How can we be better than the fundamentalists?


Fellow atheists! We have truth on our side, and science as a powerful tool. The other side is full of lunatic ideas and stupidity; they cripple our country with their corruption of education and denialism. We are unstoppable. We shall be eventually be victorious.

So, wait, if their ideas are so plainly bogus and repressive, why do people still join fundie churches and throw money at charismatic con artists? Are they crazy or stupid? No, maybe not — maybe it’s because atheists aren’t recognizing some important aspects of the human condition.

A few years ago one of my friends had a birthday party, and he invited all the homeschool families he knew to his party. It may seem odd to an outsider to have young children at his 20th birthday party, but it was not the least bit weird to me (parties with my family are the same way; there were as many kids under 13 at my 18th birthday party as there were teens). But after an entire evening of playing board games with people of all ages, washing dishes together, and praying for each other, one of my public school friends (the only person who had attended public school at the party) said to me, “That was so much fun. I never experienced this in my life.” She explained that she never had an evening playing board games with children of all ages. In fact, she never went to someone’s house and had them pray for her either. It was foreign to her, but she liked it.

Fundamentalism offers that kind of community. Yes, the community creates pain and breaks sometimes, but it’s still community that often attracts people to fundamentalism.  I was looking through photos of my teen years earlier this week, and every photo of me has a child in the picture. Our community valued children.

The other end of fundamentalism has been a lot of pain: a lot of guilt over purity culture, a lot of culture shock, a lot of shame from never living up to expectations. The purity culture and anti-feminist culture let me down. It didn’t keep its promise. In the end, it didn’t make us closer together as a family, and it didn’t make us better than secular families. I’m not defending fundamentalism, except to say this.

Quit saying fundies are just crazy-no-brainers while secularists are enlightened and free thinkers.

Fundamentalist ideas are crazy-no-brainers, but sane, intelligent, ordinary people sign up for them all the time. Maybe we ought to pay a little more attention to the rational reasons people follow irrational ideas.

That bit about every photo from her teen years including children in it struck me as significant…and you don’t have to be fundamentalist to have that. I grew up in a great big messy extended family with swarms of cousins and brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and grandparents, and religion hardly ever came up (except maybe with some eyerolling at a couple of wacky branches of the family that went Mormon and John Birch), so it can be a secular experience. But my own kids got far less of that, constantly getting ripped up and moved to strange distant cities at the commands of the peripatetic academic life style.

We’d like to believe that the triumph of secularism is inevitable — how can we fail when we’re going up against such nutty ideas? — but maybe it isn’t, if we neglect social and community and family ideals and pander only to nerdy asocial guys in tech.

We really need to wake up to the reasons normal people find value in weird religions.

Comments

  1. says

    Maybe we ought to pay a little more attention to the rational reasons people follow irrational ideas.

    But then certain lazy thinkers would lose their main reason for feeling superior to other people. Spoil sport.

  2. Howard Bannister says

    This is a lot of the reason I’m having trouble extricating myself from the fundamentalist community I was raised in.

    Because as long as you’re in the in-group they’ll treat you like a king and help you when you need help and they’ll be just as nice as can be.

    Just don’t be in the out-group around these guys. They HATE those guys.

  3. raven says

    Fundamentalism offers that kind of community.

    You can say that about any cult. Branch Davidians, FLDS, JW’s, SBC’s., Randroids, etc..

    So what?

    It isn’t free. You check your brain, your conscience, and your freedom at the door. It’s a price I couldn’t pay even if I tried.

    Try the rock, orchid, native plant, gardening club, or Rugby instead.

  4. scienceavenger says

    Some of the Freethinker groups in the DFW area emphasize this aspect of religious life, and do an excellent job of recreating that sense of community that religions offer. It can be difficult though, because part of the independence of thought that makes us atheists also makes many of us not as inclined to enjoy, or do well, in large group events as described in the post. I know I’m not the only one in our groups that would rather be boiled alive than have small children at my 18th birthday party. So it can be an uphill battle, but one worth fighting if we are truly to replace religious community with something more rationally based.

  5. davebot says

    I find this anecdote unconvincing and the account full of stereotypes (asocial nerds for example). I didn’t have fundie (my parents were religious but not overly so).

    My family picture albums are filled with other kids, but our community did get broken up… when my best friend at the time was shuttled off to catholic school rather than public school. So religion broke up my community. I also did not like the church community as I was often bullied at church youth events (spare me the notion that the religious value kids more).

    I am aware that studies show that church goers do feel a better sense of community, but I’m not exactly sure they’re trouncing us on this. I suspect one of the things that’s kept atheists more isolated is the discrimination and othering received at the hands of the religious community.

    I’m not suggesting that my anecdotes trump the OP anecdotes. So do we have any actual evidence that, all things being equal, the religious are better at forming communities than secularists/athiests?

  6. brianpansky says

    I suspect one of the things that’s kept atheists more isolated is the discrimination and othering received at the hands of the religious community.

    and sheer numbers.

  7. says

    Exactly how diverse was the “community” in the anecdote quoted? Sure, they had loads of kids over playing board games. Good for them. What about anyone from a racial minority, or any openly LGBT people? I have to echo Howard @ #2: as long as you’re part of the in-group, you’ll find a great sense of “community” there, however illusory it may be.

    I’ve had a perverse fascination with TBN for many years. One thing you notice, watching the network, is how effectively they sell the sense of close-knit family on their programs. Paul and Matthew Crouch regularly appear together, father and son, talking about the network’s endless expansion. Pink-wigged Jan and other members of the Crouch clan present a warm fuzzy image of togetherness and family that can make the uncritical, believing viewer feel as if the Crouches are relatable, even personal friends. The reality — that they are a deeply split family, that Paul and Jan have separate homes and haven’t lived together as a couple in decades, that Jan openly cavorts with lovers, that Matthew is not in fact Paul’s biological son, and on and on — is hidden behind an expertly calculated facade in order to keep the product TBN is selling (itself, not even Jesus so much) appealing to viewers at their most vulnerable level: the need to feel a sense of community.

    At the Atheist Community of Austin I think we’ve done a decent job of secular community building. We may ave few families with young kids (atheists do tend to be fiercely individualistic), but we do have them, and they’re involved in such things as Camp Quest. As the old adage about “herding cats” was very much in people’s minds up until very recently, it’s no surprise that community building has been something the godless are slower to adapt. But the hunger for it is out there. Some of our most common emails from other atheists around the country has been “How can I start up a group like yours?” We just started out as a handful of folks meeting on Sundays in a bagel shop. As the numbers of the godless grow, and we become more aware of one another and comfortable in coming out, our own community will evolve from that. Better to just let it happen in its own time, than to present a facade to the world.

  8. raven says

    I find this anecdote unconvincing and the account full of stereotypes (asocial nerds for example).

    So did I. Completely unconvincing.

    It might have worked for them but does it work for all fundies. I doubt it.

    It’s known that fundies have higher rates of child sexual abuse than the general population and tend towards lower education and socioeconomic status. I’d rather have a college degree and a decent job with health care insurance than play board games with the kids.

    In parts of the US populated by fundies, people are dying off at younger ages than the rest of us i.e. average lifespans are falling.

  9. says

    PZ:

    That bit about every photo from her teen years including children in it struck me as significant…and you don’t have to be fundamentalist to have that. I grew up in a great big messy extended family with swarms of cousins and brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and grandparents

    Yes, well, even that doesn’t make a healthy family. I had no siblings, however, I had the extended family, and the people here know how well that went for me. Also, my husband grew up in an incredibly large, messy, extended family (oldest of 8 sprogs), and having all those kids around all the time is hell for me. I’m not fond of sproggen.

    I understand your overall message here, and I do think it’s important. I think emphasising humanism is more important that emphasising atheism, but that’s just me.

  10. smhll says

    Some of the Freethinker groups in the DFW area emphasize this aspect of religious life, and do an excellent job of recreating that sense of community that religions offer. It can be difficult though, because part of the independence of thought that makes us atheists also makes many of us not as inclined to enjoy, or do well, in large group events as described in the post.

    Yeah, in any group (even in any pair) there are going to be conflicts and spats. Sports has “referees”. Internet spaces have “moderators”. A hierarchical religion usually has somebody at the top that is granted the authority to make the decisions, maybe quoting the holy book, when people disagree.

    We, the secular community, should maybe invest in some problem solving and non-violent communication techniques if we want to “grow the movement” and not have everything branch off into many, many splinter movements. (Or, maybe splinters are good and we could have lots of loosely coupled pieces.)

  11. says

    I think what some people here are missing is that a lot of people are seeking a sense of family. That can be very important to a lot of people, as well as a major draw for those who have never had a sense of it in a deep and lasting way.

  12. taraskan says

    Not sure I understand this at all. If we’re just talking about interacting with kids and not telling them to get off our lawn…we do, don’t we? Surely that atheists want nothing to do with their families is a well-known fundie rally cry? Because they say it doesn’t make it true.

    What we are though, is less dependent on the family unit, and IMO that’s an exceedingly good thing. Where the religious (the ones we’re talking about anyway) want everyone financially dependent on one individual and men and women’s lives sorted out for them at birth, we want things equalized and fluid. Where to them marriage is unbreakable, to us it’s a loose association that shouldn’t come before people’s physical and mental well-being. They do activities with kids, fine. So do we. But their love of children is so extreme, they’re willing to shut down the independence of half the species, and put living adults’ lives in harms way or worse, so long as there’s the chance of adding to the population. Are they having kids out of love, or out of some obscure verse about propagating Adam’s seed? Even if it’s a bit of both isn’t that a little ingenuous?

    But you can take the independence and equality within the family that I’m talking about and turn it into babyeating, if you got the Jeeses Pieces.

    I do not mean any atheist should make it their policy to hate children, but it’s pretty clear to me fundamentalism loves children/the family way way too much. We should say their priorities are out of order.

    Is it not selfish and hurtful to have and pretend you can support 8 kids?
    Why is adoption so vile to some fundies? Could it be because they want a mini-me, or think in tribes instead of planets?
    Is father always right?
    Is it not provincial to expect everyone to want to procreate, and shun them when they won’t or can’t?
    Shouldn’t battered persons leave their partners? Shouldn’t the community be behind them when they do?

    I’ve just seen too many religious parents treat their incidental heirs as pets and toys rather than equals. And they are all equals. For me over-reliance on family makes you petty, selfish, and pig-headed when they inevitably grow up and to your horror they aren’t just like you, so I’d rather tone it down a notch, not up.

    I see this as a case of mistaken message where I wouldn’t take the bait. So, shouldn’t we want less involvement in family life and family involvement in our lives than fundamentalists, and not as the title says, more?

  13. gregpeterson says

    Mostly point-missing comments so far. That’s a bit depressing, because I think this point is well-made. And Woody Allen made it as well as anyone:

    “It reminds me of that old joke- you know, a guy walks into a psychiatrist’s office and says, hey doc, my brother’s crazy! He thinks he’s a chicken. Then the doc says, why don’t you turn him in? Then the guy says, I would but I need the eggs. I guess that’s how I feel about relationships. They’re totally crazy, irrational, and absurd, but we keep going through it because we need the eggs.”

    Rationality is vital, absolutely. Reason, science–don’t leave home without them. But the ability to have warm, trusting human relationships can trump a lot. Yes, yes…fundamentalism comes with horrible baggage and how dare anyone not say nothing but bad about it all of the time. Except that I had a blast as an evangelical, had terrific friendships–sibblingships, really–learned a lot about how to treat people, how to relate to people, how to empathize better. Are there secular sources for such things? OBVIOUSLY! But not in the small Minnesota town where I grew up in the 70s there weren’t.

    So. I do find this sort of recognition of why otherwise sane people might fall into the bullshit trap a good thing. Can we at least think about it before dismissing it out of hand? Jesus.

  14. says

    I (and even more, my wife) occasionally get in to this argument. Some people feel that informal groups of friends can be a source of assistance to members in distress. This is true to some extent, but she (and I) think there is a definite place for communities that come together with mutual aid as part of their self-understood mandate. Consider that, if you’re in some sort of difficulty, how comfortable you are asking friends for help, and how likely you are to get it, depends on how well integrated you are into that social network. But membership in a formal organization — like some churches we knew, back in the day — that has that in its mission statement, gives you some confidence that you can ask for, and receive, help, and from resources that go beyond a few individuals.

    I believe some of the larger Humanist groups have the resources to do that sort of thing.

  15. says

    Taraskan @ 14:

    That makes more sense, I just didn’t get any of that from the OP.

    I got it, loud and clear, from the quoted material and what PZ wrote. I think, even as bad as it can be sometimes, those who are deeply religious place supreme importance on family, whereas that sense of deep rootedness is often lost in families who aren’t deeply religious, and even in families where there is a deep sense of being rooted, of strong family, they often aren’t connected to other families in their community. That can make fundamentalism attractive to a lot of people, so it’s something to keep in mind.

  16. says

    I should make clear that I’m not only thinking of fundy churches, but also liberal ones. The latter have less of the toxic garbage, though also less of the close-knit family atmosphere.

  17. smhll says

    I think what some people here are missing is that a lot of people are seeking a sense of family. That can be very important to a lot of people, as well as a major draw for those who have never had a sense of it in a deep and lasting way.

    I think this is an excellent point. I don’t know if we can manufacture “chosen family” for people. Some people do well finding friends on their own and others struggle. We can maybe nurture secular friendships. OK, now I want a community center with a maker space.

    I also wonder if a very close group can be a large group. Or if a very close group can be welcoming to newcomers.

  18. says

    How can you do better than the fundamentalists? Stop being fundamentalists yourselves.

    “We aren’t!” you cry, “We can’t be,” you insist, “We would never,” you demand. But, unfortunately, you are, but in a way that you have trained yourself not to notice or admit to.

    The problem isn’t that you have a fundamentalist belief in any particular religious text. The problem is that you have a fundamentalist belief in the power of mathematics. Not that mathematics is not worthy of your faith, it is just that refusing to recognize it as faith, insisting it is True Knowledge despite Nietzsche and Kierkegaard. Because it isn’t really important whether your math is good, just like it isn’t really important whether God exists. What is important is how you apply that math, whether you’re using it in the right way, and just as much as theists, you need some way of defining what “right” means in that regard. So you adopt a faith and defend it against all logic, just like they do.

    Unfortunately, sometimes they are right, and the faith of the Atheist is in themselves, and they end up able to justify any ethic or morality. Even when you think they’re wrong, because you feel logically certain (!) that your ethic is ethical because it is secular humanist, you’re mistaken. Logic-based atheism, untempered by human reason, is all the bad atheism that the theists claim it to be.

    I just read an article concerning the government shut-down that tried to credit Locke for the social compact, seemingly to purposefully forget that Hobbes might have relied on social compacts, but Locke relied on divine provenance as the foundation of rights to life, liberty, and property or pursuit of happiness or self-determination or however you want to put it.

