In previous installments of my “What I Think About” series, I have given the cliff notes version of my views on objective values, faith and religion, science and faith, religious moderates and liberals, “evangelical atheism”, and why I call myself a gnostic theist/agnostic adeist. In this post, I explain why I am so passionate about supporting other atheists and creating community among us:
I am an activist atheist in order to support atheists as much as to oppose illicit religious influence.
My blogging is not only about trying to persuade believers of atheism and rationalism. It is also to support my fellow atheists. I think it is not a bad thing to identify as an atheist and to cultivate a group identity with people who share your social marginalization. I think it is good for atheists to reach out and connect with each other and support each other when our families turn against us and when we simply need help with philosophical problems from an atheist point of view or are interested in how to answer a debating point of some religious apologist.
Atheists are people too. We are often alienated institutionally from the religious founts of community, discussion of ethics and meaning, spiritual practices, etc. We deserve a chance to think and meet and debate in common and, specifically, as atheists work out together our views on these sorts of issues the same way religious people get to do but without all that faith-based baggage. There are important parts of our lives we deserve to develop and to help each other with.
So many well-educated “elites” are atheists (or at least irreligious) who look around and see their peers are similar and then look down on the “ordinary” with their greater likelihood of faith and then condescendingly think it’s not the place of they and their enlightened fellow elites to go and rob the poor masses of their comfort-bringing illusions. They are bewildered and offended when atheists do something so “indecent” as publicly argue against god as though they are taking out ads against Santa Claus to run during Saturday morning cartoons.
But the average atheist is not some elite but an average person who deserves books and blogs and community organizations which address his or her search for answers about philosophy and practice.
And even the average non-atheist who is either a believer or in the persuadable middle deserves proactive education. Irreligiousness and atheism are not the exclusive provenance or entitlement of the elite and the “enlightened” who do not need what the common folk do. These are available to everyone and good for most in a democratic society.
And there is no law that says you can become an atheist—but only by accident. (Well, maybe in some interpretations of Islam, but that does not count!) Atheism is treated as something permissible as long as it is kept to oneself or as something one may acquire but would never want to spread to others or as something that only the hip can figure out but only on their own when they bump into Nietzsche. Okay—I’m sort of personally guilty of that last one. There were no real live atheists in my life to dissuade me, only Nietzsche and some doubting but religious friends.
And there was certainly no one to support my transition out of religion, which was in many ways personally traumatic. There was no one to guide me in coming out to my friends at my über-conservative religious college. No one to embolden me to push back against those who wanted to psychologize and delegitimize my scrupulous intellectual struggles to let go of beliefs I loved and had staked my life and identity upon.
I had to build up my view of the world mostly from scratch, without the aid of all the books now available to atheists. And it sucked. And it slowed down my emotional, ethical, and psychological development. Atheists need and deserve support. It infuriates me when our efforts to do this for each other are trivialized and villainized.
For further consciousness raising: