BANGOR, Maine — Members of a newly formed atheist group are setting up in downtown Bangor on the day of the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race to answer questions about who they are and what they believe.
An organizer for the Maine Atheists and Humanists said her group wants to clear up any misconceptions that people may have about atheism at West Market Square from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday.
“Until recently, atheists were the most disliked and least trusted ‘groups’ in America,” organizer Marissa Lopez of Hermon said. “There are a lot of misconceptions and myths that surround people who don’t believe in a god or gods.
“These include that we hate their god, don’t have morals, believe in nothing or even that we all share something other than not believing in a god or gods,” she said. “These ideas have made it difficult for people to be open about their lack of belief, especially in a country where everyone just assumes you’re religious.”
Maine consistently ranks at the bottom of national surveys that measure how religious states are. Maine ranked 48th, tied with Vermont, for least religious state in the nation in a 2014 Pew Research Center study. Massachusetts and New Hampshire tied for 50th place.
Lopez said Thursday that she is part of a recently formed group in the Bangor area affiliated with the statewide organization Maine Atheists and Humanists. The Bangor group meets on the third Sunday of the month. There also are groups in Portland and Ellsworth.
The Secular Coalition for America, a national organization, sponsors Ask An Atheist Day, each year on April 16. This year, that falls on Easter.
“We felt Saturday would be a better day, in part, to be respectful of people attending church services and because of the increased foot traffic expected downtown after the race,” Lopez said.
Anna Boudreau Woodside of Waterville, who founded the statewide organization, said the Portland group gave out stickers with its name on it and informational pamphlets last year in Monument Square.
“The reaction was pretty good,” Boudreau Woodside said of last year’s event. “What we got most often was, ‘We didn’t know you existed.’ It was a pretty positive experience.”
Organizers are hoping for a similar reception in the Queen City.
“I want to emphasize respectful and civil conversations in order to encourage the same in the people with whom we will speak,” Lopez said. ”Religion can be a very touchy and sensitive subject for some, so we want to approach these interactions with that in mind. Our goal is not to proselytize, convert or debate people. We simply want to make ourselves available.”