Dealing with Drama and Burnout in the Atheist Movement

You hear a loud noise. Involuntarily, your heart skips a beat, your lungs inhale sharply, your muscles tense to fight or run. An instant later, you realize it’s the smoke detector letting you know you left your bagel in the toaster and it’s started to burn.

Your body’s reaction — pumping adrenaline and cortisol through your system — is extremely important. When it detects something wrong, the stress response helps you assess and handle the problem. In this case, it might have prevented a fire.

So it goes with the secular/atheist movement. When something is wrong, it’s good for the system to spring into action. Opinion leaders like bloggers call attention to a problem, community members discuss the issue vigorously, and activists take action. It’s all part of the change process.

If the stress-response is working properly, everything returns to normal once the threat has passed. Mischief managed!

But what if you take a new high-powered job in the big city, full of new sounds and demands? Now, your stress reaction is triggered all the time. And that’s not healthy.

Our movement is experiencing growing pains. We’re exploding with new members, new attention, and new ideas. All this growth means new problems to solve and, with it, internal conflict.

Don’t take me the wrong way: drama, controversy, and self-criticism are essential for improving our movement. It’s the result of passion; it’s the result of compassion. It’s a noble product of people caring about the world and wanting to make a positive difference.

But I worry that the chronic nature of the internal conflict is slowly building up systematic damage to the activist network. Much like a body that breaks down when flooded with cortisol too often and too long, our activists are getting burned out.

I’ve been working for secular causes since college, starting with the American Humanist Association, then the Secular Coalition for America, and now the Secular Student Alliance. I genuinely care about our causes, I care about the organizations working to promote them, and I care about the people in our community. And I have to say, facing constant stressors is difficult.

I’ve talked with countless employees, bloggers, and volunteers who tell me the same thing: they feel tired from so much internal conflict and drama. We’re burning the candle at both ends, and burning out twice as fast. We want to share in every outrage, every sad story, every controversy. But it’s taking a toll, from compassion fatigue to burnout:

Tracy’s study of workers aboard cruise ships describes burnout as “a general wearing out or alienation from the pressures of work”… “Understanding burnout to be personal and private is problematic when it functions to disregard the ways burnout is largely an organizational problem caused by long hours, little down time, and continual peer, customer, and superior surveillance”

Long hours, little down time, and the feeling that everyone is watching, waiting to pounce on mistakes… Sound familiar?

Being an activist can be tough and tiring. We spend our free time or forgo higher salaries because we feel dedicated to the cause. I’m extraordinarily thankful to have people like Hemant spending so much of his time blogging AND being involved with Foundation Beyond Belief AND working as a teacher full-time. I’m so glad Greta Christina has poured herself into the movement and provides us with her insights. We’ve been lucky to have my friend Paul Fidalgo working for the movement doing communications for CFI. I want to make sure we don’t lose them to burnout. (Hell, I don’t want to lose MYSELF to burnout!)

Have you felt overwhelmed by the number of controversies? Do you want to make a positive difference?

What We Can Do

Use the carrot more and the stick less.

It’s definitely effective to disincentivize poor behavior through punishment. But I think we neglect the other end of the see-saw: providing help or rewards for good behavior. There are usually positive ways to engage and make a difference; ways that will cause less stress and controversy.

For example, instead of chastising someone for being wrong, we can offer to help them understand our side — sincerely, not sarcastically! When we think an organization has the wrong policies, we can say, “Here’s a great opportunity to improve and help people” rather than “Shame on you for not having done it already.” Secular Woman is doing this by posting sample anti-harassment policies to help organizations improve.

Give the positive its due

Even though our movement isn’t perfect, there are a lot of fantastic things going on. Unfortunately, we tend talk far more about the problem issues than the rousing successes. This disproportionate focus on the negative can drag down participants — and needlessly so. But we can rebalance!

Just this week, Lauren Lane made an effort to remind us of the good things (“The ‘LOL’ and not just the ‘WTF’). Earlier this year, Mike Mei and a collection of secular students started “Anti-trolling day” to go around and offer words of support to people in the movement. Positive reinforcement like this can really help.

Take time away from the drama.

If you’re feeling burned out, consider taking a break from it. One of the contributors to burnout is long hours and low free time. I found myself telling others that the movement needs them alive, healthy, and happy. Then I realized the same argument applied to me. It’s a weakness of mine – I feel guilty if I’m not constantly giving the cause my all. But I know I benefited enormously from going to Burning Man and having a week away from the “default world.”

Plus, my coworkers and friends probably benefitted because I wasn’t venting to them about the drama du jour.

Be understanding

Remember that the activist network is made up of people. These people are underpaid, undertrained, and overworked. (Ask Hemant how much free time he has. Or how much sleep he gets.) You don’t have to believe in Original Sin to know that nobody’s perfect. Our secular movement is pretty young and still learning. Even when we disagree with each other, that perspective really helps me stay charitable and positive.

