So you’ve come to understand that you are an atheist. Now what? To the uninformed, it might seem that there isn’t much to do as an atheist. You’ve just decided to not be religious, time to get on with your life right? Well, in fact there is quite a bit to do as an atheist that encourages community, support for church/state separation issues, and the national understanding of atheism. The following is a partial list of constructive and useful ways to positively demonstrate your atheism and lend your energies to a national movement. By no means is this a complete list, and for the most part they aren’t ranked in any particular order. Read on to find the ways that best suit your interests and above all else, be steadfast to your ideals.
10. Stay current on atheist matters. Are you still trying to bash religious devotees over the head with the whole, “Can God create a stone so heavy he couldn’t lift it” line? The current state of atheism is vibrant, intellectual–and most of all, growing and developing. Due to several best-selling books about atheism, there is a newfound interest in the movement, and atheists have an increasing profile in the media. Pick up a book written in the last five years by a well-respected atheist and read it. Verse yourself in the current politics and social movements related to atheism. Subscribe to the action alerts from the Secular Coalition for America or free e-mail newsletters of any one of numerous atheist related news sites. Frequent and support on-line resources for atheists such as the Secular Web and the Humanist Network News. In short, stay on top of what is going on and refresh your understanding of what it means to be an atheist today.
9. Respond when people assume you are religious. Have you received the indignant e-mail forward about retail associates resorting to whispering “Merry Christmas” to shoppers because they’ve been prohibited by company policy from saying such things out loud? Do you always find the Gideon’s bible in your hotel room? Are you constantly greeted in such a way that the person speaking to you assumes that you and they share the same faith? You can respond to overt religious overtures by revealing that you don’t share their faith and don’t appreciate their assumptions. For e-mails, you can reply back to the sender with a link from a myth-busting website such as Snopes.com that exposes these e-mail myths. You can let hotels know that you don’t appreciate their assumption that you need a bible in your room. When someone absent-mindedly says, “May God bless you,” you can say, “I’d be happy with your blessing, alone.” Every one of these is an opportunity to open a dialog about faith and morality by saying “I don’t share your faith, but since you took the time to share your beliefs with me, let me share mine with you.”
8. Broaden religious traditions. Traditional ceremonies, rituals and celebrations are part of what make life so enjoyable and meaningful. Unfortunately, these types of events remain, for the most part, squarely within religion’s dominion. You can find ways to help your family, friends and coworkers broaden their religious focus to include many different perspectives and traditions in each celebration. Instead of saying grace before meals, try thinking of the long list of people who actually produced your food, “Thanks to the farmer, to the grocery store clerk and the produce truck driver, etc.” It’s a fun exercise that the kids enjoy, and it serves to remind them of the real process of producing food and of the value of human effort. Make it a point to initiate a conversation with your friends about the history of each holiday, why it’s celebrated and how different people observe it. You can include other cultural references, such as reminding people of the pagan rite of Eostre, from which Easter is drawn, or highlighting the Yule tradition of Germanic tribes which influenced Christmas. Not to subvert religious tradition, these practices serve the more noble purpose of reminding people that there is more than one source of cultural tradition and what is truly meaningful is the exhalation of human value, not the supernatural pretense.
7. Be a watchdog in your local community. Does your community allow groups with religious missions unequal access to public services or city property for demonstrations, fundraising or other events? Inquire with city officials how their fair use policy applies to atheist groups and how you might gain the same level of access that a church group has. Is it possible, given the same amount of planning and permits, that you could gain equal access for atheism or any other cause under the law? A single person, upon noticing an inequality, need do nothing more than make a phone call to the proper city official to inquire if they could, in the name of atheism, have the same access to city resources and property that a religious group has. Many times, a phone call is all that is required to remind the city that mixing religion and government is unconstitutional, and that may be enough to correct the policy or practice. If the practice persists, you can alert local secular organizations which can pursue the matter at a higher level.
