Thursday, November 22, 2007

Atheosphere - What's the Use?

First of all, take a look at this tangentially related article from LiveScience a couple of days ago -

The social networking site of choice is related to a student's race, ethnicity and parents' education, a new survey indicates.

The finding "suggests there's less intermingling of users from varying backgrounds on these sites than previously believed," said study leader Eszter Hargittai of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University in Illinois.

Hargittai surveyed more than 1,000 freshmen from the University of Illinois, Chicago.Results show:

Caucasian students prefer Facebook.Hispanic students prefer MySpace.Asian and Asian-American students were more likely than others to "socialize" on Xanga and Friendster. They also used Facebook.Asian and Asian-American students are least likely to use MySpace.
(Remainder of Article)

There's no surprise from this study that people tend to aggregate among similar others in lifestyle and philosophy. So this intersects with thinking about my blog, and what I would hope to accomplish with it (besides the obvious - that writing out my thoughts helps me develop my own thinking, is relaxing and is an excellent way of relieving some of the quickly accumulating societal angst).

Would I love to convince even a few theists to second-guess their view of the universe and start living a life based on reason? Of course I would. Is it a realistic goal for my blog? Absolutely not. We've all seen dozens of blogs that seem dedicated to dissuading readers from a belief in the supernatural. I may add a grain of medicine to the glass of skepticism that some theist has been sipping at anyway and might then be a more potent drink that helps him towards recovery. But it's going to be extremely rare and unlikely - because that type of reader spends very little time at blogs like ours. I still keep such people in mind while writing, because you never know when they may happen by, and my tone and information can either assist or detract from someones journey to the land of reason.

That said, it seems like there's something else I can focus on that really can help a certain group of people. These people are the ones who are most likely to seek out my blog (based on certain key-word searches they might do, or clicking on my link from a similar blog). These people could be called "the choir" as in "Your just preaching to the choir, John. What's the point"? Here, my friends, is the point:

The Exterminator commented on my blog and his, directed at The Chaplain, Ute, JP and others who fit the bill:

"It's nice to have you folks openly joining the dialogue. I don't know whom you're gonna thank this Thanksgiving, although I have a pretty good idea of whom you're not gonna thank. But I'd like to thank you for helping me realize that our little blogs might actually do some good."

Right On! Say it, Brother! There are several of us in this loose knit group of atheists who have been non-believers for years and basically live our lives completely out in the open. While we encourage others to be able to have the freedom we do, we realize the extremely convoluted life situations that others find themselves in and that not everyone can do what we have done - at least not immediately. We don't snub them - we embrace them as brothers and sisters. We have an opportunity to provide them with a community that they may have no where else in their lives. Be it 2 hours a day or 20 minutes a week, they know a place they can go where others think like they do. The folks there are friendly and caring. The members are happy to give personal insights to situations they had 20 or 30 years ago that may apply to something the visitor has been going through this week.

I think I already do this. I think a lot of us do. But I believe we can focus on it a bit more and actively search for these brothers and sisters. You can read it in their blogs if you just take the few minutes to go to a couple new blogs every day and read what's on their minds. Why not invite them to join us. There's no exclusivity at this party.

We already have the community. The Exterminator and Spanish Inquisitor, in particular, have created an extremely friendly environment for meeting and discussing issues related to reason, common-sense, skepticism, rationality, agnosticism and atheism. Additionally, the Exterminator came up with a great project that can be a tool for uniting free-thinkers in a common activity - The Non-Believing Literati. If you haven't joined, maybe you should think about it. There's no great expectations (the book or the pressure). You needn't participate on every book. You are free to pick and choose. And I know Spanish Inquisitor is a bright enough atheist to come up with some other tool for creating a stronger community - especially since he can relate to newer free-thinkers better them some of us other "old timers".

So I'm just throwing this out into our arena of thought to see if others want to make this particular focus more intrinsic to what we are doing by blogging. I'm sure I'll make more of an effort in this area and hope many of you will join me.

