Atheists Have to Address the Social and Emotional Needs of People (or the Church Wins) August 18, 2012

Atheists Have to Address the Social and Emotional Needs of People (or the Church Wins)

Yesterday, I met up with Chris Johnson, whose Kickstarter campaign to create a book featuring atheists talking about what gives them joy and meaning in life reached its fundraising goals. Based on the stories I heard from him and the kinds of topics we talked about, I’m really excited about this book.

In addition to the pictures he’s taking, he’s also interviewing his subjects (partly to write text for the book, partly for bonus material). He posted an excerpt from our interview online, so have at it. It’s about the need for atheists to address more than just the “God” question:

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  • fett101

    Atheism is only about the god question. Hate that the same thought has to be used to death, but this is like saying that non-stamp collectors have to address the social and emotional needs of other people. If there weren’t people trying to push religion into government or shove it down my face I wouldn’t give my atheism a second thought. 

    There are plenty of non-religious organizations, charities, clubs, whatever dedicated to a myriad of subjects for like-minded people to socialize and volunteer. 

  • Guest

    A wonderful point.  I’m seeing a rise in atheists finally realizing that there is life outside the science lab, and atheism had best address it.  But it’s not just the physical help of such support.  Ultimately, there will never be enough resources to address every problem, and so it will go beyond the physical help to the mental and emotional help, the hope, the comfort.  As I’ve said before, atheism needs to find out what hope it can give to a woman dying in Ethiopia, holding a starving child who has never tasted food, or else it will always be the domain of a very temporary gains system for converts. 

    Are atheists growing in numbers today?  Sure.  They were 60 years ago as well.  Then those numbers dropped.  I have a Sociology book from college, republished in the 1980s, that was first published in the 1950s.  It has an entire chapter explaining why the theories about the end of religion that were so confident in the 50s (many thought that religion would be all but finished by the end of the 20th century) turned out to fizzle.  One reason?  Atheism was, in the end, the great not.  Promoting the idea that atheism was not a belief, it ended up being nothing at all.  And oddly enough, when it comes to the pains and sufferings of life, people strangely will not tend to reach out to a nothing. 

    So lesson learned?  We’ll see.  Find what to tell that Ethiopian mother (without vain promises of ‘if only everyone was atheists, there would be no sickness, hunger, or disease’), see if the great nothing can be shown to be something, and don’t get cocky because recent numbers suggest anything.  They suggested something more than a half century ago, but ended up being nothing by the end of it. 

  • Guest

    I admit to not really getting it.  I agree social and emotional needs of people need to be met.  I just don’t see what atheism, in particular, has to do with that.  I can support both of those things separately.  I guess I don’t see the need for specifically atheist groups to perform the functions that church often does.  I admit I could be just not getting it because I never attended church regularly (went a few times with grandparents or friends).  I’m fairly certain I never saw either of my parents attend church except for weddings and funerals.  

  • “Find what to tell that Ethiopian mother”

    Well, for starters I’d point out that the US, a country of 300+ million people, mostly deeply religious, gave Ethiopia $182 million in aid in 2011 (USAID stats), whereas the UK, a country of about 60+ million mostly secular/atheistic/apatheistic people gave Ethiopia ~$412 million in 2010 (most recent DFID stats readily available).

    Then I’d ask which world view seems to be working out better for her.

  • Stev84

    I just don’t think that one’s social life should be tied in any way to one’s religion or lack thereof. There are plenty of clubs covering just about all interests people have.

    What needs to change in America is that people have to stop bringing up religion in every second sentence when meeting people. Social activities need to stop turning into ersatz church functions. And churches need to stop monopolizing a town’s social life. Then existing social outlets can be secular and serve everyone while the churches have a narrower focus on spirituality.

  • I really don’t understand why this idea is so attractive. If you look at the examples of predominantly secular European countries, we’ve got to that position over the last half century or so by people just gradually falling away from religion and getting on with their lives, not by replacing it with church equivalent atheist structures.

    Yes, people have social and emotional needs, but they get them from their friends, their families, at sports clubs or other clubs. Not from anything built around atheism.

    If you want to advance the idea that atheism needs to do this, then it might be helpful to find an example of it being done and working to set against the legion of cases where this wasn’t done, and things still worked out fine.

