By Hemant Mehta
I became an atheist at the age of 14. That was back in 1997 -- books about atheism were not on bestsellers' lists and I felt alone in my thinking. I wanted confirmation that I was thinking rationally. I had so many unanswered questions about religion and no one to talk to about my thoughts. I didn't want my religious family to learn about my new beliefs, and as far as I knew, none of my friends were atheists. My only option, it seemed, was to go online and search for atheist websites. I found only a couple worth visiting but I latched onto them quickly because I had so few resources at my disposal.
Thankfully, students in my position no longer have to resort to a handful of websites -- or writers -- to learn about life sans religion. The internet has revolutionized how people discover atheism, learn to live life without a god, and spread their non-belief.
While just about every belief system can thank the internet for a variety of reasons, atheism has been helped by the web in three key ways:
The impact of the "Blogosphere" -- Among the millions of blogs online, a niche has formed for people who write commentary about atheism. Not only do they write about their own personal journeys discovering atheism, but also they write about their perspectives on current events. Many are easy to contact for personal correspondence as well. One blogger known as MoJoey keeps a running list of atheistic blogs on his Atheist Blogroll. As of this writing, there are over 900 different websites on the list -- surely, only a fraction of all the atheistic blogs. One blog, PZ Myers's Pharyngula, is consistently among the Top 100 most popular blogs in the world.
New atheists can take solace in reading what others with similar mindsets think about news stories, personal experiences, etc. This is revolutionary -- especially for atheists who live in families and communities dominated by religion. They now have a way to learn about atheism from people of different ages, races, and attitudes.
Increased membership in and donations to atheist organizations -- Organizations like American Atheists have been around for several decades, but until recently, the only way to become a member of those organizations was through snail mail. Some atheists chose not to join the groups at all out of fear of discrimination should someone stumble upon their mail and notice their atheistic affiliation. Now that the organizations are online, it is easy to give money to your favorite organization with the click of a button -- anonymously, if you prefer.
I can attest to the fact that as a teenager, I could not have joined any atheist group. I lived at home and my parents saw my incoming mail. Now, however, I am among a proud group of people who have become members of (and donors to) several atheist groups -- all of which we joined online.
One final case in point: recently, there has been a surge of pro-atheism advertising on public transportation in many states and countries. For this to happen, thousands of dollars were raised -- in one case, hundreds of thousands of dollars -- all via internet donations. Word spread quickly and thousands of people donated. This could not have happened a few years ago.
Larger and more niche atheist communities -- Many atheists feel like they are the only ones in their city who think the way they do. While they might be able to attend an atheist convention once or twice a year, it is tough to find like-minded people within their own communities. Again, the internet has broken down this barrier.
There are all sorts of atheist communities online, depending on what sort of interaction you'd like to have. Some atheists comment frequently on their favorite blogs and get to know other atheists in that manner. Others contribute to forums on subjects they want to discuss -- for example, author Dale McGowan hosts a forum specifically for non-religious parents.
Finally, the internet has helped atheists meet other atheists in their communities they never knew existed. MeetUp.com allows you to form atheist groups or join an already existing atheist group in your area. Other websites, such as Atheist Nexus and Think Atheist, function as a sort of "Atheist Facebook," allowing users to search for other atheists by location.