The Trouble With Atheists

***Update***: You can see John’s original post here.

John W. Loftus, author of Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity, suggests that the trouble with atheists is that we lack organization.

He elaborates on each of his points, but the short versions are:

1) We don’t provide a united front.

2) We have no leaders.

3) We cannot agree on anything else but religion.

4) We have no agreed upon causes.

5) We cannot agree about tactics.

I don’t know if he really believes these things are all issues our movement has to struggle with but I don’t see any of them as problems.

We’re not going to be unified when our disbelief in any gods is the only common thread binding us. It’s fine if we support one group or another or none at all. I think we all benefit when we can be counted in some way, but if you choose not to do that via a particular group, so be it.

We don’t need (nor should we want) any sort of atheist “Pope.” No one person can tell us how to think or act — not Dawkins or Hitchens or anyone else. There are plenty of atheists who have earned my respect, but it doesn’t mean I take what they say as infallible.

Diversity in what we call ourselves, and who we vote for, and where we stand on morality just shows we’re not a homogeneous bunch. That’s a good thing. People who try to pigeonhole all atheists as anything are just broadcasting their ignorance.

We may not agree on which causes to support, but the beauty of that is that we end up supporting a wide variety of them. Some groups focus on lawsuits and church/state separation issues. Others focus on charity work, or college groups, or local communities, or debunking claims of supernaturalism. I doubt one group, even a strong one, could do all these things very well. It’s a strength that we have many groups tackling all these things — hopefully, they’ll work together when there’s something bigger at stake. Groups like the Secular Coalition for America show that this type of cooperation is possible.

The issue of tactics has been debated nonstop. You don’t *have* to be friendly or angry or an “evangelical” atheist. Different types of tactics will get through to different people. We need all kinds.

If we have a problem within our movement, it’s that we don’t have as pleasant of a story to sell as Christians. We’re “competing” against the idea of forgiveness, Heaven, and hope. The truth isn’t nearly as optimistic. But it’s honest and awe-inspiring if you understand the beauty of science.

What do you see as the biggest problems we face?

  • stevesie

    “We don’t need (nor should we want) any sort of atheist “Pope.” No one person can tell us how to think or act — not Dawkins or Hitchens or anyone else. There are plenty of atheists who have earned my respect, but it doesn’t mean I take what they say as infallible. ”

    I don’t think that Loftus was suggesting an atheist pope. A leader doesn’t have to be someone who is infallible, it has to be someone who can organize, inspire, and put words into action. Even the most “churchy” of atheists, those involved with Humanist Chaplaincies, don’t want an atheist pope. Further, these leaders don’t claim to be infallible or demand all atheist subordinates to be just like them. To see this in action, one only needs to look at the Harvard Humanist Chaplaincy: Greg Epstein, the Humanist Chaplain, is a poster boy for modern accommodationism. Conversely John Figdor, the assistant Chaplain, is a new atheist if ever there was one.

    Organization doesn’t mean compromise and leadership doesn’t mean theocracy.

  • bigjohn756

    Does the phrase ‘herding cats’ apply here.

  • david

    all leaders bring is division and why do people feel the need to have a leader to follow ?

    once you have a leader you have people telling you ” thats not what the “leader: wants/ meant/said etc

    and then its only a short goose step to being TOLD what is expected from you and BINGO a bloke in a frock TELLING you what to think

  • Gibbon

    John Loftus has made a legitimate point. If atheists wish to change anything, even if it is just how atheism is perceived by the general public, then they do need to become more organised. You aren’t going to effect change if you have a thousand different voices all speaking a slightly different message and tone; a level of organisation is necessary.

    You do need a level of organisation that allows for all the members (atheists in this case) to move as a single body. You do need leaders, not so much people that you listen to and take orders from, but someone who represents and speaks for the group and around whom that group can rally. You also need a common cause and shared beliefs, because they are typically prerequisite for bringing people together in the first place.

    If atheists wish to be taken seriously in both society and politics they do need to organise, otherwise any perceived looseness and independence amongst atheists will be interpreted as evidence that they are even slightly anti-social. Displaying social organisation would in fact be the strongest evidence possible (potentially indisputable) that atheists are not immoral.

  • mkb

    And should the lifestance of this atheist leader be buddhism? humanism? objectivisim? existentialism? futilitarianism? something else? Probably the only two causes on which we all agree are the need for separation of church and state and the need for scientific integrity and why should we all agree on any others? I don’t see the need for more cohesion.

  • http://www.tos100.com TOS100

    “What if I don’t WANT a leader? Where does THAT vote go?” — Doug Stanhope

    When I was on the “Stanhope in ’08” presidential campaign strategy team, we had a meeting in Las Vegas in March 2007 to discuss various approaches.

    Someone mentioned trying to get the Atheist vote. It was at that time that Penn Jillette piped in, stating that it’s difficult-to-impossible to organize Atheists. We took his word for it and moved on to the next point.

    He did not explain why this is the case, but it is making sense now, almost 4 years later.

    Part of being an Atheist involves shunning the institution of religion, which involves organizing members and guiding them to a place of conformity. If we were the type of people to conform, then we might be more likely to swallow the story of the invisible friend and join in the cakewalk and bingo sessions.

    I know it’s not all about being anti-establishment. It’s not merely a rebellious position, as some theists would love to claim. “Oh, you’re just being a naughty rebel.” This is but ONE small attribute.

    Even on YouTube, when there is talk of “an Atheist community,” some will perk up and shoot down that notion, stating that the ONLY thing we have in common is our non-belief in gods and an unwillingness to subscribe to religious dogma.

  • Dave B

    Are these 5 things not generally true of theism? Or Christianity? Or any of the sects of Christianity that contain more than a few dozen people?

  • http://muledungandash.blogspot.com/ Mule Breath

    I would have to say that none of the points made by Loftus are relevant, and would further take issue with you, Hemant, in describing what we has as a “movement.” To my way of thinking a movement is what I hope for each morning but find it becoming increasingly more difficult as I grow older.

