What's holding us back in Atheism 1.0? Could it be that we're too busy indulging in mind games? It's an issue of authenticity.


Self worth is best achieved by giving ourselves credit for our strengths and admirable traits. However, if something too painful occurs that we can't face, an attack by an authority figure when we're young or a rejection when we're at our most vulnerable, we can settle for provisional self-esteem based on invidious comparison. We soothe our wounds with "I'm better than somebody else." This easy fix is widely encouraged in the culture, socially acceptable.


In 1964 Eric Berne's Games People Play described the mind games of this "I'm OK, You're not OK" position. Instead of living in the full threatening chaotic experience of reality, players buy into a limited version in which it's easier for them to cope. Their reality is narrowed down so that every action is one of a victim, a rescuer , or a persecutor. They're not aware that they edit reality to fit their preferred game. It's just reality as they know it.


Many religious memeplexes include a version of VRP reality. The chosen people are victimized by a cruel, malevolent outside world, but they'll soon be rescued by a god and then it will be the turn of those awful persecutors to be victims in the end time.


If you identify as a Victim, you're morally superior to your persecutor.

If you're rescuing victims, you're morally superior to victims and persecutors.

But here's the kicker that Eric Berne identified. You can start out as a Victim and collect, as he put it, trading stamps. You can collect self-pity stamps, or you can collect anger stamps. When you have collected enough, you get to trade them in as justified persecution of your former Persecutors. You get to be mean without guilt, because "they deserved it", and you are morally superior. Players of VRP games always end up taking every role at some point.


So poor persecuted Christians can attack someone they deem undesirable or a threat, and still feel virtuous. Group bonding offers many opportunities to put your group members up, put everyone else down, and shore up fragile egos.


As I see it, it's no accident that Atheists are stuck in religion bashing and can't move on to construct an authentic vibrant secular community to compete with the religious communities. Part of our problem is that, for too many of our members, giving up theism was easy, giving up VRP too hard. These members can't help but steer our conversations back to the faults of religion.

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Maybe what is holding back Atheism is it appears to be divided amongst itself and there is in fighting among groups. Well .. I will say more later on this.

That's because there are stupid people in our movement just as there are in any other.

The problem seems to be that, as Sam Harris and others have pointed out, the concept of an "atheist community" seems a rather blunt instrument to build a secular community. People like Alain de Botton seem to be on a better track with regards to this.

Right Matt .. exactly right.

This sounds like a combination of over-generalization and a failure to recognize facts on the ground.

FACT - Religion and particularly evangelical religion is antipathetic toward atheism, while at the same time attempting to push its own agenda on a secular government.  If atheists fight against those actions and attitudes, I don't think we can be blamed for doing so.

FACT - If they could leave us (and well enough) alone, there would be no problem for the large part.  THEY CAN'T.

FACT - Evangelical religions proselytize; atheists don't.  It's the believers who are being the aggressor here in large portion, and I for one am NOT about to turn the other cheek.

Personally, I don't start fights; I finish them.  There are better things for me to do than go spoiling for religious arguments.  On another board I work, there are religious and atheist groups.  I have NO USE for the believers' groups and do not post or comment on them, yet I see numerous posts and comments by the theists in the non-believers' groups.  I WILL defend my turf, but I see no point in lowering myself to their level by invading their groups and creating more unneeded drama.

And if you want to talk about transactional analysis, let's be real: too often, the conversation between a theist and an atheist is CROSSED, with the theist: they are the Parent, attempting to instruct the Child or the aggrieved Child complaining to a supposed Parent-atheist about how they are treated, where we are most attempting an Adult-to-Adult transaction, which they want no part of.  If they could deal with us as Adult, again, you have a different matter, but that is the vast minority of interactions that I have observed.

I won't play their game to satisfy them, and if they don't like it, that's THEIR problem.  If they want to make it my problem, then they inherit a far larger problem.

Just because religious converts live in a reality distorted towards victim/rescuer/persecutor roles doesn't mean we have to. There's a place for self defense. I never argued against that. What I'm suggesting is that we don't need to be stuck at that stage of self-actualization, when there are marvelous opportunities to create secular community that deals with all of reality. Religion self-defense alone is like blinders; it's tunnel vision.

Fine - I assert that I am NOT stuck at that stage.  I merely deal with circumstances as they occur.  If I were never visited by another JW in my life, that'd be great ... but I am virtually 100% certain of yet another visit (they said as much last time).  They will be treated civilly.  Their belief system will be treated with utter disdain.

'Nuff said.

I respectfully disagree.  Religionists are actively working to keep religion dominant in society, supported at least indirectly by government and law.  We have reactionary religionists like Santorum surging in republican polls, in part because christians are antimormon and in part because the religionists want to re-christianize the parts of society that have loosed the chains of religion.  The Supreme Court is Catholic dominated. 


Religion dominates much of the planet, as well as a significant influence on the US.  I do not think it's a matter of "I am anti-religion because I feel superior" - I think it's "I am antireligon because religion is evil and will stop at nothing to regain lost ground".  Too many religious people in the world would rather see me, personally, dead (Islamists and a significant number of christians), and at least 1/2 of the US do not believe that I should be allowed the same civil rights as other citizens.   So I don't see why this is an issue of game playing.  It's survival.


I also think that atheism, or secularism, is not held back.  Seems to be growing day by day.  

I'm with  Sentient Biped on this one. I would also point out that any religious "battles" we have here in the US center around human rights, governance, science education, science in governance/legislation, egalitarianism, …none of which are issues of atheism, but all of which are under consent threat of creeping theocracy.

It's not just atheists who are vocal opponents to the Teabagger Taliban, there are also theists of many kinds on the side of secularism here, including noted theologians and clerics.

True .. Atheism in on the rise. We are growing!

I agree with Ruth, it sounds like many atheists and other non-believers are ready for a transition from the justified but ultimately self-destructive 'victim' status, to a more constructive status, one where we join communities such as this one in the hope that they can be the vehicle of a new reality, at least that's why I joined this community.

I don't know if Alain de Botton idea's of a religion for atheist is realistic, but it's a powerful paradigm shift that retires 'atheism 1.0' to a necessary but only initial step towards a truer form of atheism, one where we redefine society altogether. It seems like many non-believers are ready to stop focusing on believers and more on the next steps to materialize a 'new atheism' or 'atheism 2.0', whatever the name may be for   a more enlightened atheism.

There's a brand new group forming to redefine society without religion. Imagine No Religion You might want to consider joining, Gareth.

I couldn't agree more with your point Matthew, it's a vicious circle that in order to fight against VRP we usually end up reproducing the same simplifications that created VRP, kinda like fighting evil with evil... I would suggest that taking your point a bit further, that indeed beliefs are coping mechanisms, and that the human race must evolve to accept reality as is or remain staring at the moving shadows in Plato's allegory of the cave.

I do believe that we can move on to such a cartesian acceptance of the world, there was a time when we believed the earth was flat and the sun revolved around us, there was a time when we believed illness were demonic curses, there was also a time when we believed the atom was the smallest and indivisible unit of matter. It seems to me the human spirit always finds a way to overcome, atheism another step towards that cartesian future, but I do agree that we have a long road ahead. 


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