We shouldn’t stop looking for ways to improve the movement or stop disagreeing with each other. But because we’re growing so quickly, it’s important for us to find ways to inspire change in a way that keeps a positive perspective.

Together, we can handle the growing pains but I need all your help on this. Please share this post with others in the movement, brainstorm other ideas for how to reduce the systematic stressors, and keep things more positive.

So let’s take the time to say it: We fucking rock. Every day and in every way, our movement is getting better. Let’s not forget that, and let’s not allow the growing pains to deal long-term damage to our network.

About Jesse Galef

Jesse is a career atheist, and is currently Communications Director for the Secular Student Alliance. Before that, he worked for the Secular Coalition for America and the American Humanist Association. He also blogs about science, philosophy, and rationality at Measure of Doubt with his sister Julia.
(The views expressed are not representing the Secular Student Alliance or any other organization.)

  • Levon Mkrtchyan

    We really do rock!  I, for one, greatly appreciate the hard work that activists put in on our behalf.  It’s a great time to be an atheist, to proclaim that loudly, and to care deeply about the work that is being done.  Thank you everyone who makes this so!

  • Evertoniancalvinist

    This is an extremely silly post. The post is trying to encourage atheist in their “movement”. This is very inconsistent with the “movement” itself. Your “movement” at the end of the day it completely void of any meaning. Remember: random chance universe= no ultimate meaning to life. However, it very hard for the atheist to live in a way that is consistent with this presupposition. In your inconsistency, you create “movements” and pretend like your life means something. Very silly guys. Be consistent.

  • Chris Sadler

    “Remember: random chance universe= no ultimate meaning to life. ”

    I bring meaning to my life every day.  It must suck to need to look to the imaginary to find meaning in your life. Carl says it best:

    “For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring. ”
    Carl Sagan 

  • Question Everything

    Just because we don’t believe in god, that doesn’t mean we see life as meaningless.  In fact, it’s the opposite – we just get one life.  No afterlife, no reincarnation, no nirvana, none of that.  And that means that each second of this one life is precious and should be lived to its fullest, including taking breaks from work to make sure we don’t get burned out.

  • Steve Bowen

    Just keep telling yourself that. I’ts a good way of maintaining delusions apparently.

  • Jeff Samuelson

    What a very silly – and arrogant – thing to believe your life has an “ultimate” meaning.

    As a Calvinist whose chief purpose (according to the Westminster Shorter Catechism) is to be your god’s cheerleader, you’re hardly in a position to lecture anyone on extreme silliness.

  • Greg Laden

    It is difficult to balance between walking away from drama because it is just drama and engaging in conversations that are often arguments because they are important arguments to make.  You will probably now get hammered by people who feel you are telling them to shut up (and maybe you are? I’m not sure) so that will produce some drama!  

    I do think the idea of taking a break away from the drama is a good idea.  I’m convinced that there are people out there who’s main activity is to produce drama, and who’s motivation is a bit unclear…maybe attention seeking, maybe trying to distract activists from doing what the do.  Even if that is not the case, it seems like you can’t walk away from any of this without something that seems to need one’s attention (because someone there is always someone being wrong on the internet, as you know) popping up.  The truth is, these things can in fact be ignored by any given individual for reasonable periods of time.  An occassional vacation is a good idea. 

  • The Captain

    I’m on the road so I don’t have time to really explore this but I just want to point out one thing that stands out to me in this post that I think may also be part of the problem.

    “Opinion leaders like bloggers” Well are they really? Most atheist have grown up in a society where all the prominent “authority figures” have been   giving opinions that atheist find wrong. Atheist are known as a pretty freethinking, independent bunch. It just occurred to me while reading that, that perhaps a lot of the drama is stemming from the fact that it’s many of these bloggers that are causing said drama because we have a community full of people who do not just blindly follow bloggers (or authority figures) and a “top down” flow of opinions that some bloggers think we have is not what is expected from the community.  

    But right on on the rest of your post. Like I said I wish I could get further into this but I need to head out.

  • volizden

    random chance universe= no ultimate

    Why? to you maybe this is a result, which is short sighted and terribly inconsistent with reasoning. Our consciousness leads us to purpose and that our lives mean something. To better mankind into the future is one VERY important meaning. The more the believer concentrates on the after life instead of the life they are living with others around them, the more it devalues this life.

  • C Peterson

    I absolutely agree that there is no “atheist movement”, and that the idea itself is harmful. But most of the article remains valid, since the activists it is referring to are, by and large, not “atheist activists”, but rather are secularists, skeptics, and anti-religionists- all of whom are providing valuable service to society, and many of whom are incurring stress as a result of their activities.

    Of course, your comments about atheists in general reveal your deep lack of understanding about what it even means to be human, and your extremely shallow philosophical views.

  • mkbell

    You rock, Jesse :)

  • Ewan

    You said this the other day and you were wrong then too. If the ultimate purpose of your life is to get to the next one, you should go and kill yourself. Be consistent.

