Atheists are looking for cohesion. Like their theistic counterparts, many secularists, particularly those in the activist community, are on a constant path to seek others who view the world through their lens of non-belief. As history has shown, one of the most common ways that a collective defines itself is through symbolism (we’ve examined atheists’ use of symbols in the past). While Christians often wear crosses and Jewish adherents embrace the Star of David, atheists have a symbol, too — the scarlet letter.
Religion News Service’s Kimberly Winston covers the atheist activist movement’s use of the red “A” — a literary symbol that may be familiar to readers who have studied Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter.” While, in the book, the letter was meant to shame the main character, Hester Prynne, some non-believers are embracing it as a public sign of their non-theist views.
The red letter “A” is, thus, being placed on jewelry designs so that atheists, like Christians, Jews and other faith adherents, can showcase their non-belief for the public at large.
The letter, which isn’t necessarily an official symbol of the atheist movement, originated in 2007, when the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science implemented its “Out Campaign,” Winston reports. The purpose was to encourage non-believers to “come out” to those around them about their non-belief.
While not officially sanctioned (after all, there’s no central leadership in the atheist activist community), the symbol continues to be one of the more prominent images embraced by the community at large. In fact, Amy Roth told Winston that the scarlet letter is “the most recognized symbol in our community right now.”
Roth, an atheist based in Los Angeles, incorporates the “A” into Surlyramics, the non-theistic jewelry line she launched. The artist brings these items to atheist conventions and meetings and sells them on the Internet as well.
Artist Rachelle Wirfs, too, has entered into the world of secular jewelry, creating her own pendant designs in burned and polished wood. She, too, sells her humanistic items on the Internet.
Just as Christians wear crucifixes and crosses, some atheists now embrace the scarlet “A” or other related pendants that let the public at large know about their lack of belief in a deity.
In her article, Winston highlights 26-year-old Danny Samuelson’s story. Samuelson, who resides in Orange County, California, wears a pendant with the “A” around his neck daily.
“I am telling people I am willing to discuss this, that this is how I am and you have to accept this,” he told Winston. “I am essentially othering myself to show that normal people with normal lives and problems are atheists.”
Earlier this month, Business Week tackled the issue of product markets for non-believers. While the focus was more general, some fascinating questions were asked, particularly when it comes to the growth of the atheist movement:
Is there a market for merchandise for the godless? Retailers who cater to evangelical Christians with items including books, apparel, gifts, and Bibles represent $4.63 billion annually, according to the Association for Christian Retail. Those who sell to nonbelievers tend to be small business owners who are true nonbelievers. While bumper stickers and T-shirts are obvious favorites, books about evolution, educational games for children, and science-themed jewelry also hold appeal, says Derek Colanduno, an Atlanta computer programmer who hosts a podcast for skeptics. […]
The relative newness of the modern freethought movement, a collection of secular-minded organizations and nontheistic individuals, is partly responsible for the immaturity of the business market. It was Internet message boards, blogs, and podcasts that brought together younger skeptical and science-minded individuals to establish communities and attend regular conferences, says Colanduno. “Before the Internet, it was the old guard, the old white-haired men meeting in peoples’ basements,” he says.
As the secular movement grows, jewelry, bumper stickers, books, films and other related items will likely become increasingly popular. Previously, the market was spread out and not cohesive, but with the Internet bringing non-believers and entrepreneurs together, there’s potential for growth.
Just as Christians who seek community also tend to purchase faith-based products, secularists — as evidenced by Samuelson’s reasoning for wearing an atheist pendant — will also look to purchase items that reinforce their views.
In the end, the overall scenario is interesting as are the prospects, but, for now, the majority of jewelers and companies remain small businesses who are using conferences, web sites and social media to tout their products.
(H/T: Religion News Service)