I just listened to an interview with Michael Shermer on the Mile High Sanity Project podcast.  Shermer brought up the point that for some people there is a large social cost and thus deterrent to becoming (not the right word but I can’t think of the one I want) an atheist.  I didn’t go through this because I was never a member of a church.  But I am feeling some of it now that I’m trying to meet more like minded people to hang out with.


The atheist groups that I am aware of in my area are more purpose driven.  The meet more to provide information than they do to socialize.  While I completely agree that we need to help spread knowledge and provide others with the tools to think skeptically, we could do more.  I think we need more social activities (happy hours, whatever) to make it easier to those that might be leaving something that makes them feel safe and included. 


What do you think and do you have any suggestions?

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I agree 100% with Shermer here. There's a huge social cost. Not only are we a minority, there's a culture of abstract intellectual problem solving talk which abhors touchy feely stuff like heartfelt singing and hugs.

I see this as one of our unconscious cultural boundaries, a shared fear of surrendering your independent thought and feeling without realizing you are doing so if you do any ritual activities similar to those used by churches or even sports teams. This isn't intellectual, it's more like denial.

As a result, atheist social activities tend to be wordy, education-like, and BORING. Whenever I've tried to introduce activities that open up feelings, I run into an anxiety reaction. The activity, if adopted, gets modified to take away the personal participation and make it BORING instead. [example below] Atheists tend to have a gut feeling that drumming, singing, dancing, waving of arms, swaying, etc will always attack reason. That there is no possible way we can have strong feelings in an event and also think clearly and independently.

My theoretical framework to understand why this occurs and how to overcome gets extensive. I have ideas about why these reactions occur, how they function in boundary maintenance of the atheist memeplex, and how we can overcome those limitations. However this is beyond the question raised.

My example : At the 2003 HumanLight celebration I tried to introduce a structure for individuals to share what inspired them most, a 3 minute personal testifying (if you will), associated with placing an ornament honoring the person, event, or place on an Honor Net. I would have had people at each table share their stories with fellow table mates, after writing them on a 3 by 5 card, to keep it short. Then have the table vote on their favorite story, to have those shared with the whole group.

What really happened, after the other organizers had massaged the activity, was that people fill out a 3 by 5 card alone, and put an ornament on the net. At the very very end of the celebration, after all of the families with children had long gone and everybody was tired, one man read the contents of all the cards over the microphone, one after another, to the stragglers. A face to face activity of sharing deep meaning became list reading by a stranger. That was the only time I participated in organizing an official HumanLight celebration.

Oh how sad. They really botched that wonderful idea you had. i would have not wanted to organize any further activities either. I would be interested in how we could overcome the limitations of the atheist memeplex as you describe above. How do we go about changing this?

I think starting small with weekly or bi-weekly happy hours and/or lunches would be good.  Keep it informal and small.  When I see an event with 20 or more people in it, I know the chances of actually meeting a few people and having good conversation are much lower.

That sucks.  Especially the part about the organizers waiting until most people had left to read the cards. 

I can see the other side of this though.  I've always hated being put that sort of position.  The stand up and inteoduce yourself thing always makes me cringe.  I can't really say why.  Partly embarasment..and something else I can't put my finger on.



My idea was to start with sharing at each table, which is a lower threshold of social anxiety. Then, if the person whose story is selected as most inspiring is averse to speaking to the entire group, the person with second most inspiring story would get a chance to speak.

You have an atheist group here online.  That is the genius of the internet.  Atheists must rely upon themselves, not others, for their legitimization.  Let the others go on shrugging off responsibilities and blaming a supernatural being for their misfortunes: you have only yourself and you are all you need.  There is no god but Man.  God is the creature between your ears.

It is difficult to be more social with people who think you are insane for not believing in God.  No matter that you also do not believe in talking snakes, people turning into pillars of salt, or burning bushes that speak to you.  I am only tolerated.  It is about the best we can expect.

This is more about being social with other atheists.  I have no desire to add more religious people to my life.

I must've been dropped on my head. I kind've get the feeling that a social gathering to talk about our lack of god worshiping would seem like we have the problem. If there were no religion then would we not go about our day like we do already? I think the religious have there social functions so they can feel empowered by fellow community members that imaginary characters are real. If you just want to hang out and have a beer, then why do you need to have it with a fellow atheist when you can get just as drunk with somebody that believes in a god? I admit, I may have missed the point.

Atheism is typically only concerned with the realm of beliefs. But the human psyche is composed of beliefs and values. Values for atheists can only come from our emotions/desires/feelings.

This raises two problems for atheist groups:
1 - Most athiests are not aware that values come from emotion.
2 - Once you start talking about values, we quickly divide into opposing camps: liberal v. conservative, etc.

So, any atheist/humanist group who wants to explore human values/wellbeing/community/culture has these obstacles to overcome.

There is a growing acknowledgement from neuroscience and psychology on the motivating role of emotion, and the awareness is getting out there via experts like Antonio Damasio and Jonathan Haidt. We need to educate other atheists about it.

Atheists groups might need to specialise around their particular values and interests, rather than trying to appeal to everyone.

What atheism needs most is a 2nd generation of leaders who can articulate a value system in the language of desire, and create a compelling alternative to religion to lead the sheeples away.

It's been said before that organizing atheists is like herding cats. Which makes sense, since one of the criteria we try to live by is independent thought.  As to sites like A|N and others, Scott is correct. They're purpose driven insofar as we exchange ideas, share information, and listen to and contribute about opinions relevant to atheists.

As to social gatherings, I tend to agree with JF.  If you want to find people to hang out with, join an astronomy club, bridge club, motorcycle club, or other social organization.  Me personally, I tend to avoid those types of groups where there are structured activities. "At our next meeting, Susan, Joe, and Bill need to bring a covered dish, and we'll take about our next outing."  Not being critical, but it's just not my cup of tea. If I want to go out for a beer, I'll meet some friends at the local watering hole. 




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