  • Zachary AKA Mogli

    If this is your first reply to an atheist post, you haven’t done your Listening To What Atheists Actually Say 101. Just because most of us don’t believe in the supernatural doesn’t mean that we can’t relatively appreciate the beauty of our improbable circumstances and strive to make everyone’s short existence as happy as possible.

  • Epistaxis

    OMIGOD HOW DARE YOU TONE POLICE! We’re in a rape culture; pick a side! I will righteously call out MRA concern trolls among my own allies whenever I want! Who needs allies who don’t agree with me about everything, after all. I’m going to write an open letter to your boss about my concerns!

  • jdm8

    Your answers aren’t ultimate answers. Either it pushes the question one step back, or sweeps the question under the rug. Let’s say there is a creator god. Who or what created the creator god? What is that creator god’s meaning for its/his/her existence?

  • Baal

     I’m in a mood to enjoy life today Evieton.  Your post certainly helped :)  I can’t tell if you are sincere or an atheist being hilariously ironic.  As such, I’ll choose the later and join in the mirth!

  • TheG

    I was beginning to wonder if I was the only one who felt this way.  I would spend a good hour every morning reading the pages for PZ, Greta Christina, BlagHag, JT Eberhard, and Sam Harris.

    Maybe it is election year wear and tear, but I can only bring myself to read Hemant.  It isn’t a permanent thing, but it gets tiring and stressful worrying about all the dumb in the world.  There is more positive on this site, but it seems to be a better mix than many of the others.

  • Tom_Nightingale

    I think this comment section is, once again, going to be dominated by the conversation about why atheists shouldn’t be organizing into movements in the first place.  These people say it will bring nothing but harm, but I have yet to find or be shown any example of this harm being done.

    The “harm” exists in the minds of those who can’t stand the cognitive dissonance when they see the word “atheist” associated with anything other than the philosophical position of there not being a god.  This, in my opinion, is something many of us have gotten over because we see the potential for great good to emerge from our shared humanism, despite irrationally saying we are doing it out of our atheism.

    Why not just say we are humanist or what-have-you?  Take a look at how successful the secular humanist movement has been over the last century…  “Atheist” is just working better right now at creating coherence among people who also happen to be “humanist”

  • MichaelD

    don’t do that.

  • Cynic

    The whole community here (secular/atheist) has become a dogmatic shit-show full of self important yutzes. 

    As a famous ‘possum from the south was quoted, “we have seen the enemy, and he is us”. Pogo is right. The whole thing has been hi-jacked by special interest groups and has led to the downfall.

    There are very few out there who can try and toe-the-line. Around here, the only one is Richard Wade – I disagree with him almost all of the time, but at least he tries. Hemant has shown himself time and again to be full of hypocrisy and coma. Adam Lee is way out there; I used to respect him, but he has gone off the reservation. Greta is out there too, and as she lacks any form a academic credential or gravitas that would lend credibility to her jocular maxims, she has become a Sarah Palin – she is irrelevant. 

    I cannot align myself with the secular/atheist movement anymore because they are over the top for the most part. For all of the claims of skepticism and freethinking, it is becoming more and more apparent daily that the movement is being swallowed by the too-far-left “in the bubble” clan who advocate thought policing, censorship and oppression. 

    Sorry Jesse – I like your youthful idealism, but give it a few years kid, soon enough you will see that this group is as full of shit as any other.

  • The Godless Monster


    “… it is becoming more and more apparent daily that the movement is being
    swallowed by the too-far-left “in the bubble” clan who advocate thought
    policing, censorship and oppression…”

    I empathize with your disappointment (disgust?) and I’ve stopped visiting  the blogs that I found to be authored by less than ethical or rational types. The overwhelming majority have been from the far left, a few from the right.
    I’m curious as to why you accused Hemant of hypocrisy. I’ve seen some inconsistency now and then, but nothing that would cause me to think of him as a hypocrite. He’s an adult and can defend himself, so I’m not interested in this becoming a back and forth debate. Just curious.

  • m6wg4bxw

    It’s fitting that a post like this has a comment thread dominated by responses to a user like Evertoniancalvinist. More attrition.

  • julie

     Ohhhhhh this is not his first post. He’s a troll that thinks he can stump us with word games and circular reasoning.
    You can feed him for amusement if you like.

  • TCC

    This response is virtually nonsensical. It sounds like a laundry list of personal gripes but without any sort of specificity. Hemant is “full of…coma”? What does that even mean? (And I don’t see the accusation of hypocrisy having any merit, although it is at least a concrete claim.) Adam Lee and Greta are “out there”? In what sense? Some activists try and “toe-the-line [sic]“? What line? What are you even saying?

    Perhaps you could come back and explain the exact reasons for your cynicism. Otherwise, I have no reason to think that your critique is anything more than muddle-headed pessimism.

  • Zachary AKA Mogli

    Point taken. Coincidence that one of the few times I wander down to the comment section here this person is dumbing it up.

