August 6, 2013

Atheist Havens

Piece of Time
Piece of Time (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Being a teenage atheist with a religious family can be challenging under the best of circumstances. Some atheist youth have actually been disowned and thrown out of their homes by religious fundamentalists. Fortunately, helping these youth is something on which some atheists have decided to focus their efforts. It is not something everyone is going to be able to do, but for those who are able and willing, it can be a vital way to make a difference.

Pete Marchetti, the founder of Atheist Havens, wrote a guest post on Friendly Atheist that I encourage you to read. I first wrote about Atheist Havens back in 2011. It has grown considerably since that time. Here is how Marchetti described the origins of Atheist Havens:
Many people said they would be willing to take these young adults in their own homes if necessary — to help them break free from their religious families, or help them escape unwanted arranged marriages, or to help them get a real education. But how could they find each other? Thus, r/AtheistHavens was born. The idea was to provide a central place where volunteers could advertise their offers to house, feed, and otherwise help young atheists who had nowhere else to turn.
Those who are willing to open their homes to an atheist teen in distress can post their location and the sort of help they are able to offer. That allows teens in need to contact those in their area who have created such a listing.

Marchetti is quick to acknowledge the central criticism brought against Atheist Haven, something he clearly recognizes as a problem.
Unfortunately, that leads to the biggest criticism of the forum, which is that the whole project is “at your own risk” for both parties.
I agree that this is a fairly serious problem. This is a risky proposition from the side of the teen entering a stranger's home and from the side of the person agreeing to take in a potentially troubled teen. Plenty of risk to go around, and yet, the alternative of simply refusing to help these teens is not much of an alternative. The good news is that those involved in Atheist Havens seem to be asking many of the right questions about the risk and how to reduce it. Marchetti also notes that he is seeking legal advice.

I think it is great to see this important effort taking off. I hope they are able to create a non-profit organization to promote fundraising. I suspect that this sort of effort would be quite attractive to potential donors.

Groups exist to help LGBT teens who have been kicked out of their homes, and some have been in place for awhile now. Hopefully, such groups will share information with those in Atheist Havens. I would think that their expertise would be extremely valuable.