I am an atheist but for the life of me I cannot see how atheism is any basis for a social community. There are good atheists and bad ones; atheists on the political left and atheists on the political right; classical-music-loving atheists and hard-rock-loving atheists; atheists who loathe anything associated with any religion and atheists who highly respect the religious mindsets of others; atheists who live by conservative moral standards and atheists who are libertine.
If I want to do my bit to help alleviate suffering among victims of a natural disaster or help raise public awareness of the needs of a disadvantaged group, join a political pressure movement or support a charity, I will not do so as an atheist. I will do so because it is the cause that is my prime concern and my atheism, I believe, is irrelevant.
Churches (and government agencies) may well advertise their identity when they send food and medicines to places wracked with famine but I have no interest in exploiting such opportunities to make a statement about my personal belief system. I am sure churches are often sincere when they give but to do so in a way that draws attention to their church identity strikes me as a little compromised. There are few logos apart from that of the International Committee of the Red Cross that I can support.
Last month I wrote what a piece attempting to think through my experience with an online atheist community. I used the term “cult atheism“. On further reflection I wonder if “tribal atheism” or “atheist tribalism” would have been more appropriate. Soon after I wrote that post a number of people informed me that that atheist community site had begun a somewhat heated discussion about me personally. I thought that was strange since so few persons had attempted to engage me in discussion during my time there. So yesterday I finally caught up with that discussion on the AFA site. That’s one more to-do item I can now cross off my list.
Comment: The Vridar Discusses AFA thread seemed to underscore the comparison I made in my earlier post between cultish (should I rather say tribal?) behaviour and that atheist community. Recall in my first post I spoke of excommunication. Let me expand on that. When one is excommunicated from a cult or fundamentalist sect the members pull together and opine on how bad, how “in the grip of Satan”, the banished person both “is” and “always was”. It is as though the one who is excommunicated takes the place of the Azazel goat of the ritual on the Jewish festival of atonement: all the sins of the community are placed on that goat as it is driven into the wilderness.
The same generally (there may be rare exceptions) occurs when a member leaves the fold, willingly, without any formal excommunication announcement. For the group to engage in introspection, to try to examine if their own behaviour may have been at least partly responsible, is rarely part of the script. Rather, the “lost sheep” will be portrayed according to the stereotypes set out in the Bible: they were never truly part of us to begin with; they are in the grip of all sorts of sins; they are in the bond of bitterness; and so on. I find the parallels with the AFA community’s discussion about me after I left the group to be so very familiar.
Anyway, there was one remark made towards the end of that discussion thread that sparked my curiosity. It was suggested that I should have engaged in an “Ask Me Anything” session prior to leaving. Curiosity did get the better of me and I volunteered to do just that and face my accusers and any others also curious. The AFA Forum rules say that “AFA members especially have a duty to portray to the public a disciplined attitude in postings.” We’ll see what happens, if anything.
Part of me would like to try to contribute where I can and no doubt there are many lurkers or members of the forum who do not share the inconsistent and hostile attitudes of a some of the more outspoken voices there. (We’ll see. If anything.)
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