How Has the Internet Helped Humanism? August 31, 2010

How Has the Internet Helped Humanism?

A website called Patheos seeks to “engage in the global dialogue about religion and spirituality and to explore and experience the world’s beliefs.” Yesterday, they released their “portal” on Humanism which includes essays from people like Ed Buckner (President of American Atheists), Ron Lindsay (CEO of the Center for Inquiry), David Silverman (National Communications Director of American Atheists), Roy Speckhardt (Executive director of the American Humanist Association), and some studly brown dude.

(No women, though? That’s disappointing.)

My article is on “How the Internet Is Reshaping Humanism“:

I became an atheist at the age of 14. That was back in 1997 — books about atheism were not on bestsellers’ lists and I felt alone in my thinking. I wanted confirmation that I was thinking rationally. I had so many unanswered questions about religion and no one to talk to about my thoughts. I didn’t want my religious family to learn about my new beliefs, and as far as I knew, none of my friends were atheists. My only option, it seemed, was to go online and search for atheist websites. I found only a couple worth visiting but I latched onto them quickly because I had so few resources at my disposal.

Thankfully, students in my position no longer have to resort to a handful of websites — or writers — to learn about life sans religion. The internet has revolutionized how people discover atheism, learn to live life without a god, and spread their non-belief.

The piece focuses on three ways in which the Internet is helping non-religious people:

  • The impact of the “Blogosphere”
  • Increased membership in and donations to atheist organizations
  • Larger and more niche atheist communities

A little backstory on the piece: I wrote it about 14 months ago (though it was just put on the Patheos site yesterday) and hadn’t given it much thought since then. As I was re-reading it last night, I was surprised at how I probably would’ve made the same three points now. (Though I really should have mentioned the relevance of YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook in spreading our message.)

Do you think there are other ways our movement has flourished as a result of the Internet? Obviously, Christians and other religious groups have also benefitted from coming online, but at least they had churches and small groups well before the Internet sprang up.

I think we’re unique in the sense that so many of us first publicly expressed our non-beliefs online instead of in person — moreso (in my experience, anyway) than any religious group.

(via Center For Inquiry)

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Hitch

    Studly, eh?

    Well I think youtube is massive. The amount of educational material there is staggering and growing. People who look for debates on a wide range of topics relating to atheist’s experience and arguments with religious apologists will find so much quality material there it’s really hard to fathom.

    And it’s the whole range, from debates by Hitchens, talks by Dawkins, to some anonymous user having a call-response exchange on some aspect.

    But yes, interconnectivity is a huge thing. In the past there may have been many closeted atheists without any way to reach others. Now online communities allow exchange of participation crossing all sorts of geographic restrictions.

  • Roxane

    Christians have always congregated in churches. We congregate online.

  • Robert

    I think the Internet’s main benefit is allowing atheist materials to be published and read.

    Some publishers might shy away from printing atheist materials because of the “sensitive” and “controversial” content these materials might contain (above descriptions only apply to the religious). The Internet is a free publishing house that allows everyone and anyone to read anything, in contrast, and there is little to no squeamishness on the part of publishers (seeing as they’re often the ones writing the materials themselves).

    Facebook and other social media have also helped to create awareness of atheism. I came to know of this site through my friend liking its Facebook page, and since then have been a regular patron of it. If people from far-flung corners of the world (I’m living in a South-East Asian country) can read the posts of an American atheist through the Internet, this truly demonstrates the extent to which atheism can be promoted globally.

    In summary, the Internet is generally good for atheists worldwide.

  • The anonymity that blogs provide has been a boon to encouraging atheists to write on their experiences and thoughts. I’m only “half-out” with my family, but not quite ready to make my published thoughts known to the world. Blogging under a pseudonym lets me explore ideas in a safe way. That’s been huge in helping me deepen and develop my thoughts.

  • Richard P.

    I became a non believer in the late 80’s. Through a series of events I gave up my belief. I never had any books. I did not know of any other atheists. After a careful inventory of what I had experienced, decided it was all just bullshit.
    Around 2000 I found my first atheist web site. It was great, I remember being very excited. I remember thinking how great it was that others were finally catching up. (well, what do you expect, I had never known any one else that was atheist.)
    It also gave me enough information to become comfortable in my beliefs. It was great to become aware of others and to not feel so alone.

  • littlejohn

    I can’t imagine the current atheism movement even existing without the Internet. It lets us communicate despite being sparsely spread through the population. Most towns don’t have enough uncloseted atheist to fill a small room, much less a church. The Internet brings us all together from all over the world. Hitchens, Dawkins, et al. have done their part, but they couldn’t bring us together.

