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Sep 06 2011

Angry Atheism and Community Building

I’ve been thinking about this whole “angry atheists versus friendly atheists” thing that many of us keep nattering on about in the atheist community. And I’ve been having a thought:

I don’t think these things have to be mutually exclusive.

I was at the Atheist Film Festival a couple weeks ago. (Awesome, btw. If you’re in the SF Bay Area, be sure to go next year. If you’re not, start one in your area!) I was watching a film called “Join Us,” a documentary by Ondi Timoner about an abusive Christian cult and a deprogramming facility that helped one family leave it.

As I watched the film, I was filled with rage. Literal, physical rage. Heart pumping hard, fists clenching, sweating, the works. Watching the vivid, detailed accounts of the terrible abuse, physical and emotional, that was inflicted on these people by their religion; seeing the difficulty and pain they had prying the cult from their minds, even after they’d left it behind; seeing the trauma that lingered, especially in the children, and the way their lives had been stunted or twisted… I wanted to leave the theater immediately and write a dozen blistering blog posts about why religion is a toxic idea. Hell, I wanted to leave the theater immediately and start a vigilante army.

And at the same time, I was realizing that what these folks needed was not a vigilante army, or indeed a scathing atheist blog post. What they needed was a community. A community that wasn’t based on mind control and blind obedience and severe physical punishment when they don’t obey. What they needed was to be surrounded by people who could keep them company, and share their joys and sorrows, and help take care of them when things went badly, and treat them as if they mattered.

What they needed was a safe place to land.

And some thoughts I’ve been having in a vague sort of way began to crystallize.
I think you can be an angry atheist — fiery, furious, enraged about religion both in its theory and its practice — and have your response to that anger be to organize the atheist bowling team. The atheist picnic. The atheist sewing circle. The atheist potluck supper. The atheist blood drive. The atheist book club.

I think that is an entirely appropriate, wildly useful response to atheist anger.

Many of us keep saying this, and we’ll keep on saying it: The reasons people typically join religions have nothing to do with the theology. The reasons people typically join religions have everything to do with community. Are the people friendly? Are the services welcoming? Are there pleasant places to socialize, and good opportunities for doing it? Do they have activities I want to participate in? Do they offer support services I need? Is there good coffee? Is there child care?

And by the same token, the reasons people leave religion, and embrace atheism, often don’t have a lot to do with theology, either. Some of it does, obviously — most people leave religion when they decide that it isn’t, you know, true. But for a lot of people, a big part of their process of leaving religion is finding out that other atheists exist, and are good people with happy meaningful lives, and if they come out as atheists they won’t be alone. For a lot of people, all of this seems to be necessary before they can consider the possibility that their religion is bunk.

So making this easier — making atheism more visible so people can see it’s an option, and creating an atheist community that people can come out into — is an entirely appropriate, wildly useful response to feeling angry about religion.

There’s a talk I often give to atheist groups, titled “Why Are You Atheists So Angry?” Unsurprisingly to anyone who’s read my writing, the answer I give to this rhetorical question is a fiery, impassioned rant: Atheists are angry because we have legitimate things to be angry about. And we’re not just angry, or even mostly angry, about how religion hurts atheists. We’re angry because of how religion hurts believers.

When I give this talk, one of the questions I get asked is, “What should we do with this anger? Now that you’ve got us all riled up — what do you want us to do about it?”

I usually make a joke here about how there should be pitchforks and torches ready for the post-talk angry mob. But my sincere answer is this:

You should do what you’re inspired to do.

If you’re angry about religion, and you want to picket the Mormon Church, or draw stick figures of Muhammad on your campus, or stick a nail through a communion wafer and throw it in the trash and post the pictures on the Internet… you should do that.

And if you’re angry about religion, and you want to put up billboards saying that atheists are good people, or help organize fun social events at your local atheist meetup group, or simply come out as an atheist to your friends and family… then you should do that, too.

We need all of that.

And all of that helps to dismantle religion.

Speaking out passionately against religion and its evils helps to dismantle it. Persuading people that religion is mistaken helps to dismantle it. Fighting against the unfair privileged status that religion enjoys in our society and in our legal system helps to dismantle it.

But making atheism more visible, and projecting a positive public image of atheism, and creating a fun, supportive atheist community… these also help to dismantle religion. They refuse the social consent that religion relies on to perpetuate itself. They let people know that atheism is an option — and not only an option, but a valid and satisfying option, with joy and meaning. They provide people a safe place to land when and if they do leave their faith.

So if you’re angry about religion, what should you do?

You should do whatever floats your boat.

You should do whatever form of activism you think is fun and inspiring. Wear an atheist T-shirt to the airport. Organize a same-sex kiss-in at the Mormon Church. Organize a canned food drive for your local food bank. Organize an atheist outing to a karaoke bar. Write a letter to the editor about anti-atheist bigotry in custody cases, or religious proselytizing in the military, or why you support the local atheist billboard campaign. Sponsor an atheist billboard campaign. Show up at your local atheist meetup group. Come up with ideas for activities for your local atheist meetup group… and help make them happen. Show up for the activities that your local atheist meetup group is already having. If there’s no local atheist meetup group in your area — start one. Go to a show of an atheist musician, or artist, or slam poet. Link to funny/ inspiring/ enraging bits of internet atheism on your Facebook page. Go to a school board meeting and insist that evolution be taught in science classes. Go to an atheist conference. Organize an atheist conference. Organize an atheist film festival in your town. Host an atheist movie night in your living room. Donate atheist books to prisons. Donate money to American Atheists or the Secular Student Alliance. Donate money to Camp Quest or the Foundation Beyond Belief. Start a blog. Put an atheist bumper sticker on your car. Get into fights about religion on the internet. Tell someone you know that you’re an atheist.

