February 14, 2013

We Never Know Who Is Reading

A gathering of atheists for the Global Atheist...
A gathering of atheists for the Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne in 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I was listening to a recent episode of ReapSow Radio while shredding old financial documents (I'm on a mildly paranoid cleaning kick at the moment), and Reap made an excellent point that is relevant to all of us who blog, tweet, podcast, or make videos. One never knows who is reading, listening, or watching, and we would all do well to remember that our work may affect people beyond our core audience. This is something of which I have to remind myself periodically, as it is easy to fall into the trap of writing for a fairly narrow audience.

I bring this up because I've been thinking a lot lately about how we can do a better job of reaching those who do not currently identify themselves as atheists. Part of what I have come to realize is that we are already reaching many, but we are not always aiming our message at them. That is, we sometimes forget to write or speak directly to them. Worse yet, we may sometimes lose our patience and end up providing something other than a welcoming environment.

One of the things I am hoping to do a better job of here involves writing more posts aimed at this part of the audience. Many people land on atheist blogs, podcasts, or videos from search engines. Some of them are exploring atheism for what may be the first time, and I want to make sure I have content they might find relevant. This portion of our audience is not only where the real potential for growth lies; it is the future of the atheist community.

I know some of us tire of writing or speaking about the same issues all the time, but we must remember that people new to atheism are finding us all the time. As unpleasant as it can be at times, I wonder if one of the benefits of interacting with those with whom we disagree is that some people within our audience can learn from it. I certainly learn a great deal about how to engage Christians by observing how other atheists do it.

I still remember a time when I knew next to nothing about atheism. Had I encountered other atheists, I would have been thrilled to find them. But if they talked down to me or insulted me for not knowing as much as they did, it would have been a real turn off. It might have even confirmed some of my ignorant stereotypes about atheists. I try to carry this with me when I'm interacting with people who are only now beginning to explore atheism.