Positive Atheism Forum
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Atheist Groups:
To Belong
Or Not To Belong?
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If So:

If Not:

If you belong to a group, the question is not "Why do you think others might want to join your group?" -- please don't sales-pitch the group scene. Rather, tell us precisely why you belong to a group. What got you interested and what kept you there? Also, if you are there in spite of problems, tell us about it.

Then tell us what the group you belong to does: Do you discuss the shortcomings of religion amongst yourselves? Do you help the newly deconverted come down from religion? Do you have any outreach programs either to promote atheism or to lobby for the separation of religion from government? Do you write letters? produce a cable-access TV program? have a website? Do you host "fun" activities? serve as a way for singles and others to meet? (Anything I missed?)

We also want to know if you are an atheist in what is normally seen as a religious group: Are you a Unitarian? a Scientific Pantheist? even one of those Atheistic Episcopalians who "love the incense, the stained glass windows, the organ music, the vestments, and all of that," who then say, "I don't want to give all that up, just because I don't believe in God."

If you want to take this question to your group meeting and pass it around for answers, feel free to mail the answers to our address below or type them into an e-mail for us.

If you don't belong to a group, there's no sense in trying to be polite about it: go ahead and trash the group scene if you want, we don't care! We want to know all the dirty details!

All kidding aside, tell us exactly what it is about groups that you don't like (or about the one group you tried but didn't like). Or, if you just don't care, tell us that. Many if not most atheists just don't think about the subject at all, paying attention only to the politics of religious liberty now that it's clear that powerful forces want the public to foot the bill for indoctrinating the poor and downtrodden with religion before they eat the food that we paid for.

We're particularly interested in hearing if you joined a group and then left: Did you have expectations about groups that were not met? Did you have problems with the way the group was run? Did they play favorites during the discussions? Was there too much (or not enough) religion-bashing going on? Was there a lot of talk about political activism but no action? Was there no talk of political activism at all? Was the dominant sociopolitical ideology not to your liking (i.e.: you're a Conservative and everybody in the group was a Liberal; you're gay and everybody else was straight; the youngest member of the group was older than your father).

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From: "Bill B."
To: "Positive Atheism Magazine"
Subject: atheist group
Date: Friday, June 29, 2001 4:23 PM

Hi. My name is Bill Brown.

I live in Erie, Pennsylvania. Approximately a year ago, two or three people attempted to get a Freethinkers group together here in the area. Prospective members were solicited mainly through e-mail. The group met, maybe, 3 times with only four or five people showing up. I was only able to attend once, and I quite enjoyed it and hoped it would continue, but there was just not enough interest.

I consider myself an atheist and a pantheist.

I frequent this site more than any other and much appreciate it.

Thanks,

Bill

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From: "Carey Sherrill"
To: "Positive Atheism Magazine"
Subject: Atheist Groups
Date: Friday, June 29, 2001 4:38 PM

I am not a member of any group, atheist or otherwise. This is true for two reasons.

First, groups, in my experience, tend to foster an us-versus-them perspective that I see as counterproductive.

Second, the majority of groups are single issue focused. People who are not very bright can only focus on one thing at a time and can become fixated. They become dimmer still when they gather together to commiserate about their fixation. Thus, groups tend to be made up not of the relatively best and brightest, but the worst and dimmest.

Anyway, I wouldn't want to be part of any group that would have me as a member.

With a tip of the hat to Mr. Marx,
Carey

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From: "LC Whittle"
To: "Positive Atheism Magazine"
Subject: Re: QUESTION: Atheist Groups: To Belong Or Not To Belong?
Date: Friday, June 29, 2001 4:42 PM

I do not belong to any atheists' groups.

The main reason is because I am not a joiner. I prefer my landscape without figures. I am not misanthropic, but humans in groups tend to irritate and bore me.

A secondary reason is that I have so much that I want to do that I see no point in doing things I don't want to do.

LC Whittle

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From: "Nicole R Kempler"
To: "Positive Atheism Magazine"
Subject: Re: QUESTION: Atheist Groups: To Belong Or Not To Belong?
Date: Friday, June 29, 2001 4:51 PM

Hi Cliff, was that me you were talking about?

I first joined my atheist group because I could not believe there was no one around me that was atheist! even my husband started to strongly believe in a god at the end of his life. When I heard Madalyn Murray O'Hair on television I was so relieved: That was a woman after my own heart! My husband tried to persuade me that I had to believe in something.

When a Los Angeles group started to form, I joined happily. More people after my own heart!

