Here I use the word “atheist” in a big-tent sort of way to include agnostics, humanists, secular humanists, freethinkers, nontheists, anti-theists, skeptics, rationalists, naturalists, materialists, ignostics, apatheists, and more. If you don’t know what each of these words means, don’t worry. Even those who identify with such labels often disagree on their definitions. Parsing words might be a characteristic of folks engaged in the secular movement. My inclusive term “functional atheist” embodies those who live as if there are no personal, judging gods.

The Secular Coalition for America (of which I’m founder and president emeritus) includes 11 national, nontheistic member organizations. The members cooperate on the 95 percent they have in common instead of arguing about labels. We all agree there should be a wall between religion and government; that we should increase the visibility of, and respect for, nontheistic viewpoints; that we should encourage and help pave the way for atheists to come out of the closet; and that atheists deserve a place at the table of public opinion. How best to achieve our goals is not so clear.

Atheists have long been known primarily for criticizing religion and protesting the intrusion of religion into government. Such actions are often called for, especially when conservative religionists set a political agenda that affects those who don’t share their religious beliefs. We must confront and respond, and let the undecided judge who is more honest, reasonable, tolerant, and fair. Recent books by many atheist authors have created media interest in atheism, if not its full acceptance.