Atheism: The Important Questions

I long for a post-religious world where congregations of believers cling to private superstitions while science, education, and government are free from the toxic influence of religion. The atheist movement has done a remarkable job of demonstrating that theistic belief is both irrational and detrimental. Efforts to promote atheism are growing, and fundamentalist Christians are worried. Now, some atheists are beginning to explore potential next steps. In this post, I try to identify some of the important questions for us to consider as we work to progress beyond religion.

I do not intend what follows to be an exhaustive list. I am trying to highlight what I think are the most critical of many possible questions we must address.
  1. What are the benefits individual believers derive (or think they derive) from theistic belief? We need to catalog the actual or imagined benefits to believers from belief itself, stripping away potential benefits derived more from the institution of religion. Secular versions of religious institutions can be created if necessary, but focusing on the potential benefits of faith itself must inform the priorities of our movement.
  2. What are the secular alternatives through which people can obtain the same benefits identified above? It is naive to think that we can overcome religion without understanding it. If there are actual benefits to the believer from religious belief, can we offer secular alternatives for obtaining the same benefits? I suspect the most important example of this will concern the topic of morality.
  3. What advantages are offered by atheism, secular humanism, freethought, etc.? Religion is the status quo, and it is natural to resist change. Identifying the costs of religion is not enough; we must also be familiar with the advantages of a secular worldview. Atheism needs a public relations campaign, and how we answer this question should help to shape it.
  4. How do we advance the level of organization which currently characterizes the larger secular community? I've tired of the whole "herding cats" metaphor. Many atheists, secular humanists, and freethinkers are active in other causes (e.g., politics, separation of church and state, etc.). We are limiting ourselves by resisting greater organization. It is time to build some political muscle to oppose the forces of theocracy.
  5. What are the most effective ways to educate the public about atheism? We are crafting an important message, and it makes sense that we should give some thought about how best to deliver it. How should stereotypes be challenged? How might we alter public perceptions?
  6. Can we learn to accept diversity within the secular community? If we're honest, I think we can agree that we've all made some mistakes here. Unless atheism is to become some bizarre cult, we need to learn how to get along and celebrate our differences. It makes me wince when I hear other atheists questioning whether so-and-so is a "real atheist." Disagreements are inevitable, but how do we make sure that they are a source of strength rather than a cause of fragmentation?
I'm sure you'll have other ideas about the most important questions we need to ask ourselves and our freethought colleagues. Share them here or on your blogs.