Some Area Residents Want to Live Life without Religion

Article excerpt

Byline: Lynn Skapyak Harlin, Shorelines correspondent

Ponte Vedra Beach resident Earl Coggins, an atheist, bases his life on logic and reason.

But he said some people have been, well, unreasonable about that.

"I have always felt that atheism has a stigma attached to it," he said. "It's a taboo to proclaim any apathy toward religion, especially Christianity, and especially to be an atheist."

To help people who are living life without religion meet one another and delve into analytic thought more deeply, Coggins, 45, formed the First Coast Freethought Society several years ago. It meets the second Monday of each month at the Southeast branch library.

"The First Coast Freethought Society is about people with a life philosophy that is intuitively analytical," he said. "We explore both old and new ideas through the use of logic, reason, objectivity and rationality."

Coggins said he was driven to form the society, an affiliate of the national Council for Secular Humanism, because he wanted to communicate with people who'd made a concerted effort to live a life free from religion.

"I was yearning for a place to go where I could talk about the frustrations of being an atheist in a religious country," he said. "Roughly 10 percent of our population lives without religion, so as an atheist, it's difficult to bump into like-minded people."

The growth of the group has been gradual. More people attend the lectures than join the society, according to Coggins.

Meetings include speakers on topics ranging from science to philosophy to humanism. A meeting in February, for example, commemorated the birth month of Charles Darwin and featured David A. Reid, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of History at the University of North Florida, who lectured on Darwin's influence on scientific knowledge and world culture. This month's meeting featured Erich D. Freiberger, professor of philosophy at Jacksonville University, who discussed "Islam's Challenge to Freethought."

"The Freethought Society was the perfect forum for focusing on how Darwin fits into the broader story," Reid said. "Members are well-read, with a refreshing curiosity about science, philosophy and history."

Beth Perry, 73, a retired artist and writer living in San Jose, is a charter member.

"In this Southern Baptist enclave, we had 50 people that first time," she said.

Perry said she was brought up in a devout Christian home. …