  • Atheism has no responsibility to address anything. Atheism can’t, because it isn’t a thing at all. Nor do atheists have any such responsibility. We need to quit pushing this idea of atheism as a belief, or of it as any thing at all. Atheists are as diverse as any other group… maybe more so.

    I’ve been an atheist all my life and never found a need for some dedicated organization like a church to fill my “social and emotional needs”. And I’ve had religious friends all my life, and I’d say only a small percentage of them got most of their social needs fulfilled by their church. Certainly there are exceptions- Mormons use cult techniques, and my Mormon friends have always been very close to that community. I know that in the Bible Belt, church can be important. But what these examples demonstrated is not that people turn to religion to meet their social needs, but that some churches deliberately get people hooked, so they don’t know where else to turn.

    What is the fix? We don’t need one! We need to recognize where the rising “nones” are coming from, and I think that’s mainly two places: closet atheists who feel free speaking out, and youth- in or recently out of college. Neither of these groups is likely to be dependent on a church for their social life, so there’s no habit to break. Dedicated church goers, people with social lives deeply embedded in their church community, are not becoming atheists, or even “nones”. Realistically, they aren’t going to. Those of us with an interest in seeing a continued growth of atheism (and I don’t call those people atheists!) should continue to focus on youth, and should continue to fight for societal acceptance. But I don’t think we need to invest a lot of effort in coming up with social replacements for churches.

  • Guest

    Yes, nothing brings comfort to a distressed mother in the anguish of comforting a dying child than telling her whose fault it really is and asking her where other dumb beliefs have gotten her.  Thank you Ewan for demonstrating my point better than I could have with a hypothetical example of deplorable outreach.  A major drawback for atheism has just been shown: does it stand for nothing but pointing fingers at how wrong everything else is? 

    Oh, and appealing to the British DFID to prove something that doesn’t hold up to other findings does little other than to suggest stats are easily twisted.  Take, for instance, the World Giving Index, published on the Huffington Post last December (where I found it), naming the U.S. as the most charitable nation on earth by far.  But that doesn’t really mean anything,  does it?  That’s something modern atheism is so fixed upon (and religious people are as well): prove the other people are baddies, and that means something about their truth claims. I don’t care if religious people are more or less giving than atheists.  It doesn’t prove their truth claim one way or another. 

    But the most important thing, and the point you missed by a mile, is that when it comes to reaching out to people in their deepest, most painful moments in life, they don’t really care either.  They simply want comfort, hope, and peace.  And if all atheism can offer is ‘yeah, well religious people are stupid and evil and aren’t as good as us atheists’, then consider that a catastrophic epic fail.  Unless, of course, that’s all atheism has to offer. Then I stand corrected.

  • I agree with what others have posted that one’s church shouldn’t necessarily be equated with one’s social life, but I think that’s how it is for many people simply because church and religion are so ubiquitous; it’s just a given for many people.  What I do think we need more of are secular therapists and support groups for atheists going through divorce, trying to kick a drug or alcohol habit, or just experiencing life issues in general.  More groups like The Secular Therapist Project! 🙂

  • NeedingMoreFacts

    I agree 100%.  When people leave something, they do need to fill it with something else.  I don’t necessarily agree with convincing people to leave the church (if that’s what you’re implying), but logically, you’re making a lot of sense here.

  • NeedingMoreFacts

    “Atheism has no responsibility to address anything. Atheism can’t, because it isn’t a thing at all.”

    Then why, in the next paragraph, do you define yourself as a life-long atheist?  If atheism isn’t a thing at all, how can you be defined as an atheist?   

  • I’d argue that it’s religion that is the “great not”. It wasn’t piety that kept people in churches, it was the social stuff. To belong in a community, you needed a church connection. Thinking people quickly realize that there isn’t much value in religion itself, that theism based on a personal god is a bankrupt concept. But it can be hard to break away from the social pressure to maintain it. Most countries of the developed, western world broke that connection after WW2, and those societies have never looked back. In most, atheists are either the majority, or at least, the highly religious are a tiny minority. The same thing is happening in the U.S. today, as technology brings new social outlets to people, and breaks the church-social life connection. And once that connection is gone, religiosity and even theism itself drift away rather naturally.

    I expect that the U.S. would have reached the more advanced social development of the rest of the developed world by now were it not for the aberration of atheism being tied to communism during the Cold War. That’s precisely when the sociological dip you note began, and it had nothing at all to do with any actual religious beliefs, but was strongly motivated by politics.