38 comments:

ordinarygirl said...

I write on my blog because I enjoy writing, and I have to admit, I enjoy the discussion.

But what you say sounds good. I'm in.

John Evo said...

I'm not really suggesting that anyone does anything... that you aren't doing already. That's why I like you guys and gals! Maybe just invite people around more.

Happy Thanksgiving, O'Girl. And anyone else who stops by here today.

The Exterminator said...

Evo:
Like OG, I write, to a great extent, for my own enjoyment. But I've come more and more to look forward to the discussions, both at my own place and at some of the other great blogs I frequent. It's not only the few that are recent de-cons who need validation and support. I think we all do, at least from time to time.

That's why I urge everyone in the Atheosphere to include a clickable link to his or her personal email. Yeah, you're gonna get some annoying spam you'll wanna ditch. But, on the other hand, you'll also get to exchange meaningful notes, and maybe just general pats on the back that don't always find their way into a comments thread.

I've used emails within the Atheosphere to get or give encouragement, to make suggestions, to seek technical advice, to direct a friend to something he or she might want to read or watch, and just to shoot the shit. A guy whom I now consider one of my best friends in blogworld contacted me by email when he first started blogging just to let me know that he'd appreciate some feedback. I've written to people privately urging them to correct obvious errors that could weaken an otherwise great post; one blogger I like a lot had once mistyped "Tom for "John" in a an otherwise excellent rant about McCain. I've exchanged non-atheist-related emails with another blogger about the use of puzzles in math education; although we both found the subject interesting, it would have been a very dull comment thread. And, of course, as I noted in one of my recent posts, I got an urgent e-note from a recent de-con who hoped I wouldn't "out" her inadvertently.

So get those "Contact Me" links up there, people.

John Evo said...

That's why I urge everyone in the Atheosphere to include a clickable link to his or her personal email. Yeah, you're gonna get some annoying spam

Great point, Exterminator. I will honestly tell everyone that I've never received any spam or annoying emails from having my email address listed. Now, admittedly, that could be because my blog doesn't draw all that much traffic.

I've enjoyed private emails with a few people in our community and even if I DID get some spam, it would be worth it.

PhillyChief said...

One big happy godless family. Group hug. :)

The Exterminator said...

Philly:
I don't know about the group hug -- or the smiley faces. I'll tell you this, though: The minute somebody starts singing "Kumbaya," I'm outta there.

DaVinci said...

I started blogging on xanga 4 years ago. Some of the rationalists that I came across really blew my mind. It was my first venture out of my own private agnosticism. I knew others of my ilk in person, but personal communication can be easy compared to blogging. The atheist folks I know in person are (as rationalists) fascinating, so we have loads to talk about besides what we do here in blogs. Blogs tend to be perceived as one-sided because we judge them by standards that we use with folks who we know in person. I say folks not because I’m a hick, I say it because I’m too fucking lazy to type people, sorry. I’m sure all of you are fascinating too in person, and we’d probably talk about all kinds of things besides what we do in our blogs.
The group of people I’ve met here, I wont name them all, are the best I’ve found anywhere.
I might check out the book club, but my reading list will probably require that I have a nightlight installed in my coffin at this point. If you have any of the books on my reading list, I might participate though.

Ute said...

I started my blog under a different name last year, wrote about this and that and never really got into it. Couldn't really identify with my readers either... or the other way around. Then I took a long break, and now I'm back to write about the things that really are on my mind... and to be a part of a community of like minded people from all over the country/world.

So this year I'm thankful for the internet. :)

PhillyChief said...

When I was in college I was asked to create a comic strip for a new alternative newspaper. I struggled to create characters and plots and it went nowhere. Then the editors had a juicy news tip but couldn't validate the source (ah, the old days when you had to have some sort of credible source before reporting something as news) so they asked me to make a cartoon of the story, depicting the real people involved. No names changed to protect the guilty. Well needless to say, it was a hit and from that moment on I did that every week. No shortage of laughable shit in reality.

