October 9, 2007

Options For Uniting Nonbelievers

This is the second post in a multi-part series designed to explore community-building among nonbelievers. In the first part, I argued that uniting the secular community is a worthy goal. This post considers some of the options for bringing nonbelievers together. My intent here is to keep the level of analysis primarily descriptive and to avoid making recommendations about the value of various options. That will be the subject of the next post.

Uniting Nonbelievers

Before considering the relative value of various options, it is necessary to identify the options to insure that potentially viable ideas are not prematurely rejected. Without getting hung up on whether any of the following are desirable, feasible, etc., what have I left out? What should be added to the list to make it as comprehensive as possible?
  • United by Nonbelief. An obvious starting point involves forming communities of nonbelievers around nonbelief and promotion of nonbelief. Groups could form to offer an atheist identity, something which many nonbelievers seek in a religious world. In many ways, this seems to be what Dawkins' OUT Campaign and American Atheists are about.
  • United by Political Issues. Communities of nonbelievers can be formed around political issues likely to be of great importance to we nonbelievers. Separation of church and state provides a perfect example, and organizations such as Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Freedom From Religion Foundation have had success attracting supporters. These organizations do not need to be primarily secular as long as they emphasize issues of interest to nonbelievers.
  • United by a Desire for Political Representation. It may also possible to bring nonbelievers together with the broader political goal of simply maximizing the political influence of the secular community. The Godless Americans Political Action Committee would be an example.
  • United by a Need to Belong. Communities of nonbelievers can be formed around a variety of social goals which provide participants with opportunities to interact with like-minded individuals (e.g., simply forming social connections with other freethinkers, dating, etc.). Many popular social networking sites have groups for atheists, humanists, and other freethinkers. Examples include Meetup and Facebook. Many secular Internet forums offer similar ways of connecting with others. Yet another example involves secular services designed to convey the benefits of church without the baggage of delusion.
  • United by Anger and Anti-Theism. Undoubtedly, some nonbelievers are angry. I'm not quite sure what this form of organization might look like, but I would imagine that social activism and protest would be core elements. As our numbers increase, we are no longer content to remain silent.
  • United to Defend Reason and Promote Education. Some would argue that this is necessarily political, but I'm not sure that it would have to be. Nonbelievers could unite around a desire to promote reason, secular education, and evidence-based worldviews in many contexts. In many ways, this seems to be what Sam Harris recently advocated.
We Can Unite Around Many Issues

Our task does not involve picking one central theme and discarding the rest. There is no reason not to envision an organization that would have many (or all) of the goals reviewed here.
If we want the benefits that I believe would come from a larger and better organized secular community, we should recognize our diversity as a strength and accept the fact that there is room in our community for all sorts of nonbelievers.

Before we move on and attempt to outline in greater detail what this might look like, what aspects would need to be emphasized, and what might need to be discarded, let's make sure we have not neglected others ways in which nonbelievers might come together. I invite you to share your ideas on your blog or in the comments.

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