  • Firstly, please do us all the courtesy of picking a name. It doesn’t have to be your real one, but it does make the conversation easier if we have something to call you.

    “A major drawback for atheism has just been shown”

    I don’t think so. It’s possible that I misinterpreted your original post, but you seemed to be that atheism has a problem dealing with the ‘pains and sufferings of life’. I’m telling you it’s not so; we deal with it just fine. Not necessarily motivated by atheism /per se/ but  more by humanism, and genuine charity.

    “Take, for instance, the World Giving Index”

    Well, where to start. The US does indeed come out top in the ranking, but only based on a very high fraction of people claiming that they’ve ‘helped a stranger’ as an exercise in charity. That’s a formulation almost tailor made to over score the practices of organised religion in the US. When you look at something rather less fluffy and equivocal – actual money donated, the US does rather badly. And that’s despite the large amount of so-called charitable donations in the US that actually consist of people funding their own churches to their own benefit.

    “But the most important thing, and the point you missed by a mile, is that when it comes to reaching out to people in their deepest, most painful moments in life, they don’t really care either.  They simply want comfort, hope, and peace.  And if all atheism can offer is ‘yeah, well religious people are stupid and evil and aren’t as good as us atheists’, then consider that a catastrophic epic fail.”

    Well, it’s not. What we have to offer is large amounts of real, actual help. More real, and more help, than comes from the deeply religious. For the people in need of help, that is clearly better.

    In your original post you suggested that atheism kept people from addressing “life outside the science lab” – it does not, and you are wrong.

  • Laurence A. Moran

    As I try to explain in my post, the solution has already been found, it’s called socialism. That’s where all those services are provided for everybody in a secular context by everyone working together (=government). 

  • Guest

    You can say the only reason that the US ranks is because of this or that, but the same could be said in other countries as well.  If you want to believe that atheists give more than religious people, and you will rethink any stats that say otherwise, then it won’t do much good to discuss things, will it. 

    And again, you may dispense with the ‘we’ll offer real help.’  The fact is, religious people are able to help, and often do.  Plus, unless you believe that atheism will end all suffering, you will have to deal with it.  How?  What will you say to that woman who is beyond any physical help?  What comfort does atheism have to offer a person who has lived in suffering, and will die in suffering?  Until that answer can be reached, atheism will be at a disadvantage. 

    Oh, and I keep Guest because for some reason, it wrote my name out otherwise, and I had to keep rewriting it.  This seems to keep guest, and I don’t know if it’s my system or what.  But I just got tired of rewriting it every time I posted.

  • Guest

    First, don’t make a broad, sweeping assumption about what keeps people in churches.  Does your statement take into account all times and places?  Is it centered only on one religion?  If Christianity, is it the same for every denomination?  Unlikely.   What keeps people in churches is just as complex as what leads them out.

    And yes, most societies in Europe broke after WWII, though most were already well on their way before WWII.  Secular philosophies had already been playing large roles in Europe even at the dawn of the 20th century.  The two wars simply pushed most out.  Not all at once, but over time. 

    As for thinking that now we have technology, it’s logical that people will abandon God, I wouldn’t.  Technology seems to have created a new era where people pick and choose their beliefs, no matter what.  So for instance Pew Research shows a growing number of people leaving their traditional religious beliefs.  But it also shows a growing number of people who are atheists who believe in a personal God (6% I think) and who pray (over 20% I think).  Atheists who believe in and pray to a personal God?  That’s not boasting material for either side of the debate. 

    As for the expectations, remember that is what was believed in the 50s.  Heck, it was believed up until around the mid-70s, when those predicting the demise of religion had to rethink once again.  Same in Europe.  Largely due to low birth rates, many European countries having any demographic growth at all are having it due to immigration from highly religious cultures.  As one wag put it, if the trends continue, in a hundred years, Europeans won’t be saying God is dead, they will be saying Allahu Akbar.  The remainder atheists states will be left with such places as China (the most atheist nation in the world right now).  Which, itself, brings other considerations to the debate.

  • “Atheist” isn’t even a word we should need. But apparently we do. But that doesn’t mean it defines a thing as such. It simply refers to a person who doesn’t believe in a deity. It isn’t a belief system. It tells you almost nothing about a person.