  • julie

     The whole point of this post is that too much drama can be bad and stressful. You mind not trying to create more?

  • julie

     We all know that there has been drama and we all know everyone’s arguments on both sides. For just a little bit, can we keep things positive? Can people not use this as an opportunity to dish all their complaints about the movement?
    We do fucking rock and lets focus on that for now. We all know that there will be plenty of opportunities for arguing in the future. Let’s all relax for now.

  • Evansaysblah

    We do fucking rock!

  • Arjaizen

    Turn on your sarcasm detector?

  • Noelle Dildine George

    I give my life meaning with my actions and thoughts each day that I am alive.  I don’t need an imaginary entity to tell me that my life has meaning. 

    You obviously don’t understand anything about atheists and I’m not sure you have ever heard the term ‘humanist’.  I consider myself both, they are not mutually exclusive.  

  • Noelle Dildine George

    Kudos to Jesse for broaching this subject, although I do agree that some conversations are important whether they cause drama or not.  

    But at some point we have to 1. stop escalating conflict and work toward resolution or 2. disengage and fight other battles if a particular resolution seems improbable/unlikely.  

    If we don’t we will be consumed by a few particular battles or controversies, which will only harm our cause(s) in the end.  

  • Andrew B.

     Ok.  Bye.

  • Cynic

    Tell ya what, for the sake of keeping this entry positive, I would be glad to give explanations off the entry – drop me an email:
    flyingfennec AT me DOT com

  • Cynic

    Yes, the “coma” was an auto-correct typo.

    As for your comments – I don’t care how it reads. I wasn’t writing it to educate you personally, so tell ya what – just ignore me!

  • DKeane123

    I have stopped going to freethought blogs for this very reason.

  • Cynic

    And I should add, before we go off the blog via email – that I am not accusing Hemant of being blackhearted. I think he means well and tries to do what he thinks is best – notice I did not say “right”. 

    I feel Hemant’s heart is in the right place, but he shows glaring inconsistency and is too easily swayed by any mumbling of uncomfort by anyone on the far-left side of the fence. Again, I do think Hemant means well and yes, he does some very good altruistic work….

  • Evertoniancalvinist

    It is so funny when you humans aka complex chemical reactions fight with one another and ask each other to “pick a side”? When you “pick your side” what standard of morality are you going to use to determine if you pick the right side? Or is this just an arbitrary choice? Neither side is right or wrong? Do you guys understand that everything you do on your life presupposes Absolutes? Yet Absolutes are inconsistent in the atheistic worldview. You say there “is no god” but then you borrow from the Christian’s presups to live life successfully. You guys need to think this through.

  • Octoberfurst

     Personally I get very tired of hearing religious people say that because I don’t believe in god that my life is “meaningless’ or that I walk around all glum and gloomy all the time.  On the contrary I find life full of meaning. I love life and I since I only get one shot at it I want to enjoy it to the fullest. I also want others to be happy while they are here on this earth so I do my best to make the world a better place.  I don’t make pie in the sky promises of a glorious afterlife like you do. I don’t say, “Don’t worry, things will be great when you go to Heaven.”  I concentrate on helping people in the here and now. Tis a pity you don’t understand that.

  • A–

    You do realize that it’s possible to be an atheist without being a humanist, right?  Personally I think humanism is a load of masturbatory nonsense, but I still care about the separation of church and state.

  • Tom_Nightingale

    “This, in my opinion, is something many of us have gotten over because we see the potential for great good to emerge from our shared humanism” – so you can read it again

  • Chana Messinger

    I agree that balance is really hard. I definitely don’t think Jesse thinks that people who are making important arguments should shut up. I just think he recognizes that there are these cycles of escalation in which each response and parry feels (and probably is) totally rational, but in the end it causes a lot of harm. So it seems like he’s trying to shift the balance a little and see if there’s a way to push the same ideas but with less drama.

  • Johann

     You also forgot to mention how Jesus invented the English alphabet and the computers we use to argue with each other.

  • MichaelD

    Umm I meant posting what appears to be a strawmanning comment to a thread about burn out over online arguements. People I don’t care where you sit on the issues don’t do that. There are plenty of other posts to post on if that’s your cup of tea.

  • Baal

     Have you considered talking to an atheist to find out what they think?  I hear they are reasonably friendly when approached in that manner.  I’m sure there it a freethought, skeptic, humanist or atheist group somewhere near you (google!).

  • RobMcCune

    Drama is something those evil other people do that makes him lash out at the slightest hint of any topic broaching on the subject.

  • Baal

     I worry about folks like Evertonian.  They might take suggestions to off them selves seriously so I try to avoid it (even when it’s logically consistent with their positions).

  • Evertoniancalvinist

    Cynic… Thank you for not saying ” right”. You are moving towards consistency. Thank you. Next to go will need to be “truth.” But that will prove difficult.

