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:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
Okay, so if we can firstly go down the root of using Think Atheist to develop your philosophy, to develop arguments, to become informed - How does engaging with others on Think Atheist develop your philosophy, arguments and understanding better than, say, academic literature?
- just as a reminder, please feel free to add to this point or previous points at any time (even if you have not yet contributed).
I enjoy challenging people on their faith. Often I don't achieve much, but every once in a while a person changes their mind (I don't make any atheists, but I do occasionally make more liberal theists or encourage the idea of secularism). To me that is an end in itself. And I do that out in the real world.
Think Atheist then behaves as a resource. If an argument can be made more articulate it gets around the flexibility of faith that basically allows secular arguments to be ignored.
Academic literature, in sciences at least, is non-partisan in the question of faith. Academic literature offers you a series of new discoveries that apologists like William Lane Craig has proven can be wrapped up in the façade of God's plan. It takes something a little more articulate and appealing to show the dishonesty of that kind of a rebuttal.
If you find a well written atheist blog you will see how tightly it has to be written in order to actually make a theist stop and think, else they will just ignore the facts or metabolise them into their own faith (just look what the faith community did with The Grand Design; "Oh wow, wasn't God clever!" uh, no. He wasn't involved.)
I've thoroughly enjoyed being part of Think Atheist. Being able to read or listen to others is a wonderful concept.Although I don't agree with all the opinions I read, the opinions are usually very funny, cogent, and civil. No, belonging here has not changed my belief system, as I've always been an atheist. But, stating my perspectives is important. Living in the Bible belt, not many people I've met claim to be atheists. Fortunately for me, I don't care if anyone is bothered by atheism. At this point in my life, I'm in the Really Don't Care if My World View Annoys You mode.
When you say it is important that you state your perspectives, do you mean on Think Atheist to other atheists? Or do you mean to religious people in the area that you live? Is it important that you 'vent' or would you call it something different?
Personally, I do not engage with religionists on a one-to-one basis, I think it's useless. A local newspaper is the way to go. Messages/letters that get read by an entire community/village/city, without the constant filtering of forum-specific ideologically based discussions.
So do members here think that Think Atheist provides a substitute for a face-to-face atheist community/group? Or do you think that a face-to-face group provides something different that Think Atheist can't, and vice versa?
To me, still, it comes down to the purpose of a group: a political voice can not be replaced by an internet society. However atheists don't have a unified political voice. The majority of atheists (from my experience) are liberal, humanist and want secularism to be an enforced political idea. But to call that the atheist voice is to exclude liberal or politically secular theists, right wing atheists and atheists that reason like Nietzsche (i.e. the belief that without God there cannot be morality--I doubt these people exist outside of sociopathy, but nonetheless...).
But as a group that exists for support, and as atheists are considered amongst the least trusted in the USA, seems like a very important idea. And this can (and demonstrably does) work online here at Think Atheist.
Support, I think, is the most complex of the issues anyway. People who face discrimination due to their lack of faith need support in (a) their lack of faith being okay, (b) there being rational reasons to think like they do and (c) that the stigma that atheism makes them inherently bad people is wrong. This isn't just emotional support, it is rational advise that they can take out into the world and challenge people with every time they are confronted with unfair criticisms of their atheism.
This to me is the important function an online community can achieve.
Lastly, a group can be there for the sole reason of challenging beliefs. We can challenge the stigma attached to atheism, or we can challenge other people's theistic beliefs (and some people will change--we can't act like everyone is unchangeably irrational). But I think this is very difficult to achieve on a forum like this (i.e. designed for and populated almost entirely by atheists; preaching to the choir doesn't achieve much).
Do you think that it would be beneficial for Think Atheist to become more accommodating to the religious? To provide an arena for challenging debate? Or do you think it serves best as a dedicated environment for support from like-minded people?
Thank you for giving me a platform to engage with other atheists. You asked me if I meant that this website allowed me to express my views. As I am still unemployed after a year, I do not travel much. Although I have friends who are atheist, it is sometimes difficult to get in touch with them. So, I would say that I would consider Think Atheist as a community where I can express my opinion and join in conversation and get feedback.
However, I do not believe we should be more accommodating to religionists. Some folks are more happy to listen to atheists. The more dogmatic people will only use their speech to proselytize.
Absolutely not a substitute. But they are complimentary, in that they give a voice to people/ideas who have previously been voiceless. The caveat is preaching to the choir.
T|A can act as a moral booster, but a virtual community is absolutely not the real thing. And many atheists could probably achieve much more by taking their ideas to real media outlets, not specialised forums such as these.
Are people attracted by the large number of member on here? Or would you not consider an atheist website with a smaller member group?
Absolutely. I confess to preferring the other similar website which has more people. I think the multiplication of websites consisting of small atheist websites who tend to already agree with each other is pointless.