What Can You Do To Promote Atheism? June 6, 2009

What Can You Do To Promote Atheism?

Crystal Dervetski of the Minnesota Atheists has a terrific writeup of what anyone can do to promote atheism. She goes in depth in her article, but here’s a brief excerpt:

First, be positive! There’s nothing worse than a negative atheist, mostly because that is exactly the atheist stereotype: doom and gloom, mean-spirited, angry with the world. So don’t be!…

Be open-minded and willing. You won’t ever learn new things or meet new people without, at least at times, just going for it…

And what if you want to go further than that? Some people want to organize atheists locally — starting a Meetup group, for example.

Crystal has tips for you, too, based on her own experiences:

When Vic and I organized our first “Pub Night: Think and Drink” for Southern Minnesota Atheists, I think we both had rocks in our stomach. What if no one shows up? What if people didn’t like it? What if people didn’t like us? What if they didn’t like each other? The list of worries went on and on.

I’ll add a few suggestions to her list:

Don’t be creepy.

Don’t hit on the lone female who shows up.

Don’t make it about religion-bashing only — that gets old real fast.

(Thanks to Bjorn for the link!)


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  • Nick O.

    I find this sort of thing interesting, and I view it with a kind of detached amusement. I’m an atheist, sure. Have been for quite some time. But, promote atheism? Someone explain to me why I should promote atheism. I’m not even sure how that’s supposed to work or if I should even be included.

    I guess, in a broad sense, the question is should we advance atheism? Advance the non-belief in a diety? Why not advance the non-belief in leprechauns? Or pink unicorns?

    I must assume I just don’t get it, and don’t even have a clear concept of what it is.

  • littlejohn

    Well, for starters, we could decline to kill doctors who refuse to perform abortions. Sorry, I’m still bitter about the religious violence we’ve seen so recently. Next time I’ll be funny. I promise.

  • SarahH

    Good tips. *Especially* about religion-bashing. It might help the anti-theists in the group to bond, but it has the horrible effect of alienating anyone in the group who doesn’t feel the same way.

    The Secular Humanist Group I was part of in college had a core group of snarky members who loved to derail any kind of discussion and turn it into a religion-bashing party. It’s very hard to stop and turn the conversation elsewhere once people get going, and it doesn’t lead anywhere productive.

  • Not trying to be the snarky negative guy… but isn’t this along the lines of promoting non-stamp collecting? Or non-cat ownership?

    Since atheism is really not a thing… but lack of a thing, the only bit atheists for sure have in common is a negative. That’s why discussions tend to fall into religion bashing… it is the one thing we have in common by definition.

    Yes, there are positive philosophies that reject mystical metaphysics… and it is those ideas that need promotion. But atheism in and of itself is not really a thing to be promoted. Or to put it another way, the only way TO promote atheism alone is to demote theism.

    I’ve also met my share of atheists that, while rejecting God or Christianity, embrace equally irrational ideas — crystals, paranormal, paganism, conspiracy theory, etc. Again: atheism, in and of itself, isn’t the goal.

  • Aj

    Bashing is a harsh, gratuitous, predjudicial attack. I’m surprised Hemant would support any bashing. I don’t think the people criticizing religion in these groups would consider themselves bashing anything. If people don’t feel the same way then they should learn to deal with the existance of different opinions and perhaps offer some counter-arguments, if they can pluck their heads out long enough to actually do something productive and positive.

    Some more suggestions:

    No whining, no censorship.

  • ZombieGirl

    Yes but obviously the concept of religion and God means more to the world than stamp collecting. Believing in God is not just a hobby, but an entire mindset. These people who believe in God think that there is no other decent way to live. When we “promote atheism” we’re not necessarily trying to convert people, we’re just trying to disprove stereotypes about us non-stamp collectors….I mean..atheists. 😛

  • i think it’s a great idea to promote atheism. i have just become an atheist recently, and i haven’t felt this free since the people’s revolution in my country in 1986. there are many people out there who are willing to find out more about atheism ( although a lot are scared of the idea) but i used to be one of those people.

  • Rather than promote non-belief in a non-existent g0d wouldn’t it be better to promote rational thinking, scepticism and science. These are actually positive things to promote. People can be religious all they want, there isn’t a damn thing I can do about it. I will point out inconsistencies, irrationality, gullibility and anti-science thinking in their actions. Not because I’m a snarky atheist but because such actions are dangerous and stupid.

  • weaves

    There’s a couple of atheism and skeptic clubs around here and I’ve attended every one of them at least a couple of times.

    I no longer attend them because it is ALWAYS about religion. They never break for anything different/relaxing/fun and while I don’t mind the odd documentary/debate/lecture/presentation/conference attendance, it’s dreadfully boring when you’re looking for a community to belong to.

  • To those questioning why atheism should be promoted, I suggest the following reframe: think of it as promoting atheist rights (i.e., civil rights). Maybe that will make more sense.

  • Hey Hemant, thanks for linking to my article.

    I am glad to see the comments from atheists that are against organizing around atheism. This is exactly the kind of attitude that we’re working against. I know that some people live in places that are tolerant and they can just be themselves (please tell me where that is, btw) but some of us don’t get many chances to spend time with fellow freethinkers unless we go to an atheist meet up.

    Obviously not everyone needs to be an activist, but sitting on your butt and talking to yourelf isn’t going to help people in the real world come to the realization that we are just people, and that we’re not going to eat or molest their babies. 🙂

  • Atheists that stand on there morals and say “forcing one’s opinions is wrong”, take some responsibility for the eight years of the Bush administration and all its immorality from the “Christian Crusade”, AKA the War in Iraq, to the Katrina debacle, to the greed induced worst economy in living history. Oh, I almost forgot, America , “the Shining Light of Freedom”, tortures people.

