The Great Courses

Why Should Atheists Want "Community?"

Jan 18, 2014 at 9:24 AM
4 years ago

A question/comment emerged on the Facebook page, and I hear it echoed so often that I wanted to formally address it here.

Why do we need community, as atheists? Why would we mirror the hideous gatherings of the fundementalist "thinkers"? 

The answer is simple: Human beings are relational creatures. 

The church doesn't have a monopoly on community. The church didn't invent community. It just happens to do community really, really well.

Gathering to share common interests and pursue common goals isn't the sole domain or proprietary property of religion, and by eschewing opportunities to join together for fear of looking "religious," I fear we've surrendered ground to the church that doesn't belong to the church.

Community is a human experience, not a religious one.

atheist assembly

If community isn't your thing personally, that's more than fine. But many of us thrive on the connection we have with others. We enjoy relating, sharing, being challenged and drawing encouragement. We benefit from coming together as friends, and in a sense, being a family.

There's also the fact that the freethought movement is stronger with numbers. A single solder tossing stones against the religious castle wall will usually accomplish very little. An army of like-minded, focused soldiers working together can crush the barriers and win the day.

Here's a great pic of the billboard campaign promoted by Atheists of Utah.  Undoubtedly a diverse group, they got national headlines as they worked together to spread a message of support to those (in and out of the closet) who don't believe in gods.  (How much would they have accomplished if each had decided to reject the community and attempt this alone?)

atheist of utah billboard

Atheist and freethought groups around the country are seeing their numbers rising, and the amazing 2012 Reason Rally (promoting reason, not religion) was a hugely positive celebration of rational thought, science and humanism.  Are communal events like these to be condemned because you can't fit all of the participants in a Volkswagon?

There will always be the malcontents and hipsters who automatically think that any atheist movement or group means that we've surrendered to conformity, a herd mentality and the tactics of religion. "'re having an atheist meeting? Might as well be church."

By this logic, your local chess club is a church. Your gathering at a friend's house for the Super Bowl is church. Attending a concert with friends is church. Mingling at Comic-Con is church. Hosting a craft fair table is church.  A political rally is church.  The line at the new "Star Wars" premiere is church.

angry hipster

C'mon. Are we really so desperate to keep rationalism in our back pocket? Are we like the indie band groupie who swears he'll reject the band if it ever has a hit song? Do we really lament the idea that others might make us feel less "special" as they join the freethought party and work alongside us to promote rationalism, skepticism and a superstition-free world?

As romantic as it might sound to be some kind of loner hero character paddling against the tide, I'd rather we join our forces and push forward together.

In my opinion, it's better to battle the waves united, well-organized and strong, to be there in support of each other, to find opportunities large and small to create community, and to provide a constant reminder that none of us are alone.

Seth Andrews

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