June 28, 2013

Atheism May Be An Insufficient Basis for Community

English: The statue on the headland. A religio...
English: The statue on the headland. A religious statue erected by the local Catholic community. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Would I like to live in an area where I'd be surrounded by atheists nearly every time I left the home? Sure. I like the idea of being completely open with regard to my thoughts about religion. But realistically, I'd happily settle for being surrounded by people who kept their thoughts on religion to themselves.

If I was going to take a photography class, would I prefer that most of the other students in the class were atheists? No, not really. What I would prefer is that the other students in the class kept their thoughts on religion to themselves since I would expect religion to be thoroughly irrelevant to the subject matter and to the reasons we were taking the class. The only way I'd prefer that the class be full of atheists would be if my only choices were between atheists and religious individuals who were unwilling to keep their religion to themselves.

Suppose that a particular form of political activism was very important to me (e.g., reproductive rights, the environment, feminism) and I wanted to get involved as an activist at the local level. It seems like I'd find plenty of like-minded people in a group devoted to that goal, regardless of whether they were atheists. As long as they could keep their religious beliefs to themselves, it wouldn't matter much how many atheists there were.

Many in the online atheist community have made compelling cases for why they would like to see local atheist communities springing up. I see where they are coming from, and I agree that this sort of thing would be a nice option to have. I am not sure it is an option I would personally utilize though. When I see atheists talking about how they would like to have strong local atheist communities, I think to myself, "Then you should have them." Even if I'm not particularly interested, those who are should have such communities.

Why don't I think I'd be interested? Many reasons, but I will limit myself to one here. I have had enough interactions with atheists, both online and in real life, to know that just because someone in an atheist does not mean I will have anything else in common with them. Frankly, I've met some awful people, both online and in real life, who happen to be atheists and yet are people with whom I have no desire to interact. On the other hand, I know several Christians in real life with whom I do share common interests and with whom I enjoy spending time.

I suspect that the odds of my meeting someone whose company I would enjoy in the photography class or the activist group would be greater than the same thing happening at a local atheist meet-up. Sure, the person I might meet in the photography class or political organization could be a Christian with negative attitudes toward atheism. I live in Mississippi, so it seems like there would be a reasonable chance of that happening. But still, I'd have something in common with that person (i.e., a shared interest), and we might be able to agree not to talk about religion. At an atheist meet-up, I see little reason to think that what I'd have in common with others would be enough to make us want to spend time together. Perhaps this would be different if the meet-up was focused around a particular topic or activity linked with atheism that I could not find elsewhere.

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