As I continue to read and interact with atheists, I’ve found an interesting situation that I’ve wanted to investigate. That is, atheist evangelizing.
If you’ve been an active atheist, politically, you have been approached with the idea that atheism is just another religion. It is a constant in dialog with theists. Likely you’ve heard some form of, “I think atheists are just as religious as any christian.” or maybe the classic, “Atheism is just another belief, they believe there isn’t a god.”
If you hang around religion debates long enough, this is something you have to approach, and it is annoying at best. The grounds for the idea are weak, and meant to make atheism seem like a weak and fanatical position. For the theist, it is important that atheists are seen just as religious as them.
There is another part to this though, and that is the one that interests me today. Atheists have an aversion to spreading their ideas.
If I had to guess, this comes from their history. A tip for my theist brothers and sisters out there, most atheists you meet were once religious, that is how they became atheists. We know our own religion to a degree that we disagree with it, and with that we know the society born from that religion. This often creates a fear of brainwashing, conditioning, and their friend evangelizing.
Any attempt for an atheist to say, ‘I think others should be atheist’, is treated as crossing the line into militant atheism. Now you are violently atheist, ruining the happiness of others, and even your fellow atheists will turn against you. You took a dump in the middle of the atheist bedroom, and it doesn’t matter who you ask, it smells like shit.
This creates a problem for secular groups, humanist groups, atheist groups. When your actions are seen as proselytizing rather than progressiveness, it becomes difficult to get things done.
True, the situation is never as simple as ‘come and be an atheist’. For example, trying to protect women from patriarchal religions by secularizing a society is a complicated task full of metaphorical and sometimes literal landmines. I can tell someone their life sucks because of men, and they may accept that, I could tell them their life sucks because of society, and they will definitely accept that. As soon as you tell someone their life sucks because of their religion, you are the bad guy. Who cares if their religion is why they had to marry their rapist, why they cannot go outside alone, and why they had to undergo painful and nearly deadly rituals, you keep that to yourself Mr. Douche-atheist.
This is all fine and dandy when its just theists deciding to wallow in their own beliefs, but it has a negative effect on atheist communities. That is, we avoid them. The idea of an atheist community is often seen as laughable. Many will say, “Why create a society about what you don’t believe?”
That is a sound attack on the idea, but it is pretty flat, and built on an outsider’s idea of what it means to be an atheist. There are many sections of society where we get together simply because we agree on certain concepts, or wish to be comfortable. In that same way, I could summarize all Black community groups as “Groups dedicated to not being White”, which would be fine enough with me but would be untrue.
When you are an atheist, despite different backgrounds and upbringings, you have certain things in common. Especially ‘ex-theist’ atheists. While the overlap isn’t perfect, most atheist are progressive on social issues, left-leaning, for secularism, and science-minded. That sounds like awesome grounds for a community to me. Even now, as people laugh at the idea of atheist get togethers and groups, atheist social groups on websites spread information about scientific discoveries, give warnings to members about the actions of companies to avoid, and give life advice for difficult times of life (what do you do when a family member dies, how do you handle your wedding if your family is religious?)
There are even a growing number of atheist churches, which I personally think is a little beyond the mark.
But I know that humans need social connections, and I fear what happens if atheists don’t realize that associating with other atheists isn’t ridiculous, it would be healthy.
There may come a time when being atheist is the default of society, where we don’t need to create groups just to be safe around fellow atheists, but that time isn’t now. Don’t laugh, one day you may need an atheist by your side, to remind you that the human connection gets us through the hardest time, and gives birth to the greatest times.