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A Safe Place to Land: Making Atheism Friendly for The Deconverting

Scarlet letter
How can we make people who are questioning their faith feel that atheism is okay?

In one of those coincidences that would have made me think the universe was trying to tell me something (back in the days when I thought the universe was trying to tell me things), this question has come up a couple different times in the last few days. PZ at Pharyngula has a conversation going about what an atheist community is; at Daylight Atheism, Jeremy commented about a theist friend who ended a conversation about whether religion was intelligible by asking what his life would be worth if he didn’t have his faith.

And it’s occurring to me: We spend a lot of time putting cracks in the foundation of religion: arguing why it’s mistaken, arguing why it’s harmful, arguing why the arguments and ideas supporting it are unsupportable.

Helping_hands
But we don’t spend as much time — some, but not as much — letting believers know that, if and when their faith does finally crumble, atheism is a safe place to land.

And we don’t spend nearly as much time as we should actually making atheism a safe place to land.

A question keeps getting raised in the atheosphere. It’s not the only question I want to gas on about in this post, but it’s one of them: Do we need to create some sort of atheist equivalent of church?

For those of us who don’t find the appeal of church all that appealing, it’s easy to dismiss this. I’m not much of a joiner — I’m a loner, I’m a rebel, don’t try to change me, baby — and I’m really not interested in any sort of church substitute. I’m happy to get my need for community satisfied in the secular world: folk dancing, hot chocolate parties, political demonstrations, orgies. I mean, I wasn’t a churchgoer even when I had spiritual beliefs. I’m not going to start now.

Sad_silhouette
But I also remember what it was like when my belief in the afterlife was crumbling. It was kind of terrifying. And a big part of what made it so terrifying was that I felt like I was on my own. I had to find my own way to my own safe place to land. And it was therefore a longer and more traumatic journey than it really needed to be.

I’m not sure an atheist church would have helped, though. Again, I’m not much of a joiner, and even though I knew of a church that didn’t see belief in God as important or necessary — namely, the Unitarians — it never grabbed my imagination. Not enough to get me out of bed on a Sunday morning, anyway.

But the atheosphere definitely might have helped. The atheosphere is clearly helpful to a lot of new atheists (and a lot of old ones, too), as well as to believers who are questioning their faith. It offers support, new ideas, coping strategies, places to vent, a general feeling of not being alone, etc. I think if I’d had the atheosphere when I was losing my religion, I wouldn’t have had to re-invent the “life is still valuable even though it’s not permanent” wheel. And I’d have had some helping hands to guide me through my dark night of the soulless.

Interconnected
For me, the online atheist community is plenty. But some people do have this freakish need for a community that involves the physical presence of other people. (I know. Weird, huh?)

For about the billionth time, I’m going to make a comparison to the queer community. Especially to the earlier days of the queer community, when coming out was scarier and harder even than it is now, and when our community wasn’t nearly as large or as visible, and when people who came out stood to lose a whole lot more than they generally do now.

Just like new atheists and people who are beginning to lose their faith, newly out queers and people who were beginning to struggle with their sexual identity needed to know that — when they left their old world behind, when in some cases lost their families and jobs and homes — they’d have a safe place to land, a community and a chosen family to land into.

Stonewall_Inn_1969
And providing those safe places — bookstores, bars, cafes, clinics, support groups, sex clubs, dances, diners — was one of the most important things that the queer community did to make itself strong and powerful and happy. It still is. (An online world would have helped immensely in those earlier days… but I doubt that by itself it would have been enough.)

And yet — hammering the analogy into the ground — building queer and queer-friendly churches was only one part of that effort. And by far not the largest part.

So here is my question.

Hands
We do have communities that we can offer to new atheists and people who are questioning their faith. We can offer them a vast, lively, and rapidly- growing online community of the godless, in a wide range of styles and snark levels. We have some in- the- flesh groups — political activist organizations, social groups — for people who want that. We can also point people at the insanely varied options for secular community in the world, communities that offer companionship and meaning and a sense of pulling together towards a higher purpose: political organizations to bowling leagues, swingers’ groups to book clubs, charities to historical re-enactment societies. And people who have left religion but still miss its ritual and community can be always be pointed at the Unitarian Universalists. (It’s kind of what they’re there for — non-denominational religion without the need for all that pesky God stuff.)