    Atheists tend towards things which do have actual assertive meanings though. Secularism, humanism, anti-theism. These are the “things” we can talk about. But anytime we make a claim that “atheists” should or should not do something, we’re doing damage. Because the overwhelming majority of atheists don’t think about atheism at all, they don’t identify with any atheist community, they don’t care. They just don’t believe. They’re atheists in the same way that most people are aunicornists. It’s just not a big part of their lives. And I doubt they want to be part of a community of atheists (I don’t), or that they want to be told what they should or should not do or think.

  • Broad sweeping statements can be accurate. I think that my assertion is correct with respect to the modern U.S.: most people who are affiliated with churches are primarily affiliated for social reasons. The simple fact that so few actually even understand their own religion argues against it being any deeply felt spiritual requirement. And as people increasingly find social fulfillment outside their immediate, physical community, they lose much of their need for church, for religion, and ultimately for theism itself.

  • Lellipses

    But it also shows a growing number of people who are atheists who believe in a personal God (6% I think) and who pray (over 20% I think).”
    The very definition of an atheist is one who does not believe in gods.  Perhaps those people are non-religious.

  • Say what?!?!?  There are already lots of secular organizations that provide counseling, health services, material aid, and scads of hobby and recreational groups.  I’m pretty sure that you will do more good for the world and find more genuine friendship in any of these groups that people generally do in a church group.
     Let’s not reinvent the wheel.  Just join a group or three and don’t hide the fact that you are an atheist.

  •  “What will you say to that woman who is beyond any physical help?  What
    comfort does atheism have to offer a person who has lived in suffering,
    and will die in suffering?  Until that answer can be reached, atheism
    will be at a disadvantage. ”

    Not really. You’d be right if atheism had nothing and religion had nice things like an afterlife, but it doesn’t. Atheism might have ‘nothing’, but religion has the same nothing, and some lies.

  • Lellipses

    Exactly.  For most other things there are secular groups.  Therapy is something that can be difficult to get outside of churches and universities.

  • SwedishSJ

    The problem is, many people strongly believe in that religious “nothing”, so out of the two which one is going to be more comforting to someone?  You talk about atheists providing “real, actual help”, and I absolutely think we can, but in most cases we don’t appear to be helping anyone in a disadvantaged situation when we talk about religion.

  • Wow

    Hemant, you need to post more videos… you are really hawt!

  • Isilzha

     You don’t think it’s important, fine.  However, some people do want to build community with others who share their lack of belief in god.  Just start thinking of those who desire this as a more defined subset of that larger, ambiguously defined groups known as “atheists”.

  • mobathome

    You statement:

    “You can say the only reason that the US ranks is because of this or that, but the same could be said in other countries as well.”

    shows you either did not read or understand what Ewan wrote about the World Giving Index.

    Don’t feed the troll.

  • Isilzha

     And then there are atheists who DO identify with an “atheist community” and who care about creating a community with others who also share their lack of belief in gods.

    YOU shouldn’t be trying to tell those people what they should or shouldn’t do or think!  However, that’s EXACTLY what you keep doing.

  • Findog53

    Then move to every other country.

  • mobathome

    That doesn’t make sense.  I left smoking (and my then friends who smoke) and did not fill it with something else.

  • There may be atheists who identify with an “atheist community”, whatever that means. More power to them; nowhere do I suggest they shouldn’t. But I don’t think they represent even 1% of atheists, and this tendency for activist atheists to speak in a way that seems to represent all atheists does not do any good, and is arguably harmful.

    I’ll say again: atheists (as a class) do not have any responsibility to take any sort of position about anything at all, and we should not be suggesting otherwise.

  • Isilzha

    I guess you should heed your own suggestion then.

  • I do. As an atheist, I feel no responsibility at all to convert anybody or to cure anybody’s social problems.

    As an anti-theist, I seek to turn people away from religion. As a humanist, I seek to help people with their problems. Atheism, however, does not drive me to do anything at all.

  • 1000 Needles

    Atheism has no responsibility to address anything.

    New rule: Anybody who says this doesn’t get to complain when their atheist group lacks any women or minorities.

