This thread is great. It articulates everything I've found myself thinking recently. Never before have I seen so many posts that all echo my own thoughts exactly, even the posts that are in direct contradiction to each other -- because whenever I think about this issue I swing back and forth within minutes myself. But this thread has been here since 2008 and it stopped after 5 pages? What's with that?
Several people said that atheists would have a hard time finding a common belief/goal/motivation/whatever.
I can think of one goal that I am pretty sure a large number of American atheists would support, and that is separation of church and state. I myself am getting pretty sick of watching religion shape public policy, and election results, etc. But what can we do about it?
I think public opinion of atheists, especially in rural areas, is pretty low. I'm just speaking from my own experiences there. I feel compelled to change this somehow. I feel that if we could truly turn that around, we could get out of the situation we're in now where a political candidate who isn't a Christian has very little chance of getting very far. That's my main concern. I don't care if candidates are Republican, or Democrat, or Libertarian, or Libertarian Socialist, or Socialist. I just care that they are atheist, and have a chance. Actually I'd be almost as excited if they were Muslim, or Buddhist. But ideally, atheist.
But how? Well, I think atheists who all would support that goal could get together, and negotiate that. In as democratic a manner as possible. This thread does a lot of theorizing, and so do I, but to get actual results you actually have to come together, commit to stop the theorizing and to start hashing out actual details. If you can't all agree on some points, you negotiate -- as long as your belief in the common goal is strong enough to warrant giving a little here or there on some points. If not, you walk away and let those who remain continue negotiating.
What might such negotiation look like? Well if I were at such a gathering, I wouldn't beat around the bush and I would encourage you not to either. Say what's on your mind!
First, I would say we need highly regular gatherings. Once a month is not enough. You don't make progress without a steady, honest commitment to results. You won't work out all the negotiations in the first gathering, either. Disagree? We'll talk about it.
Next, I would say we need to commit to regular community service, and the nature of that service would surely be a subject of heated debate. But the point is, people may not all like Christians, deep down, but I believe most will at least think to themselves, "at least they help the poor." "At least they have good intentions, I can get behind that." We need them to say the same or similar things about "atheists". We need to identify ourselves as atheists clearly (a term like free-thinker would help avoid the existing stigma, but I want to kill the stigma and reclaim the term). We *want* to be stereotyped, because we should know that's what people are going to do no matter what -- but we want that stereotype to have a positive light. We want some control over our stereotype.
Next, I would even dare to say that eventually, when the gatherings get so large they can't be held in someone's home, when we start to have expenses associated with, say, "advertising" (printing fliers to call for volunteers or to post at local businesses), or anything else, and when we know we can trust each other enough, we need some dues. An atheist "offering", to the common cause. We let the gubment tax us, for their own ends, why not tax ourselves and do as we see fit?
And, I would say that our goals *should* include becoming so large we don't fit in a home or a garage or a large shed. I'd love to see a mega-"church" on the corner some day, and see people driving by, saying, "what's that?" "That's the atheist church." But atheists are against churches, you say? I say, who cares, let them call it a church if they want, we know what it is. It's a building where we meet, where we set up our tables and cook our chili for the soup kitchen, where we bring in a speaker of some kind. It's a symbol, a monument, to this stereotype -- this word we unite under, "atheist", and the efforts we are making to contribute to society. We know we're nothing special, we know what our goal is -- to show that we aren't degenerates, that we value the benefits of society and civil rights and have morals and want to contribute to a happy future for humanity.
And if you would disagree with any of that, then great, say so, and by the process of negotiation we will arrive at a platform. And if someone doesn't agree with that platform, they don't have to be there. If this results in the creation of multiple factions/sects/whatever, who cares? I suppose I have "faith" that reason and the atheist tendency to prefer it over all else will naturally cause any faction to still have altruistic motivations at its core and will still contribute to an overall improvement in public opinion. The individuals lacking altruism, or not believing in it, won't even show up, and will just stay at home, like they are now, and complain or criticize us. They won't be as publicly visible so it won't hurt anything. That's my theory! The only danger is if we think it is within some significant number of atheists to unite and do the opposite -- to act in ways that will decrease public opinion. Like to unite and start terrorizing people or something. But why would an atheist do that?
I just don't know how much longer I can sit around and do nothing, and if I do something, I really want the world to know that an atheist is doing it. You can see my world view over there, I'm going with "ignostic" right now, we could debate awhile about whether I'm truly an atheist -- I would grant anyone at least the possibility that something you could call a god exists (personally I find it very improbable and lacking anything even barely approaching convincing evidence).
But the word the world seems to oppose, is "atheist". That's the word I want to change the public opinion of, even if I'm not sure if I am one, in the strictest sense. Ya know?
Incidentally, I do believe in helping others. So, while one could interpret everything I've said as just wanting to do *anything* to turn public opinion around, fortunately, one obvious way to do that happens to align with my true sentiments. What I'm saying is, it's not like I want to robotically enact community service in order to trick people into thinking I'm a good guy. I like to think I'm already a good guy, and I want them to know that, and to know I'm an atheist. So when they hear someone else is an atheist, they will start to think that maybe they're a "good guy" too.
But I don't know how many people live around me that would actually do this. I intend to start attending freethinker/secularist meetups in my area to get a sense of that. And you know, I think I might just believe in this strongly enough that just maybe, quitting my job, uprooting my life, and going wherever the most atheists are may not even be out of the question if that seems to be the only way. That's how ticked off about things I am. Sometimes. Often. Usually.