  • One of the great things about t’Internet is that it enables people of completely different views from all the way across the world to have a conversation about a topic that they are both interested in. I can sit in the south of England and have a chat to someone in Singapore (my first on line chess game was against a schoolboy in Singapore) and to someone in Chicago. We can argue and point out one another’s errors, provide links to news stories, scientific papers, books and other resources that challenge our views.

    I’m really keen on questioning. I want to know if the views that I hold actually match the evidence. If I’m wrong then I want to know it and if I’m not then I want to tell people so they can be educated about where they are going wrong.

    I don’t think that it has helped humanism or atheism per se. It has helped to spread ideas that previously might have been constrained by geography or a lack of confidence. It just happens that humanism and atheism are good ideas and people who find out about them want to know more. I think everything that is going to be said about gods has already been said. The arguments were already out there before electricity was utilised but the responses weren’t so easy to find.

    Now they are.

  • plublesnork


    Blogs, blogs, blogs and blogs. This is what occupies the vast majority of my daily reading time. I read them because it’s actually possible to find articles written by people who actually care about the subject matter and giving detailed analysis, rather than the douchebaggery of soundbytes and sensationalist detail-free mainstream news media.

    Good articulate writing that puts forward a logical, rational perspective, especially when there’s evidence provided to back it up, this is what we can all learn from, and from blogs, I’ve learned a lot and been made to think and reconsider many stances.

    YouTube is also a good resource. Audio visual presentations are a fantastic medium. For me personally, I give a gold star to comedy as an excellent communication device for drawing attention to how ridiculous things are, be it a veteran like the late George Carlin, or a newbie like NonStampCollector.

    I think it may’ve been Thunderf00t who said that the internet is a place where religion comes to die. It’s true. Everyone gets their say, it’s much harder to be silenced by the insecure dipshits, plus the option of anonymity gives you a voice that may otherwise be too scared to speak out offline.

    Slowly but surely, we are seeing people more willing to speak up as the tide shifts. There’s such a long way to go, but we’re continuing to make baby steps, and we’ve made a shitload of them already.

    Humanism can only benefit from a greater acceptance of reality, and that’s what we’re seeing.

  • jose

    Hasn’t really. Nearly all the noise has been made through books and lectures/talks. We online creatures just talk about what’s happening in the offline real world.

    Sure, some internet guys like PZ or Hemant have made it to the grown ups league. That’s how it works: you play online a bit and if you’re good at that, then you write books and give talks, which are the things that have real impact.

  • Danish Atheist

    Jose, I don’t agree. The internet has been very helpful for me to define myself as first a doubter, then an agnostic and finally to the “strong” atheist I am today.

    Reading the words of fellow atheists, about coming out and consequences, has been very useful for me.

    I do know other atheists, but most of them are not very active or debating or even supporting atheist communities that help influence politicians etc.

    And I can only imagine how lonely it may feel to be an american coming out of the God-closet…

  • DemetriusOfPharos

    …and some studly brown dude.

    Neil deGrasse Tyson? 🙂

  • littlejohn

    Please, as my wife likes to point out, Dr. Tyson is properly addressed as “Doctor McDreamy.” Show some respect!

  • I have seen stats that indicate that a large number … Religion Spirituality

  • Josha

    Sometimes I wonder the person I would be without the internet. When I became an atheist I had never met an atheist before in my life (that I knew of). It is because of the stories and arguments that I read online that I realized atheists are moral and normal people, as funny as that sounds. I was encouraged to come out (to some) and when it was in my own interest to hide my beliefs I found an escape online.

  • Hemant, i wish you’d stop making me love you so much. this is only like my favorite topic in the entire blogosphere. no, seriously, i think i should respond in a blog post, i have too much to say on it. gimme a sec.

  • oooh, this is such a metameta thread. how classic!

    i love “the internet is where religion comes to die.” oh, how i love that.

    I don’t think that it has helped humanism or atheism per se. It has helped to spread ideas that previously might have been constrained by geography or a lack of confidence.

    i think you’re contradicting yourself, friend. if it “hasn’t helped,” then it’s not “spreading ideas that previously might have been constrained.” cause if it is doing the latter, then it’s “helping.”

    the internet is the greatest weapon in the war on superstition ever. period. they’ll take it away from us, and soon, because it’s too goddamn (heh) dangerous. but the truth is i’ve watched more atheists come out than gay closet cases, in my +long time years of blogging. we’re the poisoned dagger, here on the tubes. i’m not generally a bad person, but part of me is all Kill Bill v2 about this. slaying metaphysics and ending the reign of idiocy over reason? all good to me. bring it on, canine females.