  • Rwlawoffice

    For somebody who has been a lifelong atheist and I would venture never stepped foot in a church you are making one bold unsupported assumptions about why people have faith and go to church. Your assumptions are based solely on your bias. The demise of Christianity have been predicted for thousands of years and they have always been wrong. It happened during the latter part of the 1800s urging the time of enlightenment when science old end religion. It never happened. There isno reason o think it will now. Instead of technology killing christianity it is being used to spread the Gospel to all parts of the globe.

  • guest

     While I agree with most of your posts on this blog and I can’t really say for certain the motivation behind your quantity of posts, I have to disagree with your following statement, at least from outside perspective:

    “I’ve been an atheist all my life and never found a need for some
    dedicated organization like a church to fill my “social and emotional

    The mere quantity of posts you make on this blog daily suggest the opposite.

  • I know more religious people than I know atheists. And with very few exceptions, they don’t base their social lives around their churches. Most don’t even belong to a church (as is the case for the majority of Americans who identify with a religion).

    I think the lessons of Europe provide solid evidence that religion can be largely eliminated from society as anything other than a minor social relic, and I think there are reasonable grounds to think that this sort of social evolution is now taking hold in the U.S.

  • How so? I’m an activist, and this is one of many forums that appear designed for activists. This is an intellectual outlet for me, not a social one.

    I think my comment is accurate even for the majority of religious people: their social and emotional needs are not met primarily by a church, but by a variety of different things- work, clubs, family, school.

  • greg byshenk

    That’s a rather odd response.  ‘Atheism’ has no responsibility to address anything, because ‘atheism’ is not the sort of thing that can have ‘responsibilities’ (or interests, or goals…).  An atheist organization, on the other hand, can, and usually does have such things.

  • Absolutely. Organizations exist to advance some sort of common interests, or goals, or ideals of their members. So to the extent that an organization forms around the idea of atheism, it is perfectly reasonable for that organization to recognize that some religious people derive a lot of their social experience from church, and to be prepared to explain why churches are not unique in this respect.

    Most atheists are not associated with atheist organizations, have probably never considered the social connections of church goers, and feel no need to explain their own social lives to the religious.

  • TGAP Dad

    Not sure I agree with your major premise here. The facts bear out that atheists ARE winning, and that’s without a formalized social structure. If we’re going to organize into these things – form groups, organize socials and lunches, camps, retreats, meet and discuss our (lack of) beliefs – what distinguishes us from a “church?” If we all close ranks and call in the troops to support one of our own, simply because she’s an atheist, how is that different?

    The plain fact is that atheist’s numbers have increasing dramatically over the last several years, and it seems likely that the trend will continue. And all of this is in the context LACKING these proposed structures.

  • Guest

    That’s my point.  If ‘surveys’ and ‘studies’ show this sudden explosion of atheism, it might be worth our while to see just what they mean, and if it’s really true.  It shows, to me, the low level of actual thought behind people’s beliefs today.

  • I agree. I think most people who identify with a religion do so thoughtlessly… they’ve never really considered the matter. They grew up having been indoctrinated, and never gave it another thought. The fact that so many Christians are unfamiliar with even the fundamental tenets of their religion supports this view.

    But what’s happening now is that social changes are occurring that force people to confront their beliefs. We have issues of batshit-crazy religious politicians, of discrimination against gays, of government entanglement in religion. People who are passively Christian suddenly hear their religion being associated with these negative things, with things they don’t believe in at all. And when faced with that, they realize they aren’t religious at all, they realize that they don’t have any deep belief in their theism. Most don’t become atheists, but it’s awfully easy to simply become a “none” when you reach that point.

  • Kodie

     You seem to think the aid given by an atheist would naturally include the “religious slot” component of trying to convert the needy to atheism and give them emotional support in some form that there is no god. There are a lot of ways to help someone without even talking about religion – something religious people seem not to understand at all. They think the needy need Jesus just as much as food, clean water, medicine, and shelter, and because they get some food, water, medicine, and shelter, that it was really because they came to believe in Jesus, or that Jesus is real? You can help people emotionally and comfort them without evangelizing them or making up bullshit reasons why things are the way they are. The fact that some people are comforted by it doesn’t make it true or especially more helpful. You suggest an atheist would give food, clean water, medicine, and shelter, and tell them it’s all meaningless anyway and there’s no hope so give up – or by not giving them Jesus, imply all that stuff. Fill their empty god-hole!

