Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Atheist Community, aka “The Bubble”

There is a strange phenomenon among atheists, wherein many of them seem to think it’s either a good idea or even downright important that we form an “atheist community.”

Now… I see the appeal, and I even understand the need for a community to combat problems caused by religions… but I think it’s a foolish idea.

First off, I think John Loftus hit the nail on the head when he said, “[T]here is no atheist community. There are only atheist communities.” This astute observation actually solves one problem immediately, and I wonder if perhaps it comes from his Christian background. After all, there is no “Christian community,” only Christian communities.

I like the idea of many atheist communities much more than I like the idea of a monolithic concept like “The Atheist Community™.” It seems safer and it promotes island thinking, whereby different ideas can grow in isolation, resulting in a more robust ideology than can be achieved through a more centralized, all-inclusive group.

Plus… and I’m just being honest here… I don’t want anything to do with a lot of you. Yes, you. Please take offense, because it’s very personal. I just don’t like you as people. Maybe if I hadn’t gotten to know some of you so well, it might have worked out, but here we are. What I’m saying is… I liked some of you more when you were strangers. I’m sure that for some of you, the feeling is mutual (maybe more so, now that you know how I really feel).

My biggest problem with people wanting to be part of an atheist community is based on a little concept I hold near and dear to my heart. I think people who live in a bubble end up really warped. If you surround yourself with like-minded individuals who generally agree with you, you will turn into an intolerable asshole who is utterly out of touch with reality. I’m already an enormous douchebag, so I can’t afford to get any worse.

I call this problem “intellectual incest.” If you primarily engage in discourse with people who are all just like you, you will end up with anemic ideas that have hooves. Trust me on this. It’s just bad practice to indulge in such “comfort.” That’s often one of the reasons I see given for why communities are formed: comfort. Don’t ever get comfortable. I’m always on my toes; it makes me look taller.

The real reason to form a community is because you want to change something. The problem with most atheist communities I see is that they do nothing but sit around complaining about what religious people do. On a slow news day, they’ll bitch about absolutely anything.

I remember being blown away at the righteous indignation of atheists at a certain blog that found out a college had a “faith night,” where people got discount tickets to a basketball game if they shared what church they attended. Of all the problems facing the world today…

If I had been there and I wanted to go to that game at a discounted rate, I would have looked them in the eye and said, “I worship at the Jedi Academy,” or, “I have a shrine to Kurt Cobain in my closet,” or even, “I take Biology Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in room 204.” While I can’t test my theory, I’m willing to bet that I would have gotten the discount with any of those. No one wants to cause a scene, and if they make it a big deal, maybe then you can act upset (but realistically, it’s just a damn basketball game, it’s not the campus bookstore giving out a discount to Christians only or something).

Basically, atheists in these communities don’t care about actually living as an atheist, they just want to bitch. They want to sit around and wallow in their victimhood, moaning to all those who will listen, whining, “Woe is me.” They don’t want answers, they want to obsess about every possible problem they can imagine. And you wonder why I want nothing to do with a lot of you bastards…

But we do need watchdogs monitoring religion. Atheist communities can perform this function, but so can anyone who supports a secular society. That’s my goal; I don’t advocate on behalf of atheism, I support secularism. Secularism doesn’t exclude believers, and many religious people support secularism, because a religious society can ultimately only cater to one faith to the exclusion of others. The only people who support theocracies are people who are both convinced their religion will prevail and who are selfish pricks.

I want nothing to do with the atheist bubble. I read more blogs by religious people than I read of atheists. In fact, I come away from reading most religious blogs feeling like I learned something, whereas I come away from a lot of atheist blogs wishing there was a button on my keyboard that could give them an electric shock. I’ve been banned from two atheist blogs (for ideological differences, not for use of language), but never from a Christian one (and I’ve cursed at many Christians).

Ugh, and the reading lists of some of these atheists… it’s pathetic. How can you read that many books by Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and whoever else is a trendy atheist author these days? What could you possibly get out of someone who already agrees with you explaining why they think the same way you do? Seriously, I want to know. Are you unsure? Do you have questions about atheism? Did a Christian stump you? What is driving atheists to read that crap? Is it just because it’s there, and you feel obliged? Someone please tell me.

I lack this desire to be surrounded by a self-affirming culture that always agrees with me. That was what I was trying to avoid in religion, this insulated society apart from the whole that saw itself as superior. I don’t want any part of that atheism. I don’t believe in gods… and I don’t see why that means I should have to join something or buy a particular book.

And it’s not that I’m an individual, either. It’s not about doing my own thing, or being better than anyone. I certainly don’t feel left out. Again… I just really hate a lot of you. I cannot overemphasize how much contempt I have for most atheists.

