Organized atheism is not too much like religion.

When I was speaking at UNLV, one of the questions I got after the talk was about how to address the claims that by becoming organized atheism is becoming too much like a religion.

Why does the fact that we’re getting organized make us more like religion and not, say, the women’s suffrage movement?  Or the gay rights movement?  Is it because we have an opinion about religion that we vocalize?  Ok, in that case, are biology professors too much like creationists?

Being organized is not the part of religion that is bad.  When atheists start believing crazy stuff for no good reason (looking at you all you woo-happy atheists on the west coast), then we’ve become similar to religion in the way that matters.  But organizing to say that religion is silly and that silly beliefs hinder society?  Or to go bowling?  We’re not too much like religion there, we’re too much like every other group whose members enjoy being around similar people.

It’s not like churches hold the monopoly on getting together for pancakes.

I find this “too much like religion” line generally comes from the type of person who won’t comment on a person’s religious beliefs because they’d rather not make things uncomfortable, so much so they’ll ignore the beliefs that make their friend fight against the rights of LGBT people.  Here’s a nifty idea: you can challenge your friends and remain friends with them.  Weird, right?  And if someone won’t be your friend if you respect them enough to tell them that their beliefs, and their actions that follow from them, are negatively impacting the happiness of many, then you have a pretty low standard for friends.

Criticizing someone should not mean you can’t be friends.  It just means you can be honest, which is a great quality in a friendship.  A lot of people have it in their heads that friendship and criticism about shit that matters are mutually exclusive.  Sure, religious people have done a lot to create that impression (look no further than to what happens to atheist billboards to see how many religious people tend to react to criticism), but the only way to change their minds is to get them acclimated to the fact that lending silent consent to irrationality is the mark of a person desperate for friendship, not a friend who respects you.

So enough with this idea that vocalizing your opinion about religion makes you too much like religious people.  The alternative is to sit silently while institutionalized unreason wreaks havoc on humanity – but hey, at least you didn’t make any waves, right?

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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.