non-believer are not befitting of her life’s work or personal character.’ … It implies there is something unbefitting about the lives and characters of atheists or nonbelievers. … I find her response to being labeled an atheist troubling. … As a proud atheist and humanist, I’m disheartened that the only member of Congress who openly identifies as nonreligious has forcefully distanced herself from atheism in a way that puts down those of us who do not believe in God.”

    BUT WHAT WERE YOU ASHIESTS EXPECTING FROM THESE NONES-SENSICALS, THOUGH? “The number of people who acknowledge no religious affiliation (known as religious nones) … is not necessarily the same as being atheist. … [Of] the proportion of Americans who call themselves ‘unaffiliated’ … [ONLY] 3% of the total population … call themselves atheists and [ONLY] 4% … identify as agnostic.”

    Source: (1) The Economist, May 16, 2018, “The elusive phenomenon of churches without God”. (2) Chris Stedman, “My take: ‘Atheist’ isn’t a dirty word, congresswoman”, CNN, January 8, 2013.

  55. Oh please. Your attempt at “Whataboutism”, is defeated by the atheists themselves. One of the groups in the RNS story is simply called “Inland Empire Atheists, Agnostics and Humanists.”

    Nice, simple, honest label. You want to “sell” something, start there. No backdoor PR salesman labels like “Brights” or “Naturalists” or assorted cr*p. The current label simply denotes atheists and allies who seek mutual fellowship, encouragement, etc, similar to “First Baptist Church” or “Masjid Islamic Center.”

    That’s what I’m talking about. Just let Joe and Jane Public know upfront, what you got cooking. (And by the way, your attempt to bring up the “Moral Majority” label, can be easily countered by bringing up the money-grubbing, racially fatal, out-of-control Baby-Salad chefs that are euphemistically labeled “Planned Parenthood.”)

  56. The nonreligious are a large and rapidly-growing group, so it only makes sense that they’re looking into ways to organize and increase their political influence. This is a good thing for America.

  57. Messaging style matters, floydlee. That magic explains why most of the white church in America has chosen Barabbas for The White House and doesn’t even know that it has.

  58. Being a great example of the Christian faith Parker12. Keep it up.

  59. We all fall short mark.
    I will try to live up to your standards for the foreseeable future.

  60. Wow, you religoids really do go in that “sins of the father” stuff. I prefer to judge someone’s character on their own actions, not on the actions of generations of ancestors before the bloke was even a swimmer in his dad’s sack.

  61. The term “atheist” does not convey what a person is FOR. Better terms are “humanist” and maybe “secular humanist.” But the main thing is that labels may confuse, so what is important is for people of whatever religious or non-religious persuasion to be clear about what they are FOR and to be willing to work with people of all persuasions for the public good on such issues as protecting religious liberty, church-state separation, public education, civil liberties, reproductive choice, the environment, democracy, etc., and to work together against Trumpism and all it stands for.

  62. We should also note that many “nones” find a good home in a Unitarian Universalist, Ethical Society or Humanistic Jewish congregation.

  63. My comment was a follow up to David’s; Meeting with someone’s mother in an hour? Come on Parker.

  64. Nice. I’ve only experienced one of them, but they all sound pretty good.

  65. “Wow, [Shadowlands a.k.a. Elizabeth Tonovic] you … [also] really do go in that ‘sins of the father [and all his associations and descendants]’ stuff. [You do] prefer to judge someone’s character … on the actions of generations of ancestors [and their associations and descendants]”. PROOF:

    “Shadowlands … [from 3 years ago [to] a year ago [to] 2 months ago … JWs don’t believe you go to hell, they believe that you won’t exist on any level anymore. Also, heaven is for 144,000 special people, the rest of the witnesses are to ‘live in paradise on Earth’. Hmmmm, I wonder what that will mean for the d*ckbag who molested my mother, aunty, and cousin, whilst having his arse on a seat at ‘the meeting’ every Sunday and Thursday. Johos [are now] at it again, ruining people’s lives. … Salt of the earth [these Johos]? Honest? So, the fact that they let the sexual molestation of my Aunty (his daughter) slide, so that this honest, salt of the earth JW, could go on to sexually assault my mother, and my cousin (his granddaughter) … All pathetic, compassionless, and morally void. … And that’s how one sick f*ck got away with abusing at least four members of my family, and countless others, I’m sure.”

  66. “bunch of deviants”… that’s what I consider fake Christians, which make up most of the true believers here.

  67. I guess “religion” is an elitist club.

  68. Fake Christians = true believers.
    You need to retake your logic/programming class.

  69. The term ‘abolitionist’ only conveyed what a person was against: slavery. Worked pretty well.

  70. Just because you may regard yourself as a “true believer” doesn’t mean you’re not fake.

  71. Everyone knows that religious believers are obsessed with atheists.

  72. Not really. Just the annoying ones here.
    It actually seems that there are more LGBT and athiest here on RNS than religious folk.
    Like I said before, RNS should change its name to GNS.

  73. Your point? I personally know many current members of that organisation who continue to cover up abuse, and perpetuate the harm that comes from shunning family members.

    Not only do you not have the full story of my life, you must have a fairly mundane one of your own, since you have the time to trawl through my old comments.

    Also, putting my name out there doesn’t bother me, I’ve got nothing to hide.

  74. Religious believers are also obsessed with LGBT folks, having harassed them for so long. So I’m not surprised that they are drawn to the topic of religion. This forum isn’t a chapel; it’s a forum for discussion about religion. You don’t have to be a believer to discuss religion.

  75. You’re projecting, but I’m just making a logical observation.

  76. What “sound”? You’re deaf! You can’t possibly discern any voice, much less that of God & Jesus!

  77. God and Jesus? Didn’t you mean to say Dog and Cheeses?

  78. ADDENDUM: What “sound”? You’re deaf! You can’t possibly discern any voice, much less that of “Dog and Cheeses”!

  79. Actually I have been involved with all if them.

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