The instinct to understand our world can be traced to the Stone Age, when people told stories about natural events they did not understand. Evolution of the mind indicates we no longer need made-up-stories and can rely on science and critical thinking for our sense of wonder. Although science often fails to feed our need of community, that, too, can be dealt with through thought and action.

The wonder of it all

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Do we even have good role models for Atheist communities? Many meetings I attended felt more like lectures than community participation.

To build "good role models for Atheist communities" would include what? 

One thing is a core of people who feel comfortable and confident in their not believing in god/s.

Being able to celebrate that awareness, not by talking about it endlessly, but living it. The scientists such as Neil deGrasse Tyson and Brian Cox exude their sense of awe and wonder. 

Being able to articulate why belief in a god leaves me with a sense of powerlessness and dependency, and not hearing a story that inspires or encourages is not helpful. For me there was always the sense of fear and reward with religious teachings, not a sense of wonder and realizing we have the ability to think and reason, and make choices and live out the consequences of those choices.

Trying to live as I was "supposed" to live put heavy burdens on me and I failed to reach inside myself to discover what creative, imaginative, original, or natural nature that is within me that I am responsible to develop and reveal to the world. The "shoulda-oughta-gotta" thinking got in my way of thinking of my native abilities and talents. I assume others have a similar feeling as I and also feel the freedom of stopping being externally motivated and becoming internally motivated. 

Therefor, an Atheist community that has the capacity to listen to the "ain't it awful" stories that people bring to the group and hearing them until they hear themselves. 

Challenges are important, too. When asked, "Do you really believe that?" really forced me to rethink and discuss, and ask questions, and explore, and experiment until the issue was resolved in my own mind and I could stand with confidence, admit I change my mind, or not, and discover yet another way my thinking kept me bound. This is the process I call "breaking footbinding/mindbinding".

My goodness, there must be many other factors involved in building an Atheist community with "good role models." What would you and others add? or subtract? 

  I think I have seen some good role models for an atheist community.  For me it is the person that can patiently work the Socratic model, gently asking questions that assist another in coming to the mental model that is good for them.  

Unfortunately, whenever a community of more than one gathers, doesn't it becomes political to some degree?  Meaning,  one or more members of the group tries to influence the others.  In unhealthy groups, that would take the form of dominance.    I remember attending a Quaker meeting while in college.  The ground rules were openness and inclusion but there was one personality that took over the meeting.  Maybe that was a good thing for as I was told in a cattle judging contest, in any group there will be differences in quality or ability.  But I would suggest, there has to be community norms to address this. 

Or am I wrong?  Would the natural independence and rebelliousness of an atheist community be all the norms necessary?  

I certainly agree with Joan that casting off the yoke of dogma does free us to go where ever we feel we need to explore.  That is liberating and contributes to a more fulfilling community.  

Geoff, I like your reference to the Socratic model, and blended with the gentleness as Ruth admires, presents a warm and welcoming place for chaos and confusion to find a sense of stability with confidence. Part of the atheist community I like is the independence and rebelliousness of members, there is no one "right" way to think, and there is more than black and white. Another thing I like are those who continue o remind me that being atheist means nothing more or less than one does not believe god exists. There are no scriptures, no promises of heaven or hell, no dogma, no fear of punishment for thinking or asking or exploring. There is no one to take care of the poor, hungry, homeless, ignorant and prayers don't stand up to these conditions. Ultimately, one is responsible for doing or not doing, see or not seeing, feeling or not feeling. No one to blame, no one to rescue, no one to speak for god giving instructions. 

If a person in a group tends to dominate, it is up to another in the group to express his/her thoughts and feeling. There is no hierarchy or authority to take charge. Conscience comes from within and is trustworthy ... unless shown to be untrustworthy. It all comes back to having the confidence, comfort, and character to be in charge of oneself and not to be in charge of another. 

Natural independence and rebelliousness is part of being in an atheist community ... kind of like a herd of cats. I love that image: strong willed, independent, self-reliant, able and willing to participate in a group but with limits. And one had better get used to not being herded, just like cats. 

For me, not believing god exists means I am self-directed and I have choices with consequences. I have no obligation to submit or sacrifice myself for others, and I am a participant in communities. 

Joan, I couldn't agree with you more.  In one of my previous lives I was a conflict coach for a federal agency.  The model used worked the client through a series of questions that established several things like ownership of the problem, mutuality with the other person and articulation of a desired outcome.  Those questioning techniques can be quite useful and productive. I just wish I was better at it.  Like many others, I want to "share stories."  I hope it is just a stage and that someday, when I am more confident and comfortable with myself, I can try those techniques out.

Another part of the atheist community that I greatly respect and admire is courage.  I'm not referring to the here and now courage necessary for confrontation with the theist crowd.  I'm referring to the courage to say,  I don't know what is coming next but I have the courage not to make up a fairy tale that will make me feel better.  That virtue is very appealing to me.    I think this is closely related to that ultimate responsibility you referred to. 

Being a conflict coach is tough, so many hidden strings attached to feelings and hidden agendas. I like the process you describe when you worked with conflicted people. 

Telling your story is important for others, but the real benefactor is the one telling the stories until he/she hears and understands the meaning behind the words. This group listened to pages of my rants until I boiled off my excess steam. That dedication to hang in with me was a real gift and I am eternally grateful for their friendship and acceptance of my hurt and pain. The nice part of this is I just don't feel angry or hurt any more. It just went the way of fire into smoke that dissipated. I'm not saying this process works for everyone, but it surely did for me. I hope you find safety and trust in this group so that you feel strong and competent in your thoughts and actions. 

I love your statement, "I have the courage not to make up a fairy tale that will make me feel better." That is courage in the truest sense of the word. Thank you for sharing.

And thank you for this enlightening exchange. 

Seconded. This is a great discussion.

One of my coworkers retired a couple years ago and she and I used to have these sorts of discussions (she was more Unitarian than anything, and had nary a care what other people were). She and I still keep in touch, but she moved half a country away, so it's hard to have those every day sorts of chats with her. The person who took her job is a chatty christian who thanks the lord at least once a day within my hearing. She doesn't know I'm atheist and I don't really care to inform her. Topics of conversation run from her children (she has lots), her grandchildren (also, lots), her health issues, and the weather. It saddens me that that is what I get to talk about now at work. Other than worky stuff.

So again, thank you for this discussion!

Regina, it is a pleasure to share ideas with you. 

I was in a conservative environment until I retired.  I tried to stay in contact with many of my former co-workers and friends.  After our current president was elected,  I started receiving some offensive e-mails.  Usually it had to do with religion.   I've called them on it a number of times saying that if he was a Muslim I'd be all for it if it saved one American life.  I said that in this country, religion should be a personal matter.  I concluded that I hoped our discussions would be about more important and intelligent things than religion.  I guess I kinda tipped my hand about my beliefs or lack thereof because I don't receive the same volume of e-mails.

I can handle the separation from my old associates.  But it does leave a void and I'm grateful for the chance to "socialize" with folks like yourself.   The added bonus is the conversations are a whole lot more intelligent.  


indeed. w/advent of online communities; the testament is rise of freethought... through tech.?


Good article addressing the need for Atheists to connect with each other


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