So is there, in fact, a need for all of these things in one place?

Upraised hands
Do we need atheist organizations that are in the flesh (as opposed to online), and that have some of the comforting ritual offered by religious organizations and services, and that are specifically about atheism instead of just being non-antithetical to it? Ones that focus, not just on what’s wrong with religion, but on what’s right with atheism/ humanism/ secularism? Would that help new atheists, and proto- new- atheists, to feel that atheism was safe — emotionally, morally, psychologically, socially? When people are leaving their old home — their emotional home, their social home, indeed their familiar physical home — would something like an atheist church make some of them feel that they had a good new home to go to?

I don’t know that I needed it. But that doesn’t mean it’s not needed.

Let me put it this way: Would that have helped you?

And if not: What would have helped you?

Fosbury high jump
If you’re an atheist or some other non-believer… what did help you? I don’t mean what helped you lose your faith; we talked about that already. I mean, What made your transition to atheism go easier? When you were making your leap of non-faith, what helped you feel that godlessness would be a safe place to land?

Was it ideas about a godless philosophy of death? A godless meaning of life? An understanding of godless morality? Exposure to the things that get lots of atheists all excited, like scientific discovery? The awareness of a thriving atheist community? The simple example of other atheists obviously living their lives, obviously being happy and good people? Something else entirely?

And was there help that you didn’t get, that you now wish you had gotten? What would have made your coming-out easier?

And if you’re a believer who’s seriously questioning your faith… is there anything about becoming an atheist that’s making you hold back? Are there any fears you have about what life would be like as an atheist that you think atheists could do a better job addressing?

Coming out day haring
I think that if we look at what we did and didn’t get when we were coming out — at what made our transition into godlessness easier and what made it harder — we could do a better job of making atheism a safer place to land. And that would make our community stronger and better for all of us.

Thoughts?

Comments

  1. GregL says

    Personally, I’ve always been a loner, too. But I do know that it would be far easier being an atheist if I had a stronger sense of community in my own town. I helped to start a club on my college campus for atheists and skeptics, but there is something really satisfying about having a caring, diverse group of individuals, joined by collective disbelief. I would have, and still would, benefit from a church-like community – I wish I were bold enough to start one on my own!
    I’d also like to say that of all the atheist bloggers, Greta, you are possibly the most welcoming and least snarky. I really appreciate that! Snark is awesome, but you have provided, for me, a place to ponder faith, sex, and the world at large, without having to deal with extreme sarcasm and unnecessary anti-religious attitudes. Thanks for doing what you do! If you lived in Durango, Colorado, I’d totally buy you a beer (in person).

  2. says

    I think you’re talking about my dream for a Humanist community. A place where people can meet, socialize and talk about issues from a secular perspective. There are local group meetings and I think the Meming of Life blog is creating a great community for secular parents. As you say though, a lot of the need for community is already filled by every day secular groups arising from normal interests and charities, but it is good to have atheist/humanist/freethinker groups where people know that they can go and question and discuss and take part in activism too.

  3. Roger, FCD says

    The problem with asking the current atheist community is that none of us had any sort of safe place to land.
    Personally, I think that looking into the Unitarians is a good idea. It’s a group that I know very little of, but it seems to have all the right attributes for what you’re asking about.

  4. says

    Greta,
    Depending on the Unitarian Universalist congregation, it may or may not be a good fit for an atheist or other non-theists (with decentralized governance and no unifying creedal belief statement, there is a lot of variation between and within our congregations).
    Some congregations are very comfortable with “god” language and other traditional language. Others are not. If one can check out multiple congregations on more than one Sunday, one has a more accurate picture of what the congregation is like.
    Within the denomination, there is an ongoing discussion on “language of reverence” and what that might mean to theists and non-theists alike. Questions like “do we need ‘god’ talk?” and “what is a ‘language of reverence’ for humanists?”
    Part of the reason for this discussion is a demographic shift.
    The mostly older humanists joined in the post WWII 1950s and 1960s when church attendance was a social norm.
    The world has changed — today, one can be a humanist and no one cares if one attends church. I live in the Bible Belt (NW Louisiana) and most of my neighbors do not go to church on Sundays.
    Church attendance isn’t a social norm any more and many humanists today don’t see the need to attend any church – leading to a gradual decline of humanism in Unitarian Universalist congregations.

