Why large organised religions will not disappear anytime soon

Jun 21, 2013


Discussion by: adiroth
How atheists have neglected a very important issue & should start looking at community building.

I have wanted to write an opinion piece about atheism and community building for a long time. While there’s an obvious growth of online atheist communities and policy focused organisations, I feel that there is a severe shortage in the presence of physical communities in the anthropological sense. For a long time, this has been the realm of the religious organisations, and as the recent Richard Dawkins v Rowan Williams debate has indicated, this is still a line the public is still willing to buy because there is still a prominent religious face on welfare, charity and local communities. Yet, it is an undeniable fact that religious organisations has been focusing a lot more of their resources on the community rather than atheists who focused a lot more on promoting truth & rational belief.

What atheists have been doing

For over centuries, atheists’ war on religion had been waged on the ideological front. Religious ideas had been assaulted by debates, polemics and satire. These skirmishes have often scratched the veneer, but it has never hurt religion at its core. Even with the advent of super weapons such as the heliocentric model of the solar system and the theory of evolution, believers has not left churches in droves.

Even so, recent polls have corroborated a rise in the non-religious demographic across the world, happening mostly in liberal developed countries. Using the US as case study, while discussing a Pew report from 2012, Pew’s senior researcher Greg Smith attributed the growth to the gradual replacement of older, generally more religious generations with younger generally less religious generation.

Looking at the data, it is fair to say that the church’s failure to capture the youth market is due to its inability to keep up with social progress. Optimistic atheists may expect the same failure to peel away at the religious demographic every generation, but there is no guarantee that this growth will be perpetual. Also, sitting idle to wait for your opponents to die out hardly constitutes a strategy.

While atheists have been concentrating their efforts on promoting scientific education, defending against the proponents of intelligent design, they have been neglecting the real driving force behind religion, which is the community building side of their business.

What religions have been doing

Larger religious organisations spend a lot of their resources in building their communities and providing social safety net. They have mass, run sunday schools, share groups, provide pastoral care, run charities etc. They are providing immense amount of incentives for people to be part of their self-sufficient in-group and their members’ reliance on these services has created a barrier to exit. As some of us are familiar with the narratives of the Clergy Project, the barriers for religious people to exit religion range from more material concerns such as financial security all the way to social concerns such as ostracisation.

Since the human mind is naturally predisposed to conflicting beliefs, it is easy for a devotee to ignore contradicting passages for the sake of sociomaterial benefits. I think the general populace share the pragmatical sentiment that truth beyond the practical is just for aesthetic, and they have no appreciation for the cult of truth.

One might try to argue that government welfare and professional therapists can replace the gap of social care, but these services when directly delivered by the government are commonly perceived as cold, impersonal and often demeaning, or worse, stunk of communism in the mind of the US populace. Compounding the problem is the fact that governments rely on independent organisations to operate its welfare fund. A significant portion of the organisations are usually affiliated to religious organisation. In US, for example, 14% of the recipients of government fund for welfare-to-work programs are religious organisations, and in Australia, where two thirds of community services are proved by NGOs, 20 of the largest 25 agencies are faith based. In both countries, these organisations are allowed to discriminate in their employment practice [1][2].

Atheist author, Alain de Botton who wrote “Religion for Atheists”, presented the image of humans as flawed creatures, contrary to the atheist ideal of humans as rational creatures. Religions, he contends, acknowledges our “flaws” and built their practice and rituals with it in mind. Religion can provide useful tools and technologies for education, the cultivation of discipline, ritual and is adept at creating community, an essential component of humanity. Religion also provide a space where it is okay to be a nice person without being eyed with suspicion. While some readers might disagree with his assessment, I think that his assertions are largely true if the scope is limited to the religion’s in-group. Ultimately, he believes that culture could replace scripture, but there is nothing wrong with incorporating what is useful.

What atheists should do

It took a while but we’ve now arrived at the main point of this essay. Atheists need to build communities and there is nothing wrong with borrowing the community building tools used by some religion when it can be useful. I know some atheists would be appalled, disgusted and repelled by the idea of doing anything that smelled like religion, to that, I’d say, “Oh, puhlease!” Atheists are not vampires that melts at the sight of a cross. For better or worse, religion is part of human history and everyone has the right to this legacy. Throughout history, religion has marked its territory on practically everything, often incorporating outside disciplines and practices into their own. If we are to reject everything that has been processed through their system, then we will have to abandon western education, which were pioneered by the church, Newton’s law of gravity, heliocentrism, and just wait to be edged out. Can you see how juvenile it is to be scared of religious cooties?

