June 21, 2010

Understanding Apathetic Atheists

apathy.jpgLaughing in Purgatory had a good post recently about how to get apathetic atheists to take action. This isn't something I've written much about, and it isn't something I've seen many other atheists addressing. We all acknowledge that it is a problem, but we have few solutions.

As I read the post, it occurred to me that it might be helpful to see if we can't generate a list of some of the most common reasons for apathy among atheists. That is, what leads atheists to become apathetic and what makes it easier for them to remain that way? Maybe this would be a good first step in figuring out how to reduce apathy?

We need to be very clear what we mean by apathy in this context. I suggest we think of it like this: an apathetic atheist is an atheist who has no interest in engaging in any sort of action on behalf of atheism (e.g., promoting atheism, advancing atheist civil rights, opposing anti-atheist bigotry, etc.) or secularism.

With that out of the way, here are some quick thoughts about why atheists might be apathetic:
  1. Learned helplessness: I've tried, and it is futile. Nothing I do seems to make a difference.
  2. Safety: Taking some sort of action would mean "coming out" as an atheist, and that isn't safe for me.
  3. Insufficient information: I'd like to help, but I honestly don't know what to do.
  4. Low relevance: It isn't personally relevant or I've got more important things to worry about.
  5. Identity: Taking action to promote atheism sounds like something religious people would do, and I don't want to be anything like them.
What am I missing? What else have you heard, or what else gets in your way?

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