Now it is getting better: it is not one group but several free-thinkers groups. My first one being Atheists United. The second one being Freethinkers Toastmasters. I attend more regularly in summer when the weather is too hot to play on the beach. I like the excitement of all the members: they love the discussions groups (we discuss the speaker of the month and whatever we feel) and it encourages shy people to voice their opinions. They also become more forceful to come out of their closets!

If they get pushed back in their closets, they know they have friends who will lend their hands to them. It happened to me.

It's hot down there in Los Angeles. I will be in Portland in September. Hope to see you!

Nicole

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Added: July 4, 2001

From: "Bryant Adams"
To: "Positive Atheism Magazine"
Subject: Re: QUESTION: Atheist Groups: To Belong Or Not To Belong?
Date: Friday, June 29, 2001 4:52 PM

Nope, don't now and never have.

First of all, I've never encountered a group of atheists. If I did, though, I'd wonder why they'd got together as a group specifically of atheists in the first place. If you want to have interesting discussions about world views, you look for people who think about what they do and don't believe and talk to them, regardless of if they're atheist, pantheist, monotheist, or whatever. If you want to associate with people who see the world exactly the same way as you, being an atheist is going to make that supremely difficult, as unlike Catholicism, whose members should (should) by definition believe the same thing, statistically speaking any two atheists are more likely to believe different things than almost any other two people who share a label.

If the group is just there to sit around and gripe about Christians, or make fun of the local Satanists, or play Kick the Hippy, then it's not so much a group of atheists as a group of anti-whatever people. In general, I don't see any good reason for a group of atheists to exist as a group of atheists. Perhaps a group of legal advocates might coincidentally be a group of atheists, or a group of philosophers might happen to be a group of atheists, but being a group of atheists because the members are atheists seems a bit sillier to me than making a group of "people who have no hair on their feet." Sure, you can classify people that way, but it's not really such a distinguishing characteristic.

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From:
To: "Positive Atheism Magazine"
Subject: A-Theist Group
Date: Friday, June 29, 2001 5:10 PM

Dear Cliff;

In early 2001, I attended a few Atheist Group meetings and I was also the featured speaker at one meeting. For the most part, these were enjoyable experiences and there was a positive feeling of not being alone. But, the overall feeling I ended up with is that the term "atheist" really does not mean the same to all people. I found that there are indeed "Atheists for Jesus" for example, and that the views, ideas and principles of people in these two groups had a fairly wide range. People can call themselves "atheist" and still believe in souls, ghosts, reincarnation, Jesus, angels, genesis (that's my big beef) and other paranormal phenomenon.

It's the Big Bang / Genesis issue that turned me away from my last meeting of an Atheist Group. When I mentioned that I 'do not believe in' The Big Bang, I received very incredulous looks, as a blasphemer and crazy person might receive, and the anger in the people involved could not be hidden (red in the face..etc.). It is as though popular science has become their god. One man even said something to this effect, that he had filled the void of religion with the "belief" in science and The Big Bang.

Well, suffice it to say that I do not believe there ever was a Big Bang (neither did Hubble who's work is much of the basis of the myth) and the notion of a cosmic seed sitting in the midst of no time and no matter suddenly blasting forth everything in the known universe is nothing short of religious dogma. In fact, one local school here in the San Franscisco Bay Area, teaches this theory as fact and the department in which this is done is indeed a department of religion. "Cosmiogenesis" is literally science religion, and it is not atheist in my opinion.

So, in conclusion, I did not feel at home in an Atheist Group because it involved just more of the same fighting for my beliefs as an infidel and unbeliever, possibly even more so, as I already encounter in other gatherings.

One thing I came away with from these experiences is the longing for a new word or title other than "atheist" and I'm working on it. How's "Radical Systems Thinker"? Well, maybe not quite it.

Thanks.
Tally Ho!
Bliss
Matt Montez, MA Transformative Art

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From: "Dave Clarke"
To: "Positive Atheism Magazine"
Subject: Re: QUESTION: Atheist Groups: To Belong Or Not To Belong?
Date: Friday, June 29, 2001 5:47 PM

I don't belong to any atheist group right now. I do, however, belong to a local skeptics group, but I've only been to one of their meetings. This is due to the fact that most of their meetings are held on days I have to work. It is also due to the fact that I felt there was some intellectual snobbery going on there, and that's something for which I have no time.