Why should we build communities? First of all, there is a demand for it. We’ve long known of the humanist societies, but as the world is becoming less religious, we are now seeing more news of groups like the atheist parenting group and the atheist church run by comedian Sanderson Jones trickling in. As religion has been the traditional provider of social community, their loss of influence also gave rise to the lack of community building. Fearing of smelling too much like a religion or looking like a cult, the non-religious often had to rediscover techniques of developing their community around the boundaries of religions. That is why the development of non-religious communities has not boomed.

Meanwhile, many other atheists find themselves isolated and lonely without a group to support them.

Most of the existing prominent secularist organisations such as the American Atheist, for example, have mostly fostered the atheist community as a coalition of opposition against the harm caused by religions. Sometimes, their focus on their opponents created tunnelvision, that led them to forget about the very victims of the injustices of religion and revel on how their prejudices towards religion is vindicated. Case point, read the comments section of these articles [3][4].

The humanists & the clergy project have the more compassionate goal of providing humanistic support for people and charity. However, there does seem to be much happening at the personal level among family and friends. Engaging in tit-for-tat holier-than-thou charity to show the religious that atheists can be generous is not helpful at all if there isn’t a overarching point behind it.

What kind of community should atheists have

Atheists need to start communities, but it should not be exclusive. They need to break down in/outgroup barriers and move compassion and pro-social behaviours out of the realm of religion and drill into common people that those values are universal regardless of religion. Social progress has been pushed by educators & students, it’s time to involve families and communities. While liberals, (let’s face it, lot of atheists are liberals), like to handball the task to the government the fact is that they rely on NGOs, many of which are faith-based, to provide the services. Even with the fund set aside, someone needs to actually start something to justify its usage.

In short, I think there are 3 main objectives that should be achieved by an atheist community. The first is to reduce the barrier to exit oppressive religions & cultures rather than promoting exclusivity, nurture social intelligence so that people can form or go through communities more easily, and finally, create an open source community building resources that’s available for everyone, including religious people.

Challenges

With these goals, there are a few easily foreseeable problems that springs up to mind. The most glaring one is the free rider problem, which already exists in the current state of social work. While secular charities does not promote ideologies to their recipients, faith-based organisations could preach openly without suffering any consequences. A recipient could receive help from both secular and faith-based organisations, to maximise utility, the recipient could receive help from the secular organisation & convert to also receive help from the religious organisation. But in the Mother Jones article, i suspect that the reason why the reason Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries kept receiving funds despite openly preaching is simply because there isn’t an existing secular charity that could readily replace the service they provide. If only there are enough secular charities to replace the belligerent faith-based ones and establish that community services should be free from religious strings, then there wouldn’t be any reason for the population to opt for them. It’s a matter of economy of scale.

The religious organisations will most likely not take too kindly to threats to their market. They are already discriminating their employees, people who actually want to work for them. So, it is likely that they will find fault with the secular charity & community service provider. However, if they do, then they would be digging their own grave for appearing fundamentalist and hindering social work from being provided.

In conclusion, there is much to gain for atheists to build communities. There will be challenges, but many stands to gain from it, while at the same time it can stop religious organisations from stifling reason by holding the neighbourhood hostage. Maybe, employ the help of the Clergy Project alumni to contribute to the project, since their experience in their previous profession would prove to be helpful.

I hope I have provided enough food for thought & presented a strong enough case for atheists to spare enough attention to community building.

Thank you for reading

A.G.H.

26 comments on “Why large organised religions will not disappear anytime soon

  • 1
    Steven Mading says:

    ALWAYS be careful with confusing “-ist” with “-ism”. It’s a fatal argument flaw and it’s a flaw this article makes.

    An example of confusing the two: making the argument that because science is incompatible with religion that this means scientISTS can’t be religious (or visa versa, taking the fact that there exist religious scientists (talking about “-ist” as evidence that religion and science (the “-isms”) themselves are compatible.

    Another example would be taking the fact that Islam (the “-ism”) is demeaning to women that must therefore mean all Muslims (the “-ists”) are.