    So, what do we do about it? How can we be atheist without being immoral, not from our perspective but from others’? How can we know that there is no God but still know what good means? How to explain to well-intentioned atheists that their belief in Human Rights is only logical if they believe in a supreme being, in a way that doesn’t just trigger defensive denials?

    http://philosophyofreason.wikispaces.com

    Thank you for your time. Hope it helps.

  19. Howard Bannister says

    Not that mathematics is not worthy of your faith, it is just that refusing to recognize it as faith, insisting it is True Knowledge despite Nietzsche and Kierkegaard.

    Holy Massive Derail, Batman!

  20. roro80 says

    I agree with the OP. While certainly religious communities are not for everyone, and the dogma and silly ideas and all that turn off huge numbers of people, an open-to-newbies community and support structure is something that many (most?) churches do well.

    Athiests like most folks here are really different from Christian populations, in more ways than just religious beliefs, but a lot of would-be athiests I think are less so. I know for me, part of my shunning of religion with active avoidance of a life path that included no birth control or sex until marriage, which would happen early and be followed quickly by a bazillion babies — it was at first as much about avoiding the non-religious aspects of religious lifestyles as it was about thinking god was a silly idea. I wanted to drink and have sex and stay out late and learn science and have deep, drug-assisted conversations about calculus in a commune and then dance until the sun came up. These kinds of wants lead to different types of community than exist for people who get married younger and don’t drink and start popping out babies really quickly.

    But! Now I’m not 19 anymore, I did all those awesome things over a decade ago, got married, and am about ready to start popping out babies. Or more likely, baby. In any case, I’m at a place in my life where I don’t even know how to have a party with kids at it, or what people do in groups that doesn’t involve drinking. I have some friends now with babies, but really I haven’t been around children since I was one. I don’t know what they’re like. I don’t know what to expect. If I were a god-believer, I could just go join the church of the god I believed in, and there would be like 10 activities a week for people with little kids or big kids or people of all ages, and lots of other parents I could talk to, plus other types of support. I think that’s a big draw for a lot of people, both older parents and young people who want to start families early, who might otherwise be great candidates for movement skepticism.

  21. Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says

    PZ:

    But my own kids got far less of that, constantly getting ripped up and moved to strange distant cities at the commands of the peripatetic academic life style.

    I don’t see how that is related to secularism or you being an atheist.

  22. David Wilford says

    I thought it was a big mistake to drop the Holy Slide Rule in favor of calculators.

  23. carlie says

    Why do some of you find the anecdote unconvincing?

    Join a church and get a ready-made community. And it’s a community that has clearly-communicated standards, that, if you agree with them, make it easy to trust yourself and your family with them. You know what you’re going to get. It is a community that can be counted on to come around when the chips are down, that is organized to do that and do it well. Sniff at it and say you don’t need it if you want, but don’t ignore the fact that other people do. Every time in my life I’ve moved, the first thing I did was find a church to join. High priority. (I didn’t become an atheist until long after my last move.) That got me immediately linked in with people who were friendly, who I knew I would get to socialize with on a weekly basis, who invited me over for dinner, who gave me all the tips on where in town to go for various needs, who found me a reliable mechanic, who came over to fix the little problems with my house that I didn’t have the skills to do myself, who were happy to be my friends. Sure, it’s completely infused with all the god stuff, and that’s the problem, but the benefits are real and, here’s the important part, not easy to find elsewhere. Which secular community organizations offer that whole package? Which ones have actual committees that focus on helping people who are going through a rough patch? Which ones have “get to know new people” as an actual part of their mission? They do provide an important societal function, whether you personally need/use it or not.

  24. Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says

    Ah, sorry I haven’t read all the comments before commenting. I’m still not reading the article the way it was apparently meant, though.

  25. raven says

    I”ve never seen what is so good about large families.

    My friend, the ex-Catholic was one of six.

    They were quite well off. Still, resources were limited. There were always conflicts over who got what, and still are to some extent, although mostly they get on OK. Most of them managed to go to college with some difficulties.

    And…of all those six, the largest family is…two. Between all six, they have a whole…six kids, average is one. And none are Catholics any more.

  26. says

    @22: That’s why a commonly seen pattern in mainstream churches is: kid gets confirmed ~13yo, disappears shortly thereafter and spends their teens partying it up, shows up again in late 20s as a couple to get their first sprog christened, and sticks around for the family stuff. And the liberal church we belonged to while our kids were growing up was really a pretty good environment for that sort of thing.

  27. raven says

    Athiests like most folks here are really different from Christian populations,…

    You are missing a key point here.

    Most of us, including myself, are…ex-xians. I was a xian for 4 decades!!! We know.

  28. David Wilford says

    @25 – It’s not that hard to find all sorts of communities once you look for them. Whether or not you’re into what they do, be it bird watching or trainspotting, is another matter. FWIW, I hail from Wisconsin and for every church in every town there’s a bar across the street from it. Go figure.

  29. says

    maxdevlin: What? Actually, never mind. Your pretension and incoherence mean you are not welcome to any more of my time – 3 post rule or no.

    But just for the record: being a moral person from any perspective other than my own is of zero concern to me.

    Thanks for your time, though. LOL.

  30. gregpeterson says

    Philip Kitcher put this really well once. He said–roughly–suppose we knew of two plants that treat headaches, but one caused terrible cramps and one caused awful swelling. Now suppose we found out that both plants have the same active ingredient to treat headaches, with different incredients causing the unpleasant side-effects. Couldn’t we just isolate the active ingredient, and do away with the side effects? And I think we can. We can, with reason and empahty, look at the “active ingredient” in religiously based communities that makes them attractive to people, and then work to get rid of the shit–superstition, legalism, taboos, cheaters, etc.–that cause the unacceptable side-effects. Even if those plants were being used by witch doctors in times past, with no understanding of how or why they worked, and no ability to lessen the downsides of treatment, given what we understand, could be not benefit by starting from there?

    And a few of my friends and I are former evangelical Chrisians, and at the risk of sounding not so humble, we’ve discussed how much some atheist gatherings seem to benefit from having us around. Because we know better how to circulate, and shake hands, and so help me, on rare occasions, HUG. Now I know not everyone appreciates that–and we try to be sensitve to that. But a lot of people DO like that human touch stuff–which can be learned without being phony–and what for some of us was a great incubator for those impulses was church. We learn a TON from you folks about being reasonable, rational, critical thinkers. We’d like to reciprocate with some help being more obviously warm and open. Because we really want this thing to succeed.

  31. says

    Eamon Knight @#18

    I should make clear that I’m not only thinking of fundy churches, but also liberal ones. The latter have less of the toxic garbage, though also less of the close-knit family atmosphere.

    That may be true in some congregations. My admittedly limited experience has been quite the opposite.

    Though I’m a life-long atheist, and an “out” one at that, I sing in the very very good choir at a nearby church – a very progressive, liberal UCC congregation whose city ministry includes feeding and housing people, providing non-religious support (money, after-school tutors, classroom aides) to the local elementary school, and offering non-religious support for drug and alcohol users who seek assistance. I started singing in the choir as a paid soloist, but when the budget was cut three years ago, I stayed on as a volunteer chorister, not only because the musical exprience has been so gratifying, but because the choir has essentially turned into my second family. It’s a very loving, warm, group – for those who want that sort of friendship. They also accept me for who I am, and understand that I am there for music and the great choir parties. Not one person at that church – choir, clergy, parishoners – has ever preached or proselytized at me. I get no funny looks or comments when, during worship, I don’t recite the prayers or receive communion.

    Ironically, one of the reasons I prefer the church choir to my biological family is that too many of the latter have become too religious (of the right-wing, Tea Party, fundamentalist type).

    Regarding the need for community/family that many (not all) people experience: I sing in several choirs in addition to the church choir: an all-professional chamber choir, an amateur symphonic choir (in which my spouse also sings), and a semi-professional specialty community choir. In each of these, I find like-minded people who gather for a shared activity and social time. These communities are just right for me.

  32. lochaber says

    This sorta reminds me of that old bit about it “takes a village to raise a child”

    I’ve also long suspected that there are probably a lot of undesired consequences of our current school system, which effectively takes kids and restricts them from having much interaction with people of a different age for about the first two decades of life.

  33. says

    In the US at least, a few decades ago we actually used to have similar – but secular – communities and support structures: union halls. And, well, we all know what’s happened to unions here.

  34. John Horstman says

    But isn’t the point made by your similar experiences growing up exactly that the family and community togetherness has exactly zero to do with the religion? I had a somewhat similar family structure and absolutely hated it – I’m pretty strongly introverted and have had issues with anxiety and depression throughout my life, so people invading my home space or being dragged to weddings, family get-togethers/reunions, birthdays, etc. was often absolutely hellish. We didn’t pray or anything, but the rest sounds pretty similar. Do we just need to drive home the point that that sort of dynamic really has zero connection to religion?

    Genetic families and theater troupes and book clubs and sports teams and D&D or LARP groups and summer camp and Scouts* and even some degree program cohorts etc. all offer that same kind of community – a particular in-group organized around a shared trait. I guess I’m still not clear on why people can’t grok that without the community of church, they can form communities around shared interests in pretty much exactly the same way, and thus why movement atheism needs to create specifically-atheist community equivalents when there are plenty of secular options.

    I’ll admit I’m not particularly drawn to trying to understand why, being an introvert already faced with the expectation of participation in way more community than I can really handle, so I might well be missing something major. If it’s unconditional acceptance (which, of course, no fundie community actually offers – violate the tenets, and you’re right out), that’s an actively bad thing – a child-molesting uncle, for example, SHOULD be banned from family events, no matter how much he loves Jesus. Community is definitionally never unconditional, else it simply includes everyone on the planet (I have a term paper sitting around somewhere that looks at community as fundamentally defined by a process of exclusion, arguing that any given community is less about shared traits than it is about a shared lack of the traits of the Other; seriously, identify any community that is supposedly based on a shared interest or trait, then start looking for people who have that interest or trait but are still not part of – and perhaps not even allowed to be part of – the community in question, and I promise you’ll find plenty of them because the actual basis of the community is different than the nominal basis). I get that (most) people want to feel accepted by some community – is the problem just that for those who were raised in deeply religious environments everything was connected to the church, so without that central organizing feature, they don’t know how to find sports teams or skydiving clubs or whatever? Do we just need to train the ex-religious on using Google with location-aware search enabled?

    *BSA is more explicitly-religious than GSA, which has never discriminated on the basis of sexuality or (lack of) religion, even technically violating the international charter of girl guides/scouts organizations by making the recognition of a ‘higher power’ in the oath optional. There exist secular alternatives to the BSA and gender-neutral alternatives to both.

  35. says

    David Wilford:

    @25 – It’s not that hard to find all sorts of communities once you look for them.

    No. I don’t think so, and I think you missed Carlie’s point to quite an extent. Rather than think in ‘group/community’ terms, again, think family. What Carlie described, in detail, was being able to gain an instafamily, people who would do all the little things that are normally covered by family. It’s a completely different sense, a different feeling, from looking up various specialized groups and hoping someone is nice to you. Also, whether or not it’s a birding group, trainspotting group, whatever group, they have a specific purpose, and a specific agenda when welcoming new people, which is to get people who are interested in whatever they do. There generally isn’t a broader purpose in such groups.

    Historically, churches cover the broader purposes, along with providing a sense of belonging. There’s safety and security in that, same as you get with most families. I understand that there’s a reluctance to admit that yes, religion and churches do provide positive things, however, there can be no progress or solutions without admitting that, and realizing just what they do offer which is so alluring.

  36. says

    But isn’t the point made by your similar experiences growing up exactly that the family and community togetherness has exactly zero to do with the religion?

    Exactly. So there should be no barriers to atheists adopting a more openly familial atmosphere.

  37. John Horstman says

    @Eamon Knight #16:

    But membership in a formal organization — like some churches we knew, back in the day — that has that in its mission statement, gives you some confidence that you can ask for, and receive, help, and from resources that go beyond a few individuals.

    That’s exactly what a secular socialist government is. People here in USA seem to have a strong tendency to reject that when it’s not connected to a god. :-/

  38. Kiwi Sauce says

    I agree with Carlie and Caine re that churches can offer family experiences. When my grandfather was slowing dying over the space of 10 years (he went downhill after grandmother died), and lost most of his mobility, eyesight, and hearing, the minister of the church went to see him every day – not to preach at him, but because he sincerely cared about a suffering member of his church. Other church members made food for granddad, which nicely supplemented the community Meals on Wheels he was also receiving.

    I lived 4 hours’ drive from him, so couldn’t see him as much as he liked, and was obviously not a xtian for a while before he died. Even so, the sympathy I got from his church was impressive, and heartfelt.

    So yes, while they all probably viewed me as a sinner going straight to hell, these people were more than just accepting of me. No birdwatching or trainspotting club would appear to offer those same benefits.

  39. John Horstman says

    @Caine, Fleur du mal #38: Okay, I think I’m getting it more. Especially for people who have left religion and thus may have been rejected by their families, they want instant family. I should be thinking of this like LGBTQetc. people who have come out and then been ostracized by their existing social networks. THat makes more sense to me.

  40. John Horstman says

    I’m going to check out, because I find the idea of instant family creepy and actively objectionable, so I’m not sure I have anything to add.

  41. carlie says

    gregpeterson at 33

    We can, with reason and empahty, look at the “active ingredient” in religiously based communities that makes them attractive to people, and then work to get rid of the shit–

    Part of the problem, though, is that there is also an “active ingredient” on the other side, which is the motivator to be so nice and helpful to people. Yes, we’re good people, but there is quite a bit of inertia there. A new person in the group doesn’t get talked to except by the most gregarious or most empathetic person. We’d like to have dinner with someone, but it’s so hard to find a mutual time and it’s a lot of effort. For religious people, it’s a mandate. It doesn’t matter if you are normally shy, God wants you to go meet that person and be friendly. God requires that you organize and/or take your turn in the “meals for person x who had surgery this week” rotation. Being helpful and familylike and a good contributor is a requirement of being in the group. That’s one of the big things that other common interest groups lack, and is why they tend to not be such a tight and useful environment, of the type Caine just described well in 38.

  42. David Wilford says

    @38 – community isn’t just about family and that shouldn’t be the expectation. Meaning in life can be found in many places, not just those spaces with kids. I love kids and am happy to be around them, but I also like sharing a beer or two with friends. I don’t find one to be intrinsically better than the other.

  43. carlie says

    John Hortsman at 42 – I don’t think it’s instant family so much as instant belonging to a group, instant acceptance into a social/community network. Does that make it less creepy?

  44. calliopejane says

    I’m a psychologist and so the role of religion in meeting important psychological needs seems obvious to me, but a lot of atheists don’t seem to have an adequate appreciation of that. I am often saying to my fellow nonbelievers: “You over-estimate how important it is to people to be correct. Most people would much rather be loved and accepted; that is a much higher priority for them. So they just don’t examine those beliefs all that stringently, and will even do cognitive somersaults to avoid it, because to do so risks something they consider much more important than factual correctness.
    “Really, most of them are not actually stupid. They simply have a different ordering of priorities than you and me.”

    For the most part, we atheists are people who are greatly bothered to think we may harbor incorrect beliefs, who spend a lot of time thinking as an activity in itself, who tend to be rather independent… and many atheists are unable or unwilling to acknowledge that other socio-psychological perspectives exist and can be valid. And in fact, are more “normal” ways to be. Many many human characteristics are distributed in a bell-curve fashion — for a characteristic like “need for acceptance from others,” the atheist community is heavy with folks at the low end of that curve. But the vast majority of people have an appreciable degree of that need, and given such a normal distribution of it, having that need is not stupid, it is simply human.

    Also, those needs probably are so widespread in the population because they were evolutionarily useful. When basic survival was more difficult, the people who affiliated with others for mutual care and support were more likely to live longer, breed, and have their children live to adulthood too. So if being accepted into a social group meant shutting up about any doubts you may have regarding the local mythology, then the smart thing to do was shut up.

    In a nutshell: Everyone is not just like you (me, us) in terms of what they value in life!! Different orders of priorities are normal and human and valid in different ways. And we will never win over the majority of the population if we just keep insisting they stop placing so much importance on those typical human needs, and keep saying they’re stupid to care more about love, acceptance, and community, than they care about being right.

    Most of them are not stupid. They are human.

  45. carlie says

    And as for societal shorthand for group inclusiveness, that’s basically what all church rules do for you, right? A birdwatching group tells me that the members all like birdwatching, and like getting up early in the morning, and don’t mind sitting uncomfortable for hours. That’s not much to make a start on. But give me a particular denomination, and I’ll instantly know a huge amount about their outlook on life, what they find important, how they see the world, what kinds of things they believe in, what the moral code specifics are of how they live their lives, etc. If that happens to be a whole set of things I agree with too, I have a high probability of those people being easy to be friends with, and the kind of people I’d like to hang out with. Again, easy entry access to the social network.

  46. gregpeterson says

    carlie, I won’t say that’s not an extremely fair point, but I will say that many people, once exposed to a more active approach at “bonding” within a community, find it rewarding on its face. No other motivation is needed. I know some people are introverts and prefer to just be left the fuck alone, and I respect that. I feel like that myself often enough. But I think we are–mostly–hardwired to find relationship rewarding. And I don’t think of this in terms of an INSTANT FAMILY. I think of it in terms of, OK, that was a pretty friendly bunch, or at least had a few pretty friendly people in it, and I can see myself going back and getting closer to a few of the people and becoming friends with them. We probably don’t have a great term for that, but I’d place it between family and club. Maybe something like “tribe,” although that conjurs up ugly aspects of tribalISM. But that an be one of the side-effects we eliminate to some degree, maybe. And to be clear on one point, this is not something I need personally. I’m pretty self-contained. It’s just FUN. And often enough, enriching. It’s also fraught in some ways, but to really grow as a movement, I think this is one of the risks that’s worth thinking about.

  47. says

    David Wilford:

    I love kids and am happy to be around them, but I also like sharing a beer or two with friends. I don’t find one to be intrinsically better than the other.

    Okay, this is where a lot of people are going completely wrong in this thread. As I noted up thread, personally I do not like sprogs, and actively avoid them. Obviously, the situation described in the OP would not be my idea of a good time. That said, this is not about me on a personal level, it’s not about my likes and dislikes, it’s not about my personal history, personality, and social preferences. It’s not about yours or anyone else’s, either.

    What this is about is the broad social net, one which is closely woven and composed of people and programs which, as Carlie noted, have the welfare of others as a mandate. It’s not possible to discuss the OP when people want to concentrate on what they do and don’t like as individuals.

  48. David Wilford says

    The flip side of the “need to be accepted” of course is the desire of others, especially others in positions of authority, to make you conform. With thumbscrews if need be although in these modern times we’ve gone for electrical shocks.

  49. Kiwi Sauce says

    As well as not offering the family/caring/human relationship side that churches offer, the elephant in the room for atheism is the very public misogyny shown by prominent people (e.g. Dawkins) or against prominent females (e.g. Watson). The combination of these two factors would make atheism an exceedingly unappealing choice for some xtians, I assume (correct me if I’m wrong) particularly for the more modern churches who – for example – ordain gay/lesbian ministers.

    It could be a perception/image issue as well as a lived experience issue for getting more people to shift to atheism /admit to being an atheist.

  50. roro80 says

    raven @29

    You are missing a key point here.

    Most of us, including myself, are…ex-xians. I was a xian for 4 decades!!! We know.

    Not sure why you think it was a point I was “missing”, considering I am also an ex. Or, rather, I was brought up with it.

  51. otrame says

    Look. If you want a social network, you are going to have to be social. All social networks have rules. Pick one that doesn’t require you to leave your brain at the door. It does require that you go to them. Pick an interest and look for a group.

    For instance, the Texas Archeological Society is a great social network, even if they don’t spell archaeology correctly (neither does the state of Texas bureaucracy). They have meetings, and a field school every year where families are encouraged. There are kids programs during the day for kids under 13. At 13 the kids are treated like adults. After a day of working in the field on an archaeological site under professional supervision, you get together with other families and have fun. Not terribly expensive either. So open that for many years one member or another who lived in San Antonio would drive “Radar” to the field school each year, even though Radar was a schizophrenic who did not take meds. He was treated as one of us for many years.

    There are knitting groups, and bonsai groups and….

    If you lack social networks, go join. I know that for the shy this is difficult (Social Anxiety Disorder here, folks, I know just how difficult) but with the effort made, you can belong to a group of like-minded people too. And you don’t have to sacrifice your children to an anti-science, anti-human cult to do it.

  52. says

    Speaking of tribes, this whole discussion reminds me of this song by Walela:

    I’m not right
    And you’re not wrong
    I don’t know what this love
    of ours is built upon
    We are shadows
    Tiny sparrows
    Safe inside
    Clear blue sky
    Of another storm
    Moving in and out of time
    In and out of the Circle of life

    We are children of the angels
    Keepers of the fire
    We are children of the angels
    Reaching for the light
    We are not Strangers
    We are all brothers
    I know we came here to love each other
    Here, in the circle of life

    Each one thinks
    He has the answer
    Each believes that he can see
    The way, the only way
    Truth lies waiting
    Was always waiting
    Like a love
    A peaceful dove
    Right there inside your soul
    From another place and time
    Moving into a circle of light

  53. David Wilford says

    Caine @ 50 –

    As someone who currently sits on a city planning and zoning commission (and was on a transit board for a couple of years), I do have some idea about serving the broader community. I’m just saying that to hold one particular kind of participation as being more privileged than the rest is missing the point that we all have things we can contribute in our own way. Community isn’t just about going to church, it’s about everything else too.

    I do respect people who find community and meaning in a church. On the other hand, my wife has told me about the hard times she had as a teenager living in a small town in southern Utah where she and her younger sister were the only non-Mormons in school. There’s a reason why she still takes great pleasure in talking with any Mormon missionaries who knock on our front door, but come to think of it there haven’t been any for a while now. Hmm…

  54. boskerbonzer says

    I’ve got to second what brianpansky @ #6 said about it just being a matter of numbers. Atheists only make up a small percentage of the population here in the US, don’t have regular weekly meetings, and may not have even another family member or friend who claim atheism as a belief. It’s going to be hard to establish that kind of extended-family atmosphere if you live in a town where the few “out” atheists show their support for each other by simply not going to any of the established churches.

    I’m borderline antisocial anyway, so this post might not be the best place for me to weigh in, but I do think the sheer low numbers of atheists versus Christians is one of the main stumbling blocks to any sort of chummy camaraderie among atheists.

  55. Kiwi Sauce says

    @54 and others suggesting social groups to join: a knitting group, or a bonsai group, or a fur seal moulting watching group is not functionally equivalent to a church. carlie and Caine have written quite a bit on this above in the thread.

    Knitting, bonsai, kite flying, etc are based on an activity, not a belief system. So they can happily contain both xtians, people of other religions, and atheists. Those groups come together typically for specific reasons and at particular times. Many group members will have little to do with each other outside those assigned times, because the rationale for the group is to share an activity, not to be an interdependent community.

    /headdesk

  56. Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says

    Maybe the point of difference is myself and not so much the difference between religion in US vs. my part of Europe, but I think this is a bit US centric in considering religious communities.
    I just can’t connect all these descriptions with the way I remember my Catholic church.

  57. The Mellow Monkey: Non-Hypothetical says

    David Wilford @ 45

    community isn’t just about family and that shouldn’t be the expectation. Meaning in life can be found in many places, not just those spaces with kids.

    Ouch. Let us not forget that family does not mean kids. I have a family. I don’t have children. My lack of children doesn’t make what I have any less family.

    This is especially true within many LGBTQ+ communities, where families are built between unrelated adults via mutual support and care.

  58. spitz says

    “We really need to wake up to the reasons normal people find value in weird religions.”

    There’s no mystery there. Religions associate their beliefs with things people value. It’s why religions aren’t just seen as moral philosophies, they’re seen as a sole source(no morality without religion)

    They’re presented as the source of meaning in people’s lives.

    The single path towards avoiding death.

    They’re given credit for the food people eat, the clothes people wear, the places they live and the lives they lead.

    They’re given credit for people’s ability to be passionate, happy, or to love, and responsible for providing with friends, family and communities to love.

    They’re given credit for academic accomplishments, athletic performances, and artistic achievements.

    They’re given credit for the cops who come to your aid, the firemen who save you, the ambulance that transports you and the doctors who treat you.

    They’re given credit for the rain, earthquakes, snow, and rainbows.

    There is nothing rational about any of this. Religious claims rely on generating false associations between superstition and reality. It’s right there in the Christian statement: “you will know them by their works.” They don’t need to support their claims by showing they’re valid, they can just do something else entirely and then convince people that it supports their claims. “We’re charitable, therefore god exists. We don’t hate gay people, therefore god exists. We get along swell, therefore god exists.”

    If you respond to this rationally, you don’t become religious, you become someone who discovers a group of people who are charitable, don’t hate gay people and get along swell.

    But if you can’t make that simple observation and treat the argument by association as rational, then you’re saying it’s rational to judge things based on what they aren’t(and they can literally be associated with anything), and with that you’re also establishing “atheism is just as bad as religion because look at bad atheists throughout history” as a rational argument. Is it unrelated to the validity of theistic claims? Sure, but since that’s already been put down as irrelevant and we’re trying to stick with arguments that are as good as the fundamentalists, it becomes a worthy criticism. Interestingly enough, besides convincing people that everything they like is proof that religious claims are true, an equal amount of time is often spent convincing them that atheists are vile amoral jerks who deserve the worst punishment imaginable. Less trustworthy than rapists, right? On our way to post death concentration camps? Contrasted by the people who say “we don’t have a problem with atheists… therefore our beliefs in magical men and eventual immortality are reasonable right?”

    Argue “actually, atheists aren’t so bad, therefore theism is a bad idea” and you’re equal to the fundamentalists’ arguments. Fighting a stereotype by treating stereotypes as valid while attempting to create a new positive one. Show them why those kind of associations aren’t relevant and why they should be able to judge everything on its own merits, and you’ll do a better job of addressing the actual issue.

  59. says

    David Wilford @ 56, yeah, I understand. I really do. Nothing is completely cut and dried, and of course there examples of this, that, the other, and more. Lots of gray shades all over the place. I’m not a social person, and I walked away from the white side of my family decades ago, and have no regrets in that regard. My sense of belonging comes from the Oglala Lakota side of my family, and in that, there is a great inclusiveness, a sense I could get nowhere else. With that, I bid tókša akhé* to this thread, I have an idea it has the potential to fuck up an otherwise aŋpétu wašté.**
     
    * goodbye

    ** good day

  60. carlie says

    gregpeterson at 49

    I’d place it between family and club. Maybe something like “tribe,” although that conjurs up ugly aspects of tribalISM.

    Yes, and that’s actually an important part of the dark underbelly to point out. It]s all happy and loving as long as you toe the line. Step over and you’ll find yourself kicked to the curb, no matter how heartfelt and sincere those feelings were before. Patricia, who sadly doesn’t really post here any more, had all sorts of stories of how people in her former church hounded her for years to berate and bully her for leaving them. Or, on the flip side, once I stopped going to church I got dropped overnight by the entire network, as if I didn’t exist. Many fundamentalist churches have actual documents outlining how they “discipline” members who have gotten out of line. I’m not at all saying the whole enterprise is positive; far from it. But there are benefits that simply haven’t been reliably replicated in other organizations, and as calliopejane said at 47, a lot of times those benefits outweigh the bad aspects for people.

  61. JAL: Snark, Sarcasm & Bitterness says

    30
    David Wilford

    @25 – It’s not that hard to find all sorts of communities once you look for them. Whether or not you’re into what they do, be it bird watching or trainspotting, is another matter. FWIW, I hail from Wisconsin and for every church in every town there’s a bar across the street from it. Go figure.

    HAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHA

    I’ve been homeless and might be again. I’ve had to run from domestic violence and family violence. You know what resources are there? Overwhelmingly it’s churches and religious groups. Even in secular places and organizations I got preached at by members.(Funnily enough, the most secular and non-pressure place I’ve been was a specifically religious run shelter.) My life, my recovery, would probably be better if I just shut my brain off and joined a church.

    Because who helps when you lost your job, or your house or fall ill? Overwhelmingly, it’s churches because that’s where the community is.

    The Horde is the one exception for me.

    Atheism needs community groups that do more than just sneer at the religious and is more than elitist boy’s clubs.

    8
    raven

    It’s known that fundies have higher rates of child sexual abuse than the general population and tend towards lower education and socioeconomic status. I’d rather have a college degree and a decent job with health care insurance than play board games with the kids.

    Maybe because people with higher education and socioeconmic status can afford to go it alone without a group or community in case shit gets rough.

    People like me though? It’s no fucking wonder they are religious. I’m an atheist because of Pharyngula and the focus on social justice. I’m not homeless right now because of The Horde. It’s a good thing here and I see no reason not to have something similar in meatspace.

  62. sowmya says

    The idea of “church as community” becomes more of an issue when one steps outside the Christian, English-speaking box. For immigrant communities, a temple (or mosque, or whatever) may be the only place where you can share cultural ties with people who can understand such things. Many Hindu temples in North America are classic examples – not even the people who attend every week need to think that eight-armed blue goddesses riding tigers ACTUALLY speared to death buffalo-headed demons. (That’s the festival of Navratri, folks – coming soon.) It’s mythology – Apollo and Odin stuff – but it’s part of an immense cultural vocabulary that might be shared only at said temple. Add in the food, language, and dress distinctions (which are all cultural, not religious) and you see why when an Indian family moves to a place they don’t have family, they check out the local temple once they’ve unpacked some Indian clothes (even if they’ve never gone before.) Before you know it, dad’s got a partner for squash, mom’s got people clamouring for her to teach Carnatic music, the kids are in dance and language classes – and presto – community. And the family may be complete atheists all the while.