  • RobMcCune

     Movements exist to enact social change in the here and now, why do they require a the universe to have an absolute purpose for everything or “absolutes” arbitrarily dictated by god? Maybe it is you who needs to think outside your narrow, all consuming world view. Guess what, my breakfast had a purpose even though I didn’t say grace before hand, I know you find this earth shattering, but please try to understand it.

  • MichaelD

    Might I suggest googleing Matt Dilahunty superiority of secular morality. Watch that come back and maybe we can have a discussion once you have some grounding in what atheists have to say about morality.

  • HughInAz

    I think he means Hemant is comatose in comparison to the hyperactivity of Cynic himself.

  • jose

    Oooh another Galef. I was only aware of Julia because of the podcast and the youtube channel.  Measure of Doubt is now bookmarked!

    You sound very positive. Using the carrot more only made things worse really, when it was tried (accusations of condescension and arrogance… beyond a certain point of hatred, everything is subject to antagonizing). But taking a break when feeling burned out is sound advice. Hey, if nothing else, at least in America there is an atheist movement!

  • Evertoncalvinist

    Rob… So would you concede to me that the “atheist movement” has no Ultimate purpose? Rob is smart, his answer will be thought out and he will try not to contradict his atheistic presups. Watch. Go Rob.

  • mosssm

    Well said, Jesse!

  • MichaelD

    How about the greater acceptance of atheists in society, the reduction of anti atheist bigotry, supporting seperate church and state, opposing blasphemy laws to name a few causes the vast majority of atheists support.

  • TychaBrahe

    I have to admit, I’ve seen nothing of the secular humanist movement.  I think I was once invited to present a talk to a group in Los Angeles about 20 years ago.  I don’t see any evidence of a public presence, so I’m curious as to how you can define them as “successful.”  What have they done, exactly?

  • TychaBrahe

    You know, I actually agree with you to a certain extent.

    We know that the Sun has a limited lifespan, and we believe that it will burn out, go nova, in about five billion years, at which time it will swell in size to the orbit of Mars, engulfing the Earth and destroying everything on it.  All that we do here on this planet will be destroyed.

    Our only hope of surviving is to get a reasonable number of people off, to move elsewhere, but space is vast, and the stars are distant.  And heck, I’m personally going to die in within fifty years anyway.  Why do anything?

    Except, you know what?  There are people, right here and right now, who are in pain.  There are people I can help and people I can befriend.  I can experience love and joy and awe and the sweet flash of sudden understanding when I grasp a previously confusing topic or see a relationship between two things that had previously seemed unrelated.  And I can spread that love and joy and such to other people.  

    Maybe that seems meaningless to you, but it doesn’t to me.  So maybe I’m a Pollyanna who thinks what I do matters when it truly doesn’t.  Whatevs.  I’m going to keep on living my life, learning, teaching, loving, experiencing, and doing my best to matter to the people around me, and to let them know that they matter to me.   

  • Evertoniancalvinist

    Guys, Check this out. Tycha’s post wonderfully makes my point. Notice how she outlines the meaningless atheist worlview in the first paragraph; then she jumps over to the Christian worldview and borrows from our presups to give her short life some value and meaning. Tycha…Let me help you out. Your life IS meaningful, and it DOES matter…..because you are created in the image of God.

  • Tom_Nightingale

    I was assuming people would see my sentence about secular humanism being successful as sarcastic, as its widely seen as having been utterly stale as you yourself have attested to.  I was hoping this would be apparent after I said that using the word atheism, instead of humanism/secular humanism, is working better right now at creating coherence. 

    Not the most obvious thing, but I don’t think I misstated myself.

  • Sara Sharick

    Actually it is Christianity that borrowed from innate human processes that allow us to see and understand the effects our behavior has on other people, good and bad.  Christianity neither invented nor owns anything about morality.  All of the genuinely good things that Christianity has appropriated to itself can be found in other doctrines older than Christianity and Judaism, and can be arrived at through clear reasoning and very few assumptions, none of which require a belief in anything supernatural. 

  • TCC

    What Christian “presups” (an idiotic abbreviation, I might add) are there in what Tycha said? The point is that while there may not be ultimate meaning (which I suppose means a meaning beyond humanity? it’s sort of an ill-defined notion), we can create our own sense of meaning here by helping our human compatriots and bringing joy to others. That’s not a Christian notion, and you would be dishonest to suppose such.

  • TCC

    Surely you were trying to communicate something, though, which is why I thought that perhaps you might want to present that substance. I guess I shouldn’t have bothered to give you the benefit of the doubt that you were saying anything at all.

  • Octoberfurst

     No you are totally wrong about that.  Do you even have a clue as to what atheists believe?  In your mind caring about others is somehow a “Christian worldview.”  Guess what—it isn’t.  I don’t need to believe in God to want to make this world a better place!

  • SkepticSanity

    Getting back to the original post.  Jesse I have taken breaks and it does help.  I think the idea of using carrots will be helpful, if only we can do it.  I’m going to try to at least make as many positive statements as negative and work towards being majority positive in my statement.  Sometimes you can’t help disagreeing, but I’m trying to not be disagreeable while doing it.  Thank you for giving me this food for thought.

