February 28, 2020

Do We Need More Secular Organizations?

dog and cat friends

Before I started Atheist Revolution in 2005, there were a handful of good atheist blogs I was reading regularly. I really enjoyed most of the content they were creating, but I couldn't help feeling like something was missing. Initially, I couldn't put my finger on what was missing, but I soon realized it was my voice. I wanted to participate by doing more than just leaving comments on others' blog posts. I didn't know the first thing about blogging, but that didn't matter. I wanted to be part of the conversation.

I mention this to point out that I did not start an atheist blog because I was unhappy with other atheist blogs. It wasn't that I thought I could do better; I just wanted to do something. It wasn't clear to me how I might be able to contribute to someone else's blog, so I started my own to have a voice.

We have several good national secular organizations in the United States alone, and they have overlapping missions. In fact, there is so much overlap that I find it difficult to remember who's who and keep track of who's doing what. If I were new to secular activism and interested in joining one secular organization, I'd have a hard time figuring out which one to join. I'm not sure how much of an obstacle this is, but I suspect that it might be one.

Whether we need more secular organizations or not, we have a new one in the U.S. and a new international one based in Canada. I think it is far too early to try to evaluate either of them. We need to give them time to develop and tell us about what they aim to accomplish and how they will go about it. Whether we need more secular organizations or not, it is clear that we have far more secular activist work to do than our current organizations are able to do. New organizations could fill a void by doing something that isn't being addressed by the existing organizations. Or maybe, like me, the people forming them just want to have a voice.

Is there a downside to having so many different secular organizations? Sure. Having several organizations is probably less efficient than 1-2 large ones, especially with as much mission overlap as there seems to be. An alternative to creating so many different organizations might be to grow one of them to the point where it could have different divisions operating within it. I'd imagine there could be some operational advantages to that. For starters, there would only need to be one administrative structure. It also occurs to me that lawyers aren't cheap, and it seems like several of our national secular organizations have their own legal teams. It is hard to imagine that there wouldn't be some advantages to consolidating things into one larger team.

The big downside to consolidation, of course, is that it requires people who can work together and are willing to be managed. This is where we atheists seem to be a special case. Even those of us capable of working well with others don't typically like to be managed. We fancy ourselves as leaders rather than followers. We'd rather strike out on our own even if it means duplicating someone else's efforts with reduced efficiency vs. being an effective cog in a larger system. I'm not saying that's a good thing or a bad thing, but it does seem to be a thing.

Do we need more secular organizations? I'm not sure. We need more effective secular organizations that can accomplish more. If new organizations can do that, great. If growing existing organizations without forming new ones can do that, great.