It's hard to find a Brights group in Colorado Springs. Actually, it's impossible: the-brights.net only reports an 84-member Denver group.
Easier to find, however, are locals fearful of making their beliefs known to co-workers and friends.
Alicia Rogers, 27, is a Navy veteran who moved to the Springs in 2004, after her husband got a job at Peterson Air Force Base.
"My husband and I are both non-religious, and being here has been kind of uncomfortable," Rogers says. "We were surprised when we moved here, the level of fundamentalists and evangelicals and everything."
The couple encountered a lot of religious talk when attending some social parenting groups they found online.
"I met a lot of great people, but I did find that sometimes religion started to come into play," Rogers says. "And I would find myself feeling a little bit uncomfortable, and kind of guarded with what I said."
The stay-at-home mom had never heard of Brights, but founded her own group: Colorado Springs Secular Parents. Along with the Pikes Peak Skeptics Society, Recovering From Religion and the Freethinkers of Colorado Springs, Rogers' collective is one of four local "free thought" groups to be found on meetup.com.
The local Freethinkers group is probably the best-known of the four. Founded by Gary Betchan in 1993, it "advocates the use of reason," similar to Brights. But Betchan isn't a big fan of the new label.
"I was at a couple of conventions where they promoted their idea, and attempted to popularize it within the non-belief community," says the 18-year local resident and self-described humanist. "It didn't go over very well, in my opinion. Not many people resonated with it. People who have committed themselves to taking the title 'atheist' generally are pretty darn pugnacious about it.
"In a sense, they were marketing it to the wrong group. They should've been marketing it to the people who had given up on organized religion and were looking for something else."
That sounds more like the people who've joined Recovering From Religion. Its leader, Jim Alan, has heard of Brights, but says he's having a hard enough time just trying to hang on to his own group's name.
"What's really annoying is, evangelicals have borrowed [the 'recovering religionists' moniker] too: 'Oh, I'm not religious either, I just love the Lord.' So you get that kind of nonsense," he says, laughing.
Alan sees his group as a resource for people disillusioned with aspects of churchgoing culture.
Betchan says one friend saw others promoted ahead of him at work, based on prayer meeting attendance. He says the Freethinkers group lost two public meeting spaces once the landlords learned of the group's views. On a smaller scale, even when he went to his polling place Tuesday — in a local church — voting booths and religious signs were arranged so you couldn't approach the former without seeing the latter.
Here's how the man who also owns the Liberal Store describes living in the Springs: "A great deal of hostility. A lot of organized religious problems."
He describes a system of defense wherein he advises new non-believing citizens to pick a random church — a big one — and learn about it to later fend off proselytizers. "I suggested to go so far as to find out the name of the head preacher, and his two or three assistants," he says, "so that if someone asked them what their favorite sermon was, they could at least say, 'I liked Father Joe's stuff better than anyone else's.'
"We all think our own province is the most extreme, but when you travel around and talk to other people, you find out that everybody suffers from the same kind of thing," Betchan adds. "The Bible Belt goes from Maine to San Diego, and every place in between."
Regardless, human groupings always come down to a sense of community and belonging. After all, notes Rogers, "It can be kind of tough, feeling like we're alone in a big city full of believers."
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