On Sunday mornings, when many of their contemporaries are taking their seats in church pews, a group of young parents mingle in the living room of a suburban home while their children run around playing games. This congregation of Triangle residents has no creed or ceremony, just a desire to get together and offer each other support for rearing children without religion. Taking their cue from a primer of the same name, they call themselves Parenting Beyond Belief, and they meet nearly every Sunday, in a city park, an indoor playground or in people's homes.
Several parents said they preferred the company of the nonreligious parent group. Whereas atheists are defined by what they don't believe, members of this group want to be known for their desire to raise caring, responsible, ethical children. "People think if you don't believe in God you have no morals," said Niki Ashmont, a social worker from Zebulon who attended Sunday. "That's just not the case."
It's not always easy being an atheist. A 2008 Gallup poll found that only Scientologists fared worse than atheists in the public's views. Both groups ranked at the bottom of the favorability list. Those attitudes are more hardened in the South, where polls show more people identify as religious than in any other part of the country. "Where I work, I'm not really out as an atheist," Bruce Harris, 36, a graphic designer who lives in Cary, said during the gathering Sunday. "My boss assumes that everyone around him has some religion. It doesn't occur to him that there are atheists."
The group, Harris said, provides him an opportunity to be himself. "You don't have to walk on eggshells," he said.