I've considered joining a local humanist group, and may end up doing so sometime soon. My community participation atheism-wise right now consists in speaking with a few friends and co-workers about my atheism, but only if the subject of religion comes up in conversation, and only if I'm asked, unless I'm with close friends with whom I can bring up the subject on my own. Although I've been a non-believer for years, I'm still pretty much in the closet. I write letters to the editor and the occasional guest opinions wherein I promote rationalism. I suspect that many people are like me in that they are what you might call quiet atheists. Like me, they're not ready to actually go to meetings yet, for whatever reason, but they still want to know that there are others like them out there.

The PAM site is one place I can go to read the thoughts of those with similar opinions and occasionally inject my own without feeling uncomfortable. It's the only place I feel the need to be at right now. The thing I most enjoy about PAM is the basic honesty of it. I am thrilled to know that there are so many people, like me, who have such high regard for reason, evidence, and honest inquiry into the human condition. I am thrilled to know that there are others out there who have the courage to hold up their beliefs to the light of reason and science. Honest, courageous inquiry, come what may, is living. Everything else is mere existence.

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From: "Chester Twarog"
To: "Positive Atheism Magazine"
Subject: Atheist Groups
Date: Friday, June 29, 2001 5:55 PM

Hi, Cliff!

While I was residing in Idaho, I was an active member in the Idaho Atheist Group because:

So, we were a very active group.

I'm now living in Massachusetts without such a group to join and really miss it.

Chet Twarog

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From: "Richard Mohle"
To: "Positive Atheism Magazine"
Subject: Atheist Group?
Date: Friday, June 29, 2001 6:45 PM

I do not belong to such a group, and would like to.

Can you give me some information about groups around Portland?

I do belong to a Great Books Discussion Group which often borders on atheist support.

I would like to join and atheist group because the world (government, churches, laws, media, etc.) is filled with magic. Any person trying to stay in touch with reality needs support.

Thanks for you efforts,

Richard Mohley
Portland, Oregon

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From: "Amy Wood"
To: "Positive Atheism Magazine"
Subject: RE: QUESTION: Atheist Groups: To Belong Or Not To Belong?
Date: Friday, June 29, 2001 7:10 PM

I am an atheist who has never so much as considered joining an organized group of atheists.

Let me start by saying that I was raised in a non-religious home. It's not as if my family was atheist or even agnostic. We just never discussed religion one way or the other.

I went to college interested intellectually in the vast religious world that I'd heard so much about outside my home. It seemed there was a universe of stuff that I didn't believe, and I was insatiably curious about understanding how other people could believe it. I double-majored in Anthropology and Comparative Religions hoping to solve this vast mystery. I've since studied every major world religion, and many others that most people will never even hear about. I've even studied enough types of atheism to know that I don't quite fit into any one school of atheism or disbelief.

Honestly, I don't expect to find that there's another person in this world who subscribes to exactly the same type of disbelief that I do. Therefore, I'd never imagine trying to blend in with a bunch of people who share only a lack of faith. What else to they think, feel, or believe? Are they deists? Taoists? Agnostics waiting for proof? sci-fi UFO nuts? I imagine that I would feel about as comfortable with an organized group of atheists as a Baptist might at a Roman Catholic mass.

So, joining a group of atheists would accomplish what? Would it make me feel like I belong? If a sense of belonging were what I wanted, I'd join a church and feign belief in a supreme being. Would joining an atheist group help promote the atheist 'cause', then? Frankly, I don't really care if anyone else 'converts' to atheism. I don't want to proselytize atheism to people any more than I would want someone to thump a bible at me.

To demonstrate the varieties of atheism, I present my friend who was my college roommate and who is also an atheist. We shared the same double majors, and we took all of the same classes. Despite our common background of study and our mutual lack of faith in any sort of deity, we subscribe to very different varieties of disbelief.

She finds people who do believe in a god to be foolish, their prayers wasteful of their limited time on Earth. She expects that they will bemoan their fruitless worship upon their deathbed realization that there is nothing out there. I, on the other hand, think that religion-no matter what brand-can create warm fuzzy feelings for people. It can (though of course, it doesn't necessarily) also promote a moral base for people who might not be exposed to morality otherwise. It can promote unity and a sense of community which some folks might find rather cozy.

While my friend feels compelled to convince folks that she has discovered the truth, that she is enlightened by her disbelief, I really don't care whether people think I'm wise or wifty for disbelieving. I am also open to the notion that I may be wrong, that I'm missing the spiritual boat. I don't give the notion much weight, and I hardly think it's likely. Since I'm neither omniscient or infallible, however, I don't deny the remote possibility that I'm horribly, irrevocably wrong. My friend would never entertain such a notion.