    We’ve just recently dodged an apocalyptic bullet. If Obama had had an affair, and if McCain died of a heart attack, two very likely possibilities, we’d now have legitimate Israeli legislation governing “The End Times” under President Sarah Palin.

    There’s no doubt that religious doctrine brings incredible harm to humanity. In the past, (the Crusades, The Inquisition, the Conquistadores, Salem witch trials), today, (persecution of homosexuals, abstinence only education, condemning the use of condoms – even in AIDS riddled Africa, Catholic Priest child molestation, the stem cell research funding ban, the abortion controversy), and always, (the inhibition of scientific progress from Galileo to the teaching of creationism, and the immoral carrot and stick of heaven and hell).

    Saying “everyone’s entitled to their opinion” is a cop out of responsibility. If someone were to mention that they were a pedophile and then went into disgusting detail about what they want to do to little boys and girls, even though they hadn’t committed any crime and they’re just exercising their “freedom of speech”, YOU’D be responsible, at least in part, if you did nothing. (Keep close tabs on that person, inform other people of their beliefs, persuade the person to see the situation from the child’s point of view, seek counseling from friends, etc.)

    So if you’re “uncomfortable” with ‘atheistic evangelism’, look in the mirror if a loved one’s Parkinson’s disease is untreatable, next time there an incident of gay bashing, an unwanted pregnancy, or a kid dying of aids in Africa.

  • Nick O: “Why not advance the non-belief in leprechauns?”

    Probably because no one has ever been killed for their non-belief in leprechauns. People do not blow themselves up or fly planes into buildings over leprechauns. People do not get persecuted, burned at the stake, or denied rights over their non belief in leprechauns. People do not form factions and kill each other over disagreements about exactly how much gold is inside a leprechaun’s pot. And no one is trying to teach the leprechaun creation story as science in public schools.

    That’s why it’s important.

  • FreeThoughtCrime: “…Probably because no one has ever been killed for their non-belief in leprechauns…[other theist atrocities deleted for space]…”

    First off, I totally get what you are saying… but let me play devil’s advocate for a second (which is a funny term if you don’t believe in the devil).

    You could say these atrocities were committed due to theism… or you could say they were the products of collectivism… or irrationalism… or came from an ethical system based on self sacrifice.

    And you could say the atrocities of Soviet Russia were based on atheism…. or that they were products of collectivism… or irrationalism… or came from an ethical system based on self sacrifice.

    My point is that while atheism may be part of a rational belief system, it isn’t necessarily part of a rational belief system. If one were to promote something, one should promote a rational belief system that includes atheism NOT atheism alone.

  • Nick O.

    Promoting rationality is fine, and if atheism naturally follows rationalism, so much the better. But promoting atheism is nonsensical.

    On a different note, I often wonder about many of the people who comment on this website and others. I see lots of different “horror” stories concerning Christians and other believers and, honestly, I find it difficult to relate. I’m not forthcoming about my atheism, not because I feel a need to hide it, but because it just never comes up in conversation. On those rare occasions where my non-belief comes into conversation, the vast majority of people just kinda look at me and go “Huh,” and then the conversation continues. There’s not really a moment of awkwardness and there’s certainly no screaming and gnashing of teeth from the other folks.

    I live in northwest Arkansas, by the way. Not exactly a bastion of rationality. And yet I never feel persecuted for being an atheist; again, it just never comes up and I rarely get a dose of Christianity since I’m not in a position from them to proselytize.

  • If there is no god (and we have every reason to believe there isn’t) then promoting atheism is most definitely not nonsensical. It is merely teaching people to accept the knowledge that we do have about the universe and reject superstition. This viewpoint is very beneficial to society. It does not need to be done angrily (and it shouldn’t) but it should be done firmly and proudly.

  • Atheist Trapped in Utah

    Let’s talk parallels, here.

    I have a friend who is a homosexual male. However, he dislikes the gay rights movement, as he claims that the gay rights movement portrays homosexuals as troublemakers and freaks.

    He’s just a male homosexual, and while he doesn’t get in people’s faces about it, he lives his life as if to demonstrate that not all homosexuals are “gay rights freaks” (his terminology).

    Promote atheism?

    I don’t push the issue, I got over being an in-your-face-atheist around 1992. If the subject of religion comes up, I point out that I am an atheist. I live my life as a decent human being, because this life is all that I have, and I don’t have the fallback of an afterlife.

    Some people are surprised that I am an atheist, as I do live by a set of personal rules and standards of morality and ethics that many people have mistaken for being religion-based rather than chosen of my own volition.

    I would guess that I already promote atheism by being open about my atheism, and by not being a schmuck about it.

    But that’s just me….

  • Atheism should be promoted and talked about. Not every atheist needs to do it but I think someone should. Americans United, Freedom from religion foundation and other groups all promote atheism and fight for the seperation of church and state. The seperation of church and state is very important and these groups need to positivly promote atheism so people can understand our views. I donate and am a member of these groups and that is my way of promoting it. You don’t have to promote it if you don’t want but I am glad to hear when people do.

  • Matthew

    Gee I believe in heaven, angels and all that – but as for god, on the throne, there is a space that is exactly the same shape as god but he or she is not there. The space is empty.

    This sort of atheism could be promoted and there could even be a schism between those who think the space has always been empty and those who think it has been empty for 6000 years.