I’ve never really appreciated some of the terminology that most atheists that I interact with use in describing atheists or atheism, in general.
One of those words is community. I really don’t see how in the loosest interpretation that atheists could be defined in that way. We are not a social or ethnic group; nor do we have a shared culture or history.
We share, using that word loosely, one attribute: a non-belief in god(s). That’s it. Sure, some in certain localities may share a few of the commonalities I mentioned above, but as a whole? I don’t see how the word applies. So why do so many constantly refer to an atheist community? I’ve been looking for terminology that could best describe atheists as a whole and honestly there isn’t a term or word that would apply that I could find.
I think it’s lazy-speak, or maybe more accurately, wishful thinking since it has no basis in fact.
The other term I vehmently disagree with other atheists is describing atheism as a movement. I wrote about atheism as a movement a long while back, and yes, I even lazily referred to atheists as a community in the first paragraph because of the one commonality between us. That was clearly a reasoning error on my part.
A movement though? I don’t see it. Recently there was a blog post by one of The Usual Suspects to correct my heresy. In the post, the author states that yes, atheism is a movement and uses the gay rights movement as analogous to atheism. But wait! Isn’t the gay rights movement a civil rights movement? Well, yes, of course it is and that’s the problem with the example given. Atheism, is not about civil rights. Think about the gay rights movement: marches, rallies, in order to affect the same rights of employment, housing, and partnership as the rest of society. It has nothing to do with that fact, as she mentons, that not all gay and lesbian people agree on every jot and tittle of every issue. That’s having an individual conscience, just like atheists.
Next she bolsters her case by listing a number of individual organizations that either promote atheism, skepticism and reason, or humanism (not the same as atheism, by the way). Okay, so she mentions that just in Meetups there are 1075. So? What are they doing as a movement? It looks to me like a lot of different groups that hold their meetings and conventions to preach to the choir, but beyond that? Sure, there are organizations that lobby, even sue government at various levels for violations of separation of church and state, but does that qualify as a movement? Do all of these organizations work in concert for common goals? I may be wrong but if they do, its certainly are not transparent to me or anyone I know.
She then completes her poorly reasoned post by straw-manning the argument, as I’m making, that there is not atheist movement by saying there are people arguing that there shouldn’t be an atheist movement. I personally have never heard anyone say that, but then, in order to push a specific ideology, the author of that post often makes falacious arguments. For this specific author, as many are aware, her atheism is about pursuing an ideology.
Is it possible for atheism to become a movement? Perhaps, but in my opinion, it would be analogous to herding cats.
4 thoughts on “Nope: Atheism is Not a Community or Movement”
I’d suggest that we refer to ourselves as an atheist community (or movement) for at least two reasons. First, it is a shorthand form of communication in that saying “atheist community” is more concise than saying “people who identify themselves as atheists” or “people for whom atheism is a salient aspect of their identity” and saying “atheist movement” is a hell of a lot more concise than saying “groups of atheists coming together to work toward shared goals such as promoting atheism, advocating for atheist civil rights, opposing religious extremism, advocating for increased secularism, and the like). Second, for many atheists atheism is a salient aspect of our identity. Thus, we might find it beneficial to refer to ourselves in the collective as a community (or when activism is involved, as a movement).
For some of us, atheism is about civil rights in the sense that we are facing discrimination and bigotry simply for being atheists. We don’t have to be all of the same mind to care about this stuff. Of course, one could certainly argue that much of this might have more to do with secularism or separation of church and state than atheism, and that would be a valid point.
I just don’t see atheists as any sort of community and for those that are non-atheists, I believe it gives a false impression that somehow we’re cohesive – that we share more than one aspect.
As for movement, I still don’t see it. I don’t see a movement like the G/L movement, or the ’60’s civil right s movement, or even the ’60’s – ’70’s anti-war movement.
I don’t see all of the multitude of organizations working together for a goal. I don’t see them making a huge impact on society at all. Minor victories (FFRF suits) but that’s about it.
Full disclosure, I actually belong to 2 of the organizations Greta listed.
There certainly isn’t one single completely unified atheist community.movement marching in lockstep on every issue imaginable. I can easily agree to that. But many local communities have active atheist communities where atheists come together to support one another.
I don’t see a movement that is nearly as organized, cohesive, or effective as the others you mentioned. I think that is unfortunate because it means that we are likely to continue to be marginalized longer than need be the case. And you are right that there does not seem to be much collaboration among the various organizations, most of which appear to be aimed more toward secularism than atheism anyway.
American Atheists seems to come the closest to being an atheist organization. When Silverman goes on Fox News, for example, I think he’s trying to change public perceptions about atheists, correct misinformation about atheism, etc.
I agree with your assessment of Silverman and American Atheists. Remember the flack he caught from a “certain quarter” for daring to attend a conservative meeting a few months ago? If any organization has done anything more than American Atheists to promote atheism, and as you say,”trying to change public perceptions about atheists, correct misinformation about atheism, etc.” it is that organization. Full disclosure: I joined earlier this year due to those facts.