Saturday, April 3, 2010
Top Ten (Free!) Things You Can Do To Help the Atheist Community
10. Come out of the closet.
No matter what label you are comfortable with, atheist, agnostic, humanist, skeptic, let the people around you know what you think. Everyone's situation will be different and for some it will take time to wait for the right moment, for example, "What church do you go to?" "I don't go to church, I'm an atheist, but you can ask me about what I think, if you'd like." The more people who let their friends and family know where they stand and what they think, the more it encourages others to do the same and it helps to foster allies for causes atheists are concerned about, such as the separation of church and state and rights for non-theists.
9. Read the paper.
While it appears that newspapers are a dying media, their reach is still in the thousands on a local level. Read the Editorials and Opinion pages and submit your own response when someone makes a bigoted statement about those who don't believe in any gods. Write encouraging responses when you see religious groups supporting our issues.
8. Treat discussions with religious friends and family as an opportunity for dialogue.
Talking with co-workers about religion or politics should not be a debate. It can be challenging but some of the most important conversations you will have may be with people you completely disagree with because it gives you a chance to understand where someone else is coming from. You can use this perspective to get people to support our cause if you know the things which are important to them. The ends of our goals will ultimately benefit everyone and its our job to make that case. Remember that disagreeing with someone's beliefs is different then attacking someone personally, but to many, that distinction isn't clear, so it's important to educate others about that.
7. Become politically involved.
Volunteer for a campaign or simply attend caucus meetings. Atheists and other non-theists are a minority in this country but that doesn't mean that our voice should be unheard. By becoming involved you can speak up when it appears that everyone is on board with things like school vouchers, faith-based initiatives or giving preference to religion in our schools. Of course, the best you can hope for, is to run for office, be that a school board, city council, or higher roles in the state or national level.
6. Make friends.
Whether you attend meetings held by a local atheist organization or you talk to people online, make an effort to establish friendships. Offer to have a few people from a group over to your house, or go out to eat, or simply hang out at a park. Organizations are useful for getting people to meet each other, but that can't be the only time atheists see each other. This is especially important for people who may be too busy to make it to a lot of meetings because they have kids.
5. Go to events in the real world.
Plenty of people find comfort in the anonymity of the Internet but it is important to get outside. Look for local groups through Facebook or Meetup.com and drop in. You should have at least one thing to talk to others about. A good opening question is, "So, how long have you been an atheist." For some people, that conversation can last hours. If you don't like the message of the group or how events are run, tell the organizers. Not many groups have paid staff who run events, so don't be too critical, but letting an organizer how you feel might get an organization to change how events are run. If the group rubs you the wrong way, try another group, or consider starting your own.
4. Volunteer for an atheist organization.
Volunteering for such a diverse community is challenging and rewarding. At the local level, every town has someone who feels that they are the only one in that town who thinks the way they do. The most important message organizations send is that, "You are not alone." If you only have a little time a month, consider hosting a small event for the group, like a book club or just a brunch. The more people who help out, the better! Just be sure you are aware of the mission of the organization before getting too involved.
3. Be active outside of the atheist community.
If atheist spend all of their time talking with each other and only meeting people with different points of view when we attend debates about the existence of god it can become easy to get isolated and ultimately bigoted toward people with religious belief. Join a group for another interest of yours, like a hiking group, book club, movie club, etc. You can also support a charitable works project, even with a religious group, so long as you support the cause. It might seem silly, but you are acting as a representative of the atheist community when you make it known how you think. It is one more way to normalize the atheist worldview and gets more people to listen to what we have to say.
2. Start an atheist organization.
Communities around the world, especially small towns, are the ones who need groups more than anywhere else. Meetup.com may not be free, but Facebook is. There are all sorts of creative ways to let others know about your events and you shouldn't be discouraged if only two people show up to your first few events. Reach out to national groups like Atheist Alliance International to find groups in your state who might be able to offer advice. If you are a student, whether in a high school or college, use the Secular Student Alliance, please! The only reason why that group exists is to help you. Running a group can be free and very worthwhile. You'll be hooked on organizing when you hear someone say, "I thought I was the only one!"
1. Be open to answering questions.
Many people aren't comfortable talking about something as personal as his or her religious views; however, the most effective way to help the atheist community is by educating those around you about what you think. The hope is that your friends and family will understand that you share more in common then you thought and that the "atheist agenda" isn't about removing freedoms of expression granted to those who are religious but about protecting the rights of everyone to be free from abuse by a religious minority which seeks to impose their beliefs onto you.