January 14, 2015

Atheist Awakening: Secular Activism & Community in America


"Catholic apologist G.K. Chesterton famously observed that when people believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing; they then become capable of believing in anything."


Atheism is not a new identity marker - it's been around as long as religion; rather it is only recently begun to really become an identity shared publicly. As Richard Dawkins says, atheists "are more numerous than anybody realizes." However, outing yourself as an atheist is still extremely difficult for a lot of atheists.  It still carries a significant stigma as many old stereotypes and prejudices against atheists not only still exist, but are often used in acts of discrimination. As it says in the book, "Something happened in American society in the last three decades that mobilized nonbelievers into action, and we believe that something is the increasing public- often political - presence of religion."

The researchers found that, in general, atheists are finding themselves increasingly marginalized and are, therefore, increasingly coming together to reinforce their beliefs (just as the religious do in their houses of worship).  They also found that whether atheist or secular humanist, the differences between the groups are not as much of a threat as the joint threat of religion in society and government.

Cimino and Smith found that the internet has been a great tool for finding like-minded individuals as well as coordinating gatherings.  The religious have been able to find one another easily in houses of worship, but for centuries there was no easy way to locate other atheists or humanists in your area.  Basically, there were millions of identity problems happening all over the country and they have finally found ways to gather together.  This is awesome!  When I thought about it, of course this had to be the case, but I honestly never really gave it much thought before, so I am glad I sat down and really gave this issue my attention.

I really learned so much reading this book.  Growing up Methodist, I thought it was hard to convince my mom to let me become Baptist when I found a church where I actually liked the people.  Then as an adult, I thought it was challenging to admit to my family, I was going to convert to Catholicism.  I still find it a challenge to talk to the more religious members of my extended family because of my beliefs in evolution (which Catholics do believe in), abortion (which eh, let's face it is still not a complete go), or separation of Church and State.  I cannot imagine going up to them and saying "I'm an atheist".  Even if I was.  

So anyway, back to what I learned (go on tangents, much, Becca?).  

I learned how there are so many distinctions to learn between atheists, secular humanists, religious humanists, Unitarians, agnostics, etc.  Actually agnostics is the easy one.  But also the various ways each group conducts themselves.  It's as various as different Christian denominations. In fact, more so.  

I learned how similar the atheist movement is to the religious movement in this country. Pretty interesting parallels drawn. I think these are worth reading the book for alone.

I also learned that the new atheist movement is drawing parallels from the gay rights movement as they "seek to come out of the closet and claim an atheist identity among their families, friends, and the public in general."

I learned that not every movement is a fan of Richard Dawkins.

I learned that the main reason atheists want to mobilize is to "challenge and eliminate the stigma associated with nonbelief", and to say to the world morality and religion are completely separate entities.  The groups might have different ideas on the best way to tackle particular issues, but, hey, so do religious groups.

I really learned a lot more, but I don't want to give every single thing away, in case you want to read it, too.

I really thought it was such an interesting sociological research topic - focusing on the community building and activism of the modern atheist movement, as oppose to focusing on individuals within the movement.  

This isn't a book to read quickly, at least for me it wasn't.  It's very thought-provoking.  Very interesting. Very much a book I needed to let sit with me for a bit. I did appreciate how very readable it was for an academic book. Even those not academically-prone will be able to follow and enjoy it. 

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