By Natalia Wiater ’16 & Jesus Patino ’16
Every year on April 1, many people celebrate the unofficial holiday by pranking others and spreading jokes. However, others celebrate a different, less known unofficial holiday: National Atheist Day. National Atheist Day originated as a Christian joke that circulated on the internet on April Fools’ Day in 2003, according to snopes.com. In a fictional case, an atheist sued the government because there was no national holiday for atheists, but the judge told him April Fools’ Day was that holiday. The judge cited the Bible, which states “The fool hath said in his heart, ‘there is no God.’ –Psalm 14:1, Psalm 53:1.” Although this started out as a joke, some people took it seriously and spread the word about this new holiday, and do so to this day. Most people think it should remain unofficial, such as Ihor Bakhnak ’16. “It should be treated as a made up holiday just for the sake of it existing and pleasing atheists,” he said. Scott Tran ’16 agrees, saying “…atheists don’t have a real purpose for wanting a holiday. They just don’t want to be left out of having their own holiday like other religions.” However, others think that National Atheist Day should become an official holiday, so that everyone would have a chance to express their beliefs, no matter what those beliefs are. According to a 2012 Pew Research study, 16% of people in the world described themselves unaffiliated with religion; in a similar study also conducted by Pew Research in 2012, 2.4% of Americans self-identified themselves as atheists. “If Christians have a holiday like Christmas, why shouldn’t atheists have one?” Alex Veliz ’16 said. This debate is a tricky one, however. According to atheists.org, “…atheism is not a belief system nor is it a religion,” and that it is “a lack of belief in gods.”
According to a 2012 Pew Research study, 16% of people in the world described themselves as unaffiliated with religion; in a similar study also conducted by Pew Research in 2012, 2.4% of Americans self-identified themselves as atheists.
There is a wide range of atheism, and the word itself means different things to different people depending on how they interpret it. Atheism is also widely confused with secularism, which is the separation of the state and religion, as well the equality of different religions and beliefs before the law. Atheism is the lack or rejection of a belief in a god or gods, ergo is not a religion, and does not have a national holiday. This was a setback for many outspoken atheists but through National Atheist Day, albeit unofficial, there is a way for them to express themselves. Despite starting out as a joke and remaining unofficial and relatively unknown, atheists decided to use the day as an opportunity to have their voices heard. Mr. Peters, who was the supervisor of the Midwood Freethinkers club for the past three years (a freethinker is a person who rejects popular opinions, especially ones regarding religion), used to organize an “Ask an Atheist” table in the lobby every April 1, encouraging people to participate in discussions and ask questions. A deal was made: a cookie for a question. “Why don’t you believe in God?” was the most asked, but it facilitated some good discussions, especially if there was time to continue them. The purpose of the club was simple: to raise awareness of secularism and free thought. “It was created to raise awareness of secularists, and to recognize that people without beliefs are just as part of society as everybody else,” Mr. Peters explained. When the club met, it wasn’t only atheists that came, but believers and agnostics interested in discussions as well. “I wanted to foster a dialogue between different groups,” Mr. Peters said. It was an open dialogue and the participants were respectful towards each other, facilitating an easy environment to debate various degrees of beliefs. However, the club is on hold this year, since many active seniors graduated and the others stopped showing up, and because of time management problems. Mr. Peters, who has a little daughter at home and large pile of work as a result of being an AP U.S. History teacher, didn’t have the time to recruit students to join the club. That won’t stop him from trying next year, though. “I would like to restart [the club] in the fall,” Mr. Peters said.