Complaining About Gullibility Is Not A Recruitment Plan

Dave Shifflet of the Wall Street Journal doesn’t quite understand the role of American Atheists in his recent article.

See just because Atheists are outnumbered doesn’t mean we are quiet or a small minority. We are often quite loud. This weekend sees Salt Lake City host the American Atheists Annual Convention and there is a notion at the Wall Street Journal that the relatively small number of atheists means that we are not significant.

See there is a lot of truth in the fact that there are many ex-Mormons out there who are atheist but don’t say so. Perhaps because the price of completely turning to the atheist side is to be ostracised. Sometimes you need a vocal event to show that you don’t have to pretend to believe in a god and that there are others like you.

Workshop topics will include starting your own atheist group, how to lobby politicians, and how to debate Christians and “other religious apologists.” The contact page at the American Atheists website states: “Please note: we are not interested in debating or being preached at,” which to some ears might sound a tad hypocritical and closed-minded, qualities often used to describe the organization’s adversaries.

Because if I were to address every idiot who sends me a message about how their particular faith is the “one true one” then my blog would quickly get very tedious.

While we like to debate on our terms, American Atheists are more about giving Atheists a space to speak rather than arguing whether or not imaginary beings exist.

There seems to be no lack of evangelical enthusiasm in the American Atheist flock, and with 94% of the U.S. population still either in the grips of God or just not sure about Him, the potential for conversions is vast. But organized atheism lags far behind Mormonism in evangelizing. Getting people to enter the godless fold (or abyss, depending on your perspective) appears to be a pretty tough sell.

Not really. Atheism isn’t all that evangelical. You cannot get people to reject a god by logic and sharp debate because by the very nature of a god, they are all illogical beings. You can demonstrate there are no gods and the only answer you would get is “he’s beyond your ken”.

I am afraid Atheism is like Buddhism and Hinduism. You come to it. You may have doubts and Atheism may provide a better answer but I am afraid I do not know anyone who believed in a god and abandoned their faith due to an astonishingly good witty statement.

Older seekers, and even reasonably skeptical bystanders, might easily be put off by the tone of American Atheists’ advertising around the country. “Celebrate Reality” one pre-convention billboard proclaims in Salt Lake City, echoing admonitions elsewhere: “Nobody Needs the Christ in Christmas” (Times Square); “Enjoy Life Now. There Is No Afterlife” (Janesville, Wis.); “Relax, Hell does not exist. Heaven either. Enjoy your life” (San Diego). In other words: “Hey Rube—Wise Up!”

I am sorry, what would you have us say.

There is no really polite way to say “We think your god is non-existent”. And that the enforced religiousity of various seasons sometimes left new and lonely atheists struggling to be part of events they don’t consider important or useful anymore.

Sometimes we say that outright. How many poor people are kept poorer by Churches that require tithes? How many people are conned into believing things that are harmful?

It is the rare philosophy that doesn’t consider itself superior to the alternatives, but suggesting that the uninitiated are delusional and feeble-minded might not be the wisest way to expand your brand. The absolutism underlying the atheist pitch also seems out of step with the spirit of our “tolerant” times. Even John Lennon, whose “Imagine” is something of a hymn to non-belief, led a heterodox spiritual life, including a fascination with the Rev. Billy Graham. Similarly, surveys by Barna Research in 2003 found that half of atheists believe in a soul and the possibility of life after death. Does that qualify as a heresy?

He was also fascinated with the Mahrishi Yogi, but I don’t see many Christian or Mormon groups giving validity  to the Hindu faith.

Atheists aren’t recruiting by pointting out flaws, but by inviting those who don’t believe to participate a conversation and to realise that there are more ideas out there than the “only” Idea you will ever need.


  1. Silverjunkie says

    “Similarly, surveys by Barna Research in 2003 found that half of atheists believe in a soul and the possibility of life after death. Does that qualify as a heresy?”

    Interesting to note, Barna Research, a.k.a. The Barna Group, is widely considered to be the leading research organization focused on the intersection of faith and culture. Does that qualify as having a biased agenda?

    I venture a guess that he gets his 94% of the U.S. population “are still either in the grips of God or just not sure about Him” stat from The Barna Group.

    Just sayin….

  2. John Horstman says

    Huh. I’ve heard of Pew Research, but never Barna Research. Teh Googlez tells me they’re an explicitly evangelical organization; forgive me if I don’t take their 11-year-old survey data as accurately representative of what atheists currently believe (or believed 11 years ago, for that matter).

  3. noxiousnan says

    With a brief search I couldn’t find the Barna research noted, to check out the questions, etc, but did find this on the methodology:

    The data described in this report are based on national telephone surveys among random samples of 1000 or more adults (age 18 or older) living within the 48 continental states conducted in September 2003, October 2002, and October 2001. The maximum margin of sampling error associated with each sample of 1000 adults is ±3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. (There are other types of error besides sampling error that may also be present in surveys.) All of the interviews were conducted from the Barna Research Group telephone interviewing facility in Ventura, CA. The distribution of the survey respondents coincided with the geographic dispersion of the U.S. adult population according to Census Bureau estimates. Multiple callbacks to each respondent were used to increase the probability of obtaining data based on a reliable sample of adults.


    The Barna Group, Ltd. (which includes its research division, The Barna Research Group) is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization that conducts primary research on a wide range of issues and products, produces resources pertaining to cultural change, leadership and spiritual development, and facilitates the healthy spiritual growth of leaders, children, families and Christian ministries. Located in Ventura, California, Barna has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.

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