    There is nothing wrong with belonging to groups with the purpose of defending non-belief from religious zealots, but we should not look for leaders nor should we seek to evangelize.

    Loftus is accustomed to organization and seeks it in his hew found lack of belief, but atheists are more anarchist than that. He’ll get used to it in time.

  • jose

    The biggest problem we face is religion. Not “organized religion” or “extremists using religion as an excuse”. Just religion by itself. It boils down to magical thinking: the notion that it’s okay to believe something just because someone else told you and it rings nice in your ears. But the most powerful form of magical thinking has always been religion.

    (About our lacking leaders being a “problem”: I don’t understand how Americans can hold these two principles at the same time: a glorified view of leadership (just look at how the founding fathers have been deified lately) and a superstrong sense of individuality. One might think individualistic people would tend to reject the idea of being led by someone else)

  • Phoebe

    First off, 3 cheers to John W. Loftus for accepting reality and becoming an atheist! :) :) :)

    But, in my opinion…
    1)We have several united fronts. for example, FFRF and groups like that are doing great legal work for the Separation of Church and State.
    2)We do have some “spokespeople” of a sorts, famous awesome atheists who have written books and get on tv and get noticed.
    3)Not having religion forced on us is kind of the point, isn’t it? Why would we need to agree upon anything but making the total Separation of Church and State a reality?
    4)Yeah..Separation of Church and State…We ALL agree on that.
    5)We have a boatload of tactics. FFRF et al with the legal issues and billboards and other things, Awesome atheists write atheist books & awesome atheists buy atheist books, the huge online presence of awesome atheists with stuff like United Atheist Front & Friendly Atheist, Blag Hag ETC many many more, the whole thing of “coming out” and standing up for ourselves and not cower in fear of religious people, etc.

    I think we’re definitely on the right track and should continue on course.

  • flawedprefect

    Yeah, I agree with Mule above. I think the biggest problem is the fact that some feel we need to have a united front. The only sure thing we have in common is the lack of a belief in any sort of deity, or at the very least, don’t see the need to worship one because there’s no good evidence which shows there IS a need to.

    Beyond that, we’re as diverse as the whole spectrum of humanity. Why should we have a “united front”? What would such a movement be required to do? Spread a message? Fight against a common cause?

    I think the biggest problem is using outdated language and concepts regarding our common dis-belief. Our biggest strengths are legion, and I would argue his points are actually what makes us stronger: We don’t agree on much else outside whether or not there is a God (or Gods). We span politics, ethics, and social spectrums.

    Our biggest strength, IMO is we’re human. Just like everybody else.

  • Todd

    What do you see as the biggest problems we face?

    I think one of the biggest problems in the way in which so many other people, purhaps even some atheists, think. There is a willingness to believe in all kinds of things for which there is no evidence. My wife, stepdaughter, sister, and mother all believe in ghosts, hauntings, some sort of heaven and hell, reincarnation, even horoscopes. No amount of reasoning has any affect on their opinions egarding such things. I think the religious teachings of our childhood prepare a young mind to believe in just about anything and it is very few of us that have the ability to shrugg off the superstitions and become skeptical free thinkers. I also believe that this trend in thinking covers the majority of people and will for some many generations. We certainly have a challenge ahead of us.

  • http://www.dead-logic.com Bud

    You should have just displayed John’s entire post. His ending sums up everything perfectly.

    John wrote:

    We are human beings of every age, shape, gender, skin color, health, wealth, education and social social status. We simply do not believe. We think for ourselves based on solid evidence and good reasons. We cannot be herded like believing sheep. Nor can we be fleeced.

    But this is our strength. We are everywhere. We are the wave of the future. There is no turning back the hands of time. We cannot be ignored any more.

    That was the most important part of his post. I’m surprised you ignored it.

  • Edmond

    I would say that it’s an astounding testament that we ARE making such headway in society; becoming recognized, becoming respected, being included in presidential speeches, forming student clubs, winning lawsuits, erecting billboards, etc etc etc, and all DESPITE not having unity, leaders, or general consensus of tactics or causes.

    Obviously, we have no NEED of those things. Our EXPOSURE is our best tactic, and our insistence on equal legislation for all citizens regardless of faith is our best cause.

    Whatever we are doing, or NOT doing, keep it up!

  • ckitching

    3)Not having religion forced on us is kind of the point, isn’t it? Why would we need to agree upon anything but making the total Separation of Church and State a reality?
    4)Yeah..Separation of Church and State…We ALL agree on that.

    I wish that were true. See S.E. Cupp for an example of someone who says that they’re an atheist but would absolutely adore a Christian theocracy.

    As for the post, I think having no completely defined leaders is a strength. It means that the disgrace of a single human being doesn’t mean anything. Dig up any dirt you like about Hitchens, Harris, Dawkins or Myers, and it will have virtually no effect on us. These people have no authority to speak for us except when we decide they are speaking for us.

  • http://scaryreasoner.wordpress.com SteveC

    If you read his blog post about this, here:
    The Trouble With Atheists

    You see he ends it a bit differently:

    But this is our strength. We are everywhere. We are the wave of the future. There is no turning back the hands of time. We cannot be ignored any more.

    (emphasis not mine).

  • http://muledungandash.blogspot.com/ Mule Breath

    BTW… very sorry for the typo.

  • Ron in Houston

    1. Separation of church and state and the creeping co-opting of religion by political entities.

    2. Frankly, a PR problem. Atheist=dick is becoming a frequent talking point. We need more ads with “good without God” and less that try to stick a finger in people’s eyes.

    Anyway, my $0.02 for today…

  • flatlander100

    “We don’t need (nor should we want) any sort of atheist “Pope.”

    Amen to that.

    So to speak.

  • Noel

    The trouble with atheists is precisely people like Loftus: atheists who want a Movement.

