|By Mireia Garcia Bermejo (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons|
Today is the 10 year anniversary of Atheist Revolution! I started Atheist Revolution on February 20, 2005, and it is almost impossible to wrap my head around the fact that I've been at it for 10 years now. I certainly did not expect it to last anywhere near that long when I started.
As I sit here trying to write this post, I am struck by the realization that I have absolutely no idea how to summarize the last 10 years. I'm not even convinced that I want to try to do so. Perhaps this is because I've been in a bit of a funk lately where I've found it difficult to find the inspiration to write. I have been extremely busy at work, and my desire to write usually dips when that happens. Or perhaps it has more to do with the fact that it does not feel like it has been anywhere close to 10 years. In any case, I can't help thinking that I am not the same person I was 10 years ago. Maybe it makes sense to focus on that and see what comes.
Roots of the Revolution
Prior to 2005, I was aware of only a handful of active atheist blogs. After reading them for awhile and realizing how much I enjoyed them, I found myself thinking about adding my voice to the mix. The problem was, I had no idea how to start a blog and even less of an idea about what sort of voice I wanted to have. The bloggers I read at the time seemed to be so sure of themselves. They had strong opinions and expressed them with consistent voices. I wasn't always sure how I felt about some of the topics they addressed, and I was ambivalent about pretending otherwise. I decided that I wasn't ready to start a blog and set the idea aside for awhile.
I suppose it would be fair to say that two things finally pushed me into blogging: anger and isolation. I was fed up with blatant anti-atheist bigotry, Christian extremism, and attacks on secularism from the Christian right in the U.S. I had heard enough from conservative Christians to suspect that many of them would settle for nothing less than a Christian theocracy in the U.S., and I was disturbed by how much progress they seemed to be making toward that end. The mainstream news media could not be counted on to raise awareness of these trends; they reflected the Christian privilege that had become so tiresome. I felt like I needed to do something, and I decided to add my voice to the mix.
Against this backdrop, the other primary force pushing me to begin blogging was the realization that I did not have anybody I could talk to about this stuff here in Mississippi. I'd been here for a few years, and this was more than enough time for me to realize that expressing my thoughts on religion and politics to most of the people around me would be detrimental. It was at this point that I remembered how much I used to enjoy writing for myself and how therapeutic I used to find it when I was doing it regularly. I briefly considered writing a private journal instead of a blog, but I figured it was at least possible that having another voice in the small atheist blogosphere might be beneficial to someone besides myself.
It did not take me long to discover that there was an audience for this sort of thing. Even though I spent at least the first year writing primarily for myself, it was encouraging to see that I'd made the right decision by opting for a blog instead of a journal. This led to a gradual shift in how I used the blog. Over the years, it slowly became less about having a place for me to vent and more aimed at providing something of value to others. As I learned a few things about atheism and blogging, I sought to share them with others. The idea of giving something back became more appealing as I finally started to think I might have learned some things worth giving back.
From the very beginning, Atheist Revolution was almost as focused on politics as it was on atheism. In my first post, I said that I planned to use the blog "to organize my thoughts on religion and politics in American life." The political focus would wax and wane over the years. At one point, I decided that I wanted to strip most of the politics out of Atheist Revolution, and I spun off a more politically focused blog. I'd abandon that project before long, realizing that there was no way to keep politics separate as long as I remained interested in church-state separation. I also decided that opposing religious extremism and promoting secularism was not sufficient. I found myself promoting freethought, critical thinking, reason, skepticism, reality-based education, and all sorts of other positive alternatives to faith. Much of this also ended up being at least somewhat political because the opposition often seems to prefer legislating their Christian morality.
The nature of the political views reflected here has changed over the last 10 years as my own political views have changed. I've moved from a position that probably could have once been described as that of a "card-carrying progressive" to a position that is far more nuanced and more challenging to describe. While I still lean left on many issues, I'm far more critical of political ideology and more interested in trying out good ideas regardless of their source. I no longer view conservatives as the enemy; I think that their presence can be useful in preventing liberals from doing some stupid things.
I've also become more sensitive to the problems associated with tribalism, especially with regard to their effect on political discourse. I recognize that threats to many of the things I hold dear (e.g., free speech, reality-based education, evidence-based policy) come from both the political right and the political left. I am not willing to ignore or excuse those coming from the left. I cannot allow political allegiances to prevent me from opposing efforts to undermine my core values.
My tone has changed quite a bit over the last 10 years. Some of this has been intentional and some has just happened. I feel much less angry now than I did in 2005. I used to write out of anger regularly. This is far less common today. I have realized that anger is a dead end unless it drives meaningful action. Just lashing out for the sake of lashing out rarely accomplishes anything useful. I have neither the time nor the energy to waste on hate. And not just that, but writing out of anger or hatred fails to provide any sort of reasonable model for others. I've sought to use my anger more effectively instead of falling victim to it.
I've also made far more of an effort to be rational, reasonable, tolerant, and fair-minded. As destructive as some rifts may have been, they have also taught me quite a bit about myself, the sort of person I want to be, and the limitations of atheism. I have learned that atheism is no guarantee of rationality and offers little protection against bad ideas or behavior. I've realized that how I respond to others and what I can learn from encountering viewpoints with which I disagree is up to me. Nobody else gets to determine how I will react. I do not have to sink to anyone else's level and utilize their more objectionable tactics. I do not have to get sucked into every conflict. Even though it is rarely easy, I can work to embrace freethought and reject tribalism.
As I survey online atheism today, I find myself asking what sort of atheist voices I'd like to hear more from. What sort of tone would be more beneficial? Within the constraints of who I am, I then strive to provide something a bit closer to that. In other words, I am making a more deliberate effort to use the sort of tone I would like to find more of in the atheist blogosphere.
The State of Online Atheism
Much has changed in the last 10 years. The atheist blogosphere has exploded in growth. Not only are there many more voices now, but there is far more diversity to be found. Not all atheist blogs lean to the political left or are written by men, ex-Christians, or people living in the U.S. One can now find many different approaches to atheism, skepticism, secularism, humanism, and freethought. There really does seem to be something for everyone these days, and this is encouraging.
With massive growth and great diversity, rifts have inevitably emerged. At least one has managed to last for several years and be fairly destructive at times. Of course, it is important to recognize just how trivial even this rift has been in the big picture. Most atheists, even those who venture online, have not heard of it. Moreover, no rift we have seen to date has managed to derail much of what is positive about online atheism. The number of good ideas available today and the energy behind them dwarfs anything I remember from 2005. And thanks to the rise of social media, it is so much easier to find and promote these good ideas and to connect with their authors.
If we want to build online communities of atheists, humanists, skeptics, freethinkers, and/or secularists, we can do so. We can find people who share common goals and value cooperation. And if we aren't interested in this, we don't have to participate. The future of online atheism - and whatever part of it we may play - is up to us.
I'm not sure what the future holds for atheism or for me. I have no idea how much longer I'll try to be part of the atheist blogosphere. As I write these words, the thought going through my head is that I hope I am not still here in another 10 years. I have been encouraged by much of what I've seen over the last 10 years. It looks an awful lot like progress to me. I hope I won't feel that my presence is in any way necessary in 10 years time.