Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Atheism: To Organize or Not to Organize

That is the question. I don’t think it’s a question for atheists as a whole to decide, but is instead one each individual must ask him/herself.

For me, it’s been rather simple: as a general matter of practice, I don’t associate with groups. It’s hard enough just identifying as an atheist for me… I can’t personally imagine gaining anything from surrounding myself with other atheists and counting myself as “one of them.”

I have read Christians and believers in other religions talk about how the most bitter and angry responses often come not from atheists, but from fellow believers. And it’s not just Protestants and Catholics going at each others’ throats; it’s Protestants damning other Protestants, and Catholics condemning other Catholics.

These people are basing their beliefs off the same book and overall dogma, and yet they still can’t get along, so I don’t hold out hope for finding any kinship with other atheists as a whole. Atheists have no common ideology beyond a rejection of gods… oh wait, we don’t even have that.

This is not to say I can’t identify with other atheists, but I am just as able to identify with a Christian or a Buddhist or Odin worshipper (I even had an acquaintance who was a Moonie). If you consider that I am undoubtedly going to differ from someone in some way, it might as well be on a matter as inconsequential as their stance toward the gods.

After all, there are Christians who are pro-abortion socialists. I don’t really care that they agree with me politically for completely different reasons (like, that people should be allowed to sin or that America is a Christian nation, and Christians are called to help their neighbor). For me, it’s all about “what” you believe, not “why” you believe. You can’t fix anything with good intentions, and plenty of good things have been done ruthlessly.

So ultimately, I don’t feel any need to make the precondition for meeting someone the fact that they don’t believe in gods. This is not to say I am not glad there are atheists out there networking and exchanging ideas. There’s no “but,” either. It can only help me if people are working to make life easier for atheists, and I guess part of accomplishing that is forming an organized group. That stuff is just not for me.

For me, part of atheism is not associating myself with other people based on my theological opinions. This isn’t an inherent part of atheism, merely a characteristic I have associated with atheism. That is the nature of atheism: it is what we make of it.

And by “we,” I mean atheists. I see the religious spending a strange amount of time making claims about what atheism is in blogs, lectures and what not. Oddly enough, in all of this pontification, they usually do not even correctly identify the one thing that atheism is (or, at least what it should be, according to its literal meaning).

But why would Christians know? There’s so many atheists out there saying so many things, it’s no wonder the picture of “what atheism is” has become a muddled mess. But I think that is what atheism ought to be: flexible, inclusive, the sort of things a religion is not.


  1. One of the reasons why Christians do so well in the political arena is that they are motivated and locally organized. The reason why atheist/skeptics do not do well is the mirror image of that.

  2. I think the statement "Christians do so well in the political arena" is perhaps open to interpretation. I guess I am glad that atheists don't do so well at certain things, like forcing their ideas on another person against their will.

    I guess what I mean is, Christians may be winning fights, but they may be Pyrrhic victories that are losing them the war. I can only hope.

  3. I think there are only two reasons for atheists to organize: 1. To socialize with people with whom one can feel free to make fun of theists without having to argue about it. 2. To make the world more atheist-friendly so that people don't think atheists are evil baby-eating Satan worshipers.

    I think there are causes for atheists to join, but I think they are more effective using the "secular humanist" label. For example, there needs to be a fight to protect the separation of church and state, but that is a political cause, not a theological one. United Americans for Separation of Church and State is a coalition of theists and atheists fighting for the separation cause much more effectively than just the maligned atheist groups.
    Marriage equality is also a secular humanist cause, for which there are political groups. So, when fighting for a cause, I put on my secular humanist hat. When I am looking for a good time, I meet with my atheist buddies.

  4. I'm much more inclined to get behind a single cause that I already support. I think that's part of the problem with atheism... it's hard for me to find cohesion with a group of people whose only commonality is that they aren't something else. I might as well go to a meeting for "people not from Alabama."

  5. Wouldn't be nice, though, if atheists were not treated as second class citizens? American Atheists is trying to change perceptions and they are making headway.

    Also, wouldn't be nice to have dinner with people who don't mind if you make fun of gods or religion? That is what I get to do after an atheist meetup presentation by a some atheist author or professor, which is, in and of itself, enjoyable.

  6. I make fun of religion in front of religious people all the time. I have called Catholicism "fucking horrible" in front of my Catholic mother. Maybe I just feel unnaturally comfortable speaking my mind, regardless of who is around.

    Regarding atheists as second-class citizens, I do think there are particular issues which should be addressed, but where is the tangible progress from these groups? I have very specific goals in mind:

    1. Removal of "God" from currency.
    2. Completely scrapping the pledge of allegiance (why stop at, "under God?").
    3. A few other issues which I might vaguely associate with atheism, in that they oppose religious morality, but which are their own individual issues.

    I'd also like to see openly atheist politicians, but I don't see any support for tangible things like this (I'm sure it's happening on some small scale somewhere, but it's not making the news). I tend to see futile battles over minor, non-systematic displays of Christianity in public (like Ten Commandment monuments and the WTC cross). I am against those sort of displays, but honestly, those are much lower on my list of priorities.


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