Atheism isn’t enough by itself. It’s not even enough to believe an atheist community can fulfill you. Atheism isn’t a religion, but it is certainly as empty as one. You shouldn’t be tricked into thinking atheism is more than it is, because chances are, whoever says they want you to join them really just wants you to attend their meeting and maybe make a donation, or to buy their book.

Don’t try to form a community, form a cause. A community can sit around doing nothing for decades while entirely engrossed in itself, but a cause exists only to achieve something. You are better off chasing change than you are reclining in the familiar.


  1. I have a shrine to Kurt Cobain in my closet

    I laughed, out loud.

  2. So I'm just going to say it. I'm Mormon but I don't live in UT. I went to school in Idaho where there are tons and tons of Mormons. As graduation neared I found myself happier and happier to get the heck out of Mormon-ville; not because Mormons are inherently bad (they're generally very nice people), but because the Mormon culture in Utah and Idaho were way too isolated. There was a running joke on campus that as soon as you drove into the city limits you were living in "The Bubble" and I hated it. I called what they have there a 'mono-culture' and it was insufferable (at least to me). As you mentioned, everyone started thinking the same and while that's nice in some ways, you lose a lot of vibrancy.

    I moved to the East Coast specifically because I didn't want to always be around people who were just like me. I wanted people who thought completely different because they would have something interesting to say and I would be able to learn from them.

    So I appreciate your article. Now when my Mormon friends ask me why I don't want to live in UT or ID, I can point them to this post and have you explain it very well. Thank you.

    1. Oh no... should I clean up the language if Mormons will be reading it??

  3. I think you have a rather restrictive view of what a particular "atheist community" has to be. I run one of these small atheist communities, and I can tell you the meetings are usually pretty dynamic. People sometimes spend an hour or two bitching and moaning about religion every few meetings, but most of what we talk about are just normal human things (the conversations I get in are usually about beer, food, tv, and just culture in general). For most of the non-metropolitan south churches and bars are the only permanent communities, and if you're new to an area and don't like bar culture your only hope is a church for social scenery. One of the largest functions for my group is actually people who move in, get to know a few friends and then I don't see them much after they've established a diverse group of friends. I'm actually really happy that my group helps them find a group of friends.

    When it comes to a group expressing ideas and not being in a vacuum, one of my members is starting a group right now (or trying to lay down the framework for one) so that people with all sorts of metaphysical beliefs can discuss subjects in a way we can all understand and without retreating into worldview-ism for idealogical support. I'm thinking of possibly referencing something you might want to see as an alternative to "atheist communities", and that's Robert M. Price's "Heretics Anonymous"

    Comparing Heretics Anonymous with something I like the "National Atheist Party", one can see the range of possibilities (though HA is not an "atheist community" per se, but is a freethought one). I actually see one of my jobs as being to challenge new atheists so they don't make some of the same harmful mistakes they made when they were religious. Some people need to know that there's no such thing as a "practicing atheist" and that they shouldn't feel guilty about celebrating Christmas. Some people need to realize there is a Christianity outside of SBC, Methodists, and Catholicism.

    To give you an idea of the kind of people who show up, we have 2 40-something small business owners who have to pretend to be Christian every day because their customers would all leave them. They had an employee quit because they were atheists and still get unemployment because when they appealed his unemployment filing, the judge overruled the unemployment office's ruling that you can't file unemployment for quitting a job because of your bosses' religious preferences. They appealed again and lost. The unemployment office was confused until the judge yelled at them over the phone that the ruling was valid. I don't like to celebrate victimhood in any way, but sometimes some support is necessary just for humanity's sake. Atheists still face a lot of family drama, and I find that most often families only find out when the atheist family member is hounded about church attendance, and not some manufactured thanksgiving dinner declaration.

  4. I agree with you, sorry, but there are points where I disagree (uff!).

    I think that the atheist movement resembles an atheist church (as the physicist steven weinberg aptly pointed out in his interview with richard dawkins). I do not like that they sometimes act as if they were Giordano Bruno, when they really live in a country that guaranteed religious freedom (including the freedom from religion) for the last 230 years. They are so interested in fighting religion that they stay very closed to religion, like the french freethinkers who commemorate the good friday with a feast (eating meat). I suppose they will continue doing so long after Good Friday disappeared.

    However, there is one thing I enjoy about the atheists around Dawkins: they do good science vulgarisation. They have many intersting videos about evolution, cosmology, physics, etc. Oh, and I like hearing Dawkins speak, cause he's so cute with his british accent.


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