Anyway, my point is you need to write about what you know and what deeply matters to you. I think it's the genuineness of the the writing that results from such subject matter that people respond to.

Ute said...

So true. Now if only that left more time for the book I'm writing.

Brian said...

When I started my blog last year I geared it to my fundamentalist relatives. I tried to tread softly, but I ended up offending them anyways and they all refused to read it. Almost by default I began writing for atheists, educating them about my experiences with the fundamentalist mindset.

I doubt I'll ever convince a hard-core theist, but I have gotten several e-mails from people who were questioning their faith and said I helped them in their journey.

PhillyChief said...

We can never know just how far reaching the affects of even our mundane actions can be. What we say, what we do, what we write and how we do all of that touches the world. Sometimes we're lucky to hear from people who claim they have been affected by us but I feel that there are countless others out there. There's simply no way to know. The only thing we can know for sure is if we did, said or wrote nothing, we'd certainly have no positive affect on the world but we could very well have a negative one. As comments from recent decons attest to, the more examples and more public outings there are the better it is for them. Those of us never having been in that state of mind or trapped in a fundie world surrounded by nothing but believers have no idea what it must be like. I think every voice on the wind they can catch that says what we say here online encourages them that they aren't alone and they're certainly not crazy or evil as those around them tell them they are.

Brian said...

That's a good point phillychief. When I was in the process of deconversion I felt very alone. My wife kept saying, "but if what you say is true (about the bible), then why has nobody ever noticed before". It was like in two thousand years of church history I was the first person to notice the bible had a few contradictions.

I had no idea that there were others like me and I seriously wondered if I was going insane because nobody else seemed capable of seeing what I was seeing.

The thing that really helped me was finding the Internet Infidels discussion board. I don't really go there much anymore (too busy blogging), but it really helped me to realize I wasn't alone.

PhillyChief said...

Try Paine's Common Sense. There's someone noticing a few things in the bible may be awry. Let's see, that was over 200 years ago.

Brian said...

Thanks, actually I read it when I was at one of my lowest times during my deconversion and it was like having a light suddenly being turned on in a dark room.

Infidel753 said...

The hard-core theists must pretty much be written off, but there are far more others who are not hard-core. This survey by the Barna Group finds the US adult population to consist of 58 million "active-faith Christians", 20 million atheists and agnostics, and in between, 130 million "American adults who describe themselves as Christians, but who are Christian in name only". Many of the latter are clinging weakly to the tattered remnants of a religion which they hardly really believe in any more, but which they have never heard seriously or intelligently challenged. These people are reachable. They are unlikely to take the initiative to go out and buy Richard Dawkins, but if they run across something on the internet that makes them think about the issue in ways they haven't before, well, who knows?

The Exterminator said...

infidel, you said: Many of the [130 million Americans who define themselves as Christians but are not regular church-goers] are clinging weakly to the tattered remnants of a religion which they hardly really believe in any more, but which they have never heard seriously or intelligently challenged.

If they've never heard their religion seriously or intelligently challenged, where the fuck have they been lately? There are atheistic spokespeople being interviewed on TV and on the radio. There are dozens of skeptical books available in the chain bookstores. There are newspaper and magazine articles about the "new" atheism. There's an entire Atheosphere engaging in dialogue every single day. Quite a few atheist bloggers, Philly included, seek out fundies to debate. And there are even some moderate Christian bloggers who speak of atheism with tolerance and write about it. So you have to be brain-dead not to have heard that there are a few people out here in the world challenging religion.

You go on to say about the 130 million: These people are reachable.

I'm dubious. Those people are not seeking answers, as most de-converts begin by doing. No, they remain Christians because it's easy to do so; they don't have to think. I see no indication that they'd like to start.

the chaplain said...

Infidel753 said that hard-core, "active-faith" Christians should be considered pretty much unreachable. It wasn't so long ago that I fell into that demographic. Are they harder to reach? No question about it. But, if you can push the right buttons, which will vary for each individual, you can get them asking some questions. If you can keep them asking questions and encouraging them not to shut down that process, they can come around.