    What political agenda do we need to impose on the world? Why do we need to organize?

    Atheism is not a belief system; the fundamental debate is over – mysticism is a conceptual error by first principles. And we cannot be in the propaganda business, because conversion to freethinkers is an oxymoron: recognizing and removing the error is a personal obligation.

    So, again, what is an atheist “united front” for beyond moral support (that any atheist with a good philosphical substrate doesn’t need)?

    We are all our own individual agency. That’s the point. Everyone was born an atheist.

  • Chris M

    The advantages of being out and organized are that atheism becomes normal and that we can influence events (like politics, forcing separation of church and state, school curricula, etc.,). If nothing else, it provides an effective balance against the religious groups.

  • http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/ John W. Loftus

    Noel Says: “The trouble with atheists is precisely people like Loftus: atheists who want a Movement.”

    Glad to oblige. Although, wait, I distinctly remember forgetting I said that. There are other things here I distinctly remember forgetting I said them too.

    Dang memory.

    [Note to self: forbid people from remembering things I forgot.]

  • http://gaytheistagenda.lavenderliberal.com/ Buffy

    Isn’t it our most redeeming quality is that we’re not a bunch of lemmings who all do the same thing, according to directives from some “leader”, and because some ancient tome said to? Isn’t that what being a freethinker is all about?

  • jolly

    What grass roots movement has ever had a spokesperson? They all have had many and lots of different tactics and those tactics change with society. Did any of the Women’s movements have a leader? Did the LGBT, or racial civil rights, or anti-war movement of the ’60’s? No, they all had many people with different ideas on how to accomplish the unifying goal.
    The goal I would like to see is that religious views get no more traction than belief in Santa Claus.

  • http://onestdv.blogspot.com OneSTDV

    The problem with atheists is that they’re excessively petty towards American Christianity. Take Hemant and the commentariat’s grousing about a sheriff who took away basketball hoops from CRIMINALS and gave it to a church playground.

    Organized atheism should focus on debunking supernaturalism and the threat of Islam to the Western world. Those are the only two issues where a real impact can be made.

  • anthrosciguy

    I see those “bugs” as features.

  • freddy

    I struggle with my choice to be on the “strident” side when it comes to how I discuss religion but I also find more reasons to hold that tactic rather than soften up on it. Is that part of the problem? Lately I’ve been leaning more towards “probably”. That whole catch more flies with honey than vinegar thing.

  • Villa

    Within the movement, I’d lean towards our biggest problem being people who can’t tell style from substance.

    Discussions about atheism always seem to turn into, “Is this tone right?” even though tone has nothing to do with the truth of the argument.

    Or we have people who can’t tell the difference between ‘uses harsh language’ and ‘is intolerant’.

    The endless re-hashing of the topic of tone really seems to prevent a lot of substantive discussion about actual issues.

  • Ben

    The big problem with the atheist movement(s) is thinkers like you who spread the message that nothing is wrong with our groups, giving a false sense of security.

    The reality is that the atheist movement must be constantly growing, changing. And that there is no single time when atheists should be convinced or spread the message of “being good enough”, be it in organization or lack thereof.

    It’s the same goddamn message that religious folks use to justify outrageously reactionary beliefs.

    It’s also the sign of laziness.

    I also find it a bit irksome that I see, not once, but twice a misrepresentation of other thinkers. Like the FSM guy.

    Like it or not, you (Hemant) and others like PZ, Hitchens and Dawkins (to name a few) are leading figures to many atheists.

    So lead.

  • http://www.phoenixgarage.org/ cr0sh

    As has been touched on before, one of the things that irks me about the “atheist label” is that it defines us as the opposite of the theist. It defines us on -their- terms, not ours.

    Richard Dawkins has touched on this; unfortunately, he came up with the term “bright”, which to me seems like a very shallow and trite term, but at least he tried.

    The biggest problem with atheism, is that it is possible to be an atheist, yet still believe in “woo”. I would love to see the “movement” move away from any sort of “woo”, and be skeptical and questioning of -everything- (even pronouncements from the “four horsemen”!).

    It may be the “not a true AtheistScotsman” fallacy, but I sometimes wonder about atheists who don’t apply the reasoning skills that led to their atheism to all areas of their life. I understand that humans are great at compartmentalizing, and I also understand that not all atheists arrive at their conclusions thru logical, rational, self-analysis of their beliefs…

    But maybe that should or could become the platform…? Maybe we should be pushing for the teaching and learning of critical thinking, logic and reasoning? Maybe we should be pushing for a less “demon haunted” world, using the tools we know that can get us there?

    Would this…could this…(should this) work? Would it be a good approach?

  • Marty

    Atheism doesn’t lend itself to leaders. It’s like saying people who don’t believe in astrology need a leader.

  • Danielle

    “As has been touched on before, one of the things that irks me about the “atheist label” is that it defines us as the opposite of the theist. It defines us on -their- terms, not ours.”

    I usually go by the term “naturalist” when describing myself through my own terms. I don’t care much for the word “atheist” either.

  • keddaw

    The biggest problem facing atheists is that the issues we (virtually) all agree on, such as Separation of Church and State, are not atheist-only movements. Religious folk should realise it is for their benefit too that government isn’t out there helping one particular religion – just because it’s yours today doesn’t mean it will be tomorrow.

    So groups that are mainly atheist (e.g. Secular Coalition for America) should actually have many more, a majority in fact, Christian members and the problem is getting the message across that a secular government does not a godless country make.

    e.g. The first line of the SCoA about page is:

    The Secular Coalition for America is a 501(c)4 advocacy organization whose purpose is to amplify the diverse and growing voice of the nontheistic community in the United States.

    There is no need for secular (government) to equal non-theistic, and while they say they enthusiastically welcome religious people that first line chases them away (it’s like the KKK enthusiastically welcoming minorities).

