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You may have heard about this exchange between CNN's Wolf Blitzer and a victim of the recent Oklahoma Tornado who, unbeknownst to him, is an Atheist.

Blitzer: Well, you’re blessed. Brian, your husband, is blessed. Anders is blessed… and I guess you gotta thank the Lord, right? Do you thank the Lord? For that split-second decision?

Vitsmun: I… I… I’m… I’m actually an atheist… [Laughs]

Blitzer: Oh, you are! [Laughs] But you made the right call!

Vitsmun: Yeah, yep. We are here! And, you know, I don’t blame anybody for thanking the Lord.

Blitzer: Of course not.

The significance of what Vitsmun did may not be immediately appreciated to someone outside of the Atheist community. However, for us it was indeed significant, and many of us are proud of the bravery that she displayed. The pervasive nature of religion can be so oppressive at times, demonstrated best by Blitzer's presumed questioning. It would have been so much easier for Vitsmun to brush off the offense, and to just nod and give some affirmation to the assumption that she should Thank the Lord, at the very least just to get past the awkwardness of the questioning. But in the end, she stuck to who she really was, did so in a tactful and inoffensive manner, and provided the public with a valuable humanized portrait of an Atheist.

Since that fateful interview, a large groundswell of support has come out of the Atheist community for Vitsmun and her family. In a matter of hours, the American Humanist Association raised $10,000, and a campaign begun by Comedian Doug Stanhope, originally set to last 60 days, reached its target goal of $50,000 in the first 17 hours (over $75,000 as of this writing).

Organizers for the FreeOK Oklahoma Freethought Convention are also selling "I'm Actually An Atheist" T-shirts, with proceeds going to Rebecca Vitsmun. (Edit: Just bought myself a tshirt)

Lest you think the generosity of Atheists extends only to other Atheists, other Atheist organizations have also collected a sizable amount for all Tornado victims and the overall relief efforts. Foundation Beyond Belief has already collected $40,000 to be distributed to relief groups on the ground, and We Are Atheism, through Atheists Giving Aid, has collected $17,000 to be distributed either to local organizations or directly to families.

This is not to take away from all the aid provided by religiously-affiliated or -neutral organizations, but where this form of generosity is something most people automatically associate with religious organizations, this facet of the Atheist community often gets overlooked.

One of the more maddening aspects, though, probably even to some religious folks, that comes into play when charity is tied to religion, is highlighted by another Atheist comedian, Ricky Gervais:

"Beyonce, Rihanna & Katy Perry send prayers to #Oklahoma #PrayForOklahoma"

I feel like an idiot now… I only sent money.

Obviously, whatever your religion, if you found a way to help out the victims of this terrible tragedy, in a tangible way, you should be commended.

Many people in society do not see any positives in supporting the Atheist community. However, efforts like these, and the courage of people like Rebecca Vitsmun, will hopefully go a long way toward changing these perceptions and showing all the good that comes out of this misunderstood community.

Originally posted to Progressive Atheists on Sat May 25, 2013 at 11:38 AM PDT.

Also republished by Street Prophets .

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