    It is possible for a person who believes in an “-ism” (or not-believes in it, as would be a more appropriate way to describe atheism) to perform activities that exist outside that “-ism”. One particular “-ism” a person (an “-ist”) subscribes to does not form a complete definition of that person.

    If you know a person is an atheist that doesn’t mean you know all the music they listen to, the films they like, the hobbies they do, the job skills they have, and so on.

    And one of the things you don’t know is whether or not they participate in any community-building activities.

    Just because athe-ISM hasn’t been building communities doesn’t mean athe-ISTS haven’t been doing so.

    Saying the “-ists” in a group have failed to do a thing is a much larger, and much less defensible claim than claiming the much smaller (and easier to defend) claim that they haven’t been doing it VIA the “-ism” they share in common.



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  • 2
    Lonevoice says:

    A very interesting and insightful item. It seems the idea of people of differing opinions working together is an excellent one. As ever, I, as a Christian, am saddened by the negative impact some actions and attitudes of my fellow-believers have on others, to the extent that you want to effectively edge them out of the market and silence their sharing of the Gospel. I’m saddened that the presentation of the Gospel, which is supposed to be a message of love and mercy, can so frequently come across as being belligerent and have the effect of ostracising people who don’t conform (I know I’m being free with my paraphrase, here, so don’t all leap on me for this).

    The social and community work that faith-based organisations do is an off-shoot of the love and compassion that believers are supposed to show to our fellow man. I understand that it doesn’t always come across that way. I freely admit that we often fail – but equally, it has to be said that genuine acts are not always welcomed, but are often maligned unfairly, by opponents of the faith.

    Social action is only a part of the Gospel, however; the message of the Gospel is important too. Atheists may very well see this as a foolish message, one that defies logical and whatever other phrases might be used to describe it. However, it claims to offer hope that goes beyond the grave. Believing that or not is up to the individual. A person is free to accept or reject that message, without being ostracised or excluded from the social care that the given program might offer. This is not ‘holding the communities hostage.’ Some people warm to the message of the Gospel and others are repelled by it. Some people are comforted by a hope beyond death. And let’s face it, whether the Gospel message can actually deliver on that offer is, this side of the grave, something of a matter of opinion. Either way, the atheist cannot offer that – and the alternative message of logic, reason and “once you’re dead, you’re dead” brings no comfort to the depth of a longing soul. And souls DO long for such a hope. To dismiss them as deluded for doing so would be, perhaps, a shade unkind.

    I’m not writing this because I feel threatened, by the way. I do wonder, however, whether there would be any point in an atheist community-building project to label itself as Atheist. What would it be trying to prove? Why could it not just be people working for the common good, without bringing religion (or anti-religion) into it?

    Thank you for this very thought-provoking article.



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  • 3
    kiwichick says:

    Excellent article! There are actually many atheist communities, just clearly not as large and widespread as the historical religions. The internet has been an essential tool in bringing the perils of religion to the light of many individuals who have left their religious denominations. There are groups such as transhumanism and humanistic religions who comprise of atheists and agnostics that share a community within a “religion” that does not worship a supernatural being but rather reason, science, compassion and philosphy. Of course its just a matter to convince atheists to join these communities to strengthen these organizations as your article explains. I think that Dawkins could do a lot more than what he currently does, by actually supporting such groups instead of teaching that “religion is evil” as I think what really is the issue is that worshipping supernatural ideology is evil. Personally I do not favour participating in uncomfortable rituals that are similar to certain religions however, many of the good values can be taken and taught in these so-called atheist religions. They can become places of education, strengthening and generating more rational thinkers who can pass on such to their children. The reason why atheist groups are so small is because they are battling against religions who indoctrinate their children. It is important that atheists teach their children rationality and science education. This website is also another example of the atheist community. Unfortunately being in a religious dominated world atheists end up resorting to twitter and these websites in order to gain support but the growth of the community is only starting to really to take off. Sooner or later we will have a stronger community by educating others over time.



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  • Are atheists over represented in the numbers of lonely, isolated people, as you mentioned? I’ve never seen figures suggesting that this is the case. If they are, that’s sad, nevertheless there are plenty of secular groups to join if one has the need to company and a common sense of purpose.

    I’ve tossed around the thought of an organised community of atheists, who attend meetings and provide support networks in an actual physical sense, for quite a while. After reading AdeB’s book, I became convinced that this is something I definitely wouldn’t enjoy!