I pretty much don’t care what you do.

As long as you do something.

62 comments

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  1. 1
    John Morales

    Many of us keep saying this, and we’ll keep on saying it: The reasons people typically join religions have nothing to do with the theology. The reasons people typically join religions have everything to do with community.

    I think most people don’t so much join a religion as become indoctrinated into religion during childhood.

    (A touch like becoming addicted to smoking; easy to change brands or types, but kinda hard to give up altogether)

  2. 2
    Jim Royal

    If you want to dismantle religion, and make religious communities unattractive, then setting up non-theist bowling teams will help only a bit. But there is one thing that will really have a positive effect, although it will be very difficult to achieve.

    You have to change the political culture of the entire country: you have to build a proper social safety net.

    Religionists often say that that they fear the “nanny state” because it is inherently evil, that people will worship the state rather than God. The fact is that when people are no longer solely dependent on churches for charity and social assistance, many cease to worship altogether. And the rest are far less attached to their churches. This is the experience of nearly every country in the western world.

    Religion is stronger in the USA than elsewhere in the west because most Americans have felt insecure and threatened for decades. At first, church groups were swayed by mere propaganda, but lately the economic threats have become very real. And with no reliable social safety net, people cling to the only support they can find. And that’s nearly always a church.

    (I wonder sometimes about the curious coincidence that the very people who want to completely dismantle social services in the USA also tend to be the people who use God to get elected.)

    That’s it: As far as I can see, the only way to rid the USA of toxic religiosity is to get political and build a country where people actually feel safe.

  3. 3
    PZ Myers

    You know what else makes me angry? Not just religion, but the whole damned world.

    A new student at my university died in an auto accident this past weekend. I didn’t know him, he wasn’t in any of my classes, but for some reason the news hit me hard and put me on the verge of tears. 18 years old, his first two weeks of college, living away from home for the first time — all these things that are so exciting and wonderful, and bam, just like that, gone.

    And the injustice of it all makes me furious, that deep-down anger that you can feel like iron bands around the heart. And there’s absolutely nothing you can do.

    Except try to make the world a little better place for those of us left in it.

  4. 4
    Maria

    I agree this is most likely the very base of the problem.

    Over here in Western Europe things look different. Few people here rely on the churches for their basic social safety net. And it haven’t been like that for a long time. If ever, really. When Sweden was a very Christian nation (and a very poor nation as well, without any social security at all), the church was a tool of the state to keep the people obedient and in fear and respect of God and his ordained wordly representative, the King. People were forced by law to attend church and so on.

    If you’d ask most non-believers here today they’d probably say an atheist movement isn’t needed, and wouldn’t really get what the fuss is about. I think it IS needed here too, though, but for different reasons. It wouldn’t be so much about perseuading people out of religion (though there are still about 20 % that one would wish would just drop the whole stupid notion of a god as well) and give them a safe place to land. But to shake the already large group of non-believers out of their lax indiffirence about religion, and all other sorts of woo (newage bullshit runs rampart over here, people are generally not more skeptic or critical thinkers here,than in the USA for example, just because most of them are de facto atheists).

    To make people see that it is actually a harmful phenomena in so many ways, and that the harm it inflicts on people all around the world, is our business as well, not least as human beings, if not as members of a nation usually spared from some of the biggest problems on earth. And that we might actually need to be aware that it doesn’t “creep into” our society again, and start to matter again, outside of small “kooky” groups.

  5. 5
    Slydog

    I paint t-shirts.
    Seriously!
    I airbrush (hopefully) positive (atheist) messages on t-shirts.
    The problem is, I rarely wear them in public.

    My wife is a new Jr.High teacher and is apprehensive about what might happen if she’s seen with me in public wearing an “American Atheist” or Darwin fish t-shirt.
    Plus I have my own apprehensions about wearing them at work, although a few close coworkers are aware of my non-belief.

    Thank you for this post. I think it is just the right bit of encouragement I need to put on one of my creations… and maybe go shopping.
    I don’t need anything… but I’ll be seen.

  6. 6
    Gypsy Boho

    I would love to do more but living in south Louisiana it is very dangerous to come out. My life would literally be in danger. The majority of my community is Catholic and there is no greater danger than a Catholic.

  7. 7
    Ticktock

    “I pretty much don’t care what you do.

    As long as you do something.”

    I care what people do. I care that they don’t commit acts of violence in the name of atheism. I care that their actions are not so hateful and intolerant that they stain the movement with the type of irrational hypocrisy that compels even moderate christians to walk away from science and reasoning.

    You should care too.

  8. 8
    Sastra

    One of the things I’ve tried recently to make me less angry was to not say “But I’m not angry” when one of the faithful hit me with the “you know you sound angry” accusation. Instead, I used my sweetest, gentlest voice to admit that why yes, intellectual dishonesty does make me angry: there is no movement forward without passion against what holds us back. Passion is good.

    That was much more pleasant than trying to fall all over myself claiming general indifference.

