April 24, 2012

Big Tent Atheism

E pluribus unumSarah Robinson (AlterNet) wrote an interesting article, 6 People You Need to Start a Revolution, that is worth a read. Her argument is that no movement seeking meaningful change can hope to succeed without effectively utilizing diversity. I agree completely, and this is part of why I have repeatedly called for "big tent" atheism (i.e., a recognition that the atheist movement needs all kinds of people performing different roles).

While Robinson is writing about Occupy Wall Street and the progressive 99% movement, much of what she says seems relevant for the atheist movement as well.
It's a good time to remember that mass movements are — by design and necessity — big and diverse, encompassing lots of different kinds of people who bring all kinds of skills, resources, interests and priorities to the table.
So, who are the 6 types of people needed to accomplish the sort of change many of us seek? Robinson's list includes:
  1. Activists
  2. Intellectuals
  3. Artists
  4. Insiders
  5. Supportive Elites
  6. The Masses
I would not surprise me if much of the conflict among atheists we have seen can be traced to people in one of these camps having trouble seeing the value of those in one or more of the others. An obvious example involves some of those outside the activist camp asking the activists to tone it down out of concern that they are making the larger movement look bad. But there are all sorts of other examples, ranging from some activists accusing others of not being active enough to those in many groups accusing the insiders (e.g., those attempting to work with interfaith groups) of betraying the movement.

If Robinson is right, we would do well to realize that diversity is a strength and that we need different people bringing different skill sets to the atheist movement. Disagreement is inevitable, but diverse approaches to common problems offer considerable benefit. We all need to be comfortable saying, "That isn't for me, but I'm glad you are willing to do it."

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