Friday, February 13, 2009

The atheist community -- or lack thereof

Jack Carlson writes about atheism's big fail. I think he's mistaken on two counts. First I think there is an atheist community. More importantly, I don't see any particular reason why there should be an atheist community, or why any specific level of participation — including none at all — should be viewed as a failure.

There are two levels of atheism: people who do not believe in any god(s), and people who self-identify as atheists. I've observed that many people who do not have any belief in god(s) in any meaningful sense do not or actively refuse to self-identify as atheists.

Carlson is correct: "Other than that one specific philosophical opinion, atheists do not necessarily share any other conclusion, interest or attitude." Communities do indeed form around shared interests. Since atheists do not have any shared interests, it's natural that there would not be an atheist community per se. It's not, as Carlson suggests, a "failure of marketing". There's no actual shared interest to market.

What we do see is a lot of different communities — political, philosophical, scientific, recreational, professional, etc. — forming that include or are dominated by atheists.

There are a lot of atheists I have absolutely no interest in being in any type of meaningful community with: Libertarians, Randians, Republicans, new-age crystal woo-woo. There are other communities — e.g. skeptical anti-woo investigators, advocates of evolutionary science, pro-secularist political activists — who, while I admire their activities, do not engage in activities I have any particular interest in.

I resent being called a "failure" and chided because I don't drop my particular interests and take up some manufactured superficiality necessary to be in an "atheist" community, a group of people 90% of whom I simply do not share any meaningful interest. Quite the contrary: I'm proud to be a member of a number of different communities as an outspoken and unapologetic atheist.


  1. I agree TBB. I wrote a closely-related post about this very thing back in 2007:

    UTI - Karl Rove Is An Atheist

  2. I'm gonna start a "doesn't believe in leprechauns" community. Wanna join? We'll drink motherfucking Jameson at our meetings!

  3. Perhaps it should also be noted that the mere sharing of one or more interests does in no wise imply that thereby some form of "community" is formed, unless of course one adopts the most attenuated sense of "community" possible: a sort of set-theory of persons, where "communities" are the Venn intersections.
    Actual, living communities, on the other hand, are typically composed of a diversity of interests, opinions, and ways of life. The interplay of these elements are what give them life and promote their development; homogeneity of overlapping interest- or belief-molecules cannot constitute a community and when such is presumed to do so the "community" collapses its thin girders.

  4. It should not be regarded as a 'failure' if atheists don't have groups. Still, I sometimes think that if we organized as atheists more, we'd have more political pull.

    You're quite right, though, that we're pretty much one of the least cohesive 'groups' in existence.

  5. Comrade PhysioProf: Note that your community would be defined by an interest in drinking Jameson, not by disbelief in leprechauns. ;)

    Skoteinos: I disagree, at least in part. A community is defined not by the uniformity of all interests, but by the commonality of some interest(s); the diversity of the interests not held in common gives that community its vitality.

    It is definitely the case that there are totalizing ideologies and communities, communities that are defined by the uniformity of all interests. Such communities typically do not outlast their leader or guru.

    There is, I think, an optimal range of values or interests held in common; too few and the community fractures, too many and the community becomes sterile and static.

    atheist: I think we can organize more effectively as secularists.

  6. I am glad I found this website and I am here to let you know that I came up with " Fundamental Theory Of Existence " this theory and this theory proves the absence of God.
    Here is a link to my theory.
    I want rest of the World to know the truth and the truth is God can not exist. There is no room for creation and destruction. Please help me with it.

  7. way12go: Your website is... interesting. While I agree with your conclusion that no god exists, your analysis does not seem rigorously scientific and your understanding of transfinite mathematics is simplistic and unsophisticated.

    You should take care not to draw too-firm conclusions about the world from the details of mathematics or other abstract systems of thought.

    Your presentation, too, is not as effective as it might be. Italics should be reserved for emphasis and a more traditional paragraph structure would greatly improve readability.


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