    Assuredly, most people living everywhere have a religion that they look to for comfort. Converting them to Christianity is kind of a ploy. I’ll give you a bowl of rice if you pray with me! I’ll build you a school if you teach the children that Jesus loves them! Have as many bibles as you want! That’s bribery. In what world is it necessary to convert people in order to help them? In what way does simply being an atheist take away the ability to comfort someone or the ability to be comforted by someone who is not lying to them? 

  • Your video reminds me of the network-ties model of religious conversion.

    But it’s not just about building institutions, it’s also about building friendships.

  • popeyoni

    I concur 100%. Atheism doesn’t have to do anything. Atheism is not a church, club or organization.

  • SwedishSJ

    I really don’t think the two are comparable.  You had to leave friends who were smokers, but I doubt you had to leave what is, for some religious individuals, an entire way of life, the center of their social lives in many cases.  They are leaving an entire community behind, and as much as we like to criticize churches they can provide structure in peoples’ lives that is not easily replaced.  You may draw parallels between that and smoking, but I don’t think they’re quite the same.

  • Isilzha

     Again, if you don’t want to associate with atheist organizations, then don’t.  However, it’s hypocritical of you to try to tell everyone else what they should and shouldn’t want.

  • Isilzha

    Why should we sit around expecting the rest of the US to catch up then?  There are lots of people that are thrilled to do social activities with others where they know they don’t have to engage in the “so what church do you attend” conversation.  In many places answering that even with a short, “I don’t go to church”, is met by hostility and sometimes exclusion from the group. 

  • Isilzha


    I know more religious people than I know atheists. And with very few
    exceptions, they don’t base their social lives around their churches.

    You don’t see how this is ALL your bias?  I grew up in the South and I went to church Sunday school, Sunday morning service, Sunday church training, Sunday evening service, Tuesday visitation, Wednesday potluck, Wednesday choir, Wednesday evening services, Saturday church cleanup–and that was a TYPICAL week.  There was always something else going on (or preparations for something) depending on the time of year.  In my aunt’s family the kids went to the school run by the church.  For many people in the South the church actually IS the focus of their lives and they absolutely DO base their social lives around their church and religion.

    Seriously, C, your experiences are your own and you CAN’T be speaking for others.  It’s embarrassing actually to see the extreme level of ignorance you’re displaying here.

  • Isilzha

     Why do you find lies and false comfort to be at all comforting?

    People who are suffering and desperately need help don’t actually want false comfort.  What they’d really like is something that actually helps them even in some small measure.  However, for those who are beyond help, then they can find comfort in the compassion of someone who will stay will them till the end.  They don’t actually need the lies.

  • Isilzha

    Well, right now the US is still so religious that many of us who have no use for gods or religion must carve out some space of our own. 

  • I have to say that I totally disagree with the whole idea of atheist communities. While I understand that they are necessary in heavily religious areas where secular communities may not be readily available, I think that atheists should be working to secularize American society at large, not trying to mimic church communities and ape church-going culture. The church-going culture is part of the problem, not the solution! Why don’t we try looking at secular countries like Sweden and Denmark? Church attendance is almost non-existent there, but people are not lacking for community.

    Wouldn’t it be better to get all of American society away from the idea that church is the normal and expected way to find community? It may be hard to imagine in the Bible Belt, but secular communities are the norm in other countries and even in some parts of the United States. I have lived my entire life in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I have never felt a lack of community nor has anyone ever expected me to attend a church. If secular communities are possible here, then they’re certainly possible elsewhere.

  • Isilzha

    How great for you that you’ve never been to a new club or whatever and had more than one person ask you what church you go to.  How even more wonderful that your answer didn’t get you ostracized from the group.

    Have you not seen the poll about atheists being the most hated minority in the US?  That fact right there is what drives many people to wanting to socialize with other atheists. 

  • Lellipses

    Like those leaving religion, some do feel the need for a replacement or coping method (gums and patches, group therapy, chewing pens, e-cigs, etc). Unlike those leaving religion, people quitting smoking have resources widely available if they want it.  It’s generally seen as good thing and they are encouraged to do so.

  • Totally agree! I’m also a lifelong atheist who had the good fortune to be raised in a largely secular part of the country.

