Don't forget to actually do shit too

At the training for Lobby Day, then SCA lobbyist Amanda Knief (now with American Atheists) said, “Atheists spend a lot of time pontificating instead of doing.”  Immediately I tweeted the quote with an emphatic agreement.

A tweeter by the handle of SpaceGhoti then asked what we aren’t doing.  I promised him a response, since twitter is a bit restrictive.

Well, “we” as a community are pretty much doing everything we need to be doing.  The problem is exactly what Amanda said: lots of atheists ignore the community to sit around and talk about all the complex ways we can know god doesn’t exist.  That’s fine, but not to the exclusion of actually working toward community building or activism of some kind.  We need ideas, but without tangible work ideas couldn’t move a pebble on their own.

But we also often have our priorities out of line.  For example, I get way more emails asking me how to drive hits to someone’s blog than I get emails asking me how to be a good activist.  So many atheists, it seems, are in this gig more for personal attention than to change the world, and that bugs me.  If you’re in a group who prioritizes getting your pictures on your web site before you’ve gone out and volunteered, or protested, or done something, I think you’re going about it wrong.

Most people are just starting to learn about me now, but I’ve spent the last decade on the ground being an activist.  That’s what has gotten people’s attention.  If you want hits to your blog without doing any of that then you’re essentially dumping all your money into advertising without a product to sell.

Also, if you’re blogging to get hits, you’re blogging for the wrong reason.  Those who try to get public for merely the pursuit of fame/popularity almost always burn out.  Write for you.  Write in your voice because you feel compelled to write.  You know the phrase, “Sing like nobody’s listening?”  Well, write like nobody is reading.  If you’re writing because you enjoy it and because it helps sort things out in your head, you’ll be happy to have written something rather than dejected because nobody read it, and you’ll write again.

So discuss ideas.  Keep your wits sharp.  But don’t forget to actually do shit too.

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.

  • Brownian

    “Atheists spend a lot of time pontificating instead of doing.”

    I did that when I was a Christian, too. It’s kind of how I ended up an atheist.

  • Nicole

    JT – One thing I would encourage you and other bloggers(FTB and otherwise) to do is talk about which secular organizations you belong to and why. I have limited income (like most) and am having trouble figuring out what organization would be the best fit for me.

    I’m baffled as to how someone can choose a church when there are so damn many of them. Out of the handful of secular organizations I am tearing my hair out figuring out where to go and what to do.

    Now I know you are obviously a HUGE proponent of SSA – but some of us are either past or not attending college.

    • JT Eberhard

      You don’t need to be a student to realize that young people are the future of this movement. Hell, just look at the age demographics at the Reason Rally. :) The students get their support from the non-student community.

      I will do a post about which orgs I mainly support and why though. I have posts up through the end of this week, so if you don’t see it in 3-4 days, remind me, ok?

      • Nicole

        Will do! And if any of your FTB chronies are reading they should do the same thing. Those of us new to the movement need a little guidance.

        • Gordon

          I assure you, you are not the only one in this situation. Walking into this movement can be a bit…overwhelming. Lots of organizations out there with different viewpoints and methodologies.

  • kevinbutler

    Heh. That story sounds a lot like how I got started. I became an atheist, wanted to start a group, and didn’t know what the fuck I was doing…and 2 years later I’m organizing a convention and trying to coordinate all of the groups in Texas. Funny how these things happen :)

    • Pteryxx

      …you are? I’m in Texas. Got any contact info that isn’t Facebook?

  • Jonathan Figdor

    Hey JT. Great post. It is essential to get Atheists and Humanists to invest their time (and if they can, their money) in our local communities, and in support of national organisations. If all of those people who attended the Reason Rally were to join one of the groups, that would immediately become the largest secular group in the country. So let’s drive those folks to all the organisations in our movement: The Secular Student Alliance (, the American Humanist Association (, American Atheists (, Camp Quest (, Society for Humanistic Judaism, JREF, CFI, etc. etc. etc.

  • Gordon

    I can’t wrap my head around people being in this movement for personal attention. This is hardly the place to go for that.

  • deepfriedfreethinkers

    Something else to be mindful of.

    There are those of us with physical and mobility restrictions. These people should not be overlooked in their activism just because they are not out there in the public eye all the time. We show our activism by the blogging, tweeting, making videos and podcasting that are well within our means and ability.

    We did good just making it to the Reason Rally, it refueled our desire to continue on with what we have been doing and to focus more on particular issues. We also do all the above out of our own pockets and we do it for the fun and enjoyment it brings us and others too.

    Now that the construction on the new DFFT Lair has been completed we look forward to once again producing more content to help inform and encourage others to be more active and to do more in the community.