  63. Jonathan, der Ewige Noobe says

    So basically, we need groups without groupthink. We need to be emotionally satisfying without relying on emotional arguments. We need to be unified and cohesive with absolutely nobody in charge. Aaaaaaand we need to offer the validation and support people get from their churches without using the phrases “the all-powerful creator of the universe cares personally about you,” “this single book can be used to resolve every scientific conundrum, point of law and personal dilemma ever faced by anyone ever,” or “everyone who disagrees with you will be tortured forever and you get to watch.”

    This should be fun.

  64. kittehserf says

    calliope jane @47 – ::applause::

    Kiwi Sauce @52: “very public misogyny shown by prominent people men (e.g. Dawkins) or against prominent females women (e.g. Watson). ”

    FTFY.

    otrame @54: “If you lack social networks, go join. I know that for the shy this is difficult (Social Anxiety Disorder here, folks, I know just how difficult) but with the effort made, you can belong to a group of like-minded people too. And you don’t have to sacrifice your children to an anti-science, anti-human cult to do it.”

    Simple physical distance can be a problem too. There may not be any such groups around.

    Mentioning the anti-science thing sort of relates to something I’m trying to formulate, reading these blogs. I don’t know if it could be called educational privilege, but it strikes me that most of the people writing have tertiary level education, largely in the STEM fields (duh, it being a science blog! :P ) and that simply isn’t the case for a lot of people, religious or not, and there seems to be underlying assumptions arising from that privilege. It’s priorities again: people may not have done any science at all, and neither know nor care about it. That, or it may simply be irrelevant to their beliefs, if not in conflict with them as in fundamentalism. Am I totally off the mark in suggesting this? Is it making sense?

    Personal example: I’m not as badly educated (Australian state school system, 1970s) as, say, someone home-schooled by an unqualified parent, or who’s going through what seems to be a really bad situation in the US education system at present, but neither am I scientifically literate, and sometimes the emphasis on science reads like nothing else is that important. Science went to fourth form for us, and reached the dizzying level of “you pour a cup of coffee and the phone rings. Will the coffee stay hotter if you put milk in it first or don’t?” (My answer: “Stupid question, I’d put the milk in and drink it while on the phone.”) Science is wonderful and sometimes fascinating – critters! – but it’s not a replacement for spiritual beliefs/institutions emotionally.

    I think this is part of what PZ is getting at in the OP, especially with his reference to asocial tech guys. It’s more than knowledge, or logic, or rationality: it’s about the things that matter to people on an emotional level, including the sense of family/belonging. One reason atheism didn’t appeal to me when I was reading things like the Australian Sceptics mag was the sense that it was little more than sceptics sneering at things that matter to other people, whether those beliefs are harmful or beneficial – not just religious institutions: beliefs. Yes, I know that’s just Asshole Atheism and not representative, but given the noisiness of certain AAs, and in the US at least, the pre-existing hostility toward atheism/ists from many, it’s not surprising that image comes across. It was like … okay, what has this to offer other than a negation and a love of science or maths? (I loathe maths, btw; don’t know if I have dyscalculia but I might as well have). It was real straw-Vulcan stuff.

    Gah, I don’t know if I’m getting across what I’m trying to.

    For the record, my desire for family isn’t met by joining groups: been there, done that. It’s satisfied in a very different way, which I won’t go into here.

    JAL @66 – “Atheism needs community groups that do more than just sneer at the religious and is more than elitist boy’s clubs. ” Perfectly said.

  65. roro80 says

    Mellow Monkey @60

    This is especially true within many LGBTQ+ communities, where families are built between unrelated adults via mutual support and care.

    Absolutley. There are a couple other groups I can think of that do this (sometimes schools, or work places, or neighborhoods develop this sense of community as well), but I’ve never seen it done so well and so thoroughly than in certainly LGBTQ communities.

  66. says

    Kittehserf @ 69, I understand what you’re trying to say. I’m an artist, not a scientist of any kind. My culture is a spiritual one, and that’s integrated into myself and my work, at least to a degree. No, I don’t believe gods are real, however, what I do think, feel, and believe is, um, complex.

    I think it’s easiest to sum up that what we need to focus our big, beautiful brains on is our humanness. There’s a fair amount of people in the atheoskeptisphere who seem to want to be post-human much more than realizing our connectedness to one another and focusing on our commonalities.

    Jonathan @ 68:

    This should be fun.

    I note that most of your contributions here tend to be negative. You may want to refresh your memory of the commenting rules: Section IV, item 10 -You are relentlessly negative — why are you here if you have nothing positive to say? Instead of focusing on what people can’t do, why not put out some suggestions for things people can do?

  67. says

    iris@31: “But just for the record: being a moral person from any perspective other than my own is of zero concern to me.”

    There’s something about the meaning of the word “moral” that you are failing to understand.

  68. says

    Monitor note

    maxdevlin @ 72:

    There’s something about the meaning of the word “moral” that you are failing to understand.

    This discussion isn’t about your definition of moral.

    Please remember to stick to the topic of the OP. If you have a bone to pick with somebody, please take it to Thunderdome

    Stay on topic, unless it’s an obvious “fun” thread. If you have something off topic that you must share, the Thunderdome thread is always appropriate.

    The Rules

  69. Akira MacKenzie says

    Ugh! Another “How-Religion-Builds-Communities-And-Makes-People-Happy” puff piece for the gregarious masses who can’t stand the thought of being without the rest of the herd.

    Well then, allow me to rebut:

    As long as it includes people who still cling to superstitious barbarians who believe in magic, then fuck families, fuck communities, fuck neighbors, fuck togetherness, fuck humanity. I would rather be the last man on this shit-ball of a planet and be right than be surrounded by billions of fucking happy theists fucking reality up with their delusions.

  70. Akira MacKenzie says

    EDIT: “…As long as your “community” includes superstitious barbarians who believe in magic…”

  71. kittehserf says

    Caine @71, thank you – I’m glad my post wasn’t a complete word-salad.

    Is it too off-topic to ask what sort of art you do, or would that be better asked in the Lounge? I do art/craft for my own pleasure (get thee behind me, commissions).

    My beliefs are spiritual, though not at all concerned with any deity, unless you count Ceiling Cat. :)

    I tried a Spiritualist group once, for that wish to belong, and found they wanted to be a capital-C Church, their way or the highway, which is, ironically enough, dead against the tenets of Spiritualism. Maybe it’s not so ironic, given what happens when groups become institutions.

    Not that I’m much of a joiner anyway; it’s just hugely annoying that my best, closest friends, the ones I’d have as family, live in the US and I’m in Oz.

    Y’all can call me Kittehs, if you like.

  72. kittehserf says

    Akira McKenzie @74: “Ugh! Another “How-Religion-Builds-Communities-And-Makes-People-Happy” puff piece for the gregarious masses who can’t stand the thought of being without the rest of the herd.”

    Wanting to be part of a community =\= can’t stand the thought of being without the rest of the herd. I’m fairly introverted and am most happy on my own most of the time, but it would be nice to have a community to physically interact with as well.

  73. says

    I disagree that churches have some unique imperative to be more community oriented than say a knitting or hiking group. Churches claim this, but isn’t it just self serving on their part? After all the Christian tradition focuses on 12 dudes who up and left their families to follow some stranger who said things like “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me….” I have been a member of secular groups that do encode community into their written and unwritten rules and by-laws. I’m not saying all knitting groups are like that, but they could be.

  74. says

    Kittehs @ 76:

    Is it too off-topic to ask what sort of art you do

    Oh, all manner of stuff. Right now, I’m trying to complete a textile piece. Some other stuff is here and other stuff here.I’m more comfy in Thunderdome than the lounge, but I’m happy to chat either place.

    /derail

  75. says

    One of the benefits that many people in the thread have brought up is that, in the U.S., churches function as a rudimentary social safety net, as there’s not really a proper one to speak of. People who are reliant on the church for their continued existence are likely to be strongly in favor of it, nor are they wrong or irrational to be so. Those who want a more secular society should focus really heavily on those types of things when politicking (John Horstmann’s and Beatrice’s comments help illustrate this; the high degree of secularism found in many parts of Europe, relative to the U.S., is not unconnected with the existence of social safety nets there. )

    The other benefit, that of community/family/sense of belonging, there are perfectly good nonreligious models available, in the form of mutual aid societies, fraternal organizations, and similar (which also historically included the social safety net functions of churches, but neither set of organizations has ever historically met the actual need, hence why making it part of the national infrastructure is the best course). These have fallen by the wayside for a variety of reasons (in the U.S.; I can’t really speak to other places): Trade unions have been deliberately attacked and destroyed, many ethnic associations have fallen on hard times as the ethnicity they represent becomes ‘white’, fraternal organizations have always been rivals to churches and don’t have the same socially regressive functions easily manipulated by power-seekers and authoritarians, and all types of social groups have suffered badly from suburbanization and the increase of physical distance between people and places relative to older urban patterns, as well as the total reliance on the automobile, which aggravates those.

  76. roro80 says

    So I don’t see anyone here defending the idea of community and how it can be beneficial or vital who is finishing up by saying “…and so I will therefore be joining a church and so should you”. Clearly nobody here thinks religion is the only answer to these problems, or that it must be unique in addressing these needs. I also don’t see anyone saying that it is an invalid position *not* to need the sorts of communities that have traditionally been provided by the church and rarely by other bonding groups. But for some people it is important and vital, and there are places, right here in the US, where Christian churches are the main thing that provide it. Some of us are lucky enough to live in areas where there are lots of alternatives, but for those who don’t live in a place like that, it’s not sheer stupidity or belief that drives people to churches.

  77. Doug Hudson says

    And Akira McKenzie @74 comes along to share the obligatory “atheists are better than those mere mortals who believe in religion”, with a nice dose of misanthropy and nihilism on top.

    Of course, anyone who has been paying attention the last few years knows well that atheists are not notably better people than religious folk, and are just as capable of bigotry and misogyny, without even the cover of religion.

    Several posts above mentioned culture, and I think this is a key point: the cultural ties that religion provides are probably more influential than the actual religious beliefs. That is why there are “cultural Catholics”, “cultural Jews”, and “cultural Mormons”, who don’t actually believe in the religion, but value the strong cultural ties.

    I have spent a fair bit of time on Mormon blogs trying to understand why people follow such a bizarre and obviously fake religion. These are not stupid people–Mormons are just regular people, and have their fair share of brilliant scientists and scholars. Why does the religion have such a tight grip on such folks? Because of the culture.

    Neither atheism nor humanism really have “cultures” associated with them. Not positive ones anyone–the “good old boy” culture certainly seems well entrenched in atheist and skeptical circles.

    Without a culture, these are just belief systems. We need traditions, we need celebrations, get togethers, y’know, the stuff that defines a culture, in order to provide an alternative to the religion based cultures.

  78. says

    Dalillama:

    (John Horstmann’s and Beatrice’s comments help illustrate this; the high degree of secularism found in many parts of Europe, relative to the U.S., is not unconnected with the existence of social safety nets there. )

    This is a point which can’t be emphasized enough, especially when talking about the U.S. – we are bereft of social safety nets, and it’s getting worse all the time. It’s difficult to promote secularism when people are walking a tightrope without a net.

  79. kittehserf says

    Doug Hudson @82 –

    Neither atheism nor humanism really have “cultures” associated with them. Not positive ones anyone–the “good old boy” culture certainly seems well entrenched in atheist and skeptical circles.

    Without a culture, these are just belief systems. We need traditions, we need celebrations, get togethers, y’know, the stuff that defines a culture, in order to provide an alternative to the religion based cultures.

    Really well said, and part of what I was trying to get at.

  80. congenital cynic says

    I’ve recognized for, well, let’s see, about 32 years, that community was one of the primary drivers that sustains religion. I still think it’s the greatest enticement for the majority of those who are involved, my in-laws among them. Much more than the strange beliefs, which I think are enticing to a much smaller percentage of adherents.

    And it goes some way to explaining my feelings about religion. Quite apart from the fact that I find the beliefs absurd, I’m not a “community” person. I spend time with my own family, rarely with the extended family, have a very few friends I keep up with, and basically don’t care to be bothered with a larger group of people. I keep mostly to myself because the things I want to do are not aided by community. Lots of people would be an intrusion. I don’t have anything against community, I just don’t much care to be involved that way.

  81. says

    Akira MacKenzie:

    As long as it includes people who still cling to superstitious barbarians who believe in magic, then fuck families, fuck communities, fuck neighbors, fuck togetherness, fuck humanity. I would rather be the last man on this shit-ball of a planet and be right than be surrounded by billions of fucking happy theists fucking reality up with their delusions.

    Y’know, given how warm and welcoming as that is, I just don’t understand why people aren’t flocking to secularism.

  82. Doug Hudson says

    kittehserf@84, thank you, your comments got me thinking along those lines.

    congenital cynic@85, you (and several other people in this thread) raise an important point: tightly knit cultures can make demands that some personality types find unpleasant. Most of the religions with the strongest communities (Mormons, Catholics, Orthodox Jews, etc) make communal activities virtually compulsory, which can be a major problem for introverts and others.

    If an “atheist culture” or, more likely, a “non-religious humanist culture” develop, it will be important to offer activities and communities that take different personality types into consideration, and avoid making social activities compulsory.

    Of course, atheists claim to be more rational, so building a community based on scientifically sound principles of interpersonal communication and group dynamics should be right up our alley.

  83. mykroft says

    This has been a recurring concept here at Pharyngula. And who was it a while back that wanted to build a huge atheist “temple” of some kind? I have a vague memory of it being proposed over in England, to much derision on this blog.

    For those with good Internet connections, it might be interesting to try to set up regular get-togethers in Second Life. I used to have an account there, but haven’t tried it in ages. Google+ is OK, but you can only get so many active screens.

  84. Doug Hudson says

    Caine, Fleur du mal @ 86, (didn’t see this until after I posted my 87),

    Brilliant. I’m still laughing.

  85. burgundy says

    My old boss put a slideshow together for her parents’ 50th anniversary. 30 minutes of family pictures, spanning 4 or 5 generations, with everyone involved in each others’ lives. And it almost made me cry, because I grew up two thousand miles away from my extended family. I didn’t really have relationships with adults other than my parents, or with younger people not close in age to me or my brother. There’s a sort of… embeddedness, I guess, that I associate with being part of a large, generationally-diverse group, a sense of continuity, that I wish I had. Maybe I romanticize it, because I never had it. But I don’t have kids, and my brother doesn’t, and my close friends don’t, and there’s something that feels weird to me in the idea that my whole social circle is just going to stop one day.

    So even beyond the tangible assistance provided by many religious groups, I feel like I can understand the appeal. It can be very satisfying to feel like you’re not just one of a group of individuals, but woven into a larger fabric. I also feel like there must be a way to get that without taking on a lot of constraints.