    What I find troubling is this idea that atheism needs to give people something in order to be considered valid. I don’t think we can get people to stop believing in gods by making atheism attractive. I think we need to convince them that gods aren’t real. Atheism isn’t supposed to offer people tangible benefits or a way to improve their lives. That’s what religion is for. It’s just… a lack of belief in deities. I’m an atheist because I think all evidence points to gods and goddesses being the creation of human beings. Atheism isn’t true or false based on how it makes people feel. To me, the idea that atheism is supposed to make you happy is troubling. I’d like to see a world where it’s a simple, basic fact that is irrelevant to personal happiness.

  • Not C. Peterson, but I make a lot of comments on this blog, too. I also post on other blogs and forums that are completely unrelated to atheism. Frankly, nothing I do online fills my “social and emotional needs.” It’s just a fun way to relax. I find the Internet educational and thought-provoking. But my social needs are met by real people in the real world, ie: my friends and family members.

  • Why do you want that, though? It seems to me that the drive to build community with others who share a lack of belief in god is the result of having to deal with an overwhelmingly religious culture. I have no idea where you live, but if it was possible for you to have a secular community in which religion did not intrude, would you still want an organization exclusively for atheists?

  • Gabesmith373

    I’m laughing because there is an ad for “Christian Education” on an Atheist blog.

  • I think the key distinguishing factor between a hypothetical Christian church and an “atheist church” is dogma. 

    There is no dogma in atheism – it really can’t function like a church at all. When is the last time you’ve seen discussion of beliefs in a church? I mean, there’s socializing before and after the service (and ample opportunities during the week), but there is no space at all for serious exchange of ideas in a church setting. There is no Q&A after the sermons, or actual critical thinking or research required.

    After being indoctrinated pretty heavily myself, I am kind of skeptical that organized atheism could ever approach my definition of “church”. Though we can totally appropriate all the good things that churches do, and just leave all the superstitious moralizing behind. 

    I guess my question is: why are atheists so incredibly averse to getting together? It’s weird. 

  • Isilzha

    Yes, if religion didn’t tend to overlay most everything in the US (especially in the flyover part!), then I don’t think there would be much of a demand for any sort of “atheist community” at all.

    However, I’m baffled as to why you want those of us who see a utility and value in such a thing to justify ourselves to you!  

    Seriously, if it’s not something you want then why bother coming here to discuss such a thing?  I have no use for sports but I don’t go to sports websites and tell everyone how ridiculous I think they are to fanatically support a team.  For the most part, it doesn’t really impact me at all!

    I’m starting to suspect so many people are here saying atheist community is a dumb thing simply because it violates their OWN idea of what atheism means to THEM.  Sorry, guys, other people can define it for themselves too.  No one is demanding that you have to change or join some sort of atheist social organization you don’t want to join!!

  • Isilzha

     Maybe other things define things differently.  Maybe they don’t need as many hats as you seem to.

  • Isilzha

    Again, I’m baffled at the number of people who come here to say “atheists shouldn’t want THAT!”  Who are YOU to say what other people should and shouldn’t want?

  • I don’t want you to justify yourself to me. I was just curious why you wanted it. And your response indicates what I already thought – that it’s a reaction to being forced to deal with intrusive religion in everyday life.

    Why bother discussing it? Well, I don’t see why not. I comment on pretty much all the posts here. Since it’s being discussed, I don’t see why I shouldn’t offer my opinion.

    I conceded in another comment that I think atheist groups in the Bible Belt are necessary because it’s the only way for atheists there to achieve any form of secular social life, but I’m not allowed to feel sad and dismayed that that’s the case? Such things shouldn’t be necessary.

    The entire world isn’t the Bible Belt, and I’m very uneasy about the organized atheist movement taking this route. They seem to promote it for the culture at large, not just for the religiously-infused portions of the country. It’s not like I have a personal problem with atheist groups. I just feel very frustrated at seeing atheism become a “thing” for people to organize around, and that it’s being heralded as a solution for people wanting secular communities, which doesn’t take into account the fact that secular communities are possible without mimicking church culture.

  • Maybe not averse so much as indifferent. I don’t think the vast majority of atheists consider their atheism a vital part of their identity, and since there’s absolutely no social pressure to join an atheist group, the number of people willing to attend one is always going to be limited to a small subset.