    If such a group is ever established I’d probably try it for size at least once. I wouldn’t hold out hope of the organisation featuring largely in my life, unfortunately, as atheists are very diverse and there may not be any other instances of agreement.



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  • 6
    Alistair Blackhill says:

    The problems that need rational analysis;

    1) Why does child indoctrination work – see the role of adrenaline in learning and the effects of philosophical trauma on synaptic networking. Someone out there has the RMI equipment to do mapping work on this.

    2) What causes it to work in one person but not in another- My observations show a correlation with the adrenaline trigger threshold. The kids that don’t scare easily don’t get faith as their siblings do when exposed to the same religious instructor at the same time. The givaway is that the atheist sibling rides rodeo to get their adrenaline high.

    3) What causes the philosphical trauma to inhibit fore-brain function to steer the subject away from questioning certain values?

    4) What stops it working? The ability to fabricate complex neurotransmitters reduces with age- which might be the reason for people losing faith and joining the Clergy project. Adrenaline supressing blood pressure medications can also cause subjects to abandon their faith in religious / social or political values and begin using a rational approach, even after a lifetime of devout Catholisism.

    5) Fight- flight is about the only thing that will override sexual arousal, which puts a whole new perspective on the church’s use of child sex abuse and ‘psycho-sexual development’ as a tool for training celibate Catholic priests.

    6) Sustained trauma in adolescent rats shows up as under-development in the hippocampus- which inhibits adult learning. Dumb Irishmen are made, not born. (anyway the Pope’s children don’t have this problem- they’re so sharp they’ve cut themselves!)

    Let’s treat religious devotion as an ‘undesirable outcome’ and investigate as we would a major aviation, marine or mining accident. Now, who’s up to speed with neural endocrinology out there?



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  • 7
    Alistair Blackhill says:

    In reply to #2 by Lonevoice:

    A very interesting and insightful item. It seems the idea of people of differing opinions working together is an excellent one. As ever, I, as a Christian, am saddened by the negative impact some actions and attitudes of my fellow-believers have on others, to the extent that you want to effectively…

    The message of the gospel is put into the context the priest wants to use it by reading the lesson and following up with a rhetorical discussion (the sermon). Going a verse or so the wrong way can change the entire meaning- so the message of the Gospel is largely an advertising truth. Unfortunatley I mean that in the negative sense, having sat through hundreds of these.



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  • 8
    Andy Weightman says:

    I can agree with this. A sense of community would be a good thing for atheists in so many ways, not least of which is that it is a basic human need to belong. If we started forming strong cohesive communities as the author of this post suggests, it would do several things. It would begin to strengthen our positions against organised religion, and it would provide a social network of like minded people, and a framework for atheists to live their lives and enjoy each others society. This would fulfil so many basic human needs.



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  • I assume that the author lives in the US ? Outside of the US it’s not so hard to surround yourself with people who share with you either atheism or such a low level of belief that it might as well be atheism.

    Michael



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  • Fantastic article, well written.

    To the people saying that there actually are secular and atheist groups to join, these groups are in no way comparable to or a viable competition to established religions. What we are talking about is influencing people, we are talking about being on the same page as other people across the world, not just being individuals with our own ideas but being part of a larger movement that reflects all of our goals and values equally. This sounds ambitious, but it simply has not been verified at all that people have values that differ significantly from one another, only that they disagree on how these values can be acted on.

    As atheists, we define ourselves by something we are not and, as Steven Mading said in the first comment, the label ‘atheist’ implies simply nothing about our values and beliefs, and therefore is a barrier to social cohesion. Defining yourself by saying that you don’t like something is a negative and empty position to take.

    Lonevoice pointed out in the second comment that the beliefs and ideas of the Bible are just as important to the religion’s organization as their social cohesion and benefits, and this is the aspect of the argument that most atheists are missing at the moment. Without a shared framework of values and beliefs about the nature of reality, we are a group in nothing but name. To change this we will need to begin focusing on the beliefs we share and begin expounding on them and spreading these ideas, in an act of creation rather than the destruction of other beliefs.

