Hello everyone. This is the first post in a series of bulletin board discussions that you may or may not have read about when partaking in my survey (which can still be taken here: http://kwiksurveys.com?s=LLIIIL_93dd86f3) or in email notifications. For those of you who are unaware of my research, I am an undergraduate studying at Cardiff University, Wales, UK, and I am researching how you use social media as atheists and what impact it has had on your lives through a series of surveys, bulletin board discussions and interviews. I will be asking questions relating to how and why you use social media to engage with other atheists.

Everyone who is a member of Think Atheist is welcome to contribute - even if you do not begin to contribute at the earlier stages of the discussion do not hesitate to add your point at a later stage. This thread really is for everybody - even if you are not a regular contributor to the forums, or just like to read the forum discussions. I would like to encourage participants to discuss topics with each other as well as respond to my initial questions.
When taking part in this discussion I would like participants to consider:

  • Personal experiences and feelings
  • Personal opinion on how social media has affected atheists as a group
  • What, if any, improvements could be made to the way you currently engage as atheists

To start I would like to ask:

Some believe that atheism is an individual phenomenon. Why is it important that atheists engage with each other as a group? Why do you choose to engage with other atheists?

I am also looking to recruit interviewees to take part in private instant messaging interview for the third stage of my research. These interviews will be completely anonymous and I will be asking more personal questions than in the bulletin board discussions. If you would be interested in taking part email me at sherihall@btinternet.com or send me a personal message.
The findings and conclusions of my research will be printed as part of my dissertation and will not be used for any other purpose. Your contributions may be quoted verbatim in the write up of this research. You can choose to withdraw your participation at any time and if you would like your contribution to be removed from the data you have until May 4th to notify me. All participants will remain completely anonymous in my publication, although I would like you to bare in mind that bulletin board discussions on Think Atheist are accessible to the public and so for this exercise your level of anonymity may be limited.

Tags: media, research, social

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For most of my youth I was not organised but after the internet gave opportunities to engage with others and I leaned how atheists are treated I felt is was necessary to take a more active approach.

Being organised  gives us the chance to use our political power as a group and support each other 

While social media can be a place for atheist to "bond" to a common idea, I think it can also be used to promote the individualism of atheism. I'm an atheist, not because other people are atheist and I want to be like them, but because I found my own way to this path and it's great to be able to share with other people how I found it and to understand how others found it.

For me personally, social media is the only connection I have to other atheists. I live in an area that is rife with religious belief and righteousness. When I express my views, I am looked at as if I'm an alien from another planet...Think Atheist and other atheist sites are my planets... :)

I came to my atheism on my own. Ironically, I was attempting to strengthen my faith, but that's another story.

As an atheist, I use social media for contact with other atheists, especially exchristians. Since we are a minority in society and we don't have a prescribed meeting time and place, it makes for a good way to meet other like-minded individuals.

I never used to think that atheists had any need to be a group, as it were. It wasn't until I started noticing religion in political discourses (being from Wales you'll be familiar with recent events like: Baroness Warsi's rant again "militant secularism" and David Cameron's Christian Country narrative and his spineless surrender to the gay-excluding practices of the Church).

That's when I started to feel we need a voice. It can be grass-roots; it doesn't need to be centralised (in fact, it can't be centralised) but it does need to exist. It's a dishonest narrative being played to give religion an inflated position in political discourse when (a) it's a series of unsubstantiated claims (b) secularism is the only inclusive political practice and (c) religion has no real moral ground to stand on; look at all the ground it's given away in order to appear like a moral arbiter.

Homophobic narratives (being the case study I'm running with, but far from the only example) that make it in to political discussions need to have a voice against it that makes the narrative defend itself on its own ground and not hide behind the façade of religious tolerance. This, in reality, is secularism and not atheism. But that may be a discussion work having in your dissertation: defining an individual as an atheist is easy, but defining a community gets a lot more complicated. There is no "atheist action" there is secular action, and there is humanist ideas. But atheists could be hedonists as easily as they could be humanists (in fact there is a humanist version of Satanism which is a worship of the emotions we tend to consider immoral).

Since this odd political enlightenment I started to notice that my input in discussions on ethics (like stem cell research and euthanasia) was being questioned, not because of the value of my argument but because I don't believe in God. Apparently this is called "abstraction", because my reasoning is Godless it's worthless. I find it offensive that people can so vehemently discard human intellect just because it comes from an atheist.

These are the things that atheists can only combat if we are a group or a community.

(Obviously there will be in-fighting amongst us. There's no central doctrine for us and individuality flourishes and like the first comment suggests, this will be a weakness to the community. But we are still louder as a community).

Hi Sheri. I started to take your survey but lost internet connection partway through and it won't let me do it now. Any way to sort that out? I largely agree with Ian that atheists should not really in any way be a group in the same way as people who do not believe in mermaids are not a group. We do not really congregate or identify with each other on the grounds of what we don't believe in but on the grounds of what we do believe in. However, the fact that there is a word 'atheist' and no word 'amermaidist' does indicate that we are a group simply because our standpoint is in opposition to a societal norm. The fact that we are here indicates that that opposition is in some way important to us and a form of self-definition. I think we share a sense of religion being something which NEEDS to be opposed.

Here in the UK, most people are atheist or nontheist even if they identify as Christian as a cultural thing and so I am in the majority. I do not have the same need to congregate and show solidarity as I see so many American atheists feel because they are so much under seige by Christians and in urgent need of resisting radical Christian influence on law and society. However my country still has Christian teaching in schools and bishops in the House of Lords as spiritual advisers directly impacting law. We do not see the same threat to gay rights and reproductive freedom as there is in America although we still do not have gay marriage, but we still have Christianity embedded in our culture and our queen is the head of the church.