  • dearestlouise

    It’s just not that simple. Human connections are important and having people around you to give you support and comfort are necessary especially if you’re doing something like leaving your faith. I’ve lived my whole life in a tiny town in the Bible Belt and the people at your church are your friends, your family, your classmates, your teachers, your doctors, your neighbors; they are everyone. 

    When you stop going to church people start asking why and if you tell them you don’t believe in God anymore they distance themselves. You become isolated: you have no one to talk to, no one wants to hang out anymore, no one is there for you. If you’re lucky your close family and friends continue to speak with you, but the relationship becomes strained.A support structure is used in many different ways: recovering alcoholics and drug addicts, coping with illnesses, and even when kids go away to college they’re told to establish friendships and join clubs to build a support system.

    Someday it would be great if we didn’t have to have designated atheist communities, but we are a long ways from that. 

    I don’t know what life is like in the Bay Area, but if you’re not dealing with what I am on a daily basis, then I am very happy for you. I’ve started making plans to relocate in a couple of years so I don’t have to feel so alone all the time and will actually have people who want to hang out because when I mention I’m an atheist people disappear.

  • Isilzha

    I’m laughing because you see ads! 😉

  • greg byshenk

    Why comment? Because the subject here is “Atheists have to do …”, instead of “some atheist organization is interested in…”.

    If there is some group of atheists who wish to engage in some sort of “community” activity, then I suspect that no one will have any real objection. Those who are interested in such a thing can join the group; those who are not can refrain. But if someone starts saying that atheists have to do something just because they are atheists, then that is a different thing.

  • greg byshenk

    Exactly. So also for someone to insist that “atheists have to” do something.

  • It must be incredibly difficult! I do understand how atheist-only communities would be helpful in the Bible Belt and other places where it is literally impossible to have a normal social life without religion rearing its ugly head.

    I have been very lucky to live in the Bay Area, where religion is considered a private matter and absolutely no one will assume you’re Christian or ask you where you go to church. There are lots of religious people here, but relatively few evangelicals and even they tend to keep it to themselves.

    The reality of what people have to deal with in the Bible Belt is sad and frustrating, but I still see promoting atheist groups as a general solution to the need for secular community (ie: not just in heavily religious areas) to be misguided.

  • I’m baffled at the number of people who come to a blog’s comments section to say that other people shouldn’t be commenting on the blog post.

  • I don’t really understand the source of your disgruntlement here. I haven’t told anybody what organizations they should or shouldn’t associate with. What I said is that an organization of atheists should not give the impression that it represents atheism or atheists in general, because if doesn’t, and I think when it does this it hinders the movement of people towards atheism.

  • Obviously I’m speaking from my own experience. Who else’s?

    I already noted that things were different in the backwards parts of the country. But they only represent a minority of the population.

    Considering that less than half of the Christians in the U.S. even attend church at all, it is indisputable that most of them meet their social needs elsewhere.

  • Stev84

    How about taking over the group then? The only reason they get away with that is because they are in power. If enough atheists join some club, they can have some influence on how it is run.

  • Mdwelch27

    Man, this is not hard and shouldn’t have to generate so much discussion.  We want to create lots of local atheist/secular/humanist/skeptical communities.  all you have to do is get these people together for dinner/drinks/coffee/movie/etc. 

    First of all, it will be incredibly refreshing to be able to speak rationally about any number of topics without having to listen to all the religious BS that you might encounter in the general population. 

    Secondly, atheits et al are intelligent, interesting folks who will easily find lots of other common interests to share beyond their atheism. 

    Thirdly, if you just establish a forum to communicate with each other during the first gathering, then the social & emotional connections will grow organically like some great interconnected spider web.

    Let’s not discuss or analyze this too closely.  Everyone do some simple local gathering & watch the community respond.

  • Wait…you say:

     As an atheist, I feel no responsibility at all to convert anybody or to cure anybody’s social problems.


    But then, in the next sentence you say:

     As an anti-theist, I seek to turn people away from religion. 


    So in other words, you seek to convert people from theist to anti-theist.

    It’s kind of difficult to take you seriously when you contradict yourself like that.

  • You appear to be confusing my atheism with my anti-theism. As an atheist, I simply don’t believe in a god.

    Separately from my atheism, I’m an anti-theist. I would venture that only a minority of atheists are also anti-theists. I am not trying to convert anybody to anti-theism, but to atheism, or at least to no religion.

    There is no contradiction.

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