“How can you have a community and a movement for something you don’t believe in?”
Is there something inherent about atheism that makes it difficult, or impossible, to have a cohesive community and a powerful movement?
This isn’t just a question that gets douchily asked of atheists by religious believers. It’s an idea that gets floated by some atheists. In the conversation here on this very blog just yesterday, the conversation about policing our own and speaking out when atheists do screwed-up shit and why this sort of “divisiveness” is more important than unity that comes at the cost of silencing dissent, there were the following comments:
I think it ought to be pointed out repeatedly that simply lacking belief in gods is not necessarily a great unifying force. It does not imply that any two atheists necessarily have anything in common more than that.
I understand a certain amount of resource and leverage pooling when it comes to defending our basic rights in a system that had some messed up built in biases before we got here.
Beyond that, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for us to define ourselves according to some particular variety of nonsense that we don’t subscribe to. If we were joiners, we probably wouldn’t be atheists.
You just stated exactly why the modern atheist movement needs to be dismantled….and replaced with something that will promote human dignity instead. If the only thing you are about is disbelieving in God, you literally have nothing. We need positive values.
In reply to that last one, this:
That’s true, and probably why atheism has discovered that its tent is filled with hell of a lot of people who want to strangle each other
There does seem to be an idea, common among a fair number of atheists, that there is something inherent in atheism that makes cohesive community building and effective political organizing difficult or impossible.
And it’s bunk.
The reality is that a tremendous amount of organizing and community building is already happening around atheism. Even with all these disputes we’re having, atheism is taking off like a rocket. To give just one example: Look at the incredible growth of the Secular Student Alliance. In fact, I would argue that the disputes we’re having are probably because atheism is taking off like a rocket, since there’s this huge, diverse influx of new people who want a voice and don’t just want to do things the way the old guard has always done them. Atheism does, in fact, seem to be an idea around which people can organize, and organize effectively.
It makes no sense to say, “The only thing the atheist movement has in common in the fact that they don’t believe in God.” Yes — and the only thing that the environmental movement has in common is concern for the environment. The only thing that the LGBT movement has in common is concern for the LGBT rights. Heck — the only thing that gardening clubs have in common is an interest in gardening. Apply to other communities and social change movements; lather; rinse; repeat. These movements and communities have nevertheless had significant success.
And in fact, the debates and divisions within atheism are not unique to atheism. The fights about sexism, for instance, are raging in the tech world, the gaming world, the science fiction fandom world, the comics fandom world. Lots of communities that have traditionally been male-dominated and have recently had a large influx of women are having this exact same ugly pushback against women and feminism, and these exact same fights.
If the presence of division and discord were an indication that a community or a movement didn’t have a clear unifying force, then most large communities and movements organized around a clear unifying force would be relatively peaceful and conflict-free. Anyone who’s done any community organizing or political activism will hear that assertion, and collapse on the floor choking with hysterical laughter until the paramedics have to be called in.
What’s more, the reality is that atheist communities aren’t just taking off like a rocket: they’re very important for a lot of atheists, especially the ones who lose their friends and family when they leave religion. To just shrug and say, “Yeah, this organizing business is being hard and we’re having a lot of divisive debates, therefore it’s a waste of time and we’re never going to be able to do this” is not an acceptable answer.
I have argued before, and will no doubt argue again: As upsetting as these fights are, we need to have them. If we don’t have debates about sexism and racism and so on, we won’t move forward on sexism and racism and so on. The fights are actually a good sign: I’d rather we have them now, than ten or twenty or fifty years from now, when bad habits have had more time to set in, and bad feelings have had more time to fester. And again: Every social change movement I know of has had these fights, or has had fights similar to these. It is not a sign that atheism is an inherently difficult or impossible idea to organize around. It is a sign that human beings are contentious primates. Deal with it.