“I have a question for you,” my friend asked. “I’m working with a bereavement group, one of the things they do is provide writings and other resources for people who are grieving — but a lot of these have religious content, and that’s not right for everyone. What suggestions can you make?”
“That’s actually a question with a really easy answer,” I said. “There’s an online support group, Grief Beyond Belief. They have a Facebook group for discussion and support, and where they share links and perspectives, and they have a website with lists of resources, including a library of secular writing about grief. Some of it atheist-specific and is about grieving without religion — and some of it is just secular, and doesn’t mention religion at all. Also, I’ve written a book myself, Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, with non-religious perspectives and philosophies on death and grief.”
Five years ago, I couldn’t have said that. Five years ago, I would have said, “Ummmmmm… there’s material out there, I can send you links to some pieces of good writing, but it’s pretty scattered, and there’s no centralized place for grieving non-believers to gather and give each other support.” I would have said, “There should be a secular grief support group, but right now, there isn’t.”
This is why I still care about organized atheism.
It isn’t just Grief Beyond Belief. It’s the Secular Therapist Project, connecting people who need therapists with therapists committed to secularism. The Clergy Project, giving peer support to religious professionals who no longer believe in religion. Black Nonbelievers, the national organization and their local affiliates, fostering support and communities for African Americans who aren’t religious. LifeRing, the secular support organization for people in recovery from alcohol and other drug addiction. The Hotline Project, providing one-on-one peer support for people who are leaving religion or are having doubts. The Secular Student Alliance, providing guidance and practical support to secular student groups around the country. Grounded Parents, offering information and perspectives for parents without religion. Sunday Assembly, creating supportive communities to people who aren’t religious. The 1,153 atheist groups on Meetup — and the fact that literally every time I look up that number, it’s gone up.
This is why I still care about organized atheism. This is why I stick with it, despite the the microaggressions against marginalized people, the not-so-micro aggressions, the asshats pushing back against every attempt to get us to dial back on the aggressions, the terminally clueless who don’t see the aggressions or don’t understand why we care about them, the firestorms of controversy about the aggressions and about mismanagement, fraud, or just bad decisions. This is why I push back, at considerable cost to my career and mental health, against the aggressions, and (sometimes) participate in the debates and discussions and firestorms.
I care because we’re doing good. When atheists are looking for secular grief support, secular therapy, secular recovery groups, secular communities to replace the ones they lost when they left religion, they can find them. These kinds of resources don’t exist without a community structure — a community that gives money, volunteers time, or simply spreads the word and lets people know the resources exist. We’re doing practical, measurable good. We’re doing more good, for more people, every year.
And the pushback against marginalization is having an effect. We have a lot more work to do, but positive changes have happened and continue to happen, Organized atheism is being made more welcoming to a wider variety of people all the time.
If you don’t care anymore, or if you care but you’re burned out and get participate anymore, I won’t try to argue you out of it. You get to decide for yourself which communities and movements you want to participate in. I think you’re unlikely to find a movement that isn’t dealing with marginalization, mismanagement, fraud, and more — those are pretty widespread human traits — but you get to decide which movement and community, if any, has the cost/benefit balance that works for you. But I’m taking a moment to be a Pollyanna cheerleader and focus on the good. The work of building organized atheism can be frustrating and demoralizing — but it’s making a difference, and it’s worth doing.