  • HannibalBarca

    You do not seem to grasp that most atheists do not care about what they would like to be true; they only care about what can be demonstrated to be true. 

    I, for one, don’t think the concept of heaven or hell make any sense. There is no activity which I currently enjoy that I would still enjoy after doing it for a trillion years.
    I like learning about different subjects and having stimulating conversations. After a trillion years in heaven (or hell) how much could be left to explore?

    “I learned to play the guitar 900 billion years ago and can play every song ever written. I know every single conceivable fact there is to be known. I have spoken to every person who has ever lived about every topic that can possibly exist. There is not a single dish I haven’t eaten, drink I haven’t tasted, or experience I’ve tried.”

    If a waiter brings you a steak and says, “Here is the only steak you will ever eat. You don’t get another one, ever. Enjoy.”

    Or…He says, “Here’s a steak. After you’re done with that one, the kitchen has infinite steaks for you.”Which steak will taste better?So whose life is meaningless?

  • Bill Haines

    Yeah, please don’t do that.

  • Bill Haines

    Great article, Jesse, and glad to know you’re still fighting the good fight for SSA.

  • Sailorsguide

    “We’re burning the candle at both ends”
    Well that can be the fastest way to make ends meet.

  • HannibalBarca

    Exactly. He demands that we have all the answers, yet if we start questioning his god we’ll eventually get to “God is mysterious, we can’t understand Him because we’re not God, yada yada yada.”

    Nonsense. The only reason God (as a concept) is impossible to understand is because theists have deliberately defined it that way.
    If the definition of god you use includes “all-powerful” then disseminating information to us poor mortals should be a piece of cake.

  • Evertoniancalvonist

    When you guys try to “bring joy” to others or “make this world a better place” what standard of goodness are you appealing to? Why is bringing joy to others a good thing? What if I thought the way to make the world a better place was to inflict misery upon people? Given your atheist worldview, you can’t account for why it IS good to bring joy to people. See, you know it is good to bring joy to people because you live in a universe that God created. But if you are consistent with your worldview, you can’t explain to me why bringing joy to folks is good.

  • amycas

    I love this. Thank you!

  • amycas

     I say we all stop responding to this troll*. It’s obvious that xe is just going to derail every topic because xe obviously doesn’t get that “friendly atheist” blog is typically not the place to go to have a long debate over theological questions or the existence/nonexistence of god. He should go to wwjtd for that stuff, or pharyngula (they have designated threads for things like this).

    *I know it’s hypocritical to say not to respond while I’m responding, but this will be the last time I reply to anything this troll has to say. I also realize that much of the responses are simply calling xir a troll, but I think we should just direct xir to a blog that actually deals with these questions instead of derailing all of our conversations here.

  • amycas

    What I got from Jesse is that we should call out bad behavior, but we should be calling out good behavior more often, and we should be setting examples for those who engage in the bad stuff. I also feel like Jesse was meaning “take a break” in a more personal sense–that individuals shouldn’t spend all of their time focusing on the drama. I know in some cases that’s difficult to do, because after the drama there are those who want to hound you about it no matter what the topic is, but I think it’s a good thing to do in general.

  • The Other Weirdo

     Only a Sith deals in absolutes.

  • amycas

     I don’t think it’s necessarily a “top down” flow of opinions. I think it’s more of the fact that the “opinion leader bloggers” are representative of those who regularly read/comment on their blog.

  • mobathome

    Don’t feed the troll.

  • mobathome

    Learn from your history: don’t do this mistake again.

  • amycas

     I’ve been that way for about a month now. I’ve only been reading Hemant, Jt and Lovejoyfeminism (is that Libbyanne?).

  • mobathome

    Don’t feed the troll.

  • The Other Weirdo

     Even if what you say is true, and I don’t agree that it is, so what if it’s random chance? If two people meet by random chance because he paid to go to a speed-dating event and she just happened to be in the same hotel on unrelated business, hit it off, marry and have a great life together, does than mean that their marriage and life have no meaning because it started off by random chance instead of being ordered by their parents? Or some god or other?

  • HannibalBarca

    I’ve now seen you spell your name “Evertoncalvinist”, “Evertoniancalvinist”, and “Evertoniancalvonist”. Get it right, dude.

    Would you like it if I murdered your family? Or came to your house and tortured you? Or, to not be so graphic, would you like it if I defrauded you out of some money?
    “Good” and “evil” are categories we place actions with respect to the consequences of those actions.
    If you think morals come from God, are you familiar with the Euthyphro Dilemma?
    How about you study that and get back to us. 

