September 5, 2008

A Different Kind of Atheist Outreach

outreachAs tempting as it may be for atheists to focus their efforts on facilitating de-conversion among religious believers, the costs of such efforts may exceed the benefits. Direct challenges of religious belief, while undeniably cathartic, may even solidify believers' resistance. Perhaps it is time to consider a different kind of atheist outreach, one that focuses on a vital but often neglected portion of our own community. If the atheist movement is to succeed, we need to devote more effort on opening dialogue with the millions of apathetic atheists in our midst.

Nobody likes to admit it, but we all know that the number of atheists passionately engaged in atheist activism is minuscule in comparison to the overall number of atheists. We know that most atheists do not read atheist-oriented blogs, are not members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation or Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and do not regard themselves as being part of any sort of atheist movement. We who do are a tiny minority of a tiny minority.

Our success in accomplishing the goals we share (e.g., protecting separation of church and state, strengthening secular public education, etc.) depends on de-converting our fellow atheists from apathy. It is not that we must create vast numbers of activists, but we at least need participants. The challenge is determining how to do this.

I do have a few thoughts on the matter I'd like to share, but I'm also interested in what you think. I hope you'll be able to add to this list so we can turn this into an effective strategy for reaching apathetic nonbelievers.

  • Every atheist blogger has at least some apathetic atheist readers. Thus, we do have some mechanism already in place for communicating with some.
  • Apathy is easier to overcome when one perceives one's efforts as effective or part of something important.
  • It is easier to motivate people to take action when the sort of action required is fairly minimal (e.g., online petitions, sending sample letters to elected officials, etc.).
  • Issue-specific education can be helpful in showing people why they should care about a particular issue and what they can do about it.
  • Among apathetic atheists, protecting anonymity is likely to be of great importance in mobilizing for activist efforts.