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000586562927 Donna Hamel (muggle)

    Mule Breath summed it up nicely:

    There is nothing wrong with belonging to groups with the purpose of defending non-belief from religious zealots, but we should not look for leaders nor should we seek to evangelize.

    I just don’t get the drive for us all to be anything and every time the calls go out for this, the next damned thing I know other Atheists are telling me how I ought to be. Excuse me? No. I didn’t leave religion to obey orders.

    Obviously, church-state separation is paramount but as has been pointed out above, that is not just our issue. AU is very effective and they are a melting pot of disbelief and every danged belief under the sun. I might also point out that the ACLU — also a mixed bag — is probably the most effective organization going in defending not just this but all our civil liberties.

    I think it’s a mistake to try and make church-state separation an Atheist thing. It’s crucial that theists of whatever ilk recognize that it’s important to them too. Fortunately, a good many do. A good many care that once government can tell you to worship, they can also tell you how to.

    We should really focus on even if you believe in Jesus, if government promotes Jesus, Jesus himself becomes what the government says he is. How many Christians would really want the government co-opting Jesus if they were aware of that?

    Social stigmatization is linked to church-state separation and that is why even small violations are crucial. If government can favor religion as in giving the basketball hoops to churches as if they’re special, it stigmatizes everyone not Christian, not just us.

    But we don’t need a united Atheist front on that (though I support FFRF because they do good work both in separating church and state and in improving the image of nonbelievers); we need to make it more acceptable to believe anything other than Jesus. And to see Jesus other than how those who push to join church and state see him.

    Speaking as an American frankly. I do get tired of hearing why do we focus so much on Christianity when it’s utterly obvious why. They’re the ones constantly being treated like they are what the government would like everyone to be.

  • http://www.youtube.com/aajoeyjo Joe Zamecki

    One problem that our movement has is that we spend a lot of time criticizing our own movement, when we’re doing things a LOT better than most other movements are.

    Our focus of criticism should always be pointed outward, at theists causing problems, in my opinion.

    Also we’re not joiners. We’re too independent minded. I wouldn’t want it any other way. Leaders piss me off. I’d prefer to see representatives instead. I think that’s what we mostly have now. People like us, speaking up for us. Not leading us around.

  • Non-Litigious Atheist

    Some groups focus on lawsuits and church/state separation issues. Others focus on charity work, or college groups, or local communities, or debunking claims of supernaturalism… What do you see as the biggest problems we face?

    I’d like to take a swing at this one because I did not come to my perspective overnight, but it emerged as a kind of unintended realization after thinking about this for a number of years. Two issues stand out:

    1. Education vs. Influence

    I think the biggest divide among atheists is pretty basic: Some atheists are truth-educators, while other atheists are influence-peddlers.

    They don’t always need to conflict, but sometimes they do. When they do conflict, an atheist has to pick a side. Do you care more about spreading the truth, or defending the atheist ‘brand’ through marketing/public relations?

    To use my recent example: Do I defend atheism against sociologists, or do I embrace sociologists’ findings that religious people are more generous than secular ones? In a case like this, is it more important to be a card-carrying atheist, or to be scientifically minded?

    (I know what side I would pick. What’s the old adage? ‘He who loves atheism more than truth will end by loving himself most of all’.)

    2. To Organize or Not to Organize

    I’m disinclined to become involved in any organizations, atheist or otherwise. Whenever a group of people come together they inevitably become a clique that exists, in part, to peer pressure dissenters to conform to the majority opinion of the group, establishing groupthink. ‘Conform or be cast out!’ I value my freedom of thought too much to subject myself to this sort of harassment. You want to think otherwise, fine. But I want to follow the evidence where it leads, approval by others be damned. I just can’t see myself voluntarily surrendering my thinking to someone else – a person or a group. I can think unfettered, without harassment, if I’m not part of some group trying to shame me into compliance with the majority opinion of the group. Organization? No thanks! I don’t need anyone else’s help to think for myself. And I certainly don’t need to make myself a target of someone who wants to manipulate/use me for their own ends, even at the expense of my own interests. I look after my own interests thank you very much!

    Now for some comments on the comments:

    The biggest problem facing atheists is that the issues we (virtually) all agree on, such as Separation of Church and State, are not atheist-only movements.

    @keddaw: Also keep in mind that while (nearly) all atheists might agree on separation of church and state in principle, in practice it might be very low priority for them. We don’t even have real health care in this country, and who knows if we’ll ever get it. If I can be resigned to the absence of such an incredibly important benefit of social living, I can certainly be resigned to the presence of merely cosmetic church-state violations.

    The problem with atheists is that they’re excessively petty towards American Christianity. Take Hemant and the commentariat’s grousing about a sheriff who took away basketball hoops from CRIMINALS and gave it to a church playground.

    @OneSTDV: Going after low-priority cosmetic church-state violations indisputably increases intolerance toward atheists, and that’s a substantial reason to at least consider committing resources toward something else.

    Organized atheism should focus on debunking supernaturalism and the threat of Islam to the Western world. Those are the only two issues where a real impact can be made.

    @OneSTDV: I concur that both of those things are far more important than most of the things I see atheist organizations doing. I don’t see them making sure that History Channel programming about Jesus or the Exodus or whatever be responsible, educational programming that would pass muster with first-century historians or Egyptologists or whatever. I don’t see them leading the charge with James Randi-style exposes of televangelist Peter Popoff.

    “What if I don’t WANT a leader? Where does THAT vote go?” — Doug Stanhope

    @TOS100: Count me in the party of ‘I don’t want to be a leader, or a follower.’ I neither want to give orders or take them. One boss is enough for me thanks!

  • Apostate Granny

    A lot of people are attracted to formal organizations with leaders. They like rules, easy answers, etc. That’s one of the big attractions of organized religion.

    While many of us can probably comprehend this need/desire, even though we may not agree with it or need it ourselves, I’ve found that many of the believers I’ve known can’t seem to comprehend being without it or taking serious anything that isn’t a rigidly structured organization with clearly designated leaders.