    To begin developing shared beliefs, we must first abandon the moniker of ‘atheism’, as this just does not represent what we do believe. Here is where we start seeing real problems. By agreeing on a collective name for ourselves, and agreeing on values and beliefs that are implied by that name, the next step is convincing others to accept these values and beliefs, and many see this kind of behavior as dictatorial and the exact same as what religions do. That is because it is. Unless everyone coming to their beliefs themselves using their own life experiences is an efficient and workable way of getting everyone to leave dogma behind (hint: I doubt it), the only way to influence others is through brainwashing and social manipulation and propaganda. Until we realize that it’s okay to make propaganda and brainwash people into believing the truth, we are at nothing. (by the way, this method is also known as the less threatening “education”)

    My name should be a good clue as to what kind of movement I am thinking of, and until there is a movement brainwashing people into questioning dogma and valuing evidence and reason the other major religions will continue their reign of terror. Values of non-violence and compassion could be employed, an ultimate goal of exploring space and the true nature of reality could be another, we have so much good things to choose from that it is simply awful that we aren’t out in the streets shouting for joy about all the amazing things that have already been achieved and teaching people how we can achieve even more.



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  • 12
    Alan4discussion says:

    Larger religious organisations spend a lot of their resources in building their communities and providing social safety net. They have mass, run sunday schools, share groups, provide pastoral care, run charities etc. They are providing immense amount of incentives for people to be part of their self-sufficient in-group and their members’ reliance on these services has created a barrier to exit.

    And particularly the right wing elements, do all they can to destroy the wider competing political social support systems, (unemployment insurance – public healthcare), which would remove their “charitable” monopoly.
    It reflects the earlier historical exploitative aristocrats and theocrats, who seized wealth from the community, and then “as nice chartable people”, gave crumbs of it back to the exploited poor – in exchange for dumbing their reasoning and maintaining their servility.



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  • 13
    Timothy McNamara says:

    I put forth that the condemnation of polemics and satire stems from the belief that religion isn’t something that is at its core, hilariously stupid. Either to an untainted mind or one which hasn’t yet thrown off any unethical indoctrination inflicted during childhood. The very notion that some of Christopher Hitchens’ most popular literary M.O. are flawed whatsoever, is a notion destined for spectacular failure. To ‘cheapen’ cutting literary techniques, you need to do more than categorise them. Your ability to identify literary techniques has no relevance when it comes to the fact these methods are the best ones available to the non-violent primates among us.



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  • 14
    Simon Tuffen says:

    In reply to #9 by mmurray:

    I assume that the author lives in the US ? Outside of the US it’s not so hard to surround yourself with people who share with you either atheism or such a low level of belief that it might as well be atheism.

    I agree. Living in the UK, I hardly know anyone who is religious, and I have never heard of any of my mostly non-religious acquaintances express a concern about there being a lack of community. I haven’t read Alain de Botton’s book, but I can’t imagine what he can be on about. Everyone I know has extremely full lives. We work, we spend time with family and friends, we have hobbies, we go to the shops, we go to the pub, we go to restaurants and cafes, our children go to school, when we’re ill we go to the doctor or hospital, when we’re fit we go to the gym, we we watch football, we go to concerts, we go to parties, we play with our nieces and nephews. We have community coming out of our ears, and no god required!



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  • 15
    mmurray says:

    In reply to #14 by Jumped Up Chimpanzee:

    In reply to #9 by mmurray:

    I assume that the author lives in the US ? Outside of the US it’s not so hard to surround yourself with people who share with you either atheism or such a low level of belief that it might as well be atheism.

    I agree. Living in the UK, I hardly know anyone who is religi…

    Nice description of life as an atheist.

    Michael



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  • In reply to #14 by Jumped Up Chimpanzee:

    In reply to #9 by mmurray:

    I assume that the author lives in the US ? Outside of the US it’s not so hard to surround yourself with people who share with you either atheism or such a low level of belief that it might as well be atheism.

    I agree. Living in the UK, I hardly know anyone who is religi…

    Close friends and relatives aren’t what is being referred to here, to not acknowledge that is to miss the point of the piece. Here we are talking about a wider community of people who may not know each other but share a disbelief in a deity, and the point is that religion still has a monopoly on social altruism that secular people simply are not trying to compete with. The evidence is the predominance of religion in charity organizations and their monopoly on teaching values to children (e.g. religious schools and religion being a compulsory part of the curriculum in many places.

    Being advocated is larger meetings of people who don’t believe in gods to foster feelings of wider unity and communal support, rather than just sticking strictly to one’s close friends and relatives we could organize and meet with people outside of these circles. In this way a greater amount of secular services could be offered, such as childcare and general charity work. The other point is that people who identify as atheists tend to feel like the odd ones out in their wider community, especially as in the UK there are still large numbers of practicing Muslims and Christians.