  5. Simon says

    I am in the situation where I was an atheist as long as I can remember (faith was never really an issue for me).
    However, for my wife, who grew up in a religious family (father a pastor and theologian) and was a regular church-goer, ending up on the non-religious side of the spectrum resulted in tremendous loss of community, of a sense of continual and ever-present love and more. Moreover, what made it difficult for her was how alienating many non-religious people are of the religious and how regularly religious people are directly insulted by the non-religious. This made it even more difficult for her as these religious people are those she loves dearly, are people who have dedicated their lives to the church but who she does not feel are unintelligent, stupid or ‘diseased’ just possibly educated differently, socialised in another manner, or possibly misguided. I believe that the insulting rhetoric that is often posted by nonreligious people is problematic. Obviously I find that the converse is problematic as the religious insult the non-religious daily too… but part of me really believes that we need to be ‘better’ (maybe it’s the naive atheist in me).
    That being said, we have regularly discussed the potential for ‘secular Sunday school’ when we have kids, and for an attached community, for support and such. We believe it will be worthwhile as it will allow the community to attract all those who do happen to like community activities, and the support that it provide and, possibly, need guidance in terms of departing from religious families, communities and such. Thoughts?

  6. says

    I suspect that in the UK, football clubs and such have in large part replaced churches as social organizations. And there was an informative post somewhere at scienceblogs.com about how in the former Yugoslavia, people were united by nationalism, rather than by religion: the government had pushed national unity to the extent that people thought of themselves primarily as Yugoslavs, rather than Catholics or Protestants.
    For my part, though I’m a loner, I joined the Beltway Atheists mainly for its social aspect. Though since I do most of my religion-bashing online anyway, something like a bowling league with a “let’s not talk about religion” rule might have done just as well.
    The general consensus seems to be that in order to get a voice in society, we need to spread the idea that atheists exist, and are just people. In my case, one thing that held me back for a long time was that I didn’t realize that not having a religion was even an option.
    So maybe yeah, what we need is militant, in-your-face action, like bowling leagues and book clubs. We’ll gather at the local bookstore, have some leftist elitist lattes, and discuss the latest Terry Pratchett novel in conversational tones. That’ll show ‘em!

  7. Elaine says

    I think the move a lot of people take into Buddhism seems to be a half step into atheism. I don’t detect a god presence in their practice, but they seem to put the spirituality in themselves.
    I’d have liked a discussion group or a regular dinner group or something (because I am a joiner), because I’ve had to chip away and reshape things on the fly and its been a bumpy ride. You and Ingrid, in some very brief conversations, have been very helpful. I’d have liked more such conversations.
    Maybe an atheists’ faq of some sort would be useful. I’ve had stuff about celebrating holidays, how to get over bargaining with god, getting over that feeling of being watched and constantly judged and learning to differentiate between religious feelings and guilt and just internalizing a strict parent.

  8. says

    What Elaine said above was certainly true for me. When I left faith behind and was looking to “fill the hole” as it were, I began to cling to Buddhism specifically because it had an atheistic element. It was only when I realized that it was as much of a religion as the rest that I was able to embrace atheism as a final landing place.
    My spirituality was a very personal thing for me and community was secondary to it. Now my atheism is also very personal and community doesn’t come into it at all. But it may be that I’m not a very social person generally. As a home educating family we seek out secular support groups only so we don’t have prayer and evangelism shoved at us constantly. We’re not looking specifically for fellow atheists to be around…just folks who are neutral about religion.
    I was a contributor at the “Doubting Faith” blog. It was a place that was meant to support people that were questioning their faith and considering leaving it. It never got much of a response. I suspect that there is an element of independence that runs through atheists that inclines them to avoid sheep like activity (including gathering in herds). :)