  • amycas

     I find it a little disconcerting that you would call Greta Christina irrelevant and compare her to Sarah Palin because she doesn’t have official credentials. What kind of credentials or “gravitas” are you looking for? Hemant is a math teacher, and I don’t even know what Adam Lee does for a living or his level of education. Greta Christina doesn’t lack any sort of academic credentials–she graduated from Reed College in the ’80′s and has made a career of writing and speaking since for two decades now. Some of her writings have even made it into professional modern anthologies and are taught in university level course work. I think this gives her more than enough gravitas to make your comparison of her to Sarah Palin unjustified.

    Not only does she actually have academic credentials, but I don’t really think we should be judging leaders in this movement based on academic credentials. Seriously, when I find a new blog, I don’t first go research what their academic credentials are. I read their work and I judge them based on the quality and substance. If you want to judge her on those things, then make it about those things, but don’t bring in academic credentials as if you know what they are or as if they are relevant.

    I also have a problem with your assessment of Jesse as merely having “youthful idealism.” It feels a little too close to how some will dismiss a young person’s idea simply because of their age.

  • amycas

     I thought it was funny that most of the responses to xir were people describing exactly how/why they find meaning in their own lives. I found it very uplifting…almost as if evertoniancalvinist’s plan to bring us down backfired into giving everyone a chance to say something positive about why their life has meaning.

  • amycas

     I thought it was funny that most of the responses to xir were people describing exactly how/why they find meaning in their own lives. I found it very uplifting…almost as if evertoniancalvinist’s plan to bring us down backfired into giving everyone a chance to say something positive about why their life has meaning.

  • The Other Weirdo

    What standard of goodness are *you* appealing to? Half a thousand years ago, good, God-fearing Christian folks all over Europe found great joy and meaning in accusing women(and men) of witchcraft and then would have a town party as they were burned to death. Inflicting misery upon people was considered to be the way to make the world a better place because of witches and warlocks and devils oh my! 200 years ago, in the US, they were still using Christian standards to defend slavery and 200 years before that they were burning women at the stake for witchcraft, just like Europeans, as a way to make the world a better place.

    For nearly 2,000 years, Christians all over Europe believed that the way to make the world a better place was to organize and execute pogroms against Jewish settlements. The Holocaust of the ’30s and ’40s of the last century was nothing more than the continuation on a massive scale of a Christian policy of making the world a better place by exterminating the Jews, something they’ve done sporadically through the centuries.

    They don’t do things like that anymore. Well, not in civilized countries, at any rate. That’s why Christians are seeking out poor, undeveloped African nations to infect them with their “standard of goodness” to kill gays and prosecute goats for witchcraft.

    I think I’d rather be ignorant of the exact nature of my standard of goodness, as you call it, but it’s better than having your worthless, meaningless answers to nothing.

  • The Other Weirdo

     wwjtd = What Would Jesus (HellIfIKnow) Do? He’d probably order people killed and towns destroyed.,

  • Trickster Goddess

    Given your atheist worldview, you can’t account for why it IS good to bring joy to people.

    Yes I can. Bringing joy to people makes them feel good. I know I like feeling good, so making others feel good seems like a positive thing to do.

    In addition, seeing someone else being happy causes my mirror neurons to fire and I feel happy too. This is colloquially known as “empathy”. So bringing joy to others brings joy to me as well. Everybody gains from the experience.

    What if I thought the way to make the world a better place was to inflict misery upon people?

    Then that would probably mean you are a psychopath who has the inability relate meaningfully to your fellow humans.

    It is also illogical. By “world” you mean human society, which is made up of people. Inflicting misery on other people makes makes the world as a whole more miserable, which is antithetical to your stated goal.

    If you believe that God created you and gave you a brain, then it is profoundly disrespectful to Him for you not to use it.

  • Ronlawhouston

     Someone clearly has turned satire into an art form.  I’m going to call your boss to tell them to give you a promotion for creativity. 

  • Ronlawhouston

     Oh no – don’t be talkin smack about my boy Hemant.  I’ll seriously put out a jihad on your a$$.

  • DougI

    I totally agree, we should give our group a new name for all those who agree with you to separate us from those Asshole Atheists who don’t agree with us (so everyone will know we are superior and righteous).

  • m6wg4bxw

    I understand that. My response was based, in part, on the fact that I saw Evertoniancalvinist post a message with essentially the same idea a day earlier, with similar responses.

    Sometimes I think it would be worthwhile for a blog like this to have one post on every common topic theists question and misunderstand about atheists. Then we could have the discussion once, and simply reference a post when someone asks another tired question. An atheist FAQ of sorts…

  • amycas

     No. wwJTd=what would JT do. as in JT Eberhard.

  • amycas

     I second this idea.

  • Dave Littler

     Julie! Surely it’s obvious that Epistaxis was joking! Satiring this very behaviour rather than earnestly engaging in it!

    Relax! Laugh! :)

  • Dave Littler

     I still visit a few, but I certainly never read the comments sections any more. It’s become too depressing. The whole debacle with Thunderf00t showed that there was no interest on either side of that divide in being civil with one another.

