Sunday, May 19, 2013

Proselytizing Atheism

It has been a while since I've written a blog post. I have been doing a lot of thinking regarding the freethought movement and the direction it has taken. In an effort to maintain the moral high ground, we have mostly avoided proselytizing. We have written books and blogs,  given speeches, engaged in debates, produced documentaries, but you don't often see a secular humanist agenda pushed in songs, movies, or TV shows. We are not out there proselytizing every day of the week on cable TV. You don't see sports, film, and pop stars, politicians and war heroes using their celebrity to spread atheism.  You don't find us going door to door or handing out pamphlets on street corners or trying to get people to come in off the street and listen to an atheist sermon like Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Muslims, or Scientologists. Those religions all grew and spread due to their aggressive recruitment. There are no atheist missionaries risking their lives to bring science and reason to uncivilized savages. I am beginning to think that  this isn't something we should be proud of. Perhaps this moral high ground is actually cowardice on our part.

The idea of travelling to Third World countries where atheism is equated with witchcraft, where homosexuals are stoned, and women and religious minorities are oppressed, and telling them the god, upon which all their cultural beliefs are based, is a fiction, frightens me too. The prospect of going into low income neighborhoods and knocking on doors to introduce people to deductive reasoning and explain logical fallacies as they relate to religion is terrifying to me. But if we ever hope to free this world and ourselves of this ignorance, isn't this exactly the sort of thing we should be doing? We often hear famous atheist thinkers saying they are not trying to convert anyone or spread atheism, but if we are not trying to change minds, then what the fuck are we doing?

How do we expect to change the world if we are not on the front lines? How do we expect to free ourselves from the ignorance, immorality, and oppression of organized religion, if we are not willing to be soldiers of reason just as believers rejoice in martyring themselves as soldiers for their deities? They are out there, every day, knocking on doors, handing out their propaganda on street corners, filling the airwaves everyday with their dogma and rhetoric, spreading their delusion. How the hell do we expect to combat this if we are not at least as aggressive with our counter-message? And if we are not willing to take it to such extremes, why bother writing blogs like this one? Why bother writing our books and creating our little organizations and websites?

So, I have been asking myself this and I would like to hear your thoughts before I make up my mind. Should we as atheists be more willing to proselytize?


  1. I'd say yes, but I'd have to follow that up by saying it's hard to build a real proselytizing movement for a atheism in the broadest and simplest sense, because it's not a belief in any thing. It's simply a lack of belief in theism. I think proselytizing is more likely to emerge when organized on behalf of a positive belief system which could of course be atheistic. Such as humanism. I came downstairs last month to see my five-year-old daughter holding a Jesus pamphlet. Some Jehovah's Witnesses stopped by and gave it to her. I couldn't help thinking it would be better if people were going door to door proselytizing for Mother Earth. I think we really need an active movement like that.

  2. I agree with Editor B in that the it would take a positive belief system like humanism (or its more aggressive cousin anti-theism) for nonreligious folks to gather around. I think a main point to push would be to emphasize to people how they can still be good and live a good, enjoyable life without believing in a god. I know that was one of my big fears (a long with the what if you're wrong and lift your eyes in hell doubts) as I was coming to grips with losing my faith.

    Also breaking people out of seeing coincidences as "evidence" of a god's existence would be another place to start.

  3. Just to let you know, I started a topic and posted a link to your post over at if you want to peek at the responses:

  4. Thanks, K. Clark. I'm enjoying the responses so far. Definitely giving me food for thought.

  5. While I like your article and agree with you about your main premise, there needs to be a basic belief and an philosophical simulacrum. Perhaps blind belief should be countered with idea of knowing. Rather than using the invasive tactics of proselytizing, more subtle methods should be employed in the outset. Using their methods too quickly and in the manner they do could backfire. Overall, I do agree freethinking, logic and deductive reasoning needs to pushed more and whether a person accepts atheism or not.

  6. I read this post with great interest (as usual). I am all for being outspoken as an atheist and a secular humanist (the latter being actually more important). I do have issues, however, with proselytizing. Because it bothers me when religious people try to convert me. I find Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons irritating if they knock at my door, I find street preachers invasive, etc. It might sound shallow, but aggressive missionary work is a sleazy, double glazing method to try to get people to share their view, trying to get an emotional response from the recipient and force the religious person's view into other people's mind. These are the modus operandi of sects, which religions always are at the core.

    Instead, I would rather have us try to educate people. Yes, be unspoken, by all emans, yes talk loudly and proudly about rationality and humanism and about what it means to be an atheist (no, we are not Devil worshippers, no we are not communists), in sum do a work of education.

  7. A big reason that I'm an atheist is that I am, admittedly, intellectually lazy. By this I mean that to me, gods represent a demonstrably unnecessary complication. I don't have the energy or the time to incorporate god(s) into my world, which is complicated enough as it is. So I'm just sitting here being being lazy and content in my atheism, and here you are insisting that I need to ... (gasp) do stuff? No thanks, dude, you can keep that.

  8. I am reluctant to "preach" atheism for several reasons. First, I feel that the house of cards that is religion is so self evident, I don't know what I could say to a believer that is not already blatantly obvious.

    Which brings me to another point: I am unable to hide how stupid I think black Christians are. How can I convert someone when they can see me talking down to them? Not likely.

    Another thing is, arguments such as "How do you think you woke up this morning?" and bible quotes presented as though it's Supreme Court worthy evidence of God's existence just leaves me in stunned silence. I can't converse with a person like that.

    The best thing about atheism is that most people discover it by rational thought. Unlike religion, which is an early and thorough brainwashing. I say, why stoop to those forceful tactics? There are countless doubters already out there. Knowing they are not alone will give them the courage to come out.