The Atheism subreddit will probably hit the 1,000,000 subscribers milestone sometime within the next week:
Sounds impressive… I mean, it is by far the largest “organized” atheist community in the world by a longshot. But does it actually mean anything? Isn’t r/atheism mostly a collection of images and memes and ragefaces and commentary mocking other faiths? Does it really do any good?
I asked jij, one of the moderators of the page, what he thought of the milestone and he put things in perspective, saying that the 1,000,000 subscribers includes duplicate and abandoned accounts. I would also assume that a vast majority of the subscribers never post anything, never comment on any threads, never upvote or downvote any of the items, and problem never even see the page itself (they might visit the Reddit homepage, but not the r/atheism page).
Jij also pointed out that r/atheism is a default category for anyone who joins Reddit. You have to unsubscribe from it if you don’t want to see posts about atheism. In other words, a lot of people who don’t care about atheism at all (or are devoutly religious) are still listed as members because they’re either lazy, unaware, or just don’t care enough to remove atheism from their list of subreddits.
All that said, the traffic stats are very impressive. r/Atheism receives about 250,000 unique visitors a day and 3,000,000 unique visitors a month. That’s a *lot* of eyeballs. Moderator tuber is optimistic about it, saying, “Round numbers aside, I think r/atheism’s popularity is reflective of the broad shift towards secularism among young Americans.”
Tuber also pointed out two other major benefits to the r/atheism community that don’t get discussed all that much:
r/atheism provides 24/7 support and advice to people who are struggling with their faith or with issues related to their unbelief. You can post at 4am saying “My family has discovered my atheism; it’s causing terrible conflict, help?!” or “My public school is leading students in prayer, what do I do?” and people will give their time to help you work through it.
I think this kind of support is particularly important for the atheist community, because we don’t have anything analogous to churches where people can go to in a crisis. For many people, r/atheism is their only explicitly secular support network. It’s worth mentioning that this support is given every day, but the posts almost never make the front page (which is fine, they don’t need to be on the front page) so it’s not a big part of r/atheism’s reputation.
Second greatest accomplishment: raising cultural awareness of atheism. r/atheism reaches a daily audience as large as that of some national TV shows (e.g. Dr. Drew, Nancy Grace, or Jim Cramer’s Mad Money). I think there’s tremendous value in publicly displaying atheism as a socially acceptable choice.
There’s one more accomplishment, says jij, that most readers never see: “The daily ‘thank you’ submissions we get that rarely make it to the front page.”
Something to consider before you dismiss the site as being high on fluff and low on substance 🙂