Reaching Out to Those Reluctant to Adopt the Atheism Label

The United States is a large and diverse country. And yet, only 3% of the population identify as atheists. That means that most of our religious diversity still has to do with which god(s) one believes in. This strikes me as unfortunate.

Some people, including some atheists, don't know what atheism means. That is one reason some may reject the label. There are more people who don't believe in gods but don't want to identify themselves as atheists. They might have negative associations with the label. They might worry about how their religious neighbors would react. They might feel disappointed with what they've observed from other atheists.

Why Does It Matter If Others Identify as Atheists?

Does it matter if people who don't believe in gods choose to identify themselves as atheists? It might. There is strength in numbers. Larger numbers often translate into greater political influence. Politicians can afford to ignore tiny constituencies. Alienating 3% of the population matters little.

The more people who identify as atheists, the more normal atheism appears. Many Americans can claim to have never met an atheist. This keeps atheism in the category of things that seem strange. And what about those atheists? It is much harder to empathize with someone you've never met. Who are they? What do they want? Are they even human?

People identifying as atheists give atheists access to a larger community. I am using "community" in a broad sense here and not trying to imply any formal organization. If an atheist wants to hang out with other atheists, this is easier when they can find other atheists. There's also something reassuring about the knowledge that one has company. You are not the only sane person in a sea of religion. Far from it.

A New Kind of Outreach

Forget about de-conversion from religious belief. This isn't about atheists trying to talk anyone out of their religious beliefs. What if atheists who identify as atheists started by reaching out to those who aren't quite ready to do so? And by "reaching out," I am not referring to shaming, scolding, or anything of the sort. I am thinking about gentle persuasion, but that's not the main thing I have in mind. The main thing I'm thinking about is support.

If those who identify as atheists would like more atheists to do so, how can we support them? This is an intriguing question, and it leads to many others. How might we make identifying as an atheist easier and more appealing? Are there obstacles we haven't yet recognized? And of those we have recognized, what can we do to help others overcome them?

Suppose you are now an atheist who used to be a religious believer. How does your life as an atheist compare to your life as a religious believer? Most of us can (and have) answered that question. If you are someone who identifies as an atheist, how has this affected your life? We may be less familiar with this question, but it seems relevant here. What have you gained, and what have you lost?

Paving the Road to Atheism

I know some atheists like the idea of de-converting religious believers. I can relate, but I worry that this might be a bit premature. If we have people who don't believe in gods but reject the atheist label, it seems like we have more work to do. If I was a religious believer looking at this from the outside, it would make me question the appeal of atheism.

We have a tiny one-lane dirt road leading to atheism. It is bumpy and painful to navigate. If we are going to turn it into a massive multi-lane highway, we are going to need to pave it. So let's pave it. Let's reach out to those who are reluctant to identify themselves as atheists and help them get there.

Image by Mircea - See my collections from Pixabay