As far as religion on the deathbed goes, I'd imagine that it gives the faithful a great deal of comfort. While I personally believe that they will never meet any maker, I suppose that the ability of the faithful to convince themselves that they aren't really blinking away into nothingness, that they are indeed on the way to nirvana, might allow them to welcome death. On the other hand, that theory ignores the possibility of eternal damnation in the bowels of hell ... What a gamble.

Having explored these differences of atheistic opinion, I ask the following question. If my former roommate and I, who have been friends for eleven years and who have studied atheism together, cannot agree on a platform of disbelief, why would I expect to have anything in common with a room full of strangers?

The answer is that I wouldn't. Even if I somehow found a group of people who shared all of my beliefs (or lack thereof), I don't think that having found them would do anything for me intellectually, socially, or morally. I'd find it to be an amazing coincidence, I'm sure. But would I want to congregate with them? Why? To seek their approval? To discuss atheism ad nauseum? To belittle or begrudge the faithful? I have no interest in any of the above.

While I do understand that religion, and in a way, atheism, can be a means for creating a social network, a support group of like-minded individuals, I don't seek that sort of kinship. I am already surrounded by folks with all sorts of beliefs and backgrounds. Frankly, I am more stimulated by their variety than I could ever be by the uniformity offered by an atheist group.

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From:
To: "Positive Atheism Magazine"
Subject: Re: QUESTION: Atheist Groups: To Belong Or Not To Belong?
Date: Friday, June 29, 2001 7:11 PM

Cliff,

Why do I not join an atheist group? Because I do not like joining any kind of organization except from a far off distance. I'm walking to the beat of a different drummer, I suppose, but find most often that others tend to get too close and then pry into my affairs -- if at all possible. I tend to talk a lot more than I should and find difficulty in keeping silent for any great length of time around other folk so I isolate myself.

And I don't join groups due to, a probable misquote here, by Grocho Marx in humor who said something like this, "I wouldn't join any organization that would let me be a member."

I'm, also, a chopper pilot and combat type Vietnam veteran, who lost faith in most things whether god, Jesus, satan, bible, warfare, US government, politicians, family members, Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving or even other veterans of war but especially those, current or past, officers of any US armed service. Trust me, I have reasons for these actions stated here but will not bore you with trivial details unless "you" ask me to express these further.

Regards,
ken r. whitley

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From: "ma pickle"
To: "Positive Atheism Magazine"
Subject: Re: QUESTION: Atheist Groups: To Belong Or Not To Belong?
Date: Friday, June 29, 2001 11:10 PM

Hi Cliff,

I'm back on line after a computer crash, have a new HP and am having fun.

Interesting question. Actually I'm not an atheist but an eclectic Wiccan but since I am also concerned in religious freedom and the right to practice my religion especially in this new faith based mentality I follow your magazine with interest. but you already knew that.

I practice as a solitary which is common with Wiccans. Since the Wiccan "religion" doesn't have a set of rules/dogma other than "as ye harm none do as ye wilt" it's common to be a solitary since you don't need to practice in a group setting. And while I have had interest in also participating in a group setting I basically don't have the time -- you know how busy my schedule is -- and to be honest my work with cats and food preserving takes priority. I do belong to a group of "crazy cat ladies" and we used to meet monthly for lunch/dinner/tea whatever and we have been to busy for that even.

Hope you are enjoying today's sunshine!

Ingrid

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From:
To: "Positive Atheism Magazine"
Subject: Re: QUESTION: Atheist Groups: To Belong Or Not To Belong?
Date: Saturday, June 30, 2001 2:08 AM

No
 

I'm not a "joiner. "Plus, I see no point in joining an atheist organization. What would be the purpose of such an organization? I'm not a missionary for atheism. So, even if there were an atheist organization near me (there isn't -- I live in rural Tennessee, Southern Baptist country), I would not join it.

-- eric

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From: "Ken Hark"
To: "Positive Atheism Magazine"
Subject: Re: QUESTION: Atheist Groups: To Belong Or Not To Belong?
Date: Saturday, June 30, 2001 2:43 AM

Hi Cliff. Yes I do belong to an Atheist group in Eugene Oregon, thanks to you for directing me to them. I believe all Atheists would benefit by belonging to a group if possible. Even an Atheist is a social critter. It would be good if Atheist groups had more solid objectives such as letting the public know that we are here, so that more would come out of the closet and feel free to admit to the world what we are. We should let the world know the religious people aren't the only ones striving to be moral.