    So it’s good to have some organizational face that these others can relate to and understand, IMO. But I think already existing organizatins like AU, FFRF, and SCA should be able to fulfill those roles just fine.

    I’m not sure everyone is wired to be a freethinker even if they wanted to be; to be ok without a rigid organized belief structure and titular authority. I think many of our fellow man have a hardwired need for these things. We need to understand this so we can better understand how to communicate with them.

  • DA

    “The problem with atheists is that they’re excessively petty towards American Christianity. Take Hemant and the commentariat’s grousing about a sheriff who took away basketball hoops from CRIMINALS and gave it to a church playground.”

    We had a problem with taxpayer money taking something from people in a county jail, most of whom hadn’t been convicted of a crime, and handing it to private churches. That’s an actual misappropriation of state funds that gets a pass because of Christianity’s dominance, and I’m fine opposing it on principle. Are their bigger issues? Sure, but it’s not like we’re arguingg online too cure cancer anyway.

    “Organized atheism should focus on debunking supernaturalism and the threat of Islam to the Western world. Those are the only two issues where a real impact can be made.”

    I have to disagree entirely. First of all, in a Republic with highly visible and well-connected people working towards a Christian theocracy, I’m more concerned about Christian dominance than whether some people get fleeced at seances and fortune tellers, and in fact we’re in a BETTER position to combat the former. I can’t keep people from going to frauds like Miss Cleo; I can demand that my representatives don’t deny basic rights to people based on middle eastern mythology.

    As for Islam, as an ex-Muslim who would face the death penalty for apostacy in many countries, I’m aware of the danger it can pose. On the other hand, anti-Muslim rhetoric in America is tied prettys trongly to some racist and xenophobic and Christian-centric elements that I want nothing to do with. So while I’m happy to criticize Islam, I’m not willing to be part of the bigoted and myopic movements that often do the criticism.

    I’m sure sorry but I get the impression you’re a conservative Christian (correct me if I’m mistaken), and atheists simply are not going to take strategic advice from people whose aims are diametrically opposed to ours. That should kind of be a no-shit proposition.

  • http://onestdv.blogspot.com OneSTDV

    @ DA:

    I’m a political conservative, but a hardcore atheist and skeptic.

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com WMDKitty

    I thought that diversity was one of “our” strengths?

  • http://onestdv.blogspot.com OneSTDV

    in a Republic with highly visible and well-connected people working towards a Christian theocracy

    This is paranoia with little basis in fact. Opposing abortion and gay marriage is not equivalent to theocracy. You want theocracy, look at Muslim countries or places like the Sudan where they still burn women accused of being witches.

    anti-Muslim rhetoric in America is tied prettys trongly to some racist and xenophobic and Christian-centric

    So it’s totally cool if Muslims take over Europe as long as no one considers you “intolerant”:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j4HH9qQEHtI&feature=player_embedded

    (Please ignore that this is from CBN. The actual video speaks for itself.)

  • http://theehtheist.blogspot.com The “Eh”theist

    I’m with @Edmond and @Non-Litigious Atheist on this topic-the ideas that undergird atheism will go a lot farther if people see atheists in other contexts. Like the atheist marching band in Texas or supporting charitable work, working to overcome injustice or to create a better society.

    While I am not a fan of the current trend that suggests that atheists should follow the glbt blueprint to greater public awareness there is one point I think we can learn from it: people are mostly in the dark about how atheists live.

    Christopher Hitchens is doing an amazing job showing how an atheist lives with cancer-how to deal with challenges and fear, why religion isn’t a possible comfort, etc. I am amazed at how many times the Blair-Hitchens debate has been rebroadcast here in Canada in response to public demand-but it boils down to showing people another option.

    So let’s have nontheists show the public how we celebrate christmas (or don’t); why we think human rights exist and should be promoted; how to parent (PBB is doing a great job of this) or not. There are lots of folks out there on the metaphysical fence who don’t consider nontheism because they don’t see examples of it in everyday life. I didn’t and that kept me from even considering it for years-even now, as I work through some of my issues, I tend to shy away from groups concerned with “atheism for atheism’s sake” as they don’t seem to have traction in the outside world.

    Atheism isn’t a gospel, being atheist won’t “save” people, it will simply give them a clearer understanding of one more aspect of existence. Rather than trying to “sell” the idea, let’s show people what that clearer understanding can accomplish so that they ask for it before we can start a “sales pitch”.

  • trixr4kids

    This is paranoia with little basis in fact.

    No, it isn’t. Try reading Jeff Sharlett’s The Family. There are in fact highly visible and well-connected people in this country working towards Christian theocracy.

    Do they have a snowball’s chance in hell of succeeding? Well, I doubt it, but they exist and they do manage to do an awful lot of mischief–here in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world.
    http://scienceblogs.com/dispatches/2009/11/the_familys_ties_to_ugandas_an.php

    So it’s totally cool if Muslims take over Europe as long as no one considers you “intolerant”

    Did you even read his post? He’s an ex-Muslim who has no problems criticizing Islam. He was speaking of anti-Muslim rhetoric in America. The U.S. is not in any danger of being “taken over” by Muslims. Such a fear would be paranoid.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    Atheism isn’t a club. We don’t have a uniform, hats or badges. We don’t have membership rolls or a charter. We don’t have tenets of disbelief. We aren’t the same as a religion.

    “We don’t provide a united front” because we aren’t united.

    “We have no leaders” because we aren’t followers.

    “We cannot agree on anything else but religion” because atheism is defined by one thing: a lack of belief in gods.

    “We have no agreed upon causes.” Is there any reason why we should?

    “We cannot agree about tactics” because there aren’t any common tactics to not believe something. We simply don’t buy into the belief in gods.

    Did I miss the meeting where atheism because Atheism (with a capital A) and we all decided to be just like a religion? No, didn’t think so. We are a whole lot of individuals who all happen not to share a belief in gods. Do I get a badge for that? If so I want one for not being female and another one for not being dark skinned and another for not being French.