    I’m pretty active in the Austin polyamory community. Nearly all of my friends are people I met there, including a group bordering on chosen family. When I think of other cities I might move to, one of my criteria is an active poly scene, because that means regular social gatherings at which I know I will be welcome, where I can meet people with whom I share at least some basic values. I think maybe some differences between that and, say, a knitting group are things like size (big difference between a community of a hundred or so people and a club with a dozen members), fluidity of interactions (most of the poly events here are just social time, which can facilitate more bonding than something that’s activity-specific), and common values (liking knitting just means you like knitting. Being poly at least means you’re likely to have some overlap in outlook and worldview.) An atheist community would have some of that third factor, but I can see size being a big barrier to creating strong local atheist communities; in many areas there just might not be enough people to be more like the poly group and less like a sewing circle.

  86. Akira MacKenzie says

    Well, people in general make my skin crawl and listening to the teaming multitudes bray and gibber on and on about their faith and their gods with no regard to reality is like a thousand fingernails scraped across a vast blackboard. So pardon the fuck out of me for being less than open to the idea of being one big happy family with the people who are fucking up this world with their backward bullshit.

  87. says

    Mykroft:

    This has been a recurring concept here at Pharyngula. And who was it a while back that wanted to build a huge atheist “temple” of some kind? I have a vague memory of it being proposed over in England, to much derision on this blog.

    I don’t consider this to be a discussion of accommodationism or the worth of aping religion. I think there are a lot of misperceptions in this thread about that, though. This is about making ourselves better, about better secular outreach, about what we do and don’t want in this movement of ours. As many people have pointed out, there’s quite a disenchantment with the atheoskeptisphere, given the misogyny, hyperskepticism and other unpleasantness. There’s also a distinct association with science type of peoples, which tends to exclude a whole lot of peoples.

    We also keep talking a lot, right here at Pharyngula, about the importance of inclusiveness as opposed to exclusiveness. Extending that inclusiveness is a good thing, I think. Helping to provide social safety nets is a good thing, I think. Lots of good things, which don’t have to mimic a church in any way. It’s simply putting a bit more focus on humanist endeavours.

    The other part of the OP, which many people are ignoring, is that people who choose to affiliate with a religion for reasons not solely belief are not stupid. Not in the slightest. There’s nothing wrong with recognizing human urges and desires and behaviour. Recognizing those things would be the intelligent thing to do, after all. Also the compassionate thing to do.

  88. Doug Hudson says

    Akira MacKenzie @91,

    To be honest, I feel like that sometimes too. But I don’t post comments when I’m in the mood, and certainly not on a thread about how to build a welcoming atheist community. If for no other reason than it really isn’t on topic.

    There are other places where you can rant about how much religions and humanity in general suck, without taking any grief from other people.

  89. kittehserf says

    burgundy @90 – I get what you mean about that sense of larger family and generations. I’m the youngest, by a decade, of three; my siblings left home when I was quite young, as did my wellgoodriddance male parental unit. We’d never been a particularly close family anyway, and my mother’s the youngest of ten, who all made a point of living as far from each other as possible. So I’ve hordes of cousins but never knew or even met most of them, and my family here is about as small as it gets (Mum, sister living interstate and me). I too would have liked, I think, to have a family around, or be part of a community, at least if it hadn’t been the sort that, as Doug Hudson pointed out @87, doesn’t make it almost a rule that you have to engage all the time.

    Ditto on things like interest groups: I sometimes wonder if a knitting group would be fun, but then think HELL NO, it’d be like the times I’m at the hairdressers and find myself sitting next to someone else knitting, with whom I have nothing in common at all. (No, X, I don’t want to talk about celebrities’ marriages, I just told you I have never heard of them, and no, I am not rejoicing that we have a smugnorant jackass as PM.)

    That sense of community has to come from more, and deeper, things than hobbies, I think. At least it would for me.

  90. says

    Akira MacKenzie:

    Well, people in general make my skin crawl and listening to the teaming multitudes bray and gibber on and on about their faith and their gods with no regard to reality is like a thousand fingernails scraped across a vast blackboard.

    That would be teeming. Hate to see a rant ruined by a spelling distraction.

    So pardon the fuck out of me for being less than open to the idea of being one big happy family with the people who are fucking up this world with their backward bullshit.

    I wouldn’t mind all this if you were on point, but it seems you missed the point by miles and miles. This is about *us*, the non-religious people. Perhaps a more careful reading will reveal that to you.

  91. burgundy says

    Akira MacKenzie, I haven’t seen anyone say “we should join churches to get these benefits.” People are saying, “how can we provide these benefits outside the religious framework?” You’re coming in here making a fuss about being lactose intolerant and milk is gross and we shouldn’t drink it, but the actual conversation is about how to get calcium from non-dairy sources.

  92. kittehserf says

    Caine, @86:

    Akira MacKenzie:

    As long as it includes people who still cling to superstitious barbarians who believe in magic, then fuck families, fuck communities, fuck neighbors, fuck togetherness, fuck humanity. I would rather be the last man on this shit-ball of a planet and be right than be surrounded by billions of fucking happy theists fucking reality up with their delusions.

    Y’know, given how warm and welcoming as that is, I just don’t understand why people aren’t flocking to secularism.

    Because it was worth repeating.

    Anyone seen my eyeballs? I think they rolled under the desk somewhere.

  93. congenital cynic says

    As I read through the comments, I’m inclined to say that not all families consist of people we might want to associate with. Wouldn’t pick as friends. I don’t dislike any of my extended family, but most of them are people with whom I share almost nothing of substance, apart from the blood. No common interests, no reason to get together. It would all be very fake and uncomfortable. And at that point, the water just might be thicker.

  94. Ingdigo Jump says

    Oh the anti-A+ people are going to love this.

    But yes this is more along the lines I had hoped A+ would strive towards

  95. Doug Hudson says

    congenital cynic @98,

    Indeed, “Family” is a tricky word, in that some people have good families, some have indifferent, and some have terrible ones. (Slightly off-topic, but I highly recommend the “Dysfunctional Family Day” series at Making Light http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/ for anyone having family issues, it’s a great place to find support and advice.)

    I think for the purposes of this conversation, “community” is a better word. And even then, that has problems, as you mentioned above.

  96. Rey Fox says

    I’m not really a huge fan of community either, but I’m still surprised at the weird aversion that some atheists have to the very notion that community is important to a lot of people and that maybe we should have some version of that in order to cater to their needs.

    The thing is that I’ve come to see my community aversion as the product of privilege. I’m a straight white male, so the odds are that I’m not reliant on a community just to make ends meet, and indeed I do come from that income level. And I have a stable and loving family, so I get enough of that sort of interaction in my “home” (which is to say where I grew up, not where I am now). If I didn’t have those things, I would likely need community, even as introverted as I am.

  97. says

    Rey:

    The thing is that I’ve come to see my community aversion as the product of privilege.

    An excellent point, one people should take on board, along with Dalillama’s noting that secularism and social safety nets tend to go hand in hand.

    I’ve already said, but one more time: I’m not social myself. I’m not big on community stuff, however, as Rey says, this is a function of privilege. I have been in situations where I have needed a social safety net, and finding one was a fucking nightmare. When you haven’t eaten in over a week, and won’t be able to put so much as a grain of rice on the table for at least three more weeks, you have to seek help. It’s nice to be able to find that help before you starve to death.

  98. Doug Hudson says

    Rey Fox@103,

    What Caine said. Excellent point, and very relevant to atheist community building.

  99. kittehserf says

    Dittoing the points about privilege and secularism going with safety nets. Our in Oz is a lot better than the US’s, but it’s got some pretty big holes in it. Yet even with that safety net there, I don’t think the need for community should be underestimated. I don’t think of a community in terms of practical help, largely because the services do exist here and because I’ve never been of the mindset to ask friends for help anyway, even in the days when I had an offline social group; I’ve always felt I have nobody but myself, mother and sister available personally. It’s just physical interaction with people you like and feel close to, an enlarged circle of friends with a stronger bond, that I’m thinking of … I think. But imagine the difference in feeling, or knowing you are part of such a group, that help and support is there from people you know. That’s different again from being able to walk into a social services office and get practical assistance.

  100. Akira MacKenzie says

    Caine @ 95

    That would be teeming. Hate to see a rant ruined by a spelling distraction.

    Thank you. I’ll try to remember that.

    I wouldn’t mind all this if you were on point, but it seems you missed the point by miles and miles. This is about *us*, the non-religious people. Perhaps a more careful reading will reveal that to you.

    and burgundy @ 96

    You’re coming in here making a fuss about being lactose intolerant and milk is gross and we shouldn’t drink it, but the actual conversation is about how to get calcium from non-dairy sources.

    I was more focused on the article PZ was quoting than the rest of his thoughts. I’ve heard the smug line about the alleged community-building benefits of religion (and ergo religion is superior) a thousand times before and it never ceases to piss me off.

  101. carlie says

    That age continuity goes back to one of the emphases in the OP, and is something that is kind of hard to come by otherwise. All of those single-issue hobby type organizations tend to be adults-only, and playdate and school groups are all kids-of-the-same-age groups, and even community service orgs. tend to be mainly adult endeavors. It’s difficult to find places were younger kids can be around more older aunt/uncle/grandparent types, and teens can learn to be patient with kids and kind to their elders, and feel part of that fabric.

    Akira, that’s fine that you don’t need that kind of interaction, but the point here is that not everyone feels the way you do, and ignoring that they do doesn’t give you any answers when you say “but why do people cling to religious communities?”

  102. burgundy says

    There’s a Robert Frost poem, “The Death of the Hired Man.” It includes the line “home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” That’s a very powerful idea to me, and I think it’s at the heart of what’s being talked about. Maybe some people think they’ll never need it, and maybe some people don’t want other people to take them in, but it’s not about that, it’s about the space that’s waiting for the people who have nowhere else to go (financially, emotionally, or otherwise).

    (The next part of the poem is someone saying in response, “I should have called it, something you somehow haven’t to deserve.”)

  103. carlie says

    Akira at 107:

    I’ve heard the smug line about the alleged community-building benefits of religion (and ergo religion is superior) a thousand times before and it never ceases to piss me off.

    But the thing is, it’s true. That doesn’t make it superior in any way but community-building, but they have figured out how to hit all the major boxes to make that happen. They do it efficiently, and they do it well, and they do it in a way that keeps people coming back. What good alternative examples are there that provide all of those community functions without the religious glue?

  104. kittehserf says

    Akira, if you don’t feel the need for community, that’s fine; it just means the conversation doesn’t apply to you. Nobody’s forcing you to be in one. And that you viscerally dislike the idea, and religion, does not mean that it doesn’t have those benefits for other people. I agree completely that it doesn’t support “religion is better” or anything like it, but equally, you can’t make blanket statements about other people’s needs or experiences – or their intelligence.

  105. says

    So pardon the fuck out of me for being less than open to the idea of being one big happy family with the people who are fucking up this world with their backward bullshit.

    Republicans?

  106. Akira MacKenzie says

    carlie @ 111

    That doesn’t make it superior in any way but community-building, but they have figured out how to hit all the major boxes to make that happen.

    But the implication seems to be the very act of “community-building” is “good.” Since religion is what built this community of happy people, then religion is “good” regardless of whatever or not what they believe in true.

  107. says

    Among many, yes.

    Okay, the subtlety was lost on you. I don’t just say this because it makes me look anti-racist: Religion is not the source of the bigotry that affects us. It can be a powerful avenue to propogate it, but similarly it can be used to fight it. Pretending it’s the cause of the world’s ills is giving yourself an easy out and blinding yourself to reality; it’s useless and actively harmful (albeit not very harmful, all told).

  108. pHred says

    Am I the only one picturing “teaming multitude” as a large soccer field swarming with folks in colored jerseys trying to get organized into teams? With donkeys as mascots to provide braying? Or is this just a sign that I desperately need sleep?

    Key difference between joining a birding or knitting club versus a community. A fellow birder would probably want to throttle me if I called them up at this hour to ramble incoherently at them just because I am feeling a bit lonely and bummed whereas in this community I am welcome to come in and ramble along in an on topic kind of way. I would like to add more but am too tired to type on this stupid thing. Just adding that desire for community can be very powerful.

  109. kittehserf says

    But the implication seems to be the very act of “community-building” is “good.” Since religion is what built this community of happy people, then religion is “good” regardless of whatever or not what they believe in true.

    Akira, are you seriously saying that not having a community is better, or having one is bad? I’m talking in a broader social sense here. I’m really seeing “I don’t want to interact with people and neither should anyone else!” in your posts. It’s like you’re saying everyone should be misanthropic or isolated, whether that’s good for them or not, because it’s So Superior. I hope that’s my misinterpretation, not your meaning.

    I really doubt that any religion bases its worth entirely on community building, either.

  110. kittehserf says

    Am I the only one picturing “teaming multitude” as a large soccer field swarming with folks in colored jerseys trying to get organized into teams? With donkeys as mascots to provide braying? Or is this just a sign that I desperately need sleep?

    pHred @118, lacka sleep or not, I like it!

    Can the donkeys wear team colours and look like this?

  111. says

    kittehserf @94: That sense of community has to come from more, and deeper, things than hobbies, I think.

    Case in point: I was having lunch with some of my model railroading acquaintances the other day, and one of them said something about global warming, and of course I didn’t have an appropriate rejoinder ready (because I suck at that). But it reminded me (again) that outside this somewhat eccentric obsession, I have little in common with many of those guys (and they’re virtually all guys — if you think atheo-skepticism is a middle-aged dudes club, you’ve never seen model railroaders. The few women are all someone’s wife or GF), and while they’re all perfectly nice people on the surface, I bet if I scratch some of them I’ll find an unpleasant amount of racism, sexism, right-wing politics, and scientific ignorance. Because few of that crowd have the inclination to do the amount of reading and thinking and learning that I’ve done, because few of any crowd do. For that sort of thing I hang out in places like this, or with the local CFI bunch, ie. with a community that holds knowledge, of anything and everything, for its own sake, and thinking deeply about issues, as a value.

  112. says

    But the implication seems to be the very act of “community-building” is “good.” Since religion is what built this community of happy people, then religion is “good” regardless of whatever or not what they believe in true.

    If those happy people are less bigoted than average? Then yes, it’s a net good. Period. There’s varying degrees otherwise, but religion that leads people to be less bigoted than their peers is just fine in my book. What with actually caring about people and their livelihoods.

  113. vaiyt says

    Many many human characteristics are distributed in a bell-curve fashion — for a characteristic like “need for acceptance from others,” the atheist community is heavy with folks at the low end of that curve.

    People who have less need for acceptance from others might be more likely to be confident in leaving the safety of the religious umbrella…

  114. kittehserf says

    Eamon Knight @121 – that’s a great example, just the sort of thing I was thinking of, too.

    pHred @122 – donkeys in knitwear would be the best. Though Shetlands in knitwear are amazing, too.