In fact I believe we can evolve to a higher state of morality than they, by supporting Women's rights to choose, fight the death sentence and many other issues of morality other than who or how we have sex. Among our selves we can laugh at the God lovers, but in public we will do far better stating that we are Atheists and we do not hate God because it is impossible to hate that which does not exist. To gain respect, we must show respect to those who do believe. I still have many Christian friends and we discuss morality and issues. I do believe that they have a different opinion of an Atheist now.

I have spoke at our Unitarian Church here in town about being an Atheist. The title of the talk was "Can an Atheist be a good moral citizen." It was announced in the local paper resulting with a good turn out, and well received. I ask for a raise of hands of fellow nonbelievers. There were about half raised their hands. The homosexuals have made great gains in many places, but they never would have if they hadn't come out of the closet. We must make our selves visible and positively to fight the bigotry. We will never gain any thing setting in the corner bitching.

Ken Hark

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From: "Bill Young"
To: "Positive Atheism Magazine"
Subject: Re: QUESTION: Atheist Groups: To Belong Or Not To Belong?
Date: Saturday, June 30, 2001 6:08 AM

Locally, I belong to the Humanists of the San Joaquin Valley, which meets once a month and which I attend regularly. I also belong to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fresno and attend about once a month, usually when I make the 80 mile round trip to the HSJV meeting. I have been a Unitarian since 1949, and have become very disappointed in the move away from an emphasis on the use of reason, which charactarized it as I understood it in 1949.

Nationally, I belong to the American Humanist Association, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the American Ratonalists, the American Atheists, Atheists United, The Friends of Religious Humanism, the Skeptics, (Pasadena), I am a Secular Humanist Associate and am a Humanist Celebrant in the Humanist Society of Friends. There may be more, such as supporting the Atheist in India and the New Humanist in England.

Why join? Basically, to support the "movement in as many aspects as possible" and to keep informed about what is going on.

Bill Young

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From: "joanna hannigan-gaither"
To: "Positive Atheism Magazine"
Subject: Re: QUESTION: Atheist Groups: To Belong Or Not To Belong?
Date: Monday, July 02, 2001 4:34 PM

No, I don't belong to or care to belong to any organized groups. The closest I came to belonging to a "like type" was about 10 years ago I attended several Ayn Rand Objectivist meetings. There were some rousing discussions and lots of intellectualistic dialogues -- and some mighty strange folks also.

Sometimes I regret that I know very few people I can feel free to talk with about what we can do (realistically) to ensure that the world is not overcome with religious fanatics, and what we can do to help people reach down and think more deeply about things they just accept because they are too lazy or scared to think, and how much worse do we think our freedoms are going to be violated with Shrub in office, etc. But I don't regret not having a group to meet with, I do regret not having more kindred spirits and friends who are independent thinkers. Thank you for maintaining your web site and posting valuable info about critical freedoms and news about those who would try to take them away and censor us.

Regards,
Joanna Hannigan Gaither

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Added: August 6, 2001

From: "Kevin Courcey"
To: "Positive Atheism Magazine"
Subject: Groups
Date: July 04, 2001 5:53 PM

In terms of what it means to be part of a group ... in my health research, checking into the claims of the religious for longer life, etc, what came out was that group participation was the key. It isn't that they get some mysterious advantage because their supreme being is making them healthier, it is the social participation in a group setting that confers health benefits. So yes, I think groups are valuable, especially for our older members.

Kevin

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From: [name withheld]
To: "Positive Atheism Magazine"
Sent: August 02, 2001 5:44 PM
Subject: PA-via_Positive_Atheism_Index

I have not had any theological belief for over thirty years, but I have not found a "duplicable and usable" atheistic program or method that can offer what Christian groups (for example) do for youth. For this reason alone, my wife and I continued to raise our children in a Christian context and then transition away from it gradually, as so many people do.

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Material by Cliff Walker (including unsigned editorial commentary) is copyright ©1995-2008 by Cliff Walker. Each submission is copyrighted by its writer, who retains control of the work except that by submitting it to Positive Atheism, permission has been granted to use the material or an edited version: (1) on the Positive Atheism web site; (2) in Positive Atheism Magazine; (3) in subsequent works controlled by Cliff Walker or Positive Atheism Magazine (including published or posted compilations). Excerpts not exceeding 500 words are allowed provided the proper copyright notice is affixed. Other use requires permission; Positive Atheism will work to protect the rights of all who submit their writings to us.