    Honestly if an organisation says something worth backing then I’ll back it. I’m not going to defer my opinions to someone else. I’ll stand for what I belief in thank you very much. If it coincides with what you believe in then great, we both benefit. that’s as close as I feel like getting though.

  • Claudia

    I’m late to the party, but I’ll put my two cents in. It would seem that the issue at the core of the controversy is that nonbelievers come in all shapes and sizes, and that nonbelief is not, in itself, a belief, so it’s not really possible to rally around it to find common purpose.

    In answering this I’m going to be borrowing rather heavily from the LGBT movement. There is constant bickering in the queer community about the above acronym. Lesbians are less visible than Gays. People are mean to the Bisexuals. Trans people are alternately told they don’t belong or (correctly) say themselves that being trans is not a sexual orientation. What holds this perpetually bickering community together? A common enemy. The people who want to make life impossible for gay men want to make it just as hard for transwomen. They band together to defend their equal rights in the face of an enemy who sees all of them as lesser humans.

    Cut to our community. Nonbelief, though not innate and inmovable like sexual identity or orientation, is also something that we only feel we have “in common” because it’s what differentiates us (and often excludes us) from the rest of society. We have a common enemy; those that want to make our society explicitly religious and overtly exclusionary to us. Those that want to portray us as amoral and lost. Those that want special dispensation from laws meant to protect us (Christian “science”, for instance)based on their religion.

    Do all nonbelievers agree this is worth fighting for? No. Not every single member of the LGBT community is convinced its worth fighting for their civil rights. In fact, not so long ago many people openly rejected marriage and military service as conformist bullshit that gays and lesbians shouldn’t adhere to. Does that mean that others in the community shouldn’t bother to band together to fight for it, just because it wasn’t universally agreed upon?

    There will always be members of the community that think that the fight isn’t worth it, or that buy into the “we’re a religion too” bullshit that is cried by those we are fighting against in an attempt to stop us from organizing. That’s OK, not everyone has to organize. But once we agree that its good to fight against allowing parents to watch their children die in the name of their religion, or agree that our children should not be taught Iron-Age creation myths in biology class, or agree that it’s unacceptable for the government to not bother tracking down and arresting pedophiles and their enablers just because they wear priests robes, then we have more in common than just our nonbelief. If we want to stop these things, we have to organize, not as a religion, but as social activists.

  • http://www.dead-logic.com Bud

    How about you actually read what John wrote – and read all of it?

    The Trouble With Atheists

  • http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/ John W. Loftus

    Hemant, the discussion you provoked is an interesting one, although you used me to do it.

    Thanks for your encouragement. It was a good day for me yesterday thanks in part to you:

    http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2010/12/why-do-i-bother-its-who-i-am.html

  • http://blogforthelordjesuscurrentevents.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

    John seems to be arguing for a Roman Catholic atheist movement while you seem to be arguing for a nondenominational atheist movement. What both positions share is a belief in the validity and power of group ratification of the central idea.

    This sociological component is no different than what animates the churches. If “50 million Elvis fans can’t be wrong” then get as many fans as you can. This is all based on the premise that he who has the most fans wins, or really he who has the least fans loses (which is not quite the same thing).

    If one chooses to believe in God as opposed to a religion (such as Christianity) or an idealogy (such as atheism), then one truly has to be prepared to stand alone. Others may come along if they wish, but the individual must not wait to see who will join before he steps out toward God.

  • Tom

    I generally agree with Mr. Loftus, which is why I believe humanism has greater long-term potential

  • TRex

    Christmas came late, or New Years came early, either way I just did what I’ve wanted to do for years. A couple of ladies came around to show me how I could find anwers in the Bible. Oh Joy! I’ve never had what I considered to be sufficient knowledge or answers to refute and debate these zombies…until now! I told them that they came to the wrong house with a huge smile on my face. I then proceded to tell them about some of the “answers” I’ve found in that book. I’m pretty sure they didn’t like them because it was all they could do to get away from me. I especially loved it when they stuttered and stammered to try and answer some of the questions I posed to them about their special book and the things it promotes like bigotry, tribalism, oppression, genocide, vengaence, slavery and all those other wonderful things. They just kept backing away and all I could do was smile and keep asking them questions and telling them what I found when I read the Bible. What a rush! I asked them why they were preaching to me when Jesus taught that a relationship between a man and his “god” is a personal matter that should be kept in the home and their tax exempt places of worship that I help pay for, yet can not use. I also asked why I should get up early on the weekend, get dressed up and go apologize for being human and give my money to some guy with an imaginary friend he speaks to? They just smiled and said they would be back in the area in case I ever changed my mind. LOL. I only regret that I didn’t have any of those wonderful biblical quotes to throw in their face, but hey, they said they’d be back. This is going to be a great year. Happy New Year everyone!

  • Mr Z

    I think the main problem atheists, agnostics, anti-theists, doubters, non-believers and such face is the simple fact that many people cannot seem to understand that we actually only have one thing in common: We don’t believe in gods.

    We don’t have clubs and leaders for those people who don’t like pets. We don’t have specific charities for those people who don’t study history. We don’t see organization among the people that don’t believe you shouldn’t wear white after labor day. The fact that we spend so much time discussing and worrying about what our organization activities should be that it’s just stupid.

    A common lack of belief in anything does not make people compatible or in need of an organization. To believe we do need organizations is nothing to do with disbelief, it is to do with our desire to do charitable work, or our desire to be sociable, or our desire to assist one another or get help. We didn’t go to a meeting to find out we don’t believe in gods. We really don’t need meetings to help us continue not believing in gods.

    There are meetings of some folk to socialize and I can’t get time to attend those really. If there were an atheist church on Sunday mornings, I’d miss that too – I like to sleep in.

    The question we should be asking is not what organization we need but ‘why would we need an organization at all?’ I suspect that any need of organization can better be understood as a need for something other than non-belief support.