  9. 9
    slydog

    You obviously have atheists mixed up with rabid fundamentalists. And this blog wasn’t remotely advocating doing anything harmful.
    You should read Greta’s blog more often… you wouldn’t come to such ridiculous conclusions.

  10. 10
    Luke Gyure

    This is a really good point, that most people don’t choose to join religious communities, that they are raised into them as children, but many do join religious communities as adults, whether coming from none or from another. The smoking analogy actually isn’t totally true: many who end up strong atheists were people of strong faith, many who end up super religious were raised without religion, and many of those who remain religious are, to carry over your analogy, people who don’t admit they’re addicted, or who “only smoke when they drink”, people who might not even call themselves “smokers”. I tend to think that this spectrum testifies to Christina’s point about community: a lot of people don’t really want the nicotine – they just want to step outside the noise of the bar for a minute.

    Dale McGowan, founder of Foundation Beyond Belief and author of Parenting Beyond Belief and Raising Freethinkers, has some great YouTube videos on these points. One is a lecture at SSA about the positive aspects of religious communities (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EGwlFmM6VGQ) of which secularists should take note, and the others are on his own YouTube channel (http://www.youtube.com/user/PBBChannel) about secular parenting in a very religious world.

  11. 11
    Anri

    I’m certainly not gainsaying you, but could you be more specific? Could you give us some examples of this sort of behaviour?
    I ask for two reasons:

    1) To perhaps demonstrate how honestly rare physical violence ‘in the name of atheism’ actually is, and,

    2) To determine what you mean by hateful and intolerant acts (assuming you don’t just mean violence – in which case, see # 1).

  12. 12
    Ani Sharmin

    I was thinking recently about anger about religion harming religious believers. When someone’s actually concerned about the people within the religion are being hurt, I think that’s the right attitude to have and it’ll motivate people to do something to help, and to see believers as fellow human beings, rather than the enemy. I’ve always gotten that impression from you, Greta, that you are angry with compassion and concern for the people being hurt. When people are dismissive about the harm done to religious people within religions, I think they’re being rather uncaring and callous.

    @Jim Royal: I think you make a good point. I’ve noticed how politicians who are against social programs often say that those services are better if performed by private organizations, religious institutions, etc. In the guise of “small government” they actually create an environment in which people who are in need have fewer options for help and in which any organizations that offer aid or services can gain members even if they don’t offer a good reason for their beliefs.

    Maybe if we can get away from the stereotype that you have to be religious to do good, be a good member of a community, etc. then there can be more working together rather than people assuming that you must be a member of a church to have a good community. I think that’s where things like atheist bowling leagues, etc. can come in, because they can change people’s minds (perhaps slowly, but surely).

  13. 13
    Ticktock

    I guess your missing my point. It’s irresponsible and misguided to say that you “pretty much don’t care” what people do with their anger. To suggest that they “just do something” implies that anything is acceptable to her. Whether she believes this or not, and whether she advocates this or not, is irrelevant to my argument. Her article is giving everyone a free pass for any type of anger-inspired tactic they choose.

  14. 14
    Jim Royal

    @Ani Sharmin: You said, “Maybe if we can get away from the stereotype that you have to be religious to do good… then there can be more working together…”

    I think that while this is a laudable goal that may help make the lives of individual atheists better, it will not address the underlying problem: People feel insecure, and so they grasp onto the false hope of religion to gain some control over their lives.

    You said it yourself: “In the guise of small government, they actually create an environment in which people who are in need have fewer options…” Therefore, the best way for atheists in the US to improve things is to rally around a common political goal: to build a civil society.

    It’s not enough for atheists to hold skeptic meetings and pub gatherings and bowling leagues. Non-believers make up a large segment of the voting population. Just as the religionists have gathered around certain common political goals, so too must non-believers.

  15. 15
    Ticktock

    I think China has had a history of intolerance and violence toward religion, but you’re right that violence from atheists in the name of religion is minimal. However, I would like to point out that the violence condoned by Hitchens, religious warfare for the advancement of secular values, is an example of the type of advocation of violence that I’m talking about.

    My other concern is that some atheists are disproportionately hostile and unwelcoming to people of faith, and that this anger is not only hypocritical, but it’s also making non-believers seem like the hateful assholes people assume that we are. If you insist on an example, Thunderfoot came to TAM dressed as a priest, handed out communion wafers, and shouted annoying sarcastic atheist comments — all while the comparatively normal Chuck Norris martial artists waited in line to attend their convention’s dance party. That was a moment when I thought, “Hmmm, I’m embarrassed to be part of the freethought movement.”

  16. 16
    Maria

    I don’t agree. It’s pretty easy to understand that what she’s saying is:

    “I pretty much don’t care what you do [of the kind of things I've mentioned above].”

    That’s what such a statement usually means when you have just made a long list of examples of things you find acceptable to do, I would think! If I say to someone: “Buy tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, apples or oranges, I don’t care which you buy, just buy some [healthy food]. It’s pretty clear from that context that I’m not advocating people should go out and buy a gun!

    And it IS valid to take all of her writing into account when assessing that “I pretty much don’t care what you do” could equal “Going out to hurt or kill people in the name of atheism is okay by me” is a ridiculous concern here!

