HJ Hornbeck succinctly summarizes the catastrophic collapse of the credibility of the Atheist Community of Austin. It’s rather shocking — at this time last year, if you’d asked me, I would have said the ACA was the perfect model of a dynamic, progressive, activist atheism group, largely because of the excellent people they had representing it. Now most of those people are out, a rather nasty subculture has taken over, and their reputation is in shambles. It’s just a shame. Matt Dillahunty worked his butt off helping to build that and become a full-time professional atheist, which I’ve come to conclude is a terrible aspiration for anyone, and now he’s an example of how not to run an organization. I wonder if debating terrible people like Jordan Peterson is going to continue to put food on the table for him — he might want to consider alternative careers.
What’s also sad about it is that overall, any kind of organized skepticism/atheism is on the decline. There are fewer meetings, attendance is down, and part of the reason for that is that any time someone sets themselves up as a Thought Leader, we know they’re going to fall and fall hard. We’re not going to have the equivalent of megachurches because authority must always be challenged, and human individuals are intrinsically imperfect. Humans also tend to overreach and grasp for more authority than they can handle. Organized religion seems to be fine with that, but organized atheism has a tendency to splinter.
It doesn’t have to be that way. I just got back from Skepticon, a skeptic/atheist conference that, rather than focusing on one hero of the movement, always strives for diversity and bringing in new speakers and new ideas, which undermines the trap of the cult of personality. It celebrates a community, as the ACA used to do. There’s no figurehead, there’s a team of hardworking organizers, but they’re not the people the content of the conference revolves around, and that’s good. It’s a separation of powers that keeps the institution strong.
That philosophy that everyone matters and that it’s the attendees that makes the conference means that everyone who goes comes away with the warm fuzzies and a sense of anticipation for next year. Attendance may have its ups and downs, but somehow, they keep pulling it off, and everyone walks away happy (well, except for the horrible people who want to sue it out of existence; there’s always that asshole).
The ACA could have been a similarly joyful organization, but it has ground to a halt now, and is never going to have the sterling reputation it once possessed…and is probably going to accelerate its own destruction.