  9. says

    Personally, I don’t think I ever had this problem. There was a bit of discomfort, but it was mostly due to how society views atheism. I had the idea that atheism wasn’t something you were “supposed” to do, and that people would disapprove. Other than that, nothing.
    Why was that? Could I help other people make a clean break too? I’m afraid that I don’t think I can. Much of it has to do with the kind of religion (liberal Catholicism) I was brought up in. For one thing, I’ve always thought church was boring from the start. Our church never provided me a community. For another thing, I didn’t have to change my moral views. You should do the right thing because the right thing is that which you should do. God was never essential to the equation for me. And lastly, the afterlife was never emphasized when I grew up. Common sense has always told me that it’s not about the after, it’s about the now.
    As for atheist organizations, yes, yes they should exist! They do exist. What would help more, though, is if there were more groups that emphasize openness. Contrary to the popular image, the organizations aren’t there just so people can bash religion together. You don’t need to be a hardcore atheist, or any kind of atheist at all. You can just hang out and have fun.

  10. says

    I’ll be interested to see what you come up with, because there was nothing that helped me come to terms with atheism when I came to it – at age 12 or so, nearly thirty years ago. But for me, there was never really anything to “come to terms” with: I became an atheist when I realized that there simply was no good reason to believe in any god or gods, and many good reasons to believe that no such things exist – and I am just constitutionally incapable of ignoring a truth when I realize it. To me, it seems like a very odd sort of dilemma, this “coming to terms” stuff. You don’t negotiate with reality, you accept it and adjust.

  11. Julie paradox says

    As a long-term philosophical agnostic who also had a faith..
    I’m currently trying to decide whether I still have a faith (not regularly attending church for 10 years probably affected this).
    I find I don’t actually have a problem with the lack of afterlife – quite some time ago, as an active Christian, I decided it was irrelevant anyway. For similar reasons, I’ve spent large parts of my life deliberately *not* bargaining with God. Conscience/internalised parent I can see would quite easily latch on to my alter ego (I had imaginary friends as a child…). Like you, I have enjoyed community from several other sources.
    I’m reluctant to think deeply about this because I would *miss* it. I’d miss going to church (I know this, because I did). I’d miss singing the fabulous stuff (let’s not talk about the less-fabulous stuff, ok). I enjoyed my religious upbringing and consider that it was an advantage.
    I’m not sure this is a particularly helpful answer to your questing, but it’s a relevant datapoint ;-)

  12. says

    I try to *be* a safe place to land
    I don’t think I always succeed
    I try to show wonder, I try to show love,
    To give what a “lander” might need
    I try to be open, remembering what
    It was like in that scared little place
    Before I abandoned the smallness of God
    For the beauty (for instance) of space,
    Or the wonders of physics, a tour of the brain,
    The genetics of flies or of mice,
    Of science applied to the whole of my life
    Of Einstein, and “God playing dice”
    There are times I fall short; I’m not perfect, I know,
    I get angry, and say something mean.
    Even then, I can hope, I can set an example–
    I’m human*, and not a machine.
    I suppose that the best I can do is to be
    Who I am (is that “taking a stand”?)
    If they hate me–oh well. If they like me, I guess
    I’m one part of “a safe place to land”.
    *ok, cephalopod.

  13. Elaine says

    I tell ya, it was an interesting moment when I went to the emergency room and the receptionist asked me my religion. I paused, because it was new, and said “Atheist”. She pencilled it in and told me to sit. No big deal for her, but it was a signal change for me. ( The emergency turned out to be me needing a root canal – but I did get some vicodin – woot!)

  14. says

    I’m not sure there IS much positive about atheism or godlessness.
    Really, it’s just one small thing that holds us together, and the only reason we have communities is that we are a generally looked down upon minority.
    We don’t have a cohesive holistic belief system to keep us together, just one unpopular idea… what are we supposed to do with that?

