Here are six reasons to avoid joining any Atheist groups, whether local or national:
1. Atheists are treated where I live with full civil equality, so my vote or support for a candidate or issue counts the same as anyone else’s.
2. In my part of the world, atheists are treated as the social equal of anyone else, with never a reason to be defensive and no prejudice or stigma directed towards us.
3. I’m a dedicated religious person and believer, not an atheist.
4. The word “atheist” is used as an insult and I don’t want to be associated with any groups that do—or even might—use the word.
5. Atheist organizations, local or national, never say or do anything of interest.
6. I’m just too frightened to join any atheist groups—I might lose my job, my girlfriend, my promotion, my parents’ financial backing, or my friends.
Some of these are in fact good reasons—well, OK, one of them is: #3.
As to the others: If #1 or 2 hold true where you live, hurrah for you and the wise people you live among; but many of us can assure you that these things are far from true across the nation.
If you’re not going to help change this, who do you think should?
The fourth “reason” is certainly true enough in many parts of the US—and it needs to change. People with courage and integrity are the ones who can change it; organizations are not the only way to accomplish this—letters to the editor, honest declarations to friends and colleagues and more can help. But organizations are the best way to get some of the key things done, in the courts, in the court of public opinion, in publishing, in leading peaceful protests, and other activism. And there are many humanist and freethought groups who don’t emphasize the word “atheist.”The fifth reason may well be true for some organizations some of the time—but that just means you should find a better organization for you, or change the one(s) available. You might be surprised how many others want the same kind of changes you do and will follow your leadership.
Fear can be a real and powerful motivator—ask any preacher who’ll be honest about it. And atheists do have rational grounds for fear in many cases. All of us should help fight this in ways we can. Organizations need members, they need activists, and they need dollars. If you can help with all three, do. If you can only help more quietly, do that. If you do, go slowly if you need to, choose your spots for speaking out or being open with care, and find group(s) that will honor and respect your needs for caution. But help all of us change this; the fears should be groundless, even if they aren’t yet.
Find a good local group of atheists, humanists, rationalist, or freethinkers—and join it. Ask your fellow local members about their favorite national group(s) and read about the national groups—American Atheists, American Humanist Association, Council for Secular Humanists, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Atheist Alliance, and others. Find the right one(s) for you, and join. Not for their sakes—for yours.