I Don’t View Atheism as a ‘Movement’

People online often refer to atheists, as a community. In a way we are in that we all have one thing in common. That’s why we refer to ourselves as atheists.

But that’s as far as it goes I believe. We’re not a community in that we are skipping arm-in-arm through life all singing the exact same song on everything. We’re a diverse group of individuals that are not just separated geographically, but by race, ethnicity, and especially, experience.
We all live in communities that are different from one another. In some communities, you might be accepted as an atheist, others might just ignore you as some sort of wacko, and then there are those communities in which atheists are absolutely reviled.
In each instance, there will be different levels of difficulty making the case for a secular society, one free from superstition and based on reason. It’s those atheists in their individual communities that know that best. No national organization of any kind can know your community better than you.
Some communities have very active atheist groups, others don’t. I find it interesting that those that do have active groups, meaning those that are pushing for change, I almost never hear anything about. It’s one thing to have an organization that meets, weekly or monthly. If that’s all they do though, they’re nothing more than a support group for atheists. Very occasionally I will read about a local group petitioning their local council on a church/state issue. Very occasionally. So really, what are the rest of these groups, if they exist, doing?
I’ve used a lot of words here to launch into what the post is really about. I hope I didn’t bore you too much. My very good friend, Damion (@D4M10N on twitter if you’re not following him. And if you’re not, you should) have a discussion that has be ongoing. In fact it was he that asked me to write this post because it’s really difficult to have this kind of discussion via Twitter.
Here’s the crux, Damion refers to the Atheist Movement, and considers (please correct me Damion if I misinterpreted) what we have now as just that. I disagree. I see very little if any evidence of any Atheist Movement.
This disagreement is not in malice, in fact it’s really more of an intellectual disagreement. More-so, I believe that it’s really is just a matter of semantics.
What constitutes a “Movement”? To me, that’s the question that requires an answer and I hope I am able to do that here without writing a thesis.
I believe that any movement starts at the grassroots, in this case, at the local level. Within the local community, those members of that group have started a movement, albeit a local movement. It may happen then that one local group discovers that nearby, in another town or city, that there’s a group that exists as well and reaches out to them. Now, as I alluded earlier, there may be a different focus for each group, but there will be some common ground. Eventually, as more groups are discovered, a larger umbrella group forms. That doesn’t mean each local group gives up anything to the larger group, it’s just now they have become a more effective lobby for secularism where each local group may be able to call on others to support a specific initiative.
At some point, depending on how active these individual groups are, they may have formed a state organization. Again, each local group working within their own community but with the support of the other groups around the state.
You can see where this is going. Then one state organization reaches out to another state. On and on.
This isn’t going to happen overnight, but if atheists want to affect change, this is really where it has to start.
Do we have anything today that even remotely resembles what I just described? No. Yes, we do have a few groups scattered about the country that are active locally, and possibly even at their state level. But that seems to be about it; Nothing that even comes close in my mind to a “Movement”.
Do any of these individual groups even work together? I honestly don’t know and if they do they’re holding it as a close secret. If they were, then I would definitely say we have at least the beginnings of a Movement. As of this writing though, I don’t believe it exists. It should, and I believe that those active groups might be surprised how easy it is to start working together. We all know how that goes though.
We all have other responsibilities as well. Work, family, etc. I’m not denigrating any person or group here because, hey, it’s called life and we’re no different than any other human in that regard. Growing a Movement requires a lot of time, work, and dedication to the cause. We can’t magically make it come into being just because we want it to be there.
If we want a Movement, we can’t depend on a few people in another place to do the work for us. We have to get out there on the ground ourselves and overcome all the obstacles we will face to make Atheism an actual Movement.

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5 thoughts on “I Don’t View Atheism as a ‘Movement’

  1. Do we have an atheist movement in which the only thing that brings us together is our lack of god belief? No, probably not. I’m not sure we would even need something like that. But we certainly have a secular movement with local, state, and national organizations.

  2. And what are these local, state and national organizations doing that constitutes a movement? Sure the local groups might be working for change in their community, and if there is a state organization, the might be trying to pull the local groups together – that would actually indicate a movement by the way – but for me they are invisible.
    As for national organizations? Please. Name one that has recently organized a protest or any other action anywhere? Here’s what they do: They hear about some school board or city council that’s violating church/state separation, write a letter, and if necessary, file suit. That’s about all anyone ever hears from them.

  3. At the local and state levels, some of these groups are doing just what you said – working for change locally. At the national level, it depends on the group. Some focus on lobbying; others emphasize activism. Like you said, it is usually church-state activism, which makes sense for a secular movement. There’s also larger scale efforts to raise awareness like the Reason Rally. I think there might be a difference between saying that there is a small movement that isn’t nearly visible enough vs. saying that there isn’t one at all. All movements have to start somewhere.

  4. My post on this topic contends that we tick most of the boxes:
    http://www.skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/2013/10/14/is-american-atheism-a-social-movement/

    if there is a state organization, the might be trying to pull the local groups together – that would actually indicate a movement by the way

    We’ve been striving to get AOK and ACT (that is, the big atheist OKC and Tulsa) to mentor and support upcoming local groups in Norman, Ponca City, Stillwater, Lawton, among others. Generally speaking, the larger groups have been generous with support. There is no formal umbrella group, but there is a private forum where all the local leaders (including the secular student groups) can communicate.

  5. Pingback: Be a Better Skeptic in the New Year | Conservative Skeptic

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