  15. Paul says

    For me the de-conversion process was difficult. As you said it’s often the case that changing your stance on god involves a significant amount of heartache, particularly because of the loss of community but also because of the uncertainty. From my own personal experience this rings true. Consequently it would seem prudent to have a support structure in place for people who want to change their stance on god/gods but are scared to lose the connection to people.
    One idea I have is to emulate the popular Alpha course (do you have this in the US?), but for atheism. Specifically helping to guide people (not indoctrinate) through the positive life affirming aspects, the origins of atheism (a bit of history), perhaps even a bit of philosophy. The advantage would be that it could easily be set up as it doesn’t need to emulate a church (which IMHO we should as a community avoid) and can be held anywhere (your local community centre, someones home, etc). It also serves as a social group that allows new people to form a social network of like minded individuals and hence a cushion for them when making those first steps.
    We have a lot of articulate, understanding and intelligent people in the atheist community who could really make such a venture work in a non-judgmental way. Why not put those qualities to work?
    Anyhow, just my “two cents” worth. Might not work but it’s one idea.

  16. clytia says

    i’m a somewhat new atheist, having grown up deeply christian for 18 years. it was a slow transition from belief to non-belief, going from having a “relationship” with god, to telling god to fuck off and mind his own business, to realising that maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if there was no god. i think in a way, i still struggle with the idea of a lack of afterlife though. the one thing about christianity that always scared me was eternity. i didn’t want to live forever, not even in heaven. i love the idea that when i die, it’s all over. but sometimes i just can’t convince myself that’s true.
    having grown up in the church, it would be kinda good to have a church substitute. but one that’s more real. not full of fake friendships and being nice to people you hate just because you should.

  17. says

    Along with Rodrigo Neely of Edger, you have inspired me to write a new post in response to your questions.
    Thanks, as always, for the insight and thoughtfulness you write with.

  18. Ainuvande says

    I was young, still in school and living with my family, when I stopped believing in god. But I don’t believe that I became anything. I am and was still me, it’s just that my view on one subject changed. But I had school, and I had friends who worshiped a number of different things, and so religion was not a huge thing for me. By the time people around me started making a big deal about it, I had done the research and solidified my opinion.
    But I had school. Not college, middle and high school. I had chorus and theater and hanging out with friends after school, joined as much by the fact that we were too young to drive as by close agreement in philosophy. People who let go of the god myth later in life have a harder time of it. I don’t think it’s necessarily about losing the religious community specifically as it is about losing a social network at a time when it’s harder to find a new one. A corollary: I have a single friend, he’s been single since the relationship he was in when he graduated college ended. Most of our friends are settled down, and he’s one of a couple of odd-people-out in a group that is now primarily couples. This is not a group that goes “out” much, and when it does, it’s big enough that it remains insular from the surrounding people. The odds of him finding love are rapidly diminishing as everyone around him settles into a routine. In order for him to date, he’s going to have to wander, with very little guidance, into the big wide world, and let go of the safety of our insular little group.
    I think it’s the same for people who come to atheism later in life. They’re walking away from a community, with no idea how to go about even finding new groups of people to hang out with. The internet helps tremendously, especially in finding the local groups, but I suspect there’s still a time of alone-ness in the middle there. I don’t know that atheism needs a specific group to talk in a structured way about not believing in a sky-fairy, but it definitely needs a critical mass of awareness. And I agree with Greta that some of that critical mass comes from those of us who are atheists standing up and admitting in the middle of our knitting or book clubs or bowling (or, in my geeky case, roleplaying) and saying “god who?” in groups that aren’t specifically atheist groups. I think some of that safety net needs to be discovering that you don’t have to only be in atheist clubs. You can have a mix of atheist and religious people, doing something completely unrelated, as long as everyone respects everyone else enough to not preach (and that goes both ways).
    To draw back to the corollary I made before: It’s not that my friend needs to completely break contact with us, it’s just that while some of our group are at church, and I’m sleeping in, he needs to be updating his online dating profile and looking for other social things he can do to meet new people.
    And, unfortunately, this is more further analysis of the situation as-is than advice on how to fix it.