6. Join a membership group. Being an actual dues paying member of a nonprofit group goes a long way toward making you feel like a legitimate member of a movement. In a world where, quite frankly, money matters, it’s a concrete affirmation of your commitment toward change. These group membership numbers are published and the more dues-paying members they have, the more political will these groups gain. Beyond being a way to put your money where your mouth is, becoming a dues-paying member of a group provides you with invaluable access to a community of like-minded individuals and can be a way to coordinate your energies with a national movement. Annual memberships for most of these groups are in the $30-$40 range.
5. Support political lobbying. Make sure that a percentage of the membership dues you pay, money you donate, funds you raise, in some way, ultimately supports the political lobbying of national organizations such as the Secular Coalition for America and the Institute for Humanists Studies. Paid lobbyists in Washington are gaining the atheist movement inroads toward being a recognized part of the political process when traditionally we have been left out. While we have quite a long way to go before the wall between church and state is shored up indefinitely, having lobbyists walking into congressional offices every day on behalf of the secular movement strengthens that wall one brick at a time.
4. Volunteer your time to support an atheist cause or any good cause in the name of atheism. Spend some time passing out flyers or staffing an info table for an atheist organization at a holiday festival, hold a blood drive for the National Day of Reason, and coordinate a toy collection to help needy children or even make a donation to a charity in the name of your atheist organization. Time spent working directly to support and advance atheism, or just time spend working in the name of atheism, are invaluable as they serve to accomplish many goals by supporting, in a direct and measurable way, the cause of atheism in your community, and by raising the awareness of outsiders that atheists are charitable, compassionate and active. It also helps to expand the community of atheists by establishing a public face of atheism where we will inevitably meet and encourage others who share our ideals and, more importantly, our enthusiasm.
3. Share your atheism with people you know. Of all the things that can be done to demonstrate your atheism, a simple conversation with a family member, friend or coworker is one of the most effective and most useful activities that any atheist can engage in. By simply identifying yourself as an atheist, you replace their assumptions of what an atheist is. Your family, friends and coworkers already love and respect you and by identifying yourself as an atheist, you make it hard for them to maintain their assumptions about what an atheist is. This resonates with people you know because they already have a sense of who you are and they may come to understand that atheists can be decent, ethical people, who are warm and friendly.
2. Share your atheism with other atheists. The importance of raising the consciousness of others is superseded by building a community of atheists who can consolidate their message and coordinate their efforts to effect real change. There is almost a tangible effort among religious leaders to convince atheists that they have no message, no reason to meet, no reason to communicate, and no right to advocate on their own behalf. If atheists never meet each other, they will always be convinced that they are alone. Recent statistics show that nonreligious people make up more than 10 percent of America’s population–more than Muslims, Jews and Mormons combined. The only reason they don’t wield the same amount of social and political power as one of those major religious groups in this country is because, for the most part, atheists haven’t developed a group identity. This can be as simple as making it a point to meet other atheists in discussion groups, secular school clubs, participating on blogs and internet message boards, attending secular events, and local and national conferences. Breach the topic with people you know and see who among them might sympathize with your cause and encourage them to talk to you about their atheism. A sense of community among atheists legitimizes the movement and satisfies one of the most basic human needs: friendship.
1. Be a living ambassador of your ideals. Above all else, demonstrate in your everyday life that being an atheist is conducive to being a decent, socially responsible human being who is capable of compassion, tolerance and wisdom. Ultimately, people are drawn to those they admire and if you’d like to consider yourself an activist for anything, including atheism, you need to be worthy of their admiration and demonstrate that beyond being able to parrot atheist-related arguments, you are living your ideals. Atheism does not need a hoard of devotees with the charisma of cult leaders, but each who hopes to be an asset to the movement must first be confident, well-spoken and intelligent–and above all else, live the moral and ethical ideals which he or she is expounding, and understand every facet of what he or she professes to believe. Your intended audience will respond to your conviction and confidence. Be the model of what you believe and demonstrate that being an atheist is not the abdication of our goodness but rather that each and every person who comes to use reason and intellect to navigate truth is better and happier for it.