From the Vault #3: We Cannot Have Diversity Until This Is Fixed

In the atheist movement we’re driving right now to be more inclusive of minorities within our ranks (with projects like this).  There is a tremendous effort to include more prominent female atheists and to modify our movement to make it more appealing to women.  There are also projects popping up to raise awareness of ethical diversity.  One of the chief concerns the SSA has had with organizing the SSA’s 2011 Annual Convention (which, if you’ve not registered for, you need to fix your life :P) is making sure minorities are included, and it hasn’t been difficult – there are plenty of talented people out there in this movement.

But one predilection that I think gets overlooked is our bias for education.  Let me preface by saying that intelligence is one of the noblest of virtues, and it is one for which we should all strive.  We should also encourage people to become educated and strive to make education available for all.  Having said that, we must acknowledge that only 29% of Americans have college degrees.  Many of them began working straight out of high school.  These people deserve a community of like-minded people just as much as anybody else.  We want them in our movement.  We need them in our movement.

I feel as though the ideal atheist, as it is portrayed at present, has four PhDs including one in Everythingology.  This can be a problem in that it isolates the people not awash in higher education and makes them feel as though they do not belong in the folds of activist non-theism.  We must to find a way to really drive home the point that intelligence can be found at any level of education, and that hard work and clever organizing are just as effective contributions to the atheist cause as scientific discovery or writing 50 books.  This message must resonate if our campaign is to be welcoming to every non-believer.

This is part of why my job exists.  Shortly after the SSA’s uptick in affiliates on college campuses, Lyz Liddell and August Brunsman quickly realized that by focusing exclusively on college groups that the Secular Student Alliance was, in a sense, playing into the hands of that bias.  This is why four years ago they launched a high school program and, since that time, have worked on accruing the resources for my position.  I was not even aware of the bias toward education until I started this job.  Now I know that it’s something we need to fix.  We cannot miss out on preparing the non-collegiates to better enrich the atheist movement as time rolls on.

I am a musician, not a scientist.  I have spent most of my life working fast food jobs to pay my bills.  Powerful activists exist in all walks of life and if you are passionate about this cause, whether you work at Taco Bell (as I did for years) or any other job for which education is not a requirement, we want you!  You are my ally.  I promise you that I share much more in common with you than with Richard Dawkins.  So long as you are passionate about the cause, so long as you work, you can be a leader in this movement.  Our roles may be different from that of Sam Harris, but they are no less necessary.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • ashleymiller

    This is very true. And I think it’s also why I think the movement should be reaching out to people outside of the sciences more than it does. I’m not saying that science doesn’t matter, but when you’re talking about the masses, science isn’t the only thing that matters. And, as you say, the 4 PhD image is a problem. We need to round us up some atheist Joe Sixpacks.

  • Camels With Hammers

    How did the Christians conquer the world? They bothered to reach out to everyone, even and especially those who the more sophisticated and philosophical, with their more sophisticated religions, were indifferent to persuading of anything.

  • RhubarbTheBear


  • martha

    Can atheists say “Amen”?

  • Daniel Schealler

    All good stuff, but you could drive it a baby-step further.

    I don’t think someone needs to be particularly intelligent to work out that religion is bunk. It’s easy.

    Additionally, I think that intelligence can help people with post-hoc rationalization in support of religion.

    Don’t get me wrong. Intelligence is of course a fine thing and will always remain a high-status attribute.

    But we could stand to de-emphasize it.

  • Doris Arnold

    JT, I have been following for awhile and am very glad you brought this up. I am not a college graduate…more like the school of life…I am not the usual demographic of the readers you would think of. Over 50, mother, grandmother, semi-retired, a confirmed atheist since my mid thirties.

    I have been feeling for a long time that we need to reach the “Joe Sixpacks” as Ashley says. I AM out to my family and friends, but have cousins, in-laws and other friends I “argue” with religiously. They, of course, do not get it and find it hard that ANYONE could possibly not believe. I try to do my part and love that there is an organization to reach High School and College kids to let them know they are not alone.

    Keep up your good work and I’ll keep trying to get my family rednecks to see the light.

  • blindrobin

    There is nothing more detrimental to the well being of a society as a whole than to have intelligent people, having been deprived of knowledge through matters of circumstance, acting on false information and misconceived assumptions being re-enforced by those that would use them to further their aims.