  • Non-Litigious Atheist

    @John W. Loftus: I like everything you said in your ‘why do I bother’ post – except this:

    There are people who wish I would go away. They don’t like me. There is a lot of misinformation about who I am and what I’m doing. For Christians the goal is to poison the well in a misinformation campaign that has had some success.

    My first thought when I saw that is that most people probably don’t ask, ‘Should John W. Loftus stay or go’? When confronted about you most people probably ask, ‘Who the hell is John W. Loftus’? (i.e. they’ve never heard of you before)

    I’m sure there are Christians who want to attack, that’s the price of the game, and you’ve made a choice to play that game. To make the focus about you seems a little… egotistical.

    Your little misstep here is made up for (or close to it) by your statement that you are a nobody. It’s good to see oneself as a nobody. It keeps our heads from getting too inflated. I’d rather hang with someone who thinks he’s a nobody than with someone who think he’s the shit.

  • Matt

    First I must say that I am very disappointed in how Hemant took John’s article out of context. I have seen him make posts decrying theists for doing the very same thing. While I think this is a good topic for discussion, it was a pretty dirty way to get it started.

    I would say the problems with atheism are less related to atheists and more to do with the message. Religion has been pretty well sheltered from criticism for the longest time and when it is criticized openly people are shocked and some have wrapped their identities so much in their religion that they believe it to be a personal attack on them as well so we are already arguing from a disadvantage.

    I personally do not agree with shock ads like the “YOU know its a Myth” campaign. I think these ads place people on the defensive before you can even begin the dialog with them. I think we need more “Good without God” ad campaigns as they are much less aggressive while still combating the myth that atheists are immoral people. Of course even these ads generated outcry, which only proves my first point.

    (Hemant says: I’ve said this to John personally already, but there was no intention to take him out of context. I saw the post on the Opposing Views website and not his own, so that was part of the problem. The other issue was that I wanted people to see John’s original post, so I purposely didn’t include everything he said in my own posting. I had no intention of changing the meaning of his post or taking it out of context, which is what some people have seen this as. That was a mistake on my part, but not one I made on purpose. I’ll try not to make that mistake again.)

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com miller

    But there are leaders. Hemant and PZ are obvious examples that come to mind (but I’m very blog-centric). We also have some common causes (secularism, skepticism, increasing atheist acceptance, reducing religion), though there are factions.

    Something that hit me when I started getting involved in the queer movement… why should we expect anything else? Most movements have only unofficial leaders. Most movements have multiple goals, and factions that conflict over the relative importance of each. Why should we ever have expected anything different? It’s because we were comparing it to organized religion rather than to other social movements. Come on, we’re better than that!

  • Dan Covill

    Reading Loftus’ post, it does seem that his ‘criticisms’ are simply lead-ins to his punchline – “But this is our strength. We are everywhere.” Therefore, his five points are intended to show strengths, not weaknesses, and Hemant did indeed get it wrong.

    That said, while I agree that there is no cause, leader, or organization that can or could speak for all atheists, there are a couple of issues that I am glad someone is working for:
    a. Raising awareness – there are a lot of us who don’t drink the Jesus koolaid, and there are going to be a lot more.
    b. Protesting attempts to “establish” Christianity – the majority has no right to impose its beliefs and practices on those who do not share them.

  • http://ainefairygoddess.wordpress.com ainefairygoddess

    The reason atheists will never organize like the African-Americans, Women, or LGBT rights movements have is because atheism is not intrinsic to any person’s identity.

    I am transgendered, and I happen to be an atheist. Both of those qualities affect how society views and treats me; people may be victims of discrimination by society for self-identifying as LGBT, or by publicly stating their disbelief. However, only one of those qualities is intrinsic to how I view myself. Disbelieving in a deity is totally external to myself, so I cannot feel any emotional tie to any other person simply on the basis of shared disbelief. The reason other groups have been able to unite and organize is because of that shared emotional connection. Since atheism is purely intellectual, it will never offer such an emotional connection to unite any of us.

  • Emanuel Goldsein

    Loftus is an admitted liar, who got caught setting up a fake blog.

    He is no credit to atheism.

  • Claudia

    Disbelieving in a deity is totally external to myself, so I cannot feel any emotional tie to any other person simply on the basis of shared disbelief.

    It’s untrue that something external cannot be the basis for emotional ties or convictions. If that were the case there would be no such thing as religious loyalty or political loyalty. Shared beliefs do indeed bring people together in communities. True, not believing in god/s isn’t in itself enough to form a community. However a large number of us do feel deeply offended by the interference of religion in our society, affecting the civil rights, education and very physical safety of other human beings. This is where we can find a common purpose.

  • http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/ John W. Loftus

    As people can see I have detractors like Goldstein above. If you only knew. He is so obsessed with me he’s a stalker. He goes by so many different names I cannot keep them straight, like Morrison, Winston Smith, KC_James and Anna B on Amazon. All he ever does is make ad hominem attacks based in utter ignorant of the facts. He is banned from DC so he follows most of my links to other sites to make his unfounded accusations, and they are. He considers me a threat as do others. I understand getting attacked by the likes of him. What I don’t understand is the ones coming from atheists (I’m not claiming Hemant did this).

    I do not post on the Opposing Views site. I have given them permission to grab what I write off my blog and place it there in my name. The fact that what they posted and what I wrote is just a bit different is something I need to give them a holler about.

    Cheers.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com miller

    @ainefairygoddess

    The reason atheists will never organize like the African-Americans, Women, or LGBT rights movements have is because atheism is not intrinsic to any person’s identity.

    Speak for yourself. How do you know it’s not intrinsic to anyone’s identity? How do you know that everyone feels that having atheism as an intrinsic identity is a prerequisite to participating in organizations?

