Answering John Loftus: Is There an Atheist Community?

Answering John Loftus: Is There an Atheist Community? January 15, 2012

John Loftus, of Debunking Christianity, writes:

I want to briefly make the case that there is no atheist community. There are only atheist communities. There is likewise no atheist movement. There is only an atheist momentum. Atheists do not even share the same goals.

It’s a sound point, and I agree with several of his arguments, at least in the sense I believe he’s aiming. But it isn’t the only point, I don’t think. It will take me a bit to explain why:

A lot of what I write here — and really, my larger conclusions about life — is based on stuff I’ve figured out on my own, observations about the not-always-obvious mechanics of human society and human individuality.

I’ll tell you about one of my observations: Transition and Turbulence.

Anytime I’ve made a change in my life, it’s been disturbing on some level. Even changes much for the better have had certain effects that weren’t pleasant. For instance, all of my young life, every time I started a new job, the night after my first day on that job, I dreamed about it in almost exhausting detail.

Example: When I started Day One as a carpenter, and certain things went on during that day, I dreamed about those things over and over and over that night. It wasn’t exactly a nightmare, but it was a … compulsion of some sort. It was like I was practicing the thing in my sleep — pounding nails, measure and cutting 2X4 studs, window and door headers, plywood sheeting — and I woke up tired the following morning.

It never really bothered me all that much. In each Transition, I was moving into a position of more money, or to some interesting new location. I was also learning new things, which to me has been a lifelong joy.

Transition brings Turbulence. The forced breaking of old habits, the forced forming of new ones. Learning new routes to work. Discovering new ways to use your time. Finding yourself pushed into new habits of speech, new modes of dress, new ways of looking at the people around you.

Imagine yourself moving into a bigger, nicer house. Something with more room for your hobbies, a better view, safer streets, nice places to hike or fish within walking distance, wildlife at your back door. Or maybe for you it’s a penthouse apartment in The City, with a sprawling park a short stroll away, plus shopping, libraries, concerts, plays, all within walking distance.

Sounds sweet, huh? But then again … it’s moving. You’ll have to put every possession in boxes, load those boxes onto trucks, and take it all from this place to that place. And then clean up the place you’re moving from. Plus all the unpacking and arranging — every table and chair, every box of cereal and can of spaghetti, every shoe and sock and hand towel — in the new place. It will take days, won’t it? If not weeks. (If you’re like me, months.)

There will come a time when you’re perfectly comfortable in the new place, just as there was a time when you were comfortable in the old place. But in between that steady-state of comfort in the future, and that steady-state of comfort in the past, because there is Transition, there is Turbulence.

Someone dies, Turbulence. A new baby is born, Turbulence. You get a new job, Turbulence. You get fired, Turbulence. You graduate from high school or college and set out on the glorious imagined path of the freedom and self-determination of adulthood, Turbulence. You find the perfect man/perfect woman, and you entwine your futures in a ceremony of undying love — vast joy, but also … Turbulence.

I can’t imagine any life change, nothing major anyway, and I even have my doubts about the small ones, that would not bring Turbulence.

This understanding has brought a certain amount of ease to my life. When I get into new life situations, and uncomfortable things are flying at me hard and fast, at some point I realize: “Oh, it’s just Turbulence. All this will ease off in a bit, and I’ll be fine.” The broader view takes away a lot of the immediate sting of the discomfort.

It’s the same with the current atheist movement. After … well, I was going to say “after thousands of years,” but the truth is, it’s been for all of our history and prehistory that we’ve lived under the mind-crushing oppressive hand of religion and superstition.

The truth is, we’re undergoing a Transition that has no precedent. This one, kids, is not just a Transition, but a Revolution.

It’s been rather gentle, so far, and I’m surprised at that. I was expecting a bit more blood.

I think what happened is that the Revolution started, and we won most of the ground, while nobody was looking.

The Internet, that idle toy, came along and seemed like just a way for people to share pictures of their cats. But then it turned out to be a way to shop without spending hours in this store and that, and not pay taxes, and that was a pretty good thing. And THEN it became a way for people to share ideas, to form communities, some of which could never be formed in meatspace.

Atheism, for instance. The people who might have opposed atheists if we’d been milling around on public streets, or having official meetings in local buildings, they missed it, missed the significance of it, because it all went on below their notice, and enough happened that eventually there was no way to stop it.

Think about it: The conservatives, government officials, church officials, corporate masterminds, molders of public opinion — the people used to being in the driver’s seat throughout history were late adopters of the Internet.

And they lost the initiative. On so many things, but especially, for us, on atheism. Yes, atheists are still a minority, but we’ve gone mainstream, and atheism constitutes a respectable subject for open discussion. We have books. We have TV characters. We have conventions. We have columnists, bloggers, YouTube stars.

We have freethought humor. Churches and religious authorities are now … silly. Pompous. Misguided. On so many things, just plain wrong. And it’s okay to say so in public.

As John Loftus says, atheists appear to have communities rather than a community. But where he sees problems and limits, I see Turbulence. And something fantastic growing out of it, the Transition into something never before seen on Planet Earth. The species with all the power at last growing into a shared awareness of reason and responsibility, and finding as one of its foremost champions a group willing to divorce themselves from the demands of idiot superstition.

Yes, there are bumps along the way. John Loftus departing FreethoughtBlogs is one of those bumps. (John, we’ll miss you. I’m sure we all wish you well, and all continue to think of you as one of our allies. Even if you’re not here, you continue to be a part of this larger work.)

Here in the Turbulence, yes, we have these uncomfortable moments. But in the end, I suspect we’ll all look back on it and think:

Wow, what a wonderful thing, what a fantastic journey, to happen in MY lifetime! I was there when it all took place! I was part of it!

I’m convinced that not only is there a movement, not only is there a community, there is an atheist revolution taking place, and beyond that, an atheist (or atheistic) culture, growing up right in front of us.

We’ll see it more clearly when some of the dust settles.





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