“There is no atheist movement.” “Atheism isn’t a movement.” “Look at the definition — all ‘atheist’ means is ‘person who doesn’t believe in any gods’! We don’t have anything else in common! How can you build a movement around that?”
When I write about organized atheism, I get this response a fair amount. I saw it most recently on Twitter, where @davidgaliel wrote, “I think ‘atheist movement’ is about as meaningful as ‘non-chess-player movement’ — but I’m mentioning that particular instance just to give an example, not to single it out. I see this idea a lot. I used to argue with it. I am done arguing with it. Whenever I see it in the future, I’m just going to link to this piece.
Let’s make an analogy. Let’s talk about the gay rights movement.*
Technically, the only thing gay men and lesbians and bisexuals all have in common is that we’re attracted to people of the same gender. And yet, we’ve built a movement. We’ve built organizations that push back against the discrimination and bigotry we all share. We’ve built organizations to amplify our voices, knowing that these are all too easily drowned out. We’ve built organizations to preserve our history, knowing that this is all too easily destroyed and lost. We’ve built organizations to educate straight people about who we are, and to counter the myths and fears and misinformation about us. We’ve built networks to educate each other: about job discrimination laws, about anti-gay violence, about coming-out techniques, about safer sex, about hundreds of other issues that affect us. We’ve built support structures and supportive communities to replace the ones that we’d lost. Etc., etc., etc. — I could go on for a whole lot longer.
No, not every one of these issue concerns every single one of us. But enough of them affect enough of us that we’ve been able to organize. No, we don’t all agree on the best way to reach our goals, or even what our goals should be. Having a movement doesn’t mean marching in lockstep. It doesn’t mean every single one of us agrees on every single thing, or indeed on anything at all (other than “people of the same gender sure are hot!”). It means enough of us agree about enough things, enough of us share enough of the same goals, enough of us share enough common experiences — so we’ve been able to organize.
Technically, the only thing gay men and lesbians and bisexuals all have in common is that we’re attracted to people of the same gender. And if we’d decided that we couldn’t build a movement around that, we’d be in the crapper. Forget about same-sex marriage and employment non-discrimination — we’d still be getting put in mental hospitals, getting our bars shut down by the police, getting arrested for just looking too gay. We haven’t just built a movement — we’ve built an extremely powerful movement, one that radically improved our lives and has had a significant impact on society at large.
Now. Translate, please, to atheists.
Is there any reason LGB people can organize, but atheists can’t? Is there some reason that “same-gender attraction” can be an effective locus for community and political organizing — but “not believing in gods” can’t be?
Yes, Virginia, there is an atheist movement. It’s a flatly ridiculous denial of reality to say that there isn’t one, or that there can’t be one. There’s the Foundation Beyond Belief. The Secular Student Alliance. The American Humanist Association. The Freedom From Religion Foundation. American Atheists. Atheist Alliance International. Black Non-Believers. Hispanic American Freethinkers. Secular Woman. The United Coalition of Reason. Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain. Ex-Muslims of North America. Grief Beyond Belief. Recovering From Religion. Filipino Freethinkers. Sunday Assembly. Atheist Foundation of Australia. Kasese United Humanist Association. Pakistani Atheists and Agnostics. The Secular Therapist Project. The Clergy Project. Godless Perverts. The Center for Inquiry. The many local chapters of Center for Inquiry. 1,075 (as of this writing) atheist groups on Meetup. Many many many many more. And none of that includes atheist organizing and community-building online: Atheist Nexus, ExChristian.net, Skepchick, the Patheos Atheist channel, Freethought Blogs, many many more.
If you want to see a much longer but by no means comprehensive list, with links and everything, take a look at the Resource Guide from my book Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why (I’ve posted it online). Plus there are national conferences, international conferences, regional conferences, backchannel discussion groups, informal networks of colleagues and friends — all so that the people in these organizations and networks and groups can talk together: to strategize, to share information and experience, to commiserate, to celebrate, to offer and give support, to just enjoy each others’ company.
What the heck is all that if not an atheist movement? [Read more…]