  17. 17
    slydog

    And you are missing the point of the entire last part of the blog by focusing on the last two sentences.
    She lists a whole slew of activities… not one the least bit violent or “irresponsible and misguided”… and then says “do something.”

    It’s a ridiculous stretch to suggest that this blog IN ANY WAY is giving atheists a “free pass” to commit violent acts.

    You’re being incredibly obtuse.

  18. 18
    Ticktock

    I think there’s a difference between the necessity for making a qualifying statement for grocery shopping and the necessity for making a qualifying statement for anger-inspired activism. My overall point is that I do care what people do with their anger in the name of atheism — violence is at the top of the list, but there are plenty of examples that are not nearly as extreme but fall on a range from pointless to hurtful.

  19. 19
    Ani Sharmin

    @Jim Royal:

    Non-believers make up a large segment of the voting population. Just as the religionists have gathered around certain common political goals, so too must non-believers.

    I very much agree with this. There are always people who say we won’t be able to do this, since atheists don’t necessarily have the same political views, but there’s no reason those who do agree with each other on certain issues can’t get together. After all, all Christians don’t agree, but the Christians who do agree with one another get together and exert an enormous amount of pressure on politicians.

    On a semi-related note, Susan Jacoby wrote some articles about this topic that I really enjoyed: “Secular America: Growing numbers with too little political clout”, “Atheists should study gay political playbook”, and “Wanted: A toughminded, tenderhearted secular social conscious”.

    Adam Lee/EbonMuse also wrote about this topic on AlterNet in “There Are 10 Times As Many Atheists as Mormons: When Will Non-Believers Become a Political Force?” and “6 Ways Atheists Can Band Together to Fight Religious Fundamentalism”.

  20. 20
    Ticktock

    I would say that “get into fights about religion on the internet” would be misguided. Have discussions? Sure. Get into fights? Probably not the best advice I’ve ever heard. But I guess I’m being a bit obtuse about it.

    She literally says “do whatever floats your boat” in regards to how people should respond to the anger they feel about religion. This is not a contortion to complain about such a suggestion. It’s not as if her words are following an article about how to make atheism fun or how to be passionate about atheism — she’s talking about how to manage your anger.

  21. 21
    Maria

    “think there’s a difference between the necessity for making a qualifying statement for grocery shopping and the necessity for making a qualifying statement for anger-inspired activism.”

    For goodness sake… That was a semantic example of why it was easy NOT to misunderstand what she said – not a damn comparison between groceries and violence!

    Do you really think there are that many violent atheists out there, who are doing a lot of “drive by reading” of atheist blogs, just looking for something to take totally out of context, so that they have an excuse to committ violence in the name of atheism? “Uhh.. Greta told us to!! If you only read the last two sentences, she told us to! Just read the last two sentences and you’ll see!”

    I’d say that the context here is so clear that a clarification of that kind is not needed, and that only someone committed to the image of atheists as generally potentially violent could “misunderstand” it in such a way. Indeed it would rather have looked kind of weird, if she had added “And by ‘something’ I don’t mean to go out and hurt, kill and harass Christians.” because, uhh.. why the hell would someone think she would mean that?

  22. 22
    Maria

    “she’s talking about how to manage your anger”

    Yes! And the article is ABOUT how to direct that (very valid) anger into doing non-violent things!

    “Do something [any of these non-violent things, or others you can come up with yourself] is what she’s saying here – and THAT’S as easy to see from context as my grocery list example!

  23. 23
    slydog

    Be careful when you suggest that there are “Ways Atheists Can Band Together to Fight Religious Fundamentalism”…
    Some here might think you’re suggesting that atheists resort to fisticuffs.
    :)

  24. 24
    slydog

    I’d say that the context here is so clear that a clarification of that kind is not needed, and that only someone committed to the image of atheists as generally potentially violent could “misunderstand” it in such a way.

    Well said… again.

    Some people just have to be contrary.
    The blog is clear. His understanding of it is foggy.

  25. 25
    TrineBM

    But to shake the already large group of non-believers out of their lax indiffirence about religion, and all other sorts of woo (newage bullshit runs rampart over here, people are generally not more skeptic or critical thinkers here,than in the USA for example, just because most of them are de facto atheists).

    Another Scandinavian chiming in (for the first time on Greta Christinas blog … waving around to all).
    I’ve been lucky enough to meet up with two guys who wanted to start a Copenhagen Skeptics in the Pub and I jumped on their wagon, because I do so agree with you Maria: Here in Scandinavia there is an amazing lack of critical thinking and skepticism. People who’d never believe in a god or go to church readily believe that homeopathy works, chakras, reiki … you name it.
    And it is great fun to actually DO something. Thanks fo the inspiration, Greta Christina :-)

  26. 26
    Bighug

    I understand where you are coming from. I live in Livingston Parish, which is known for its hardcore fundamentalist Christians. For years it was the location of the national KKK office, and still has lots of members. I’ve always been careful about admitting to being an atheist, but as more people are joining the group, I have been less secretive about it.

  27. 27
    Ticktock

    Am I worried that a misguided atheist will read this blog and commit violence? No.

    I’m saying that I disagree with the idea that any anger-inspired atheism is good. I understand her argument is that any activism, whether it be passive or aggressive, is helpful. I have a different opinion.

  28. 28
    Ticktock

    [parenthesis yours]

  29. 29
    Maria

    And you say that the article is about…?