  19. says

    I searched the internet for like minds. It was very helpful for me to read famous quotes from those like Albert Einstein and Thomas Jefferson. The things that worried me the most before coming out, were 1) how family and friends would react to me and 2) how would I deal with death?
    Since becoming an atheist, I’ve actually grown a much greater appreciation of life and all the people in it. Babies are more beautiful, animals, nature. Also, knowing that I don’t have anyone to answer to, but my own conscience has really changed me as well. I feel like I hold myself much more responsible for the choices that I make and the good that I try to put out there. I also have realized that it IS the human heart that does all the good that there is in this world. Not some God that I can’t see, feel, or hear.
    Bad people do bad things because they are bad people. Good people do good things because they are good people. It’s as simple as that. I choose to be the best person that I can be because it’s all up to me.

  20. absent sway says

    I’m scared to land in any place, soft or otherwise, because then I’ve lost my heritage forever. My worldview will never be the same, my family will be heartbroken, and it’s like I’m not the same person as before…
    The atheosphere has been helpful and interesting but many of you are convinced that people like my loved ones are crazy idiots. I respect the freedom of speech to point that out; it’s important and I understand the sentiment but it still hurts and reminds me of how far I am from Kansas now :)

  21. Nurse Ingrid says

    To absent sway:
    Take heart. Change is scary but it can also be a good thing. Aspects of you and your beliefs and opinions can change, but in some sense you will always be the same person and in another sense no one is ever always the same person throughout their life. And that is OK.
    Both of my parents deconverted from fundamentalist families (before I was born, so I dodged a bullet there). They both loved their families and continued to maintain close ties with them throughout their lives. It was hard, and sometimes it was awful, but to them it was totally worth it.
    And you will always have your heritage.

  22. newbie atheist says

    In short, no I don’t think there is a need for a church equivalent. Access to information in a safe environment is the real need.
    Most soon-to-be atheists have already abandoned their church based community and found other ways to meet those needs (if they have them).
    We nearly all get brain washed into the family religion as children, and “church” really is more about a community that exists solely because of a shared belief system. In that regard, “church” seems a very artificial and forced community structure. Once your allegiance to the family religion is gone, the need for a church-like community isn’t far behind.
    Really for me it was more about finally realizing that my choice of religion actually could be “none of the above.” Truly, with EVERYONE having a religious affiliation, even having heard of atheism didn’t seem to make it an option.
    In the same way that ones religion OUGHT to be a personal and private thing, being atheist similarly isn’t something that I feel the need to SHARE as part of a connected community. The singular exception is this very sort of dialogue which helps me and may be giving back to someone who is following along in a similar path. I see myself eventually being comfortable enough with all of this. At that point I’ll just check in on a couple of blogs occasionally instead of daily scrutiny of several.
    It is in that regard that the information and social resources that the internet provides are the most valuable thing out there for soon-to-be atheists. I actually think that my personal sequence was Skeptical Inquirer magazine, Harris, Dawkins, Hitchens and then Greta! After her “atheists and anger” post came up on my very first Google search for atheism I knew I’d found all the community I needed.

  23. Eclectic says

    It’s kind of an odd question, because I grew up atheist. I called myself agnostic for a time in high school, because I hadn’t devoted a lot of thought to the issue, but I wasn’t very attached to the label, as I didn’t need it very much.
    As the issue has come up over the years, I’ve thought about it more, and now call myself a strong atheist, i.e. I affirmatively believe in the non-existence of a deity. (An interventionist deity, at least; all I can say about a passive observer is that disbelief is simpler.)
    I am, honestly, quite completely mystified by what a church is as a social construct and what sort of equivalent is wanted. I don’t frankly think that atheism per se offers a useful unifying theme in the absence of external pressure. I myself have never felt personally attacked, so I don’t feel any pressure.
    I’m reminded of the Far Side cartoon of the “Didn’t Like Dances With Wolves Society” convention. Absent persecution, I don’t think a non-interest is a good base for community. If you like philosophical or ethical discussions, or knitting, or literary criticism, or sports, or contra dancing, or wine tasting, or tying people up and dripping hot wax on their tender bits, you might like getting together with people of similar interests.
    But I think there has to be a positive attraction. Mostly, the need is filled by “mundane” interest groups. Only if the existing groups are filled with too much religion (a problem I could especially see with moral/philosophical discussion, but there are overtly christian groups for everything up to and including spanking) do you need an explicitly secular alternative.
    I don’t know the religion of most other symphony-goers, and I don’t really care. We care about the music, Thus, I see no reason for an atheist symphony group.