  • Dave Littler

    You’re labouring under a false assumption here. You presume that day-to-day activities cannot have goals or ends which are personally significant, rewarding or meaningful to us just because we don’t see some celestial dictator out there somewhere informing us as to what we ought to see as an “ultimate” meaning to life (whatever “ultimate”, with or without capitalization even means in this context).

    This simply isn’t the case. We can and do determine what our accomplishments, values and desires mean for ourselves. We can and do argue the merits of these ends according to our own experiences, our own priorities and our own sense of worth. As long as our actions are internally consistent – as long as my actions are consistent with my personal values – there’s nothing inconsistent about it. And the same is true of everyone else. Including you.

  • Coyotenose

    Continuing to misrepresent the point of A+ after it has been explained publicly hundreds makes one a liar, sarcasm or no.

    Jumping into it with zero provocation on this of all threads is the obsessive icing on the cake.

  • Coyotenose

     I’m sorry that you’re too stupid and arrogant to grasp the concepts of reason and empathy, and see no difference between acting to reduce harm and acting to cause harm.

    With that in mind: Why are you an evil person?

  • Coyotenose

     Unfortunately, time and again they ignore such information when it’s presented to them. At best they get quiet for a few weeks and come back again once they’ve successfully “forgotten” the info, spouting the same nonsense.

  • Coyotenose

     Your existential crisis is your problem, not ours. Whining about it and lying about the philosophy (either deliberately or through Dunning-Kruger) does not make anyone sympathetic. ASKING about what is hurting you so bad might do so.

  • Coyotenose

     Easing the suffering of others eases one’s own suffering, both because humans have empathy and because raising up everyone makes our own lives easier. Only sociopaths don’t intuitively grasp the first part, and even they can grasp the second – even if they don’t abide by it – unless they’re also dimwitted.

  • Coyotenose

     I’m of the opinion that when someone claims that life without their religion is meaningless, it actually translates to, “I’m having an existential crisis, and rather than do anything about it, I’m projecting it onto other people so I can feel better about myself.”

  • jose

    More carrot was in fact offered and rejected, and accusations of condescension and arrogance were tossed at the carrot-giver. Beyond a certain point, everything becomes subject to antagonizing.

    Taking a break against a controversy burnout is sound advice though.

  • Kelley

    Kudos Jesse! I see effective, compassionate, sustainable, human resource management ideas at work here.  Great job!

  • DougI

    Not at all, I was already called an asshole for not jumping on the bandwagon.  So I was completely right, and you just made my case again.  Thanks for being one of those people who were causing the problems with burn out.  Besides, I never specified what I was referring to since I was also referring to all the other rename efforts throughout the years, you just ASSumed everything because you’re a flame troll.  Why not go over to PZ’s blog, he likes that sort of thing.

  • The Captain

    Are they really though? See that seems like a huge assumption and one that’s probably false most times.  For instance I love Hemants blog here, and I agree with him on many things, yet we also disagree at about the same amount. So is it really fair to say Hemant is “representative” of me when we really only agree about 50% of the time? 

    Many people read certain bloggers only because they are thought provoking not because they agree with them. How can one then assume that said blogger speaks for that reader?

  • DrewHardies

    For example, instead of chastising someone for being wrong, we can offer to help them understand our side — sincerely, not sarcastically!  
    When we think an organization has the wrong policies, we can say, “Here’s a great opportunity to improve and help people” rather than “Shame on you for not having done it already 

    I might go further with this.  When criticizing organization in the movement, I think we should ask two questions:

    1.  Is their behavior actually worse than what we see outside the movement?
    2.  Am I willing to personally provide the energy/resources to fix the problem?

    If the answer is ‘no’ to both, then people are attacking their allies because of proximity and providing what amounts to an ‘unfunded mandate’.  This moves activism backwards.
    (And #2 is why I like your secular women example.  Instead of, “You must write this” it is “We did write this”)

  • Msironen

    That’s exactly what I don’t get, though. He obviously expects us to be stumped by his presuppositional asshattery (I won’t dignify them by actually calling them arguments), but again and again he’s disappointed in this regard. Yet he persists…

  • Brian Macker

    I don’t mind calling out bad behavior on specific people when it actually happens, and at the time it happens. What is bullshit is the collectivist shaming of entire groups about what are fairly innocuous behaviors by individuals that could esily be corrected at the time on a personal level. Just because I am a male atheist I’m not responsible for some idiot who doesn’t know the correct etiqutte for propositioning someone who posts naked pictures of herself on the Internet.

  • Brian Macker

    Only true on blogs like PZs where they bully nonconformists.

  • Brian Macker

    I don’t see any consistency in your comment. Why would random chance mean there is no meaning to life. Fact is that we live in a quantum world in which love of one child has meaning. Even in games of chance like poker there is meaning to a straight flush. These are orthogonal concerns.

  • John W. Loftus

    It’s really tough to try to maintain a “No-Drama” network of blogs in a drama-filled time such as this one among atheists. But that is our goal at our SIN network. Seriously it is: