Monday, February 28, 2011

Atheists Need a Gang Sign

Atheists need a gang sign. Gangs, regardless of their business endeavors, have it right: a simple hand gesture that identifies members. No questions needed. Someone flashes you the sign they’re in the same club. I was in a fraternity as an undergraduate (I prefer to think of it as a charitable organization) and we had a secret sign and handshake. I’m not suggesting a secret handshake, though not necessarily opposed to one. A hand gesture is something you can identify from a distance and, speaking for myself, I think there are hygiene issues with too much handshaking.

What brings up this reflection on gang signs/secret hand gestures? You see, I’ve been trying to get a local atheist group going and it hasn’t been easy. When I’ve been in social situations with people I don’t know very well I use my mad Jedi skills to determine if they are one of the Godless. For example, I was at an 8 year olds birthday party with my son. I was talking with one of the dads who is a local high school science teacher. Now, asking someone if they’re an atheist straight away is bad form. After the prerequisite conversational “stuff” (weather, kid related issues, etc) I asked him about the Wisconsin teacher situation, touched on the local high school’s robotics team (it turns out we have a competitive squad), mentioned my recent Darwin Day party, and then we talked on what we’re currently reading. He replied he was reading a biography on one of the separatists (religious dissidents who wanted to be separate from the Church of England) from the colonial period who advocated for a strong church/state separation.

I wasn’t unhappy. He had many signs of being an atheist: strong interest in science, did not flinch when I mentioned the Darwin Day party, and has an active interest in church/state separation. I felt comfortable with mentioning, in an oblique way, that I write an atheist blog.



No reply.

It was like I asked a girl for her number (I dimly remember those days) and getting … well, no response.

Maybe he was just surprised that I said it out loud. Perhaps he’s an agnostic or a liberal Christian. Who knows?

I then figured it out: we need a way to easily identify ourselves.
I did a quick search and found the American Sign Language gesture for atheist, and it’s pretty complicated. I checked out the signs for skeptic and bight, but they too lack simplicity. American Sign Language is designed to be an out in the open, look at me system. What we need a gesture that is fast and obvious only to those who know the sign. I humbly suggest the sign for the letter d  (for doubt) over one’s heart. It’s easy and it’s kinda badass.

You may say this is just a bit and I’m playing this for a joke.


This is my humble suggestion…

from Purgatory.


  1. I like it! I've been wanting to get a gold necklace with an atheist symbol charm for the same reason. People who know what it is will recognize me as (hopefully) one of their own.

    1. I have seen dog tags for the military with the atheist symbol, which is a stylized atom. I've thought of getting one myself, but I don't know how many people would "get it"...


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