  24. absent sway says

    Thanks, Ingrid. I guess it’s just hard to remember that sometimes. So much that I share with my family is faith-based that I’m really discouraged about sorting it all out, the if and when of it, etc. and it’s on my mind especially this time of year. I’ve been in limbo for nearly a year now and although much of the initial fear has subsided, it’s difficult to make decisions when thinking that I was so easily mistaken or gullible for so long, so sure of something that I now easily question–it’s like, what’s next? I’m excited about revising my identity sometimes, too, though. Thanks so much for sharing your family’s experience.

  25. inter-something says

    I’m pretty lucky — my transition from Christian to GODLESS HEATHEN was relatively painless. (Occasionally I got snarky comments, but my parents — though disappointed — didn’t kick me out or anything.) Losing my fear about the lack of an afterlife has been tough, though, and having a lot of nonreligious and atheist friends really helped me. We all met as freshmen in our university, and we didn’t become friends because we were atheists, but it has been really helpful. We can bitch and moan about the things that bother us about religion and not have to worry about censoring our opinions (unless our one religious friend is over, anyway). Even though I’m not much for organized communities, it’s really nice to be able to have a physical group of friends who agree with you on something so important, especially when you’re going through a tough time because of it.
    I’d be super interested in checking out some kind of atheist community, though. I’d really like to start one at my campus — sort of an atheist/skeptics community for people to vent and talk about their ideological or emotional problems with religion. (I’m really bad at forming/joining communities, though…~ ._. )

  26. vel says

    What made my transition into atheism easier? Realizing that theists weren’t any better than me, that they had no “magic decoder ring” that allowed them to talk to whatever deity they claimed existed, that they were WRONG about so many basic things and often were blatant liars. Seeing this helped me understand that I was right and that I had no reason to hide that.

  27. says

    The thing that made it easiest for me to become an atheist was reading the bible cover to cover. :D
    However, that’s probably not particularly helpful, given the context.
    Probably the main thing that has allowed me to rest easy with my atheism was a realization:
    1) Nothing lasts forever, but everything matters while it does. It matters because it matters to us, because we are.
    In the face of that, the belief that eternal existence is a requirement for a meaningful existence reveals itself for the folly it really is. Every moment counts. It is the little moments that give the eternity of the universe meaning, not the other way around.
    Atheism is the bedrock of living a truly meaningful life – a life that is meaningful for its own sake and not because we have deluded ourselves into thinking that sparks can last forever.

  28. says

    The main problem as I see it is that you think of atheism as a kind of universal solution for all human problems. This is what people call “totalitarism”. You say “I am loner, I am a rebel, don’t try to change me”, but you are trying to change everyone around you. You say “atheism is Good, religion is Evil” and state that as if you were talking about a universal truth, valid in every situation.
    Then, you complain when people call you “fundamentalist”. Is a “live and let live” attitude too hard to live with? Don’t you think it would be much more positive if, instead of spending time fighting what you think is evil, you promoted Freedom and Pluralism?
    Do you really think atheist intolerance will do any more good than any other kind of intolerance?
    Do you, Greta, approve or reject what soviet atheists did to religious people in communist countries? They arrested and killed people for that sake, in case you’ve forgotten or don’t have a clue about what I am talking about. And they did that because they were also believers in their Cause, faithful about the universal Good they were promoting, while killing 60 million in China, 20 million in Russia, 6 million in Europe…
    Come on, you are not fighting a good fight if you are using intolerance as a weapon.

