December 24, 2019

Atheists Are Not Alone

owl in flight

If you are an atheist living in a predominately religious location, chances are good that you sometimes feel alone. This is even more likely if you are surrounded by religious fundamentalists, if you are unable to be open about your atheism, and/or if you do not have access to other atheists in your day-to-day life. I think that most of us in these situations feel alone at times. But it is important to recognize that we are not alone. This is one of the reasons I've always applauded efforts to remind those who do not believe in gods that they are not alone, whether they take the form of billboards, letters appearing in newspapers, or Internet-based campaigns. We are not alone, and it can be helpful to remember that.

In the days before the Internet, it was easy to feel alone as an atheist living in a small town in the U.S. I remember those feelings well, and they are not fond memories. Far more effort and perhaps even a bit of luck was needed to obtain even a temporary reprieve from thinking I might be the only person who didn't believe in gods. Today, active online communities of atheists are easy to find. They provide atheists who do not have other atheists in their lives with an easy way to interact with other atheists and to learn about atheism. Is it any surprise that the religious landscape of the U.S. is changing as a result?

It is true that having to rely on online communities rather than real face-to-face communities is less than ideal. To see why, we might ask ourselves what the point is of belonging to a "faith community" such as a church congregation? There are probably many valid answers, but I suspect that the primary one is captured in the idea of belonging itself. Humans are social creatures, and while we vary greatly with respect to our social needs, most people seem to value belonging to a group. Not only do these faith communities help people meet their social needs, but they meet many other needs as well. One powerful example is that these communities reinforce members' shared values.

Most atheists do not have communities like this. Some atheists have crafted effective substitutes, but few can provide the sort of all-encompassing social, emotional, ideological, practical functions met by membership in a faith community. When we hear from atheists who say they miss church, this is likely the sort of thing they are referring to. It should not be surprising that many atheists are interested in connecting with other atheists. And while online connections may not be ideal, they are far better than nothing.

Connecting with Atheists Online

If you are an atheist who has been feeling alone and you are interested in interacting with other atheists online, I am going to recommend two options. There are many others, but the two I am going to recommend are free, easy to access, and so popular that you will have as many atheists at your disposal as you could want. They make it harder to feel alone.

Reddit

The atheism subreddit you will find at Reddit is massive in size and very active. While you will encounter some link posts, you will see far more text posts. Users share all sorts of interesting things, and others comment on them. If you have questions about how other atheists deal with certain situations, this is a great place to get lots of input. And if you are the sort of person who likes to be helpful to others by sharing your experience through comments, you will have countless opportunities to do so here.

One of the things that stands out to be about this subreddit every time I visit it is how many atheists are out there struggling with strong emotions prompted by difficult situations. It can be depressing at times because you will hear story after story of religious bigotry, intolerance, and hate. But it can also be encouraging because you will see atheists reaching out to one another in many different ways. It won't always feel like a community, but I think that's what it ultimately is. A very large and diverse community that will remind you that there are many atheists out there and that we do not necessarily have much in common besides our lack of god-belief.

Twitter

This may seem like a strange recommendation given all the complains you've probably seen about Twitter, but this is another easy route to a large global community of atheists. Unlike Reddit where you post or comment and wait for others to chime in, Twitter requires a bit more effort initially. After setting up your profile, you look for atheists to follow. The #atheism hashtag is a great place to start but may be overwhelming due to the volume you will encounter. Look for accounts focused on atheism and take a look at who they are following. As you find people to follow, recognize that you are shaping the sort of experience you will have on Twitter.

As you use Twitter, you will discover that you have followed many people who are not worth following. Unfollow them and add others to improve your experience. You may have to wade through lots of garbage, but you will find inspiring atheists who are very much worth your time. Some will be as interested in interacting with you as you are in interacting with them.