    The point is to that none of the positive things religions offer actually need the religious aspect, and that if we actually organized and offered these services on a secular basis then religions would lose their remaining grip on humanity, as their dogma would serve no social benefit.



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  • 17
    QuestioningKat says:

    Lots to read…I’ll get to it…

    When I first became an atheist, I was feeling the loss of a community which other than belief in the supernatural was a very liberal, accepting, fun group. Unlike traditional religions, my former church did not have the judgement, condemnation, and views of Hell, sin, and Satan like other religions. Except for the woo, they were a few steps ahead of society as a whole. They were a good group and even though I had no issues with them, I realized that it wasn’t the Truth and I needed to leave to rebuild. Frequently, I wrote on the internet about this idea of community with mixed reactions. My opinions have changed over they years and what I will express is my own views so I’ll lay it out – like it or not. Challenges accepted.

    Ultimately, as atheists having a secular society in which people see reality rather than woo, God, or magic would be ideal. The most ideal situation is that there would be secular groups devoted to a cause that would interest people – helping children, emergency services, donating to causes, elevating human potential, etc. People would help people, and those that benefited would see people as the source of their aid rather than divine intervention. We’ve had this conversation about atheist not showing up when a tragedy occurs. We do, but it’s not announced. We are just another person – the cop, the paramedic, the doctor, the neighbor… Whether the person is religious or not, people are at the source of nearly all help. Perhaps at the next emergency, the religious will realize that secular organizations are in fact quietly present.

    As atheists we ultimately would be please if we had communities that shared interests without reference to the supernatural. Clubs, organizations, etc. would be immersed in an interest without reference to God. It could be a hobby, profession, topic of interest, etc. These do exist, but usually tend to be more superficial compared to the influence and impact a church has on our lives. I’m sure most all of us are involved in these “hobby/interest” type communities which are probably the most secular group activities outside of atheism. In the long run, I think most of us would be in favor of groups simply doing what they do in a secular manner.

    Ultimately, the goal of an atheist group should be its own self destruction. Atheism should go the way of abolitionists, suffragettes, or any other cause which desired bringing about a change. (Though some of these groups need to make a comeback in certain societies thanks to religious views about women.) A society in which people form groups because of common interests that work towards a goal is ideal. Being anti-religion is not a goal that “bears fruit.” It needs to have a pro stance on for a cause. I see atheist parenting, pro science and similar groups as endeavors worth pursuing.

    As a single female atheist, I can see that I am in the minority. I have viewed plenty of utube videos that have male dominated audiences. IMO, I think men are much more at ease with confrontation. At this point in time, atheism has much to do with taking a stand against political issues, identifying unjust causes and errors in views, debating others, stating the facts… If you’ve ever sat in a room full of women for a prolonged period of time on many occasions, you would quickly realize that we generally do not handle personal interactions in this manner. Our conversations tend to be quite different from men too. In the recent past, there has been an effort to include more women. I think this is good, but it needs to be in addition to the typical “anti-theist” pursuits. Women tend to be excellent at building community and see things from a different perspective. As more people become atheists, you will see groups and communities change.

    Although the ultimate goal of an atheist group should be its own self destruction, communities are needed. People need to support each other through various life’s phases and journeys. We need to no only address the “head” – politics, facts, debates, but the “heart”- by supporting others when life’s losses show up – death, initial loss of one’s faith, rebuilding a sense of purpose, creating our own meaning, raising children…. Life is worth living and we need to celebrate life. For most of us, we were not raised as atheists. We see all of life filtered through religious lenses. When accepting reality as it is, we need help being fitted with a new prescription. This can be best done with like-minded people.

    I would also add that statistics show a higher level of non-religious young people. Strangely, I also heard the same – decades ago. Here’s my guess as to what happens—- When a young couple has children, they start to think about “giving the child” morality. Suddenly, a couple of non church going people become religious – all as a result of trying to find a way to help their child. There needs to be another option that is not only for atheists but believers as well.



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  • Religions have effectively disappeared in some parts of the world. Two dramatic examples are Ireland and Quebec. These were almost theocracies. The churches were corrupt and heavy handed. They abused children with impunity. Their very power tempted them into deeper corruption, and the people turfed them out quite suddenly. They were left with a lot of property and no income. Lawsuits bled them dry.

