The End of Apathy

There was an article in USA Today recently that made a point worth considering.

The hot religion statistical trend of recent decades was the rise of the “Nones” — the people who checked “no religious identity” on the American Religious Identification Surveys (ARIS). The Nones numbers leapt from 8% in 1990 to 15% in 2008.

The So Whats appear to be a growing secular subset. The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life’s Landscape Survey dug in to the Nones to discover that nearly half said they believed “nothing in particular.”

These people are on our side.  They’re not religious.  But the problem is that they’re not helping us either.  They’re apathetic.

And we need them.  Think about it, how much easier is it to convince an atheist that religion does damage that is worth caring about than to convince a Christian that god doesn’t exist?  We need to get the apathetic ones to care, and that means staying on point about the damage religion does to the world – specifically, the way the intrusion of religion to government and the school system affects them.

That’s when the politicians will listen.

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.

  • Mike Brownstein

    Part of the problem no one here wants to hear is what they actually think of us. I’d venture a guess that maybe up to half of them think we’re no better than the religious right in our approach. While I somewhat disagree with that, they have a point we should all be considering as this movement continues to grow.

  • Steven Olsen

    I used to be one of the apathetic ones. They can be swayed.

  • RhubarbTheBear

    Maybe this is where I step back in. Though I’ve been deconverted for almost 5 years now, and stay loosely connected to the godless through the internet, I’ve yet to find any significant way to be a part of a community. Two big factors…

    1.) My Christianity was a fairly white-bread experience. I might be able to make some case that “being a Christian harmed me” in some way, but I think that, say, public school was a far worse experience for me if one is running that kind of a tally. And no, I don’t feel victimized by public school; I learned, I adapted, I made something of it all and moved on. Church, to me, feels like yet another thing I graduated from.

    2.) As an artist, I find myself staunchly defending freedom of expression. I can’t help it; I really do think that religion (among many other forms of self-expression) is a Constitutional right. Telling people that they should never express this freedom, period, even though it’s a right… eh, it just smells wrong.

    One more thing… When I was a Christian, I was a lousy, lousy witness. Witnessing requires oratory and debate skills, and I had none. Atheists don’t have “witnesses”, of course, but it does seem you’re looking for “advocates”. My continued lack of arguing skills makes me think that I’m still pretty worthless as far as the “cause” goes. But I’ve just started improv comedy classes, so maybe at least my presentation will improve?

    • skepticallydenpa

      1) Little of what we fight for has to do with how we atheists are treated(see: Greta Christina’s Skepticon 4 — Why are you atheists so angry?)

      2) I agree wholeheartedly that we shouldn’t stifle their views. But there is a difference between telling someone they can’t worship and explaining why they shouldn’t worship. We’re not some religious rite who tortures and kills all those who don’t convert. Instead we provide new information and hard facts and demand that they weigh the evidence.

      … Not all of us have great oratory skills. I wish to participate in debate as well, so I too am doing what I can to enhance my veracity and articulation to better accomplish this. But even if arguing is not your forte, just being open about being an atheist gets others to not only recognize our existence, but also allows closet atheists to empower themselves to do the same.

  • Ganner

    The apathetic ones are often apathetic about a lot of things. Politics, religion, many major issues. They don’t want to think about it, don’t want to talk about it, and find anybody trying to talk them about it equally annoying. I’ve run into this problem with several friends.

  • rob

    who cares about apathy.

    • peicurmudgeon

      Beat me to it.

      Some people I know who put the ‘none’ in the religious box, aren’t necessarily apathetic, they are just caught up in other parts of their lives to be active in any atheist movement. I remember whne my kids were young and I was working long hours, I just didn’t have time for anything else. Now I see many things that are wrong with the world, but I tend to leave many topics alone and focus on a few. It may seem to some that I am ‘apathestic’ about environmental issues or political corruption, but I am not. I just don’t make many public statements about them. Those topics tend to arise in personal rather than public statements.

      There are otehrs who are truly ‘apathetic’ aboput such things. For example, being raised in a rural area, I know many people who don;t give a lot of thought to many issues that don’t impact their ability to food on the table and a roof over their heads.

  • Beth

    What is it that you want the apathics to be doing in support of your movement?

    • JT Eberhard

      Good question.

      For starters, it’s not my movement. It’s made up by crowds of atheists, many of whom are doing more work than I.

      A few things I’d like to see the apathetics doing is listing themselves as atheists in exit polls. I’d like to see them writing letters to congressmen, contributing to community groups. I’d like to see them learning the arguments religious people use and refuting them in public.

      When their neighbors come up to them and say we need to get back to Christian values as a nation, I want them to do anything but shrug it off and change the subject so as not to be bothered.

      In short, I want them to treat the religion debate as something that matters. It does.

  • fastlane

    Then there’s the whole jaded (for lack of a better word) community of admitted atheists who think it’s ‘not cool’ or something equivalent, to be an atheist activist.


  • Daniel Fincke

    For the record, there’s a word for these people, “apatheists”. And I find them infuriatingly frustrating.

    • Lycanthrope

      Seconded. “Why do you even care?!” they cry. “Why DON’T you care?” I say.

  • skepticallydenpa

    I was an apatheist for most of my life(my labels ranged from non-denominational christian to agnostic). It wasn’t so much that I didn’t care about what was going on, I just avoided anything an atheist tag. After all atheists are angry people who claim that they know there is no god. Obviously as an agnostic I was better than an atheist because I acknowledged the possibility of a god.

    So what changed? How did I make the transition from apatheist to ‘militant’ atheist?

    Two things:

    The first was a friend I met here who sent me a link to a youtube video of a speech given by Richard Carrier(That’s right, Skepticon 1. Thank you JT).

    The second was a video I came across a panel discussion from Skepticon 3(The first video led to the next). Even though, I agreed with the videos and was delighted with many of the things I learned I still wasn’t quite ready to consider myself an atheist. And if it hadn’t been for the latter, I might still be considering myself agnostic and blissful in my ignorance of just how badly religion has fucked things up. The part of the video which led me to recognize myself as an atheist was when James Randi distinctly Identified as a ‘type 2′ atheist and defined it as: someone who does not believe in a god. Like a revelation, I then realized “I am an atheist”.

    Ever since then I’ve been soaking up information like a sponge. I’m reading godless books, learning about nature, having discussions at work, debating with friends(strangers even), etc… I’m even aware of what is happening in the world of politics(I’m not a fan of the popularity contest that it’s become).

    I never accepted the shackles along the wall of Plato’s cave. I felt alone, knowing that the world was much bigger and beautiful than what many perceive it as. I continued to listen to the stories of those who accepted their chains. Now I visit only to convince them that the shackles are not locked. They too can see this amazing world. And that they don’t need age old fairy tales for comfort.

    tl;dr: Sometimes all you have to do is let an apatheist know that he is an atheist.

    • JT Eberhard

      You’re welcome.

      This was beautiful. Thank you for this.