  30. 30
    Maria

    “Am I worried that a misguided atheist will read this blog and commit violence? No.”

    Then why focus so much on what those two last sentences said, if you don’t really think they could have such an effect?

    And if you are only concerned that Greta wants that effect (and that she doesn’t care) even if you don’t think any atheists would respond to her ‘not caring and trying to rile them up’ – then the same applies, it’s easy to see that that is not what Greta wants, and that she does care very much, both from this article, and from the rest of her writing.

    Your concern is noted, as Greta says!

  31. 31
    Mattir-ritated

    I’m glad that this has devolved into yet another “oh, you atheists are soooo angry” thread.

    Really, have people really not heard of channeling anger into constructive activities? Atheist anger has done wonders for my knitting. (Really, it has.)

  32. 32
    Mattir-ritated

    TickTock, I’ve run into several people in recent years who are of the “anger is always wrong and non-productive” sentiment. Without exception, they are the most angry, passive aggressive, and difficult to work with people around. Real grown-ups recognize that anger is one part of the human emotional spectrum. Just like with lustful, happy, sad, lonely, and afraid, there are good ways to handle the feeling and bad ways.

    Good ways: use anger as a motivation to do something constructive. Form a bowling league or knitting group for atheists. Participate in an online atheist community. Sue your local government over some egregious violation of the First Amendment. Speak up when you are deliberately excluded from the public forum.

    Bad ways: pick a screaming fight with your inlaws in front of your preschool children. Road-rage people with Jesus fish on their cars. Graffiti churches. Withdraw from the public sphere lest you offend someone with your anger. Pretend that you’re not angry and lecture people for expressing their emotions appropriately.

    It would be nice if we could send all the no-anger-ever tone trolls back to preschool for some education in basic emotional skills.

  33. 33
    PZ Myers

    TickTock, looking over your contributions to this thread, I have to say that for such a kneejerk peaceful guy, you sure are spoiling for a fight.

  34. 34
    Classical Cipher, Murmur Muris, OM

    Or even reading skills! Funny how that “pretty much” just dropped right out of TickTock’s reading of the sentence. But of course we all realize that TickTock didn’t really misread that – the tone troll’s just being dishonest, distorting Greta’s words as an excuse to use classic silencing tactics and clutch hir pearls about how very, very rude those Other Atheists are. Hey TickTock – if you wanna kvetch about rudeness, let me tell you, it’s really fuckin’ rude to deliberately twist people’s words. Also rude: pretending you have some concern about violence when you’re really just upset about mean, mean words. Since you’re such a Good Atheist, you can go ahead and apologize for that disingenuous nonsense. Wouldn’t want to, you know, alienate allies or anything.

  35. 35
    Greta Christina

    Ticktock: I did not, in fact, say, “I don’t care what you do. My exact words were, quote, “I pretty much don’t care what you do.”

    “Pretty much” being the operative words.

    Given how fixated you seem to be on these two sentences out of the entire piece, I would have thought you’d have noticed that.

    You know, when I wrote the first draft of this piece, I didn’t include the phrase, “pretty much.” But I decided I should make it clear that I was not, in fact, advocating absolutely any form of atheist activism. It occurred to me that — despite the fact that I have never once advocated for violence or discrimination against religious believers, and despite the fact that the whole freaking point of this piece was “It’s useful and good to channel your anger into positive activism and community building, and I support people doing that” — someone might go out of their way to be deliberately obtuse, and read that sentence as an incitement to violence, bigotry, or discrimination against believers. So I consciously inserted the qualification, “Pretty much,” to make it clear that this wasn’t what I meant, and that there were limits on the kinds of activism I was endorsing.

    You have managed an impressive job of being deliberately obtuse anyway. Nobody else reading this seems to have needed this clarification. But I will make it anyway: I am not endorsing violence, bigotry, or discrimination against religious believers.

    If you are genuinely concerned that I am endorsing these things, I hope this clarification alleviates them. If instead, as I strongly suspect, you’re equate any verbal expression of anger with being a hostile asshole — sorry, but that’s just silly.

    Everyone else: Can we please stop feeding the concern troll, and move on to an actual substantive discussion of what does and does not constitute effective forms of atheist activism? I’m on the road and can’t jump into threads as often as I’d like. So for this comment thread, all my regular readers are hereby authorized to respond to Ticktock in my name with the following: “Your concern is noted. Thank you for sharing.”

  36. 36
    Classical Cipher, Murmur Muris, OM

    Well, I really liked the suggestion above that a great focus of atheist anger is the system of class oppression that encourages religion. Atheist anger can be directed toward helping social justice movements in general – because authoritarian religion feeds into a lot of types of oppression.

    On a more personal note, I’m at a bit of a loss for what I would consider an ideally productive use of my own anger. Fighting on the internet – I can do that, all right. It’s what I do. But I’d love to make a more positive contribution to secular community-building as well. It seems to me that this really is the more important role, especially if social justice activism is considered part of this community-building. Unfortunately I’m just not a very social person. I don’t like to be with people, so bringing people together is simply not the role for me. Perhaps just positive, affirming secular writing, to help people ease the transition to faithlessness and find comfort in non-religious thought. (Greta, Cuttlefish, and PZ among others are inspirations in this regard.) At any rate, thanks for this article, Greta – you’ve given me a lot to think about.

  37. 37
    JesseW, the Juggling Janitor

    That’s great that you are making tshirts!

    Do you know of any other atheists in your local area? If not, have you checked any of the lists of such groups: e.g. http://wiki.ironchariots.org/index.php?title=Atheist_groups ; Meetup, etc. Even if you don’t feel safe wearing one of your shirts, other people might, and that might help make it safer for you to do so…

  38. 38
    Jafafa Hots

    Where do I get that shirt?

  39. 39
    Hypatia's Daughter

    Ani Sharmin:

    “I’ve noticed how politicians who are against social programs often say that those services are better if performed by private organizations, religious institutions, etc. In the guise of “small government…”

    Except it’s not making a “small government”. It’s a “bait & switch”.
    The bait was churches would provide and fund services as a religious obligation.(Remember homes for unwed mothers, or soup kitchens?)
    The switch is that the taxpayers are still footing the bill for these services, but have lost control over the groups who are getting their money. And making a profit, to boot.
    Faith-based initiatives is a big scam.
    Educating the average person about things like this has to be a part “atheist outreach”.

  40. 40
    Ani Sharmin

    @Hypatia’s Daughter:

    First of all, I love your pseudonym.

    Except it’s not making a “small government”. It’s a “bait & switch”.
    The bait was churches would provide and fund services as a religious obligation.(Remember homes for unwed mothers, or soup kitchens?)
    The switch is that the taxpayers are still footing the bill for these services, but have lost control over the groups who are getting their money. And making a profit, to boot.
    Faith-based initiatives is a big scam.

    Excellent point. It’s extremely suspicious (and telling) that the same people who say they don’t want the government to have social programs are fine with it if the government gives money to religious institutions for social programs (which then discriminate instead of treating people equally, let alone the fact that they’re getting funding from taxpayers, which is bad enough already).

    And then if someone points out the Constitutional issues (and that charities by religious institutions aren’t enough to help everyone who needs it), religious leaders talk about how people are being lazy, shouldn’t depend on government, etc. Apparently, if you get aid from a religious institution (giving them the opportunity to try to convert you), that’s fine, but if you get aid from a government social program then you’re being lazy. It makes no sense.

    I think one of the things secularists should be vocal about is that such charity work/helping others shouldn’t be seen as just a side thing attached to an opportunity to preach religion (or an opportunity for someone to “prove” to God how devoted they are to following their religion), but rather something motivated by our common humanity.

  41. 41
    Mattir-ritated

    Oh, Greta – we have got to get our concern troll fix somewhere, please? The ones at Pharyngula get used up too quickly. Without trolls to chew on, how will we maintain our sharp teeth?

    Now back to contemplating my (atheist) homeschool planning. And to work on my (atheist) knitting projects.

  42. 42
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    This sort of intentionally-rock-stupid literalism is completely inconsistent with intellectual honesty or arguing in good faith. Thanks for playing.

  43. 43
    XtinaS

    Zoe: Okay, people. If it moves, shoot it.
    Kaylee: Unless it’s the captain!
    Zoe: Unless it’s the captain.

    So, I suppose, thank you for telling us to not shoot the captain.

  44. 44
    James Croft

    Luke makes good points: some 1/3 of all religious people convert at some point in their lives, according to the American Grace studies. One of the primary reasons they do that, it turns out, is because they find the values of the religious community they join more consonant with their. That’s why, at Harvard, we’re seeking to make Humanist communities a reality across the USA and the world.

  45. 45
    James Croft

    This is a great post, which goes to the heart of why I became so involved in Humanist activism. I think building viable nonreligious communities is likely to be THE best thing we can do to erode religious privilege and build our political power. Indeed, for a political and social movement we currently spend very few of our resources building real communities – consider that the main movement organizations are essentially affinity and advocacy groups, and not community building organizations.

    If we spent some of the money we currently spend on lawsuits on buying buildings and filling them with nonreligious people, I predict we could dramatically increase our political power and social significance and acceptance in a reasonably short period of time.

    Key to this agenda, in my view, will be creating truly “Humanist” communities (not just “atheist” ones). All the evidence I have encountered suggests that it is the values-based nature of religious communities which pulls people in and makes them want to come regularly and translate their attendance into activism and social effort. Atheism, while it may spring from deep values (skepticism, anti-authoritarianism, rationalism, moral reasons etc.), is not itself a value proposition, and so cannot effectively serve as the lynch-pin for living communities.

    When we start building true secular communities which openly and vigorously espouse Humanist values we will be on the path to true political significance. The day can’t come soon enough when more of us realize this.

  46. 46
    Mr Z

    This is great. A validation that being angry is not only okay, but good. Building community is not as simple as most people state it. Imagine that next Thursday at 5:19 p.m. exactly, all religion is gone from the USA. Go ahead, imagine it for a minute… the question you will be asking yourself is this: Now what? So? Now what? Imagine the world devoid of caustic religious belief, now what?

    If you want to channel your anger or direct your passion, focus on the ‘now what?’ part of the issue. Here is a couple of clues as I see things.

    - if you are not politically active now, you are behind the curve and lacking in responsible behavior.

    - if you are not helping others to see the caustic ways of religion and how conservatism has furthered wasteful use of this country’s resources, well, you’re not helping your country.

    - if you are not supportive of equal rights for all people on all fronts, well, you are supporting bigotry.