  29. Awua says

    I didn’t need a support structure, because, like so many here, I’m a loner.
    I guess it also helped that I grew up in a “weird” family, at least compared to what was the norm back then. I sort of got used to being considered odd or different.
    And fuck off, Alex. Communism /= atheism. They are two different things. BTW, care to explain why the Orthodox church and the USSR poobahs (read COMMIES) were such cozy buddies?
    Didn’t think so.
    Idiot.

  30. says

    Please take note, everyone. Alexis Kauffmann, Exhibit A: Anatomy of a Troll.
    a) When trolling, please be sure to attack people for things they haven’t said or done. (Case in point: I’ve never once said that I think atheism is a universal solution for all human problems. And I really don’t think I’ve ever said anything intolerant of religious believers… unless you think “expressing disagreement and the belief that someone is mistaken” is the same thing as “intolerance.”)
    b) When trolling, be sure to bring up old, tired canards that have been addressed hundreds of times already. (Case in point: The Stalin argument. Sigh.)
    c) Treat jokes as if they were serious arguments, meant to be taken literally. (Case in point: Not getting that the line “I’m a loner, I’m a rebel, don’t try to change me, baby” is a J-O-K-E.)
    d) Above all else, when trolling, be sure to post your trolly comment as a reply to a post/ thread that has nothing whatsoever to do with what you’re saying. (Case in point: When you’re accusing atheists of being “intolerant,” be sure to do it in reply to a post/ thread that’s about positive community- building among atheists, that isn’t about criticism of religion, and that barely even mentions religion except in passing.)
    Did I miss anything?

  31. Kelly says

    I know this may sound silly, but what made the transition easier was the passage of time…and meeting others here and there who are atheists.

  32. Kay says

    For me it was “The simple example of other atheists obviously living their lives, obviously being happy and good people.” In particular the British illusionist Derren Brown. Until then, I had only had contact with the snarky, defensive atheist types. Afetr him I followed a rabbit trail to other atheists on the internet (like Julia Sweeny’s piece about leaving God). The online atheists and the availability of information was what finally allowed me to let go. And also… when I started coming-out to a woman’s group at church,the women there confided in me that they had doubts too, big ones even. That helped with a lot of the guilt.
    I think an atheist church is not a good idea. I think it’ll lead to real life divisions. I tried the UU route too, and it’s nice, but a bit too accepting of alternative spiritualities for me.

  33. says

    So is there, in fact, a need for all of these things in one place?

    Maybe not a need to have all of those things in one place. But there’s definitely a need to have one place where people know where to go to learn where to find whatever they need. One particular group of atheists don’t necessarily have to offer everything — but they could offer a handy list of addresses and references.

    This is what people call “totalitarism”.

    Wow, Alexis, you can’t spell the word AND you don’t know what it means.

  34. Gingerbreadman says

    The biggest issue I have had after coming to terms with the fact that I am agnostic/atheist/humanist (depending on the context) in my views is that my politics are very individualist/libertarian. While I feel accepted at meetups and gatherings, I am a little uncomfortable talking about politics when the group seems to be made up mostly of proud socialists (with a small sprinkle of libertarian views). I’m not that political (or at least try to keep it to myself) and don’t wear it on my sleeve, but there are lots of topics that I don’t feel comfortable discussing… which is ironic because one of the complaints I always had about religion was that I could never have an honest conversation and share my true thoughts, views and feelings. I don’t want to end up with the same problem in my new found peer group. I’m actually relieved that I can identify with someone like Michael Shermer, but as soon as I find someone like that, I start to realize that he is disliked because he isn’t more liberal in his views (or at least that is my perception being fairly new to the movement.

  35. says

    I’ve actually specifically chosen *not* to make the transition to Atheist. My monkey-brain needs the solace of an all-being, no matter how flawed that mirror is… I understand the desire to throw away the crutch, but I’ve got some pretty severe mental problems, and these crutches are what keep me from committing ‘cide (homi & or sui) on a bad day. I think it would be awesome if atheist folks could understand that sometimes the logical thing is to keep the chains on the beast within. Just my two cents.

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