I’ve gotten lazy about these anniversaries over the years, but this one is too big to ignore. My first-ever post was February 10, 2006, which means this humble little blog is ten years old today!
In the time I’ve been writing, the atheist movement has made amazingly rapid progress. The non-religious have grown by leaps and bounds in the U.S., and while congressional representation is a lagging indicator, we’ve gained political pull as well – including the candidacy of Bernie Sanders, the first serious and openly non-religious presidential candidate. Meanwhile, the major churches of the Western world are experiencing a slow-motion disintegration, and aggressively theocratic religion, while far from defeated, has suffered some stunning defeats and seems to be on the ropes. I never would’ve expected to see the culture change so much, so fast in my lifetime. Now more than ever, the long-term outlook for reason and secularism is bright.
On a personal note, being part of this movement has enriched my life immeasurably. I’ve made so many friends – brilliant writers, fierce activists, fascinating deep thinkers, endearingly kooky iconoclasts – whom I’d never have met if I hadn’t gotten involved in this defiantly weird, colorful, sprawling, diverse community. I’ve had the immense privilege of getting to travel around the country to speak to student groups and conventions, which is something I still find amazing, that anyone would come out just to see and hear me.
And last but by no means least, it’s made me a better person. I owe a debt of gratitude to the people who’ve enlightened me to racism, to sexism, to social justice, to all the kinds of injustice and prejudice that still run rampant and that exert an insidious influence on even the best of us, when we’re not on guard against them. I’ll admit, I cringe when reading some of my older writing, but I hope that’s a good sign! If I’d looked back and found that I hadn’t needed to change any of my views in ten years, I’d be worried what that says about me.
However, these big steps have all come at a cost. The atheist community, which once seemed gloriously unified, has become riven in the last few years with ugly fractures and one-step-forward-two-steps-back infighting about what kind of movement we want to be. I’ve lost friends over it, and many of the people I used to idolize have publicly tumbled from their pedestals. Some incomparable friends and activists have burned out or quit the movement in disgust, and each one was a loss I felt keenly. But while I fully understand their decision, and while I’ve had low moments myself, I’ve never felt seriously tempted to do the same. After all this time, I still firmly believe that the atheist movement is too necessary, too important to be abandoned to its worst elements. When the trolls, the bigots and the slimepitters try to remake this movement in their own image, it only redoubles my resolve to stand in the breach and say to them, “You can’t have it.”
What keeps pushing me on is that I’ve learned to trust the power of small efforts that add up over time. We want progress to come in big, overwhelming waves, washing over us and swamping the enemies of reason, changing people’s minds en masse, but it hardly ever happens like that. Instead, it’s more often a slow, barely perceptible creep, like the land thawing from winter into spring. People change their minds slowly, a little at a time, and so the moral average gradually shifts. Even when there are reverses and disappointments along the way, it’s usually true that each one is a high-water mark – leaving things just a little better than last time, just a little further along for the next step to build on.
If I have a vision for the future, it’s that I want less Big Atheism. I’m tired of having a few prominent organizations directing the movement and a few famous (or infamous) individuals dominating the headlines and treated as the de facto Voice of the Atheist Community. That’s the secular equivalent of a monoculture crop, and just as fragile. I’d rather see more Small Atheism: a diverse garden of local secular and humanist community groups, dispersing outward like seeds from a puffball, quietly taking root and growing, getting on with providing community and doing good. The Secular Student Alliance, Foundation Beyond Belief, and Sunday Assembly are all good models of this, from what I’ve seen of them, and there are many outstanding local activists doing this work. I hope they grow and thrive.
Lastly, I’ve been giving thought to how long I want to keep writing for Daylight Atheism. And I’ve come to a decision, which is just this: I’m going to keep at it as long as it’s still fun.
I’ve never considered writing this blog my job, even though I now make (a fairly small amount of) money from it. It is and always has been my essential creative outlet. In ten years I’ve hardly ever taken a break, and that’s because writing is my break. It’s not work to me, it’s a hobby, something I do for pleasure. Even if I wasn’t making any money from it, even if no one else ever read it, I’d still do it. (One of these days I have to count up how many total words I’ve written for Daylight Atheism. I’m sure the number would astonish even me.)
As always, my horizon is pleasurably crowded with ideas for new projects. I expect to write and publish at least two more books in the medium-term future. I’d also like to write more fiction – I have a concept for an atheist-themed novella I’d like to serialize on the blog, maybe after I finish my coming-up-on-three-years(!) review of Atlas Shrugged. And hey, I’m only 33 – there’s still plenty of time to become a world-famous author and speaker. I have no idea whether any of those big plans will pan out, but let’s check back in another ten years!