  115. Kiwi Sauce says

    Eamon Knight @121 and kitteh @125 there is also the issue of the point of things like knitting or model railway clubs. People are likely to join them because they want to talk about those activities, get some help with improving their skills in those activities, etc. I’m not sure that creating a knitting club (for example) with the intention to be a support group for atheists is either the best way about offering social avenues for atheists (many who don’t knit, and wouldn’t think to join a knitting club to seek atheist socialisation), nor would it be good for people who joined the knitting club thinking they were just going to knit and chat, to find that a lot of the club involved atheist chit chat and expectations of supporting other members who aren’t really like them in important sociodemographic ways. Both appear to have ethical issues.

    However, an atheist group that had hobby subgroups, like a knitting club, would be awesome. :)

    And kitteh, thanks for correcting me earlier.

  116. Kiwi Sauce says

    Sorry, at 126 I was trying to expand on the points raised on those posts, and upon re-reading my post it could look like I was criticising them. It was not my intent.

  117. kittehserf says

    Rutee @123:

    If those happy people are less bigoted than average? Then yes, it’s a net good. Period. There’s varying degrees otherwise, but religion that leads people to be less bigoted than their peers is just fine in my book. What with actually caring about people and their livelihoods.

    Akira’s description of religion/anyone religious is like the caricatures that paint all atheists as Asshat Atheists.

    Kiwi Sauce @126 – you’re welcome! ::waves from across Tasman::

    Good point about knitting, hobby clubs and so on. Any deeper connections would just be flukes.

  118. kittehserf says

    Kiwi Sauce – that’s cool, I read it as an expansion, or raising something not mentioned.

  119. Karen says

    Here’s another anecdote: I have found a community in an organization called the Taoist Tai Chi Society. One can get into the Taoist aspects if one wants to, but it’s not required or even pushed. It’s an international nonprofit volunteer organization that teaches a form of Tai Chi. It has its cultish aspects, but it’s a nice cult. There are politics and pressures, but I can be a fervent atheist and do and instruct my Tai Chi and leave the rest.

    And it has that mandate: one of the aims and objectives of the Society is to help others. And I have been helped. And I volunteer in return. I have made good friends. It’s an example of a place that’s not fundie or religious but still has compassion and community at its core. Not centered around children, not exclusive but inclusive. Not perfect, but a whole lot better than the church I gave up partly because of its hypocrisy and bigotry.

    I have never been involved with movement atheism or secularism or skepticism or even feminism. These things are the way I live, but I have yet to find a reason to join a group centered around one of them. If helping others was one of the tenets, I might.

  120. Steve Caldwell says

    This reminds me of a joke I’ve heard.

    Q — What’s a Unitarian Universalist?

    A — An atheist with kids.

  121. consciousness razor says

    carlie, #111:

    But the thing is, it’s true. That doesn’t make it superior in any way but community-building, but they have figured out how to hit all the major boxes to make that happen. They do it efficiently, and they do it well, and they do it in a way that keeps people coming back.

    I know what you’re trying to get at, but all of these points are a lot more complicated than they’re being made out to be (in this thread generally). Many religious groups don’t do it well at all. Many are horrible, horrible failures at building any kind of positive community (even if the members value it as a community). It is just not a given that religions generally have this shit figured out. It would be convenient if that were the case, but it isn’t. It might sometimes be better than nothing (e.g., an atheist group which doesn’t exist), but it may also be worse.

    What good alternative examples are there that provide all of those community functions without the religious glue?

    It’s still very much questionable how much (alternative, non-religious) “glue” there ought to be, or what ought to be glued with what. A big issue with religion has been described fairly well by calliopejane in comment #47, although I don’t think I reach quite the same conclusions. There’s a sort of trade-off people make, so that honesty, critical thought, etc. are disregarded for the sake of loyalty or what they think will ensure their social stability or personal happiness. People do think they’re better off being blissfully ignorant or not rocking the boat, and they think it doesn’t matter to them what the truth is. (I guess somebody else will take care of it, as long as we’re assuming what they think is infallible.)

    Why? Because practically everything about their lives has been glued together into one big mess. They lose the ability to act as individuals and think for themselves and recognize their own responsibilities. When there’s so much, it’s very hard for someone to unglue it all themselves. When your whole identity and your whole worldview gets mixed up with your everyday social interactions and whatever personal needs you can imagine, it’s damn near impossible to even see what the problems are, much less do anything about them. You may know there are problems, and whenever you get the chance you’ll say how great and wonderful it is to be included in this “community” because it’s the only thing you think there is. Some may find their way back into a religion (after a period away) because they think there are some benefits (and may not think there are many drawbacks). But your claim that religions “do it in a way that keeps people coming back” just doesn’t capture what they’re doing or explain why that’s supposed to be good. And it’s obvious they didn’t invent the system alone: it was all already glued for them, without their say and without their ability to do anything significant to change it. Like the OP says, that’s a “normal” way to be. It doesn’t mean they’re all utterly stupid or evil, but it also doesn’t mean that’s always the right kind of choice to make.

    So, I think we ought to be asking ourselves when and how to make such choices, not just say “it’s good for me, not you, so just shut up if you don’t like it.” (The confused misanthropic rants from some above don’t help either, of course.) Even if we got rid of the gods/woo/bigotry/etc. and kept all of religions’ “community-building” aspects, that wouldn’t rid us of lots of other bullshit: institutional bullshit, interpersonal bullshit, myopic self-centered bullshit, and the rest. If we’re really trying to look at it from the view of the disempowered here, not just argue for what feels good to anyone for any arbitrary reason, then we can’t brush all of that aside. Let’s not forget that a big part of the atheist/skeptic/humanist/secular movements itself is to take epistemological values seriously: the truth really matters, honesty matters, methodology matters, asking the right questions matters. They often matter more than things like loyalty to a group (or dependence on it, if you look at it that way).

    And maybe it’s my ex-Catholicism speaking here (or my background as a musician or … I don’t know what), but there’s something to be said for finding a place in a larger tradition, relying on a longer history and a wider view of the world, which goes beyond your personal interests or your family or circle of friends or local community. It seems like people get so wrapped up in the moment (especially with the media we have now) that they lose sight of the rest. A lot of people have bigger problems to deal with certainly, so I don’t mean to suggest this as argument against them; but some others seem to think they’ll get that sense of “belonging” out of it, when a small community-oriented type of group can turn out to be a huge distraction from what they really want. So this is just to say there are different ways of finding commonality with people (and their ideas), and it helps if we recognize that people opposed to some of the ideas about “community-building” aren’t all a bunch of introverts and misanthropes, nor are they all nerds or privileged dudes or whatever stereotype we’re going to come up with next. It’s just that there are a lot of different, incompatible approaches we can take to “be better than the fundamentalists,” so it’s not going to be just an argument for or against the whole concept.

    I want to quote Jafafa Hots, even if nothing I just said is agreeable to him:

    Close-knit families are also harder to get the hell away from, should that be necessary.

  122. Renee says

    #66 put it best …
    “Maybe because people with higher education and socioeconmic status can afford to go it alone without a group or community in case shit gets rough.”

    I have a tiny family, and Mom is dead, my Dad is old and lives 2500 miles away, and my brother and his wife and kid live 2,000 miles away, in the other direction, in the same state (but not area!) as my husbands family. Our closest relative (MIL) is 12 hours away. My DH and I, our 2 kids and 3 pets are basically all alone. And it is scary. And lonely. My kid has a birthday and only a friend or two, and maybe a few neighbor kids show up, and thats only after spending a ton of effort getting to know them.

    And I am pretty social, and live in a liberal place, have interests, and STILL have a hard time finding even one-tenth of that type of community. Sure, I have friends, and I know my neighbors, and have a few good online groups, but when shit hits the fan, who helps? Who makes the dinners if you have a baby, or visits if you are sick? My friends care, but no one is organized, and its really hard to ask. The only substitutions I have seen that can approximate family are very organized Religion and AA.

    I have been wracking my brain trying to figure out what kind of local group I can host to create this type of community, and the post he quoted really explained the aspects that (some) people, like myself, are missing. Hopefully, I can take this and run with it, because I am not alone. Lots of people are wanting a “tribe”, but just do not know how to do it. There is no reason that interested secular people cannot have such a community.

    All this to say- yes, fundamentalism is attractive to people like me (even though I am an atheist). Sure, I loathe their ideas, but the community and mutual caring and aid? It looks great to someone that doesn’t have it.

  123. says

    Jafafa Hots:

    Close-knit families are also harder to get the hell away from, should that be necessary.

    True. It’s also quite difficult to get the hell away from a not so close-knit family who has privilege and power and views you as a possession. That’s the thing, if we end up discussing personal experiences, everyone can say something different. Lots of perspectives.

    When I talked about family, it wasn’t with my family in mind, or anyone’s, really. It’s more that ideal of family, which a lot of people do like, want, or desire. Family is a highly loaded word, so perhaps what I’m trying to describe has more to do with deep bonds.

  124. says

    Renee @ 136:

    All this to say- yes, fundamentalism is attractive to people like me (even though I am an atheist). Sure, I loathe their ideas, but the community and mutual caring and aid? It looks great to someone that doesn’t have it.

    You expressed, very well, what several of us have been trying to say throughout the thread. Thank you.

  125. Ichthyic says

    Many religious groups don’t do it well at all. Many are horrible, horrible failures at building any kind of positive community (even if the members value it as a community).

    Westboro comes to mind…

  126. Ichthyic says

    What good alternative examples are there that provide all of those community functions without the religious glue?

    When my dad was young, he talked about neighborhood block parties that happened quite frequently and helped to bond friends and neighbors together.

    this appears to be a function missing in my generation.

  127. kittehserf says

    Renee @136 – seconding Caine here, you described that very well. Painfully well.

    consciousness razor @135 – you hit on something here that’s important: it’s not just religious groups where the price of membership is not rocking the boat. It’s a problem with human groups generally, isn’t it? The fractures in the atheist communities over anyone daring point out the rampant misogyny are just one example.

  128. Ichthyic says

    It’s a problem with human groups generally, isn’t it?

    yes.

    it all has to do with the fact that a good portion of us lean towards authoritarian personalities.

  129. Kiwi Sauce says

    I’m not understanding why some people appear to be so opposed to having a face-to-face community atheist option. Because (1) no-one would be forced to join or do anything, (2) surely it would be set up with ground-rules about member expectations so it wouldn’t automatically have to include any stalkery-type elements that some have expressed in this thread, and (3) it would contain (hopefully) like minded inclusive people.

    Do the people expressing extremely negative opinions about the idea think that any atheist community groups would suck like the worst xtian ones? If that’s the case, then it has me intrigued that there is such a negative view of atheists. I thought that lots of us were/are supportive and caring, and that the groups would showcase those aspects. If they would be a misogyny-fest of privilege-blind people (for example), then they can count me out. But why would I assume that those sorts of people would be the ones interested in setting up community groups that aren’t putting them in focus? To use an extreme example, that would be like assuming that all domestic violence shelters are set up by women (mainly) who want the shelters to be all about them.

    Note: not implying that people who don’t want to join groups are awful, uncaring, insensitive types, it’s just that I’m not thinking about them when I’m thinking about face-to-face groups.

    I’m not keen to see groups like the Salvation Army or St Vincent de Paul or city missions disappear off the face of the earth in a flash. While I don’t agree with their religious beliefs, they do good to people who seriously need help. If those organisations go without being replaced by other organisations with equivalent goals, a lot of hurting people are just going to hurt worse. I don’t see that would be an improvement. People who are hungry, who don’t have heating in winter, or warm clothes, or a roof over their heads shouldn’t become the pawns in any “moral right” arguments.

  130. consciousness razor says

    Kiwi Sauce, #143:

    Do the people expressing extremely negative opinions about the idea think that any atheist community groups would suck like the worst xtian ones?

    Not necessarily, but they have that potential.

    I’ll admit some bias here. I’ve been irritated plenty of times in the past from accommodationists, Harvard Humanists, and assorted other churchy atheist types (Alain de Botton, etc). They’ve said and done some pretty ridiculous crap now and then, and their focus hasn’t been simply to do charity work and the like. It’s been about trying to scavenge for something valuable in religious imagery and language (when there may not be anything valuable in it), adopting all the rituals and stories — basically borrowing a whole religious culture (not just an organization with specific goals) without a deity. Or they’re a little wishy-washy about deities so maybe it isn’t without a deity after all…. “What difference does it make, as long as it makes people happy?” they ask. Well, I think that’s a long story for such a short rhetorical question.

    Anyway, the concept has been pretty well tainted for me. I don’t think of us as “like-minded,” just because we’re all atheists. I realize it wouldn’t have to be like that, but I’m extremely suspicious of it. In any case, it’s reasonable enough to doubt that everyone’s really thought about what exactly it is that they’re proposing. When it’s mostly vague stuff like “community-building,” other people definitely can’t think about it so the conversation doesn’t go anywhere.

  131. anotheratheist says

    Eric Kaufmann: “Shall the religious inherit the earth?”

    The fundamentalists actually are going to win.

  132. Kiwi Sauce says

    consciousness @ 144 thanks for explaining your position, I hadn’t realised the background so was writing from a blue skies, green fields approach. The part of your comment where you mention “their focus hasn’t been simply to do charity work and the like. It’s been about trying to scavenge for something valuable in religious imagery and language…” suggests that the start position/base assumptions for those groups have been inappropriate. And then it was all downhill from there.

    Back to the question of how do we get more people to become atheists – basically for a number of non-atheists, the decision to shift would only be seriously contemplated if the community aspects of the church (and not all non-atheists will value the same community aspects) are replicated in the atheist community. And so we will continue to fail to attract those people, because what we offer simply isn’t enough – they will suffer tangible loss if they “come out” as atheists.

    One could argue, and I don’t think you are, that why should atheists do anything community like? My reply to that is, again, that if the practical physical and psychological support (e.g. supporting people out of prison, supporting drug rehabilitation, drop-in centres, free meals, etc) offered by churches and religious organisations isn’t shifted into non-religious organisations, then if the churches etc disappeared I consider it to be a net bad to society. I am dismayed at how some atheists (not you!) seem to think that being an atheist means that one should be a Randian and a generally horrid person*. I think that the majority of atheists are not like this, and the loud minority are giving us all a bad name. Having atheist community groups would also be a tangible way of mitigating some of this BS.

    * I was going to use a single word instead of a phrase, but I’m not sure if all the ones I know would be considered gendered insults. If someone could link a page where there is a list of non-gendered insults I can use, I would really appreciate it.

  133. carlie says

    Yes, exactly what Renee said at 136, in spades.

    I see a lot of “religion is bad, therefore everything religions do is bad, therefore community-building is…bad”? going on. Humans are social animals. Communities are what we do. One big way to keep a community coherent is to make a “price” for membership to prove one is willing to commit, and make the price high if one leaves. I don’t know of any communities that don’t formulate those sooner or later. Hell, look at what we say here “Yeah, it’s a shark pit, but if you can get past that, you’re good, but here are all the group-decided norms you can’t violate or you’ll get banned”. Same damned thing. That’s what human animals do to form communities, so you can’t exclusively fault religions for it. The communities that don’t have barriers to entry and exit are also the ones that aren’t as close-knit, that don’t have all the benefits. That’s how people work.