    The same sort of thing will happen with fanatical Islamic religions oppressing the people ever more cruelly. Eventually they snap.

    I am more optimistic because I am gay. When I started my gay lib career, in Canada you used to be able to kill a gay person with zero fear of punishment. Things have drastically changed. The premier of our largest province is now gay. Things change if you push, even if you can’t for the life of you see how they possibly could. What you do is thousands of insignificant actions which mesh with the insignificant actions of hundreds of others.

    Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.
    ~ Mahatma Gandhi 1869-10-02 1948-01-30



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  • 19
    steve_hopker says:

    In reply to #17 by QuestioningKat:

    We need to no only address the “head” – politics, facts, debates, but the “heart”- by supporting others when life’s losses show up – >death, initial loss of one’s faith, rebuilding a sense of purpose, creating our own meaning, raising children…. Life is worth living and we >need to celebrate life.

    I very much agree. We need to attend to emotional as well as rational or intellectual needs Atheism’s links with science and philosophy, and maybe confrontation’s historic link with male roles could mean atheism has been seen as somewhat anti-emotional, detached, maybe uncaring.

    Yet, as I write that, it seems rather stereotypical regarding gender and academic specialisms. Caring roles outside the church have been linked to femininity, but that is changing – as is the advent of more female scientists and academics. Again, scientists are perhaps only stereotypically unemotional.

    Maybe, at least in the UK, there is already an atheist organisation, the British Humanists, although I’m not an active member and I don’t think it replicates religious support networks. I’m not even sure it should (Atheist Coffee Mornings anyone?) but some kind of support that is face to face, as well as virtual, might be in order.



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  • 20
    Simon Tuffen says:

    In reply to #16 by utopia:

    Close friends and relatives aren’t what is being referred to here, to not acknowledge that is to miss the point of the piece. Here we are talking about a wider community of people who may not know each other but share a disbelief in a deity, and the point is that religion still has a monopoly on social altruism that secular people simply are not trying to compete with.

    I appreciate your point. One thing we shouldn’t forget though (at least from a UK perspective) is that we have large secular national and local government institutions that do a truly enormous amount of caring in the community (e.g. NHS, social security, housing benefits, etc). The work of those institutions far exceeds that done by religious charities. And many of our largest and best known charities are secular.

    Being advocated is larger meetings of people who don’t believe in gods to foster feelings of wider unity and communal support, rather than just sticking strictly to one’s close friends and relatives we could organize and meet with people outside of these circles.

    I don’t really like the idea of exclusively non-religious people meeting on a larger scale to try and match or outdo religious charities and organisations. And I can’t really see it happening. I think it is better to keep pressing for all organisations working in the general community to become secular. This is already happening in a very positive way with groups like the BHS and NSS pressing for further secularism, and there have been recent successes with groups like the Scouts and Girl Guides. There are big challenges remaining of course, especially in education.



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  • 21
    jburnforti says:

    I agree. Further, as far as the intellectual side of it goes, how long till you have an alternative religion with conformities, dogma and all the rest with social pressure to be an atheist replacing thoughtful persuasion and New Reform Atheism fighting Orthodox Atheism while Born Again Dawkinites hold the ring? That social pressure will, I fear, result in plenty of adherents being atheists in the same mindless way as “Believers” now. As far as the good works side goes, every time a charity and a cause find each other, the state (OURSELVES) doesn’t have to bother – and so, usually, doesn’t. Atheists should form whatever organisations they like but I don’t believe a hospital visit from your friendly local atheist (“Call me any time”) is going to win hearts and minds. IMO atheists do their best work appealing to intelligence by discussion, not by demonstrating how decent atheists are. Once that becomes the emphasis, how do you explain the non-decent ones? reply to #20 by Jumped Up Chimpanzee:*

    In reply to #16 by utopia:

    Close friends and relatives aren’t what is being referred to here, to not acknowledge that is to miss the point of the piece. Here we are talking about a wider community of people who may not know each other but share a disbelief in a deity, and the point is that religion…



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  • 22
    JHJEFFERY says:

    In reply to #2 by Lonevoice:

    A very interesting and insightful item. It seems the idea of people of differing opinions working together is an excellent one. As ever, I, as a Christian, am saddened by the negative impact some actions and attitudes of my fellow-believers have on others, to the extent that you want to effectively..