  • muggle

    Hemant, when I saw studly brown dude, I was suckered into clicking the link because I confess I too thought of Dr. McDreamy. You’re far too young for me. But not for my daughter. 😉

    I pretty much concur though I know I spurn the whole humanism thing as too religious. For Atheism, the benefits are tremendous and I think mostly have been mentioned already.

    Every day citizens are speaking up and finding like minded people. I’ve seen Atheist after Atheist from small towns or other places with high religiousity proclaim in joy at other Atheist voices, I am not alone. And the You Tubes are really spreading the word, especially with humor. I think another thing that makes Dr. McDreamy (shoot me, I like that, cudos to your wife, littlejohn) so sexy is he has brains and a sense of humor that makes him so listenable to (not that it hurts to be easy on the eyes) that even though you realize you’re learning something, it doesn’t put you to sleep. But from him to Betty Bowers and Pastor Deacon Fred, it’s all good. Even us out Atheists don’t get much opportunity off-line to just plain laugh at religion and it’s great to have that on-line.

    Speaking of offline, I’d say books and speeches, etc., are doing so well in part because of the internet’s spreading them. Likewise with organizations like FFRF and American Atheists. I daresay their membership numbers are up due to the internet. You yourself have raised funds for the Secular Student Alliance that you wouldn’t have had opportunity to quite the extent you have offline. Not to mention founding a charity.

    So, yeah, the internet is benefitting freethought big time. Yay!

  • Gah chicago dyke, you’re right. I mean that the Internet has helped the spread of ideas whcih in turn has contributed to the spread of humanism and atheism. Oh, you know what I mean. 😉

  • For me, it was the Internet (specifically alt.atheism) in the late 1980’s. I’m sure that this dates me. Ha ha. I was already a non-believer, but the conversations there helped me realize that I was an atheist. I’m pretty out with my friends and coworkers, but use a pseudoname when referring to my blog. This is mainly because management where I work at is highly Christian (of the Republican variety).

  • Claudia

    …and some studly brown dude.

    Neil deGrasse Tyson? 🙂

    Ooh snap!

    @Jose, I think you’re mistaken about the influence of the internet. I know that at least in my case, though it was a book (God Delusion) that woke me up to the importance of religion (I was an indifferent nonbeliever) it was the internet that kept and keeps that interest alive.

    Besides providing a modicum of community to isolated atheists (though we do have to work on physical communities) atheist websites/videos/podcasts etc. are a tremendous source of educational material for the budding skeptic. Its the atheists that make the colorful evolution videos on youtube. It’s the atheists who take people step by step through debunking junk science or woo. The internet community has taught me to recognize bad arguments and how to counter them.

    Beyond that, where would we be as a community without the internet? I find it hard to believe that without the online community Eugenie Scott (NCSE) would be equally effective. I don’t think the FFRF, let alone the SSA would be as effective without a strong online presence.

  • Dylan

    The melting pot allows for plenty of ideas to be shared… it eventually results in atheism in my opinion.

  • For me, it was the Internet (specifically alt.atheism) in the late 1980?s.

    Me, too! I’m a lifelong atheist, but I only began to explore atheism in depth in the late 90s, and back then it seemed like alt.atheism was the only place around for people to get together and have discussions. How far we’ve come in the past 10 years!

  • Steph

    I’ve been an atheist since I can remember (of course, when you’re 4 years old you don’t know the words… lol). I never told anyone and didn’t know there were that many others. It was pretty lonely for a very long time growing up (I’m 36). (I was also an army brat.)

    I can remember at 7 or 8 years old someone making a comment about Soviets being “Godless Commies”. I sat back and thought, what? There’s a WHOLE country like me?! But I’m not a Commie! LOL

    Kids now can grow up now knowing they aren’t alone. I’m still not surrounded by Atheists, but, I enjoy talking to others and reading their blogs/comments.

    I love the internet.

  • George Finley

    I was thoroughly brainwashed by my relatives before I was school age. My third and fourth grade teachers at Milan and McKenzie, TN assigned bible verses on Monday’s and we had to memorize them and say them back to the class on Fridays. I was baptized before a thousand in the congregation on a morning in March, 1957. I lived in the church till I was more than sixty years old.

    Now I call myself an agnostic because I never believed for a minute that some dude was hung on a tree and bled like a hog only to show up two days later fit as a fiddle.

    I’m 77 years old and I won’t believe that 2000 year old fairy tale written my the Jews who don’t even believe it themselves if I live to 100.

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