    What atheists and humanists should be striving for in society is not an end goal, not a defined objective… rather it is what society should be and a situation that does not have an end goal, or objective other than suppressing all incorrect political and social and religious views. Suppress might be a bad choice of words … so lets use replacing the same with correct views and ideologies. Ooops, we’re off into bigotry land, right? So now what?

    What exactly are the fucking goals of atheism? What now? What next? There is no community without ideology. Go ahead, name some community without ideology. So now what, what next? Where are we going with this? What is the exact ideology of atheism?

    This is what makes me snicker at the thought of atheist community. There is no goal, no ideology, no end game. Go ahead, use your anger, focus it, foment it… just don’t do it as an atheist. Do it as a citizen, or as a human, or as a humanist, or as a person with compassion for other humans. Atheism has no goals, no agenda, no ideology. Quit pretending it does. By all means use your anger, use it to right wrongs. Just don’t do it as an atheist.

  47. 47
    Ticktock

    LOL. Guess so.

  48. 48
    Ticktock

    Classical silencing tactics? Please. Sorry if I disagreed with her that an article on managing anger shouldn’t end with a vague endorsement of any behavior. I guess that makes me a tone troll – don’t feed me.

  49. 49
    Ticktock

    I did notice the “pretty much” – just thought it merited clarification. Glad my concern was noted. :)

    But in all sincerity, as I was commenting to others I realized that I was wrong to imply that you could be endorsing violence of any kind. I apologize.

    My actual disagreement (not concern) is with the notion that any atheist activism is helpful for the movement or the individual activist. Some things make us look stupid, some things get people hurt, and some things damage relationships. Maybe it would have been a more productive discussion if I had started from a more sincere place, but I suspect that I still would have been placed in the category of “concern troll”. Oh well. Serves me right for writing the first comment that popped into my head.

  50. 50
    Greta Christina

    Maybe it would have been a more productive discussion if I had started from a more sincere place, but I suspect that I still would have been placed in the category of “concern troll”.

    Ticktock: Given that one of the of the standard working definitions of “trolling” is “expressing ideas you don’t actually share, with the sole purpose of getting a reaction”… your suspicions are entirely unmerited and unjust. And if you EVER do that again in my blog, you will be banned so fast it will make your heard spin. There’s enough genuine conflict on the Internet, without people making it up.

  51. 51
    PZ Myers

    So this miracle at 5:19 next Thursday…how does it come about?

    Have you stopped to consider, Mr Z, that maybe many of us have been working for those progressive goals — to them I’d also add the goal of good science education — and what we see repeatedly is one common obstacle that pops up and interferes with achieving them. Sensibly, some of us have decided that one good immediate goal is to hack away at the obstacle and clear the road for progress.

    That obstacle is religion. It is a good and worthy task to labor to clear it, because no, there will be no magic at 5:19 on Thursday, there won’t even be a day in our lifetimes when religion evaporates. So we fight it now.

    We also fight assholes like you who blithely dismiss “atheists as a community”.

  52. 52
    Ms. Daisy Cutter, General Manager for the Cleveland Steamers

    I’m really sorry, PZ, for what it’s worth.

  53. 53
    Russell

    Greta Christina:

    And by the same token, the reasons people leave religion, and embrace atheism, often don’t have a lot to do with theology, either. Some of it does, obviously — most people leave religion when they decide that it isn’t, you know, true. But for a lot of people, a big part of their process of leaving religion is finding out that other atheists exist, and are good people with happy meaningful lives, and if they come out as atheists they won’t be alone. For a lot of people, all of this seems to be necessary before they can consider the possibility that their religion is bunk.

    There’s a part of me that sees some tension between this and the kind of skepticism I encourage. Rational skepticism would guard the process of evaluating belief from the influence of a friendly community of believers with good coffee and great social events, much as legal rules try to guard jurors being influenced by outside contact with the prosecution or defense. Now yeah, there’s a sense in which there is benefit to prying someone away from nonsense, whether by helping them recognize nonsense or through social influence. A former Southern Baptist is no longer a Southern Baptist, no matter how that came about. But if that change is merely a switch of affiliation rather than a true loss of faith, I’m not sure that’s much a victory for rationalism.

  54. 54
    Alfarr Hotei

    many who end up strong atheists were people of strong faith, many who end up super religious were raised without religion, and many of those who remain religious are, to carry over your analogy, people who don’t admit they’re addicted, or who “only smoke when they drink”, people who might not even call themselves “smokers”.

    It’s always a little complex when humans are involved. Where smoking addiction is simply a kind of internal pressure that follows you everywhere, communities can exert both external (“my friends are here, and they want me to be here”) and internal pressure (“I like doing what this community is doing”).

    For many, with religion, I suspect there is very little internal pressure. How many people truly love hearing the umpteenth talk about Christianity, Faith, God, whatever? Or having the umpteenth discussion?
    The occasional singing sort of has something going for it, but that’s not because the songs are religious.

    So the truly cruel bit of Christian (and many other religious) communities is the external pressure. That if you leave or drift away from the community (because you are losing your internal interest in the subject), your friends will, out of compassion for your soul, start actively pulling at you to come back.
    And if you actively resist, some form of hostility may even ensue.

    Whereas in most other communities, if you tell your friends you’ve lost interest in that particular hobby/pastime (and thus your first, possibly best reason to stay), at most they will probably scoff at you a bit and you will still be good friends regardless.

    I was lucky in this regard. I “escaped” my own Christian community somewhat by accident, because I had to move out of town to go to university. So I had a very good excuse for leaving.
    And then I just sort of decided not to bother entering a similar community in my new town. I had always felt a bit bored and often annoyed by the activities in those communities. And my faith would probably do fine without.

    It didn’t, as I was later pleasantly surprised to discover.

    And now I am even feeling somewhat angry at religion, and Christianity in particular. But as the coward I am, the best I feel I can do about it currently is write the occasional pseudonymous post or comment, to get some of my thoughts in writing… When I have the time for it.

    I have an slightly more interesting, fun-filled life to live after all, since I realized God is unlikely to be spying on my every move.

  55. 55
    Kevin Saldanha

    Greg Epstein gives Humanists the same advice in his book Good Without God. It’s time we went beyond organizing the ‘(non)existence of god(s)’ debates and created communities of nonbelievers with the support structures that religious communities have developed over the centuries (without the benefit of social media).
    Freethinkers, skeptics, agnostics and atheists will eventually come out of the Humanist closet to enjoy the benefits of community without God.

  56. 56
    Dan Kulkosky

    Greta has an excellent point about community. Some years back, the New York Times magazine had an article about people who changed religions in adulthood. One person even returned to the religion of his mother who had moved away from it when she was young. What struck me the most about the article was–as Greta says–the most frequent reason people converted was to regain community. For various reasons most of the subjects of the article had become cut off from their birth religion, in some cases physically: surrounded by people of another religion. Although the article didn’t put it this way, it was obvious to me that many people converted simply to regain a sense of community that had been lost. Theology had little to do with it.

    So perhaps it’s true: if atheists build communities, “they will come.”

  57. 57
    Classical Cipher, Murmur Muris, OM

    Rational skepticism would guard the process of evaluating belief from the influence of a friendly community of believers with good coffee and great social events, much as legal rules try to guard jurors being influenced by outside contact with the prosecution or defense.

    While that strategy may have the benefit of being ideologically pure, it also relies on ignorance of how people actually work. You can’t “guard the process of evaluating belief” from anything – it’s something that happens in people’s messy, messy brains. I don’t want any part of a “rational skepticism” that insulates itself from evidence in this way. I don’t know why you would either.

  58. 58
    llewelly

    Back in 2007 or thereabouts, there was a substantial furor about how PZ Myers, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, etc, were not creating a community for non believers. Some even argued they were hurting things.

    Four years later, Dawkins’ efforts to create communities have not been terribly successful, but many people have joined freethought organizations of all sorts in part due to his books. Hitchens has not tried, as far as I know, but again, many have joined freethought communities due to his books.

    But, among PZ’s blog commenters, a vibrant community was growing even back in 2007. (In fact the pharynguloid community is so vibrant Mattir and Onion Girl are gathering forces for an invasion of an otherwise innocent and helpless wool arts community of some sort.)

    In addition, SSA memberships and membership in the FFRF have been growing exponentially in the years since the publication of certain assertive atheist books.

    On the whole assertive atheism has done quite a good job of growing atheist communities. But they’re still in their infancy, and setting goals, acting in an organized and politically successful fashion is something that is not quite happening yet. But we can’t expect these things to change overnight.

    Anger has played a vital role in convincing people that something needs to be done. When you don’t regularly hear about the outrages against unbelief that are constantly committed, it’s easy to sit home in your closet and feel it there’s no good reason to go out in search of other unbelievers. A great deal of community forming is ultimately defensive; most people do not ask for help unless they need it, and most people do not provide help until they see someone in need.

  59. 59
    Greta Christina

    What PZ said. I would also add:

    If you don’t want there to be an atheist community… what are you doing reading and commenting on an atheist blog?

  60. 60
    Allen C. Dexter

    Bush’s haranguing for “faith based” crap was just more of the insidious campaign to keep people enslaved to religion. It goes on every day.

    The dismantling of the national safety net is just another way to keep people enslaved and beholden to the superstition mongers. They claim to be motivated only by love. Just let them know you’re an atheist and see how quickly the hate comes to the surface.

    So far, my only effort has been my blog: http://theageofreason–21stcentury.blogspot.com/. I’ve toyed with starting a group but find the whole thing a bit overwhelming at this stage. Maybe I’ll get something going down the road.

  61. 61
    James Croft

    “If you don’t want there to be an atheist community… what are you doing reading and commenting on an atheist blog?”

    While I don’t agree with everything Mr Z says, I do think the distinction between “atheist” and “Humanist” community is worth noting and considering. In my experience visiting many freethinking organizations, they tend to have different tones and atmospheres depending on their different concerns and primary values. llewelly’s point regarding the flourishing SSA and other groups is well-taken, but many of these affinity organizations are not fully “communities” in the way I understand the term. I’m hoping for something much fuller and richer than a weekly discussion group, for example, or occasional pub meetups. What we lack are morally-intense communities based around a shared set of values, with members who are willing to use their time and money to see those values spread in the world.

    Building such communities is very difficult, and in my experience only a few freethinking organizations have achieved it.

  62. 62
    slydog

    Speaking of “community building”… here is a list of atheists on Google+… if I’m permitted to post it here. (not trying to break any rules)
    Some pretty influential peeps on it!

    http://gpc.fm/l/atheist

    Sly

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