  • http://www.unequally-yoked.com Leah @ Unequally Yoked

    I disagree with the idea that a diversity of moral views is something to celebrate and preserve about atheism. Sadly, I have a number of atheist friends who are nihilists. They subscribe to a philosophy that can be every bit as destructive and damaging as Christianity. Why should we be more comfortable with one than the other? The fact that the nihilists are right in one way that Christians are not is cold comfort.

    As atheists, we could all stand to spend more time talking about what we do believe, as well as attacking the philosophies we do not. When atheism is a big inchoate collective, it’s hard to engage with what any one atheist thinks. I went into more detail on how this can hurt us here: <a href="I think David's point may have gotten lost in his personal attack, but it's worth re-raising. I think that when Christians ask you to apply the OTF to your own beliefs, they aren't trying to get you to apply it to skepticism — they want you to explain what beliefs you are led to by skepticism. It's not easy to get a sense of what philosophical precepts you subscribe to, just the method you use to get to them, and, especially since there's such a wide diversity of philosophies among skeptics, Christians feel, somewhat justifiably, that they're not getting the full story. A lot of atheists bloggers spend a lot more time debunking others than defending their own moral system, which can be a problem. I went into more detail about this in “What Atheists and Republican Strategists Have in Common”.

    Thanks for starting this discussion!

  • Tina

    I just want to share. I am newly agnostic/atheist. I don’t exactly disbelieve in god but I don’t believe so much anymore. I studied with Jehovah Witnesses and actually read the bible. Like, really read the bible. Then I read books from atheists, agnostics, christians and rabbis. The big moment for me came when I realized that Jesus was Jewish, the ones christians hate, and that christians and muslims both use the Jewish bible. I know that’s stupid but that’s what did it. Okay, along with the books. I figure if a rabbi and a down to earth christian both say the bible was never meant to be taken literally then they are probably right. I doubt this info will help the atheist movement but maybe give some insight. Folks aren’t going to listen if they’re programmed to believe. If they can’t let go. For me it was a relief, nobody watching over my every move, no more worry about heaven and hell.

  • http://atheistreform.blogspot.com Patrick Craig

    You asked, so here’s a problem that I see.

    Definitions from the Free Dictionary.com :

    Criticism is defined as “the act or an instance of making an unfavourable or severe judgment, comment, etc.”

    Ridicule is defined as “Words or actions intended to evoke contemptuous laughter at or feelings toward a person or thing.”

    Taking these definitions at face value, I believe that “unfavourable” or “severe” is subjective and depends on the receiver of the criticism. Not all criticism is meant to be bad, but it can be taken badly regardless of intent. Ridicule, however, has a universal intent: to emotionally harm or discredit the receiver. On this basis, I cannot and will not justify equating the two words. If we have to criticize religion, I don’t have a problem with that. The receiver must deal with his/her own issues in how he/she takes it. Ridicule, in my opinion, is both unnecessary and counterproductive to our movement. We do want to get off that top spot of “Most Hated Minority in America,” don’t we?

  • anon

    Tactics? d-d-d-ddos and hacks.

  • Emanuel Goldsein

    I love to get up in the morning to the smell of atheists bashing each other.

  • Non-Litigious Atheist

    What political agenda do we need to impose on the world? Why do we need to organize?

    @Noel: Well, some people seem to think that removing all merely cosmetic church-state violations is some sort of goal to rally around. I doubt that’s a high priority for most atheists, though. The presence or absence of cosmetic church-state violations is just too inconsequential to get excited about, IMO.

    Atheism is not a belief system; the fundamental debate is over – mysticism is a conceptual error by first principles. And we cannot be in the propaganda business…

    @Noel: I wish that were true, but I find propaganda to be the bread and butter of most atheist organizations. (Just another reason not to organize…)

    For example, some atheist organizations will inflate our numbers to ridiculous proportions, claiming something like 50 million atheists, in order to create more political clout for their demands. They do this by intentionally conflating the nones with atheists, even though they have to know by now that most nones are not atheists.

    Lying for the cause becomes second nature when you’re an ideological atheist.

    They will further pretend that whatever their agenda is – maybe removing cosmetic church-state violations – reflects the will of all atheists.

    The truth is that less than 5 million Americans are probably atheists (10 X less!), and maybe 10% of them are the tight wads that get their panties in a bundle over public Christmas trees, leaving you with something like 500,000 Americans that have cosmetic church-state stuff on their radar.

    The other one I mentioned is that they just cannot admit, on principle, that religious people tend to be more charitable than non-believers. Doesn’t matter if its true – its not good public relations so we need to make up our own facts to counter it.

    It’s the same thing when people quote the Founding Fathers out of context. Organized Christians and organized atheists are equally guilty of distorting their beliefs to suit their own ends. Want to know the truth about the subtleties of what our Founding Fathers believed? Ask a presidential historian, not an atheist organization.

    Atheist organizations’ revisionism is not really all that different from that of fundamentalists who put up web sites saying that condoms don’t protect against AIDS. The ideology comes before the science.

  • Why can’t we all get along

    The problem is not with any one group. What we all should be doing is letting each other live our lives. No one is forcing anyone to follow any god and no one should force god out of believers lives. America has this nice little concept of freedom of religion that allows each of us to believe or not believe in whatever we so choose. As for separation of chuch and state, it makes me laugh and weep a little for the world when so many of us are so focused on our hatred for each other that we try to twist a concept that keeps the church from breaking and making the laws to our own end.

    I am certain this post will not remain on this site for long as although I did consider the idea of atheism, no one has been able to give me good cause to sway my beliefs.

    Before you judge me as so many have already. I do believe in God, heaven and hell. I also believe in evolution, science, and find the concept of the big bang theory fascinating. As a mtter of fact I would love to hear some of your thoughts on the big bang theory.

    In any case, I do not mean any disrespect and am not trying to convert anyone here. Just voicing my opinion. If we are all rational human beings, can we not leave each other to our own devices. I don’t care if you don’t pray in public or school so why should you care if I do.