I have two reasons for engaging with other atheists.

1) I engage with atheists here and on YA because this is how I meet American atheists and get to argue with American Christians. I see Christianity as a huge social problem affecting the most powerful country in the world and the risk that an insane fundamentalist Christian could get elected into the most powerful position in the world is a concern for all of us. I go online and support American atheists in raising awareness of the harmfulness of Christianity and try to get through to American Christians. This does happen more than you'd think. Frequently arguments raised by atheists on YA are then referred to by young Christians who are trying to resolve these with their Christian faith. We get questions about contradictions in the bible, the ethical concerns about the bible, the challenge from science to creationism etc . As an ex-christian myself, reached by atheist logic I see purpose and point in challenging Christians to consider their beliefs more seriously.

2) I engage with other atheists in my own country through the British Humanist Association where we campaign to get Christianity out of education and law. I became Christian as a result of my education - my parents were atheist - and as a result of fear. My daughter was equally upset by being taught about floods and plagues and rivers of blood and the existence of this god who should be worshipped for all these. Fortunately I was on the alert for this due to my own experience and so I responded by teaching her at home about lots of religions and creation myths and also Humanism and atheism and she has not been sucked into accepting Christianity as more likely to be right than any other religion and the fact that there are so many religions has convinced her they are man made - I was very proud when she told me she was a Humanist and gods are pretend at the age of 7. However, if school was the only religious education she had had,  she may well have followed down my path of believing out of fear.

In short (yes, I do go on) I engage with other atheists because it is important that people are countering religious influence on law and culture.

So would you agree that websites like this are used as a means of organising atheism and giving atheism a voice? If so, how do you think Think Atheist achieves this? If not feel free to dispute the point.

Not organising with this one so much as the BHA, no. There are no campaigns here tho we do make each other aware of things we can campaign against. Thinkatheist, I feel, is more geared towards giving atheists a place to support each other - many American atheists are a bit isolated in their atheism where they live, others value advice on parenting or coming out to family, others (like me mostly) use thinkatheist to learn more about criticisms of religion, political impact of religion, the explanations science gives us in opposition to religious explanations, good points for debate with theists etc It is also great to be able to say to a very new atheist - go here to learn more and talk to others. In the past month on YA, I have advised two new young Muslim atheists that there is a support group here specifically for ex-muslims and linked goodness knows how many videos and photos from here to answer questions from elsewhere. Information and support rather than organisation, I would say, tho others may disagree. I may have missed some organisation of atheist protest because this site has mostly American members and it is more productive campaignwise for me to go with organisations in my own country. Giving us a voice - ye-es, but we are mostly talking to each other - preaching to the choir (irony intended) it mainly gives me ammo and information which I can then use in debate somewhere with more Christians.

Support, information, debate amongst ourselves, education and amusement is what thinkatheist is for, to me.

Good response Helen.

I disavow the word atheism... the ism part. it has much too strong implications of some sort of community or common minds or philosophy.

I was never religious. Most atheists on this site (and most other new atheist sites) are recent converts from religion and still have many religious reflexes that really annoy me.

I certainly don't come here to learn about science... I spent 11 years in post secondary education in SCIENCE for that aspect of my learning.

No I come here to LOOK, PERUSE, and SEE what and how converts are growing into atheists. Once in a while I participate in discussions, but not very often. Last year T|A lost some of its most interesting participants over a small dispute over the morality of something or other. It's sad they left and I mourn their loss. I don't think multiplying the number of sites is useful. IMO it's much more interesting to try and coalesce all atheist talk on a few internet places.

Also generally speaking, these sites have too many of these kinds of sites, this one included, have too many distinct 'forums'. So people with same opinions end up preaching to the choir. I think we need a larger percentage of overall forums. Specialty forums are useful to engage in a peaceful conversation without being jumped on though. But they accomplish less social change in doing so.

I'm more interested in creating social change. I think T|A contributes to social change only in a very indirect way, by allowing new atheist converts to acquire more self confidence, and encourage them to learn about a fact based world.

Could you explain to me why you come to observe recent converts?

Could you explain what you mean by 'specialty' forums and 'overall' forums?

And in what way do you think 'overall' forums could contribute to social change?

Converts: I am always a little skeptical about people who've recently changed their minds, IMO change once, change again. So if someone's converted from religion 20-30-40 years ago, then I trust and value their atheist stance. I've they only left religion recently... often for what I deem petty reasons, such as "religion should be good otherwise it's stupid" I find completely ridiculous. We are in the midsts of a popularisation of atheist ideas, and forums are flooded with moronic one liner posters which call upon the lowest level of intellect, that style bores me to tears.

Specialty forum: atheist environmentalist, atheist doctor, atheist biologist, atheist feminist, atheist rock music, atheist over 40, etc, etc, etc. My objective is to spend the least time possible in the specialty areas, and the most time possible in the general areas, but it's hard, because there is such divergence of opinion, and a lot of pettiness and personal attacks, because so many people have never practised debating skills. As soon as they disagree with you, they devolve into personal insults. This happens way too often. The only thing less interesting than debating with a religious person, is debating with someone who has no debating etiquette.

If I'm not talking feminism in a feminist forum, I'm having no impact on social change. It's a bit of a waste of time. But the feminist forum does have a purpose... to rally forces. But these forces need to get out among the masses and win debates.

No websites like this is a supplement, the real organisation takes place in organisations such as Atheist Alliance International and American  Atheists and their affiliates.

Online forums are valueable but cannot replace IRL activism

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