    And let’s face it, whether the Gospel message can actually deliver on that offer is, this side of the grave, something of a matter of opinion. Either way, the atheist cannot offer that – and the alternative message of logic, reason and “once you’re dead, you’re dead” brings no comfort to the depth of a longing soul. And souls DO long for such a hope. To dismiss them as deluded for doing so would be, perhaps, a shade unkind.

    Didn’t have time to read the rejoinders, if any, to this argument, but the last quoted phrase we hear repeatedly on this site, albeit in different words. For those of us here, what “comfort” religion can offer is irrelevant. We are searching for what is true, nothing less. In fact, searching for comfort instead of truth does indeed predispose one to delusion. It’s called “wish thinking.”



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  • 23
    steve_hopker says:

    In reply to #22 by JHJEFFERY:

    In reply to #2 by Lonevoice:
    For those of us here, what “comfort” religion can offer is irrelevant. We are searching for what is true, nothing less. In fact, searching for comfort instead of truth does indeed predispose one to delusion. It’s called “wish thinking.”

    I agree. I too am sceptical of the real, deep and lasting comfort religion offers. For example, I recently attended the funeral of a young man who had suddenly died. The service was very religious, with a lot of emphasis on the deceased in effect still bring alive but in heaven. On the face of it that is a nice idea.

    But it seems to me this carries a message to the bereaved that really they should not be too upset – after all, their loved one is with God now. So full grief is a sign of a lack of real faith.

    People may get angry with God that they, or their loved one, is dying and then be guilty about that.

    I’d say (in my personal experience and as a psychiatrist) strong religious beliefs entail levels of unreason that mix very badly with the tendency many have to unreason in emotional states – and the long term results can be bad.

    Of course, atheists may experience similar emotions, guilt, anger etc – but perhaps they have less layers of complexity to cut through, self deception even, not have to cope with the smoke and mirrors of faith, maybe keeping up what they know now are pretences for the sake of others .

    And I have witnessed in my (Christian) brother aged 46, just diagnosed with advanced and inoperable cancer, how in the end a religious faith can rebound and add to the desolation. “I’ve prayed to Jesus” he cried out as my father and I visited him in hospital, “But he hasn’t heard me”.



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  • 24
    Jon Sims says:

    I don’t consider myself an atheist as it infers I acknowledge there is an argument for god. To label myself in this way tends to put me in the polarized world, which is not my world.
    The problem with science is it’s been reasoning with religion. You can reason with a child because they have no fixed opinion. You cannot reason with people who believe in god. It’s a waste of time.
    So why bother? Really?
    We have to get into politics and into the courts and legislate for human rights in education. The winning argument is that because there are so many religions around it is unreasonable to force any particular pressure of choice onto a young mind but rather, this person can chose a denomination should he or she wish to on reaching adulthood.
    In other words schools should be completely secular. The Hague convention on the rights of the child actually tends to infer that children have a right to an education and free thought.
    We’re scientists.. Were’s some of the smartest people on the planet. Why flog a dead horse in reasoning with unreasonable adults?



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  • 25
    Jon Sims says:

    In reply to #1 by Steven Mading:

    ALWAYS be careful with confusing “-ist” with “-ism”. It’s a fatal argument flaw and it’s a flaw this article makes.

    An example of confusing the two: making the argument that because science is incompatible with religion that this means scientISTS can’t be religious (or visa versa, taking the fact…
    Steven. You can have a degree in science but it does not make you a scientist. The foundations of science is based on empirics. As soon as you start ignoring this you are no longer a scientist.
    If you were to approach religion scientifically you would need only a short time and four words to simply dismiss the whole argument for religion. “IN THE BEGINNING GOD….” See?
    It’s not that science is incompatible with religion it is that religion is incompatible with science.



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  • 26
    Len Walsh says:

    In reply to #24 by Jon Sims:

    I don’t consider myself an atheist… not my world.
    The problem with science is it’s been reasoning with religion. You can reason with a child because they have no fixed…
    We’re scientists.. Were’s some of the smartest people on the planet. Why flog a dead horse in reasoning with unreasonable adults?

    In your world how exactly is persuasion accomplished?

    How can we more ordinary scientists, perhaps lacking your peculiar skill to discriminate the superlative opinions you’ve tapped into regarding developmental psychology and climatology, become smarter?



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