The “Atheism Movement:” Dead or Alive?

There is still quite a bit of fallout, on Twitter at least, from the Milwaukee Mythicists MythCon this year.  Full disclosure, I was invited to a couple of events to act as the event photographer.  Which was great because I got to see Richard Carrier, Robert Price and Bart Ehrman up close and personal.  I was not invited to this year’s MythCon and probably wouldn’t have noticed were it not for the controversy.

If you are not all up on that, you can check out Seth Andrew’s take on what happened.  There are many others as well.  My own personal opinion is that I was disappointed in the conference, not because of the regressive opinions of some of the speakers, but rather the quality of those speakers.  They went from literal world class religious/Biblical scholars to people who shout ill-formed opinions on YouTube.  The content of their speech did not particularly bother me in and of themselves, but their lack of chops and credentials did.

It seems to me it was a bit like a concert series that featured Dylan and Springsteen one year, turned around and offered Luke Bryan the next.  Politics is not even where you start with bailing on that.

There were many, many others who did take exception to the expected content of the speech and this, apparently, has people lined up on both sides.  Some people, again on many sides, are declaring the death of the “Atheism Movement.”

To be honest, I never saw “atheism” as much of a “movement” as an uneasy coalition, which may, in fact, now be unraveling.

As an example of the “uneasy coalition” part, I can use my Significant Other and I.  She was the youngest child of a large Catholic family and although her parents were devout, perhaps when she came along, they were tired and did not strictly enforce Catholic observances on her.  Religion just did not “take” with her and when she left home, she pretty much never thought about going to church.  Somewhat ironically, she served as treasurer for the cemetery run my her parents parish for many, many years.  When it came to religion, though she was personally completely indifferent.  Never thought about it much.

I was also raised Catholic, went Catholic schools and even a Catholic university.   Though certainly not a scholar, I did my readings and my studies and had a pretty good understanding of what was on offer.  I was quite active in the church into young adulthood, well after college.  Eventually, though the hypocrisy of the church (among other things) started to gnaw at me and I went from dropping out of the church to dropping out of religion to dropping the idea of god over several years (more like a decade, really).  So, for me, evidence and reason had something to do with my decision.

Emotion had something to do with my decision as well, and I remain opposed to the Catholic Church and would love to see it close down.  I would also not mind at all seeing a bunch of other regressive churches that want to tell other people what to do (especially with their tallywhackers) closing down as well.

I started talking and writing about this stuff  mostly to unchurch people. Frankly, if they want to believe in Santa, unicorns and heaven, I don’t care.  As long as stop telling other people what to do.  Secularism is much more important to me than atheism.

It has seemed to me for quite some time that as an organizing banner, “atheism” makes about as much sense as “interested in math.”

“Intrested in math” ranges from people who think they can balance a check book to Kurt Goedel.  I think “atheism” comes out about the same.

Richard Spencer identifies as an atheist.  I find it hard to believe that Donald Trump can conceive of a being greater than himself, but says he he is theist.  Martin Luther King, of course, was totally a theist.  The Clergy Project shows us that many in the pulpit don’t, in fact, believe.  You just can’t tell much about a person from their belief status.

I have always been uncomfortable with the idea that many atheist speakers seem to have that somehow “atheist” equals “great critical thinker.”  They will often express astonishment that someone can be an atheist, but still believe in ghosts.  Or Bigfoot.  That there is no god does not, by definition, rule out everything we now consider supernatural.

Other atheist speakers assume that since many religionists are regressive in their thinking and politics (an already dubious assumption) that atheists must, of course, be the opposite — progressive.  A dubious conclusion.

Atheist, in and of itself is not enough of a “thing” to act as an umbrella for a “movement.”

When we look at the 25% or so of Americans who are “religiously unaffiliated” we find atheists, but also many believers in some kind of supernatural.  Should we be separate from them?  Among theists we find many highly educated capable people who champion progressive causes, women’s rights and secular governance.  Should we be separate from them as well?

It seems to me that as freethinkers our belief or non-belief in god is not relevant, but rather our attitudes towards our fellow travelers and our desire to keep superstitious religion — or government — from dictating what is ultimately right or wrong, but rather to determine these things together.  As human beings.  During our short time on earth.



  1. says

    I think the whole idea of having a “movement” is a mistake. It should be more like a tide coming in, or the sun dawning in the east: an obvious outcome of establishing awareness and understanding. If it’s a popular dawning of awareness, resulting from more and more people adopting a certain viewpoint, there’s no need to have “leaders” or fallible figureheads that shout on youtube. In return for not having leaders, there’s no orthdoxy, either – it’s less efficient but the end result is dialectical and inevitable. It’s going to take time, either way, so I worry about a bit of inefficiency. The jig was up, for religion, when Gutenberg invented printing; it’s been a downward spiral since then, a drop since Darwin, and a death-spiral thanks to the internet.

  2. maxx6 says

    and the Lord said, Ye who does not believe me in shall perish!

    Ya, I don’t know if he said this. After all he’s imaginary

    • JesusSaves says

      I think it’s sad you threw out the baby with the bath water. Somehow corruption in the Catholic Church led you to forsake your lord and savior Jesus Christ. :(!!! Please friend don’t do that to yourself. Be non-denominational if that’s what it takes, but don’t throw away your soul.

      I think it’s funny that Athiests claim to be the rational scientific ones. The science and evidence points to the cross. Go watch for example any of the following movies:

      The Case For Christ
      Genesis Is History
      The Search For The Real Mt Sinai

      Don’t be deceived, God is real. He is 100% real. Atheism is the great deception. You think your being smart throwing away God for evolution, you think your on the side of reason, but you’re not. Jesus loves you, please come back home!

  3. DanDare says

    I find PZ’s ake on this an interesting one. He doesn’t care much for dictionary atheists but exhorts deeper thinking. Once you are atheist and thinking deeply he claims your position must entail a progressive attitude. I have never been quite convinced of this. Even without religion selfish and conservative people are selfish and conservative.

  4. StevoR says

    The “Atheism Movement:” Dead or Alive?

    My answer would be define the terms – what atheists, which movement and how do you even mean “alive” or “dead” exactly here?

    • says

      I will surely be writing about this again, but agreed that definitions are part of the problem. However, I do think that as the world continues to secularize the idea of “atheism” as a thing that defines a coherent group of people is going to continue to fragment. The idea that atheists will get together purely on the principle that they are atheists, I think will begin to fade away.

  5. mugato says

    I think it was a lot more united (in thought at least) before the “culture wars” started, back when religious/republicans would attack games and other media for turning kids/people in general more violent, sexual or whatever, atheists (and the left) fought back against intended censoring and that kind of insinuation….. but now a lot of people from that group are doing the exact thing they were initially fighting against,which caused a big rift especially with more centrist people

Leave a Reply to Aged Reasoner Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *