October 9, 2007

Options For Uniting Non-Believers

This is the second post in a multi-part series designed to explore community-building among non-believers. In the first part, I argued that uniting the secular community is a worthy goal. This post considers some of the options we have for bringing non-believers together into some sort of community or communities. My intent here is to keep things descriptive and avoid making recommendations about the value of various options. That may be addressed in future posts.

Uniting Non-Believers

Before considering the relative value of various options, it is necessary to identify the options to ensure that potentially worthwhile ideas are not prematurely rejected. Without getting hung up on whether any of the following is 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 non-believers around nonbelief and promotion of nonbelief. Groups could form to offer an atheist identity, something which many non-believers 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 non-believers can be formed around political issues likely to be of great importance to we non-believers. 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 non-believers.
  • United by a Desire for Political Representation. It may also possible to bring non-believers together with the broader political goal of simply maximizing the political influence of the secular community. The Secular Coalition for America would be an example.
  • United by a Need to Belong. Communities of non-believers 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.
  • United by Anger and Anti-Theism. Undoubtedly, some non-believers 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. Non-believers could unite around a desire to promote reason, secular education, and evidence-based worldviews in many contexts.
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 non-believers.

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 non-believers might come together. I invite you to share your ideas on your blog or in the comments.