Amy Roth’s Challenge

I really love this essay by Amy Roth (aka Surly Amy) wherein she issues a challenge to the atheist and skeptical community to do something positive, even something very small, to help other people. Her thoughts are very much in line with where I’ve been heading with my activism over the last year or so.

The skeptic and atheist communities have been riddled with negativity lately. But it is in our power to change that, starting today. If even half of the people who self-identify as skeptics or atheists made a promise to actively do better, we would, as a whole, become the leaders that the world needs. Not one person, not a tiny group of horseman, but all of us collectively as a movement could show that humanity (and the animals) will benefit from humankind discarding the shackles of superstition and pseudoscience and instead embracing the ideals that come with compassion, caring and empirical knowledge.

You do not need God to do good, but you do need some sustained effort to show that it can be done.

I issue you all a challenge.

Starting today, right now, make a promise to combat the negativity we face as atheists or skeptics and do a good deed.

There are a lot of ways you can do that. It can be as simple as tweeting some words of encouragement to the women or oppressed groups online that you know get regular harassment. You could dedicate your time to a local charity. You could rescue a shelter pet or vow to eat at least one vegan meal a week. You could help a local senior group by delivering meals or giving rides to the store or to the doctor. You could donate art supplies or money to a local school. You could help build a house. The list goes on and on. But whatever you do, be vocal about it.

The only way we are going to rise above the rampant sexism, and the harassment and the overall shitty reputation that this community has, is by actively changing and doing better. The good people need to rise up over the bad. If you are a lurker or a fence sitter, this is your call to stand up, speak up and be counted. If you never comment, now is the time. It doesn’t have to be here on this blog, but it needs to be somewhere. Because I know there are more good people than bad people out there. It’s just that the good people often don’t want to get involved, so they stay silent. But the voices of the good need to rise above the hate and negativity so we can move onward!

This also fits really well with the Week of Action that is being sponsored by the Foundation Beyond Belief in April, only this is a more ongoing challenge. And my response to that challenge is: I’m in. All the way. If my humanism is nothing but an abstract set of arguments, it is sterile.

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  • freehand

    But many of us do get involved. We participate in public school activities, donate to public radio, volunteer for soup kitchens, volunteer man power and money after disasters, etc. The problem is that we don’t do it wearing our “Atheist” shirt buttons. Perhaps we should. But if we are filling sand bags because our town faces flooding, most of us don’t think to mention this to anyone any more than most think to mention that they are southpaws (or not), or single or married or whatever.


    Notice: Amy does it too – because we aren’t flying our flags, she seems to think we aren’t present.

  • jenny6833a

    @ #1 Freehand: I agree completely. Most of us are already doing everything Amy asks — except the witnessing. I don’t witness. I see no point in starting a contest as to who can proclaim their beliefs, or lack thereof, longest and loudest. That’s much too Christian for me.

  • dugglebogey

    I am not an atheist because I think it’s the right thing to do. I am not an atheist because I think atheists are better people. I am an atheist because that’s what I believe.

    There’s no need to prove that atheists can be good people because there is no relationship between what someone believes and whether they are a good person or not. There is just as much a chance of someone doing evil if they are christian, atheist or zoroastrian.

    I am who I am and I do what I do, good or evil, based on the person I am, not what some label or organization I claim to share beliefs with indicates.

    Christians around me always want all muslims to be responsible for the behavior of all other muslims while at the same time denying any responsibility of the evil things done by other christians. It’s a ridiculous claim to make in the first place.

  • royandale

    I read for the visually impaired, clean up trails and public spaces, give money for scholarships, food banks, homeless shelters and a zillion other causes. I support local food and local merchants and believe in the power of community and collective action. Telling everyone about how I’m an atheist is unconnected to those things and would be as inappropriate as those who proclaim their goodness comes from their particular religion.

    So, no, I won’t fly the flag to show that atheists are good people, too.

  • abear

    A few days after posting that essay about combating negativity she tweets this:

    Amy Davis Roth @SurlyAmy


    If you have ever used the phrase, “witch of the week” odds are you might be a total asshole.

    8:44 PM – 10 Mar 2014

  • Donnie

    When you receive as much as vitrol as Amy then you may understand. Not knowing your ‘nym maybe you do receive tons of hate emails, tweets, and blog comments. I do know that Amy receives tons of shit, and the reason for the challenge is to have everyone speak out (annoymously if you choose) to show atheists do, in fact, do good acts. You know, maybe populate blog posts with good shit, instead of highlighting the negative shit the atheist/skeptic movement, the MRAs/PUAs, and associated assholes throws out to women, LGBT* and their allies.

    Maybe, just maybe, the flying the flag is not just for you, and receiving a pat on the back, but maybe acknowledgement that those fighting in the trenches against the assfuckerotti have been making an impact (See Jason’s

    Spreading positivity is not just about you, but for all of the bloggers that deal with negativity all the time.

  • freehand

    I see, Donnie. I went to the link Ed provided and I see that this post by Amy was part of an effort to heal the anger and meanness elsewhere in the skeptic community. Yikes! Well, I do much of my limited blog reading and commenting here because there really isn’t much of that on Dispatches. Most of our collective anger seems to be directed to police who rape, or politicians who think hungry kids should be more motivated to work harder, or something. There’s a more tolerable amount of invective – that is, darn little – directed at other posters here.


    I’m not sure that the meanness within the community (i.e. the herd of cats) is strongly related to the problems we face when confronted with True Believers and Real Americans. Those folks hate us more because we are an example of people who don’t need gods, not so much because of internal conflict.


    When responding to an actual post, I do think it’s a good thing (usually) to be civil. I don’t always succeed, but I do think it’s desirable and classier.( Heddle, BTW, while often wrong, is invariably polite.)

  • moarscienceplz

    @#5 abear

    Riiiiight. Because obviously if you are not 100.00000000% one thing then you must be the opposite of that thing.

    That’s the same kind of BS argument the Teabaggers love to use.

  • Michael Heath

    dugglebogey writes:

    There’s no need to prove that atheists can be good people because there is no relationship between what someone believes and whether they are a good person or not.

    You sure about that? Do you have a cite?

    Our conclusions and attendant prescriptions follow from our premises. If you have really bad premises I would expect at least sub-standard conclusions and prescriptions. And certainly not conclusions equivalent to those by people who base their conclusions and prescriptions on a sufficiently framed factually true set of premises. So I’m highly skeptical the empirical evidence supports your very extraordinary assertion.

  • abear

    #8: You are right! Hypocrisy is only hypocritical when the other side does it.(not)

    As far as you calling me a teabagger, I’m a fairly liberal person that lives in a liberal area in a liberal country.

    As a left leaning individual I believe it is every bit as important to point out when the left wing makes mistakes as when the right wing does it.

    Have a nice day and try to stay positive!