“But people need religion for community! For social support! People get so much from religion—counseling, emotional help during hard times, financial help during hard times, rituals and rites of passage, day care, even job networking. Why do atheists want to take that away?”
There are a lot of arguments people make for religion. But this one gets atheists’ attention. Not because it’s a good argument for religion—it’s not. People don’t need religion to help each other out, or even to form organized groups to help each other out. We form communities and support networks around all sorts of ideas and identities: philosophies, political views, sexual orientations, gender identities or lack thereof, hobbies, geographical accidents, food preferences, and much, much more. And the communities people build around religion are hardly evidence that God exists… any more than Dickens re-creation societies are evidence that Oliver Twist exists.
This argument gets atheists’ attention, not because it’s a good argument for religion, but because we recognize that there is a real need here. In many parts of the world, religion is deeply intertwined with the social and economic and political system — and when atheists leave religion and come out as atheists, they often find themselves isolated, cut off from the support they’ve relied on all their lives, in some cases cut off from their families and closest friends. And even when religion isn’t an overpowering behemoth dominating the social landscape, support systems can have religion woven into them in ways that people aren’t even aware of — but that can make these support networks alienating to many atheists. Atheists often have distinct needs — when you don’t believe in any gods or any afterlife, you often handle things like grief, illness, rites of passage, bringing up children, very differently from people who do believe in a god or an afterlife. And support services often don’t meet these needs: even when they intend to be inclusive, they often aren’t.
So in the last few years, secular support systems have been flowering like… well, like flowers. Like flowers in a movie about mutant radioactive flowers, growing at astonishing rates and to colossal size. And like mutant radioactive flowers, they’re spreading their seeds profusely, and are sprouting brand new shoots every year. The very existence of these support systems is making more and more atheists aware of needs in our community that aren’t being filled… and they’re inspiring people to create new systems to fill them. (Of course, when atheists do create communities and support services, plenty of believers will respond by saying, “But that’s ridiculous! How can you create communities around something you don’t believe in?” Yet another way that atheists can’t win: we’re heartless and uncaring if we don’t create community, laughable and incomprehensible if we do. But I digress.)
Here are just seven atheist support systems — or eight, depending on how you’re counting — that you might not have heard of, focusing on particular issues or demographics that you might not have known existed. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and more are being created all the time. And most of these organizations know about most of the others, and can point you in their direction. If you’re an atheist, I encourage you to bookmark this page: you never know when you or one of your atheist friends might need one of these services. And if you’re not an atheist, but you have atheist friends or colleagues or family, you’d be doing them a kindness to let them know that these support systems exist. Your atheist friends and colleagues and family members may have needs that you aren’t aware of, needs they’ve never said anything about… because it never occurred to them that these forms of help could even exist.
This begins my latest piece for AlterNet, 7 Things Atheists Turn to When They Have Problems Without Resorting to God. To find out more about where atheists can turn to for help and support without relying on religion, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!