A month ago, there was a push to get atheists to change their Facebook profile picture to the atheist A symbol.
I liked the idea. It was a way to show your atheist pride — that there are indeed a whole bunch of us out there and that we’re not afraid to admit it.
It’s been weeks since that ended, but people still have the symbol in their picture. Is it because they like the idea of atheist pride? Are they just too lazy to remove it? Or do they just feel comfortable being part of a larger group?
Kate at Cuddly Atheism says it seems like we’re just falling into a herd mentality instead of relying on the free inquiry and uniqueness that made so many of us atheists in the first place:
It just seems cliquey and exclusionary. You’re with us or you’re against us… What I wonder, however, is how many potential atheists are being turned off or away by this herd mentality. Where’s the focus on the beauty and wonder of the universe, a la Carl Sagan, that brought so many of us where we are today? Where’s the unique humor, a la Douglas Adams, used to expose so many obvious and fantastic truths that, yes, made us laugh, but also made us see the world from a bizarrely right-side-up perspective?
There is some truth to that. It’s easy to get caught up in “organized atheism” and that has the potential to hurt us in the long run.
But as someone who works with several groups that try to get atheists to network with each other, I don’t see all of this as bad. There are certain aspects of a group mentality that serve us well — knowing that others have gone through what we went through in abandoning our faith, the joy in being able to talk to like-minded people without having to censor ourselves, and the ability to share in common interests, to name a few. (Not to mention the more of us who band together, the easier it becomes to get our message to the masses.)
Especially when you’re first coming into atheism, or starting college and exploring it for the first time, these things are more vital than ever.
Kate makes a point about how the first thing people know about us shouldn’t be that we’re atheists. That’s a fair point. I’d say it’s better to have a conversation, let someone get to know you, and then let them discover that you’re an atheist. They’re much more likely to be persuaded to look at things from our point of view if they know us and like us first.
In that sense, the “A” badge can be a conversation-killer.
But I think promoting groups and organizations for atheists is a positive thing, overall. We need to continue that without forgetting why we became atheists in the first place.