  134. Doug Hudson says

    Seconding what Renee and Karen said.

    Humans are social animals. Individuals vary quite a bit in how much social interaction they enjoy, but as a species we rely on social networks for survival, from basic needs (sharing the burden of food production) to the more esoteric (a sense of belonging).

    Religions can provide a powerful social network. Atheism and/or humanism don’t yet have anything to match that.

    Yes, it is important for us to remember that it shouldn’t be compulsory–that is where religions tend to go off the rails–but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to develop social networks at all.

  135. Doug Hudson says

    Or what Carlie said in 148 which I completely missed. Oops, trying to read this early in the morning is HARD. /sheepish grin.

  136. raven says

    Renee:

    Hopefully, I can take this and run with it, because I am not alone. Lots of people are wanting a “tribe”, but just do not know how to do it. There is no reason that interested secular people cannot have such a community.

    Well Renee, guess what?

    Welcome to the Real World. Welcome to the USA!!!

    It’s that way for most people here, most of the time. It’s been that way for me since I was 16. And I get along OK with my family, nuclear and extended. This is just part of US culture for most of us. My family is/was spread out all over the USA from the east coast to the west coast. And I can’t even talk to some of them because they speak nonEnglish languages without too much English and I don’t speak theirs very well.

    This has always been a harsh society and its been getting worse in my lifetime.Wether that is good or bad is irrelevant. It’s just the way it is.

    That is the bad news. The good news is that we all usually get by in the end. It’s not easy but you have to work hard and keep your wits about you. When you or I was born, there was nothing on the birth certificate that said we would have easy lives.

  137. Howard Bannister says

    Carlie @ 44

    For religious people, it’s a mandate. It doesn’t matter if you are normally shy, God wants you to go meet that person and be friendly

    I remember vividly when the preacher told me that I had to choose to be less introverted because otherwise I was failing God.

  138. Doug Hudson says

    Raven @150,

    So we should throw up our hands and give up?

    As many people (including the OP) have noted, religion offers many of the same benefits as having an extended family.

    There is no reason why secular societies shouldn’t be offer the same to those who are interested.

  139. JAL: Snark, Sarcasm & Bitterness says

    150
    raven

    Renee:

    Hopefully, I can take this and run with it, because I am not alone. Lots of people are wanting a “tribe”, but just do not know how to do it. There is no reason that interested secular people cannot have such a community.

    Well Renee, guess what?

    Welcome to the Real World. Welcome to the USA!!!

    It’s that way for most people here, most of the time. It’s been that way for me since I was 16. And I get along OK with my family, nuclear and extended. This is just part of US culture for most of us. My family is/was spread out all over the USA from the east coast to the west coast. And I can’t even talk to some of them because they speak nonEnglish languages without too much English and I don’t speak theirs very well.

    This has always been a harsh society and its been getting worse in my lifetime.Wether that is good or bad is irrelevant. It’s just the way it is.

    That is the bad news. The good news is that we all usually get by in the end. It’s not easy but you have to work hard and keep your wits about you. When you or I was born, there was nothing on the birth certificate that said we would have easy lives.

    Fuck you and your motherfucking bootstraps, you privileged ass.

    Guess what Horde, take back your money apparently your making my life too easy (HA!) and I don’t/shouldn’ t have a community of support.

  140. smhll says

    Re: setting up something a lot like church

    Who would join? What would people do together? (Community service projects make some sense.) What subjects would people talk about when they weren’t “doing” together? (I don’t have the stamina to talk about philosophy for very long.) Would there be pressure or expectation to participate every week? (It’s easy for me to imagine a group of sufficient size where we all dawdle in about once every ten weeks and the group is always thin, but maybe that just reflects MY level of interest.)

    Someone upthread mentioned Scouts. I would personally enjoy something that was like “Girl Scouts for Adults”, but open to any gender. (Girls Scouts don’t have the reputation of being as obnoxiously authoritarian as the Boy Scouts.)

    Sure, I have friends, and I know my neighbors, and have a few good online groups, but when shit hits the fan, who helps? Who makes the dinners if you have a baby, or visits if you are sick? My friends care, but no one is organized, and its really hard to ask.

    Re: something not like church

    I’ve read about a couple of places that let people bank community service hours, almost like a babysitting coop works, and then withdraw support in the future. I just don’t remember the right buzzwords for this kind of community service pool, so I’m not sure how far a google search will get me. This may have been a small town phenomenon that I read about.

    We want to build community and we want ensure that people who can’t get help from churches can get more help? Does one take priority over the other? Is the helping the path that leads to community faster?

  141. roro80 says

    @carlie 147

    The communities that don’t have barriers to entry and exit are also the ones that aren’t as close-knit, that don’t have all the benefits.

    Or, commonly, they just don’t last forever. But I think in a lot of ways that’s ok. I don’t think a community needs to be a perfect fit for any given person in perpetuity in order to be useful and healthy for that person or the greater society.

  142. Karen says

    My opinion: A community of real support (as opposed to the fake support of “We’ll love you and help you as long as you do exactly what you’re told) needs something moral at its base. Not just an idea or an activity, but a way of living, a way of belonging to something bigger than oneself.

    The basic definition of Atheism+ has this, but I haven’t seen it in practical use. That would take a lot of organizing and dedication on the part of a lot of people. But it’s possible.

  143. says

    Renee @136: Same here — when our kids were young, my family was a five hour drive away, and my wife’s were an eight hour plane trip. Our Christian network were the ones we relied on, on a couple of occasions (like the time I went into the ER with a burst appendix, and my wife called a friend from the waiting room and asked, “Could you go over to our house and collect our kids, and take them back to your place for the night?”). Note, though, that it doesn’t only work with fundamentalist groups.

    JAL @153: Reading charitably, I interpret raven @150 as expressing cynicism about the state of American society, but it’s not clear and ICBW.

  144. says

    I’ve read about a couple of places that let people bank community service hours, almost like a babysitting coop works, and then withdraw support in the future. I just don’t remember the right buzzwords for this kind of community service pool, so I’m not sure how far a google search will get me. This may have been a small town phenomenon that I read about.

    This kind of fits in with local alternative currencies, which are also a neat project. In the case of a skill share or a skill bank, the alternative currency is simple people’s skills and time. I do think this is a great way to build community – thanks for reminding me of it. I actually know of a bunch of resources on the subject that I should look up again and bookmark. Have to do it when I’m not at work though.

  145. JAL: Snark, Sarcasm & Bitterness says

    JAL @153: Reading charitably, I interpret raven @150 as expressing cynicism about the state of American society, but it’s not clear and ICBW.

    Huh. With the “life sucks, get used to it!”, “I didn’t need it, most people don’t so why should you?” and the “It isn’t easy, and that’s an easy out. It’s hard work and wits that help you!”, the only thing missing from that
    Pull Yourself Up by Your Bootstraps comment was the word bootstraps.

  146. Esteleth, statistically significant to p ≤ 0.001 says

    *sigh*

    Anecdotes are anecdotes, but I have one to offer.

    Many of you know that when I first appeared here, I didn’t describe myself as an atheist. Many of you know that I still socialize in meatspace with Quakers and attend Meeting.

    There are many reasons why. Here’s one: in 2007, I had just moved. I knew no one, I was in an unfamiliar city, where I’d never been, for the sake of attending graduate school. I was broke, my fridge was empty, and I didn’t even have a bank account.

    And my first order of business was to find an oncologist. For myself.

    I was terrified.

    I knew that the local Meeting had received a letter from the Meeting in the town I’d lived in before, introducing me. So I found a phone book and I called them. I gave my name. I outlined my situation briefly. I said where I lived.

    An hour later, my doorbell rang. Someone from the Meeting had come by. Her arms were full of groceries and in her pocket was a list of local doctors.

    She drove me to a local bank so I could open an account.

    A month later, it was someone from the Meeting who drove me to the hospital at 4 am so that I could have my surgery. Others kept me company while I was inpatient. Another drove me home after I was discharged. Others brought me food and drove me to the pharmacy and to my various appointments.

    When I had chemo a few months later the same collection of people appeared for me again.

    In that area, if I’d wanted a secular organization to help me with those things? I wouldn’t have been able to find one. They didn’t exist then, they don’t exist now.

    Now, I know what I believe – and it isn’t in any deity. But that community appeared for a stranger. And I really wish that a secular community could do the same.

  147. Doug Hudson says

    Esteleth @160, great example.

    There is a liberal Society of Friends meeting near me, and I’ve been very tempted to go. My politics and philosophies match up very closely with theirs, except for the “atheist” thing.

  148. Esteleth, statistically significant to p ≤ 0.001 says

    FWIW, Doug, I’m not the only atheist who attends that meeting. It’s just that atheist Friends don’t generally describe themselves in-house as “atheist.”

    I think it does bear remembering that religion does serve as a safety net for many people, and that a lot of religious people are such because of that safety net, not because of any real piety.

  149. Rey Fox says

    This has always been a harsh society and its been getting worse in my lifetime.Wether that is good or bad is irrelevant. It’s just the way it is.

    A common sentiment held by those that are not affected by said harshness.

  150. raven says

    Hudson:

    Raven @150,

    So we should throw up our hands and give up?

    No.

    1. We, meaning you, should learn to read first. And stop murdering strawpeople. I didn’t say that.

    2. What I said was, you should work hard and keep your wits about you. This isn’t optional, reality is what it is.

    I suppose if joining a fundie death cult works for you, why not? I couldn’t do that in a million years but whatever, free country.

    The good news is that we all usually get by in the end. It’s not easy but you have to work hard and keep your wits about you. When you or I was born, there was nothing on the birth certificate that said we would have easy lives.

  151. JAL: Snark, Sarcasm & Bitterness says

    164
    raven

    I suppose if joining a fundie death cult works for you, why not? I couldn’t do that in a million years but whatever, free country.

    Talk about murdering a strawperson.

    And the person you were discouraging with your original comment #150 was talking about forming an atheist/secular community group, not joining a “fundie death cult” you fucking asshole. Why don’t you try reading?

  152. raven says

    Rey Fox the troll:

    This has always been a harsh society and its been getting worse in my lifetime.Wether that is good or bad is irrelevant. It’s just the way it is.

    A common sentiment held by those that are not affected by said harshness.

    This is why I don’t spend much time on Pharyngula and don’t take it seriously. It’s just a really stupid comment from a troll.

    You have no idea what my life is/was like. And you are wrong. I’m not going to spend any time though explaining why to a troll. You aren’t worth it.

    This thread has gone on for 164 posts. And has suffered the fate of all Pharyngula threads that go over 100, troll death.

  153. JAL: Snark, Sarcasm & Bitterness says

    166
    raven

    Rey Fox the troll:

    A common sentiment held by those that are not affected by said harshness.

    This is why I don’t spend much time on Pharyngula and don’t take it seriously. It’s just a really stupid comment from a troll.

    You have no idea what my life is/was like. And you are wrong. I’m not going to spend any time though explaining why to a troll. You aren’t worth it.

    This thread has gone on for 164 posts. And has suffered the fate of all Pharyngula threads that go over 100, troll death.

    Look! Up in the sky! Is that a bird? A plane? No! It’s the point sailing over raven’s head!

  154. says

    Ichthyic #140

    When my dad was young, he talked about neighborhood block parties that happened quite frequently and helped to bond friends and neighbors together.

    this appears to be a function missing in my generation.

    They do still happen in some places (I see them occasionally on my way to someplace, but never on a block I live on). Part of the reason why they’ve faded is the spreading exurbs across America; the ‘block’ is longer now for many people, has fewer pedestrian amenites, and is often part of a significant automotive throughway which can’t readily be blocked off for such purposes, because the auto has priority. Aggravating this, suburban zoning laws tend to force all sorts of businesses far from residential zones, leading to ever-longer commutes and ever less time and energy for socializing with the neighbors. Another factor is the change in employment patterns; fewer and fewer jobs are for the long term, which leaves more and more people moving to follow the job, and not staying in one place long enough to build strong bonds.

    Carlie
    # 147

    Communities are what we do. One big way to keep a community coherent is to make a “price” for membership to prove one is willing to commit, and make the price high if one leaves.

    And, indeed, all of the secular community groups I mentioned require that you be a member of the right ethnic group, or trade, or in the case of fraternal groups that you go through some quite elaborate buy-in rituals, and can expect to be treated very badly by other members should you ever leave.

    SallyStrange #158

    In the case of a skill share or a skill bank, the alternative currency is simple people’s skills and time. I do think this is a great way to build community – thanks for reminding me of it.

    Do be careful about trying to cover too large a geographical area with those. That’s what killed the one I used to run.

  155. says

    Raven @ 164:

    I suppose if joining a fundie death cult works for you, why not?

    That’s enough. You parrot the same shit, over an over, demonstrating a complete lack of comprehension and an inability to take part in a constructive discussion. On top of that, you’re choosing to jump all over people who are writing about their particular vulnerabilities right now. That doesn’t speak well of you at all.

    As you are unable to contribute to this discussion, I suggest you find a different thread to inhabit for now.

  156. says

    This thread has gone on for 164 posts. And has suffered the fate of all Pharyngula threads that go over 100, troll death.

    Troll – n: Person who disagrees with me insultingly.

    Fucking irony. You can dish out the dozens, complete with “Fundie xian death cultists”, but you can’t take them? On such a level that “You had an easy life” makes you pick up your ball and go home? Christ, I knew you were awful.

    It’s that way for most people here, most of the time. It’s been that way for me since I was 16. And I get along OK with my family, nuclear and extended. This is just part of US culture for most of us. My family is/was spread out all over the USA from the east coast to the west coast. And I can’t even talk to some of them because they speak nonEnglish languages without too much English and I don’t speak theirs very well.

    You know, I’m an anomaly for a meriken: Not only do I know my immediate extended (biological) family by name, and have most of their phone numbers, but I can reasonably easily get in touch with second cousins, great aunts and the like. And I wouldn’t trust any of them with any of the shit important to me, so I can’t exactly ask them for help if I need it. There is less than nothing wrong with wanting to make a secular community that can behave more like \family’*.

    *In my book, you *do* choose your family, with the exception of your biological children. Biological family may, or may not, be selected for inclusion in general.

  157. Esteleth, statistically significant to p ≤ 0.001 says

    Fine. Here’s another anecdote, that does feature a “fundie death cult.”

    My meatspace name is one that when people meet me for the first time, leads them to ask, “Hippies or fundies?” Referring to my parents, that is. My name is virtually unheard of outside of those circles.

    As it happens, the latter was true at the time (they’ve gotten better).

    In the mid-1970s, they were a young couple starting out. They were far from home, they had effectively nothing but each other, and both were struggling to deal with traumatic (in different ways) childhoods. If there was anything they agreed upon firmly, it was this: their children would have a safe, happy childhood. One that didn’t look like what their parents’ had. There’d be no creepy relatives lurking around. There’d be no mad dashes in the middle of the night, dodging bombshells, turning the child’s head so that they didn’t see what lay over there (knowing that the child knew anyway). There’d be no screaming, no tears, no children growing to adults needing therapy.

    Fundamentalist Christians found them. Told them that if they followed some simple rules, they’d be helped to buy things for the children, someone would co-sign on the mortgage and car loan, they’d be introduced to the boss of the company that had openings in good jobs with room for advancement, when the paycheck was late they’d be loaned enough to cover the bills, their children would be safe and happy have playmates who were good kids. They would, in a phrase, be taken care of. They’d belong.

    They said, “Where do I sign?”

    My parents are not stupid now, and they weren’t then. But they were offered something deeply intoxicating, and the price they were asked to pay looked reasonable. It took years before they realized that the price wasn’t reasonable. And then, they had to struggle with wondering if it had been worth it, with the sunk-cost fallacy, with being shunned by their entire social circle, with losing almost everything.

    They weren’t unique then, and they aren’t unique now.


    I read a lot of ex-fundie blogs, and when people tell the story of how it was they fell into fundamentalism (not just Christian), I notice a lot of “I was needy and they helped.” In fact, it seems to be the dominant theme.

  158. Ichthyic says

    They do still happen in some places (I see them occasionally on my way to someplace, but never on a block I live on). Part of the reason why they’ve faded is the spreading exurbs across America; the ‘block’ is longer now for many people, has fewer pedestrian amenites, and is often part of a significant automotive throughway which can’t readily be blocked off for such purposes, because the auto has priority. Aggravating this, suburban zoning laws tend to force all sorts of businesses far from residential zones, leading to ever-longer commutes and ever less time and energy for socializing with the neighbors. Another factor is the change in employment patterns; fewer and fewer jobs are for the long term, which leaves more and more people moving to follow the job, and not staying in one place long enough to build strong bonds.

    good summary. a bit depressing, but makes sense to me.

  159. allegro says

    There is actually an organization that could provide a template for an international atheist community to meet many of the needs being described here and that is Mensa. I joined in 1981 as a 20-something single woman in a city in which I didn’t grow up and didn’t have any base of community. I wanted a social life, friends, people to do stuff with. I was also an atheist so churches were right out as a source of that community. The local Mensa group at the time was very active and I quickly found the “home” I wanted and needed. A number of the first friends I made there are still my “family” today more than 30 years later.

    I’m not making a sales pitch for Mensa – I’m suggesting that the way the organization is structured is a great template for an atheist community. It is volunteer-driven with interest groups and chapters in most US cities and many others throughout the world. A member can be as active and social as desired, or not. It is inclusive (the IQ thing being the only qualifier just like atheist being the only qualifier for these purposes) of all ages, ethnicities, LGBT, etc.

    Just a thought.

  160. David Wilford says

    Community is where you find it, and if some want to find it in some sort of organized atheism that’s fine. Some may not and that fine too. Personally, I found some of the things I wanted in a community in science fiction fandom, which is a nationwide one that’s been around for four generations and by now has come by the acronym AKICIF (all knowledge is contained in fandom) honestly. It’s not always a happy family but mostly, fans do get along despite the occasional feuds and all fandom being plunged into war… =:^O

  161. Doug Hudson says

    Esteleth, statistically significant to p ≤ 0.001 @ 162,

    Thank you, that’s very interesting. I may have to figure out a way to get over the local Friends meeting.

    David Wilford @178, that’s a good point. There are existing communities that may have significant overlap with the atheists, especially SF. Perhaps an “atheist community” might exist within the interstices of other communities, providing a convenient way for atheists to find other atheists with common interests beyond atheism.

  162. Doug Hudson says

    To expand on my thought in 179, this “atheist community” would be very loose knit (pretty much a requirement). It would engage in efforts to promote and defend atheism, but otherwise it wouldn’t provide much social interaction–instead, it would serve as a sort of meet-up service, where atheists could “meet” (online or IRL) with other atheists with similar interests. SF atheists, humanist atheists, basketweaving atheists–whatever.

  163. consciousness razor says

    Doug Hudson, #180:

    To expand on my thought in 179, this “atheist community” would be very loose knit (pretty much a requirement). It would engage in efforts to promote and defend atheism, but otherwise it wouldn’t provide much social interaction–instead, it would serve as a sort of meet-up service, where atheists could “meet” (online or IRL) with other atheists with similar interests. SF atheists, humanist atheists, basketweaving atheists–whatever.

    There’s no need to be so … subjunctive. There are quite a few atheist groups around already. Some are fairly small, while some have a thousand or so members,* and I honestly couldn’t say what sorts of things they do or how the groups are run or anything like that, of course. Some are very well-established and have been around for years (Atheist Community of Austin is an obvious example), while I’m sure others are basically just getting started and may not be up to the task of doing some of the things people here are saying they want.

    Anyway, try searching for “atheist,” “humanist,” “freethinker,” etc., at the aptly-named meetup.com. You can specify a location, but when I search for ones that are any distance away, I come up with a lot of hits. (Unfortuanately, I’m not seeing anything showing the exact number of results.) Google would probably find many other groups. And perhaps the Atheist Luddites of Backwater, USA, don’t have a presence on the web (yet).

    *Houston Atheists looks like the biggest on that site with 2,354. Meanwhile, you could find dozens of larger churches or other religious groups in practically any small town in the US.

    Rutee Katreya, #181:

    Question: We wouldn’t seriously turn someone away for not being atheist, would we?

    Who’s “we”? I think some atheists would be less-than-welcoming to believers joining an atheist group. There are also “atheist believers,” in a sense: they don’t believe in gods but do believe in other kinds of supernatural garbage.

  164. says

    Rutee:

    Question: We wouldn’t seriously turn someone away for not being atheist, would we?

    Do you mean here at Pharyngula, or a social safety net type group?

    Here at Pharyngula, there are, and have been a healthy number of non-atheist peoples. It’s never been an issue to my knowledge. A couple of xians were OMs.

    As for a social safety net type group, no, I wouldn’t turn someone away for not being an atheist.

  165. says

    This is why I don’t spend much time on Pharyngula and don’t take it seriously.

    How about spending even less time on Pharyngula? Sounds like it would be better for you AND everyone here.

  166. says

    *In my book, you *do* choose your family, with the exception of your biological children. Biological family may, or may not, be selected for inclusion in general.

    Absolutely agreed. I happen to be related to people who are quite nice, supportive, and nonjudgmental. Unfortunately, my experience appears to be the exception rather than the rule. I have many people I count as “family” to whom I’m not related–and to them, I am part of their family circle that often includes zero blood relatives.

  167. carlie says

    <blockquote/I remember vividly when the preacher told me that I had to choose to be less introverted because otherwise I was failing God. Howard 151

    I’m so sorry, Howard. I had to go on “visitation” on Saturday morning, going to the houses of members who hadn’t been in awhile to let them know we still cared and wanted to see them back and were checking up on them. SATURDAY MORNINGS. I hated it with everything I had, and did it only when I was hounded so much I’d do it once or twice just to get it over with for awhile.

  168. Doug Hudson says

    consciousness razor@182, Sorry, I was just engaging in something of a thought experiment, envisioning the “platonic ideal” of an atheist group if you will. I didn’t mean to minimize or erase the existence of groups such as those you mention.

    Regarding “turning away non-atheists”, I don’t think it would be a deliberate policy, but these are intended to be atheist safe spaces, where atheists are free to discuss and frequently vent about religion. Non-atheists could participate with the understanding that they don’t get to complain if someone tears into the religion they happen to believe in.

    For example, compare Pharyngula to, say, Making Light, which is friendly to atheists and believers alike, and where attacks upon religion (or atheism) are strongly frowned upon.

  169. consciousness razor says

    Sorry, I was just engaging in something of a thought experiment, envisioning the “platonic ideal” of an atheist group if you will. I didn’t mean to minimize or erase the existence of groups such as those you mention.

    No need to apologize. I figured it’s useful to have some awareness of actual groups out there: what they do, and what we atheists have to work with at the moment (not very much).

    Well, you should probably apologize for platonism, but I will let it go just this once.

    Regarding “turning away non-atheists”, I don’t think it would be a deliberate policy, but these are intended to be atheist safe spaces, where atheists are free to discuss and frequently vent about religion. Non-atheists could participate with the understanding that they don’t get to complain if someone tears into the religion they happen to believe in.

    Yeah. I meet some atheists now and then (it’s a very casual social group, not anything structured, which probably makes a big difference), and the people making up the core of the group occasionally bring their spouses, friends, kids, etc., some of whom are theists. I’d say it works fine, but of course I’m not the one you should ask. They basically know what they’re getting into; it’s not like it comes as a surprise to them that they’re going to be around a bunch of atheists saying atheistic things. They wouldn’t need to be invited, but they’re definitely self-selected by joining the party: these aren’t the sorts of believers who’ll fall to the fainting-couch by some foul language or harsh criticism or whatever. So the conversations don’t really need to change, except to include them as part of it of course. (A lot of the times we’re not talking about religion anyway, since there’s … well … everything else to talk about.) But if someone came just to proselytize or condemn us to hell or something, that would be another story. They probably wouldn’t stick around very long.

    Really, just because of sheer numbers, I’m sure the vast majority of the arguments are between atheists (like pharyngula, I guess), so we’re pretty used to being on the defensive ourselves. As incredible as it sounds, it’s sometimes possible to have “friendly” arguments, even when there’s heated disagreement about very important issues, because we’re (mostly) grown-ups who are mostly-capable of making and taking constructive criticism. I guess somehow that works its way into how we carry on with others, even when we’re not as familiar with them. With the believers, the arguments are usually about some arcane scientific or philosophical point (morally they’ve mostly been on the same page), whereas I know it’s been much tougher to temper my anger with some libertarian/conservative atheists because that shit hits a lot closer to home. Some more New-Agey/wooish atheists are also frustrating, just because of how obviously inconsistent they’re being, but most of their bullshit isn’t nearly as harmful.

  170. hiddenheart says

    Allegro: I’m happy (truly!) to hear that Mensa’s worked well for you. I’ve been to Mensa gatherings in three different states, and had the same kind of experience each time. I found groups completely dominated by misogynistic, racist, homophobic, transphobic libertarians, every group with a vocal contingent of sovereign-citizen types who were never ridiculed or told to save the nonsense or later, and always someone to quote Rand on the virtues of smoking to explain why severe asthmatics like me should shut up and take it, and all but one groups with very vocally child-hating types of child-free adults. (There are lots of families with no kids who are decent and reasonable. There’s also a noisy fringe with the sort of hate a couple people have posted in this thread. That’s the sort I’m talking about here.)

    After experiencing half a dozen separate groups over the course of a decade, I kind of gave up on it. Maybe if Mensa ever commits to a policy of discouraging hatemongering, bigotry, and con games, I’ll give it another try, or if someone I trust to be alert to it recommends a specific chapter. Not otherwise.

  171. kittehserf says

    Eyes rolling somewhat at raven’s rantings. Late in, but is it too awful to mention that Pharyngula and the internets in general =/= the USA, and the USA =/= the world?

    That whole rant came across as “We’re so tough and if you can’t handle it, stiff shit, oh and there isn’t anywhere else in the world where distance and isolation happen!”

    Fuck all that.

  172. opposablethumbs says

    The correlation between religiosity and the lack of a decent social safety net is so strong (e.g. comparing the USA to most of Europe, and comparing most of Europe to the Nordic countries with possibly the best social security in the world (I’m a Brit; that’s my impression, not my carefully substantiated knowledge)) it seems like the fight over breaking or maintaining the stranglehold of the multiple churches is almost more political than belief-based. Religion and the right-wing; a toxic marriage made in RWA heaven, subverting and envenoming the normal social-animal desire to help and be helped by our community since … well, since a long time ago I guess.

    Not that we have anything to be very complacent about in Europe, of course …

  173. Doug Hudson says

    consciousness razor@188–Heh, the platonism comment was tongue-in-cheek, I’m an Epicurean–no love for Plato here!

    Regarding conversations with believers, I completely agree, I’ve had fascinating conversations about morality and ethics (and sorts of things, of course) with theists. As long as neither side is trying to convert the other (and atheists trying to convert believers can be just as annoying as the reverse–been there, done that), there is nothing preventing a good exchange of ideas.

  174. says

    @25 – It’s not that hard to find all sorts of communities once you look for them. Whether or not you’re into what they do, be it bird watching or trainspotting, is another matter. FWIW, I hail from Wisconsin and for every church in every town there’s a bar across the street from it. Go figure.

    well this is just nonsense. bars, bird-watching clubs, etc. are not places where you’ll find a ready-made community of people who’ll bring you food when everyone in your family has the flu, a ready-made source of babysitters, a variety of sources of emotional, financial, and practical support, etc. Hobby groups are not communities. I can’t ask my drinking buddy to come over and do my housework for me because I broke a leg and can’t do it. I can’t ask the bird-watching club to pay for the cost of that broken leg, either.

    Meaning in life can be found in many places, not just those spaces with kids.

    except that it isn’t about “meaning in life”; it’s about community; about mutual support.

    I am really surprised people have a hard time understanding the concept. It can’t be just the introversion; I’m very introverted, to the point of lonerism, and I understand the need for community just fine. Maybe it really is predominantly a privilege-based lack of understanding: I’ve had need for community many times: I needed it to house me, feed me, help me in a new city, provide mental and emotional support, etc. so I know how much harder life is without it even if the scenario in the OP just sounds headache-inducing and exhausting.

  175. smhll says

    re: meaning of life can be found in many places, not just those spaces with kids

    I think this discussion started off with the kid angle because atheism seems to gain adherents very successfully during teen and college years, but lose many families to religion once they have young kids. An interest group that offers events only for adults presents a barrier to entry to parents with smaller kids. (I have one offspring who is not college-age, so this is not my situation now, but I have been through it.)

  176. David Wilford says

    @ 193 – When my wife twenty years ago had just finished packing out of the art show at that year’s Worldcon, she had over a thousand dollars stolen from her car in a smash and grab half a block from the hotel. Some months later a benefit put on by SF fans was held in Dreamhaven Books in Dinkytown that helped raise over $500 to help her deal with the loss. (A friends guitar had also been stolen from my wife’s car and they also raised $500 for him to get a new one.) Five years ago another friend in our SF group was about ready to lose his house to foreclosure that he’d spend years fixing up for his handicapped partner, and the club got together and raised several thousand dollars to give him so he could keep the house. I could also list the things we’ve done for each other to dog-sitting and helping friends move and even taking care of children when marriages broke up. So no, it’s not just nonsense.

  177. says

    hiddenheart:

    (There are lots of families with no kids who are decent and reasonable. There’s also a noisy fringe with the sort of hate a couple people have posted in this thread. That’s the sort I’m talking about here.)

    Please don’t do this. I’m childfree and I do not like sprogs. That does not make me evil, unreasonable, or indecent. A person does not have to love the children to be decent. Painting me and others as people who *hate* is not exactly a decent thing to do.