Be prepared to help them through some struggles as they reach the final stages of their de-conversion process. It's easy to let go of little bits of god-belief at a time. It's tough to take that final step and let go of all of it. A blog that I found invaluable in my de-conversion was http://de-conversion.com. It's a place where de-converts share their struggles and encourage each other. It's a nice little community that fills an important niche.

John Evo said...

Ex, you sound overly pessimistic to me tonight and, as you know, I'm a bit negative myself when it comes to changing people. Then again, I might just be reading that in to what you wrote.

Even if Infidel's numbers are too optimistic, it seems likely to me that there are millions of people out there who could potentially change their positions on religion. Let's look at the 130 million number he tossed out there. I fully agree with you that the vast majority of those are not on a "quest for knowledge". But say 5% of them are. That's 6.5 million people. I think we'd both love to have some of those move away from theism towards a rational world-view.

Look how many of our fellow bloggers claim to have become atheists within the last 5 years. I wouldn't attempt to draw any conclusions that there is something out of the ordinary going on. But even if it is completely ordinary for some people to wake up and see the light, then everything we say and do to promote such seems like a valuable endeavor to me.

Philly said: "We can never know just how far reaching the affects of even our mundane actions can be." I think this hits it. We never know. But because we don't see the end result (a decon) doesn't mean we might not have had some tiny impact on that decision.

This really isn't what my post was about. It was about helping those who had already made the decon leap. Like I said, I still have the others in mind also when I write.

Ute said...

So, how do I join the Non-Believing Literati anyway??

John Evo said...

Well, it's very, very difficult Ute.

You're in.

Seriously, we just have to make sure The Exterminator knows that you would like to join. On the left sidebar of his blog you will see a list of the members and whose blogs you can visit to read essays on books we've read.

The Exterminator said...

Evo:
I have an answer for you and Philly, but it turned out to be such a long comment that I decided to post on this subject later today, linking back here, of course.

Ute: You are now a member of the Nonbelieving Literati.

John Evo said...

Ex - look forward to it, as always!

The Exterminator said...

Getting back to the original post, I'd be interested to hear from chappy, JP, or Lifeguard -- or anyone else who went through the de-conversion process -- about how we can facilitate outreach when they need it.

What could we have done differently to make you people feel more welcome? And is there a way that we can follow Evo's suggestion and draw out the reticent folks who'd like to join our discussions but are maybe just a little intimidated? How can we let them know that we want to hear their ideas -- even though we may disagree with them? And, if we do happen to disagree with them, how do we assure them that, unlike on the Christian blogs they may be used to, disagreement is a vital part of the Atheosphere?

John Evo said...

Ext - I tend to agree with what The Chaplain said over at your blog about not doing anything other than what we already do.

Hell, we're a pretty good-natured group. I don't think there's a snotty attitude among us. I'm not exactly the sensitive, retiring type but I felt extremely comfortable in interacting with you and the others right from the gate. It seems like all of our posts make clear that we don't think we have the ultimate answers - outside of the basics and that there is plenty of room for dissent in all of our discussions. Anyone who lurks for a few days and reads both posts and comments should feel pretty comfortable, based on the type of people we have. It’s even a surprisingly good mixture of males and females.

The only thing I would do outside of the regular community interactions we have is what I mentioned in the post - invite people to join us. If you read something interesting on a blog and it's a person who seems like they might benefit from the group, refer them to a post that relates to what you are hearing from them.

Other than that, it's kind of up to the individuals to step up and participate if they think they have something to add to the discussion. Is it my wishful thinking, or has there been an increase in participation already (talking about the last 60 days or so)?

The Exterminator said...

Evo:
I agree with you that it's kind of up to the individuals to step up and participate if they think they have something to add to the discussion. But, truth be told, the very act of joining the discussion -- even if it's just to say "I agree with John" -- may be a big, frightening step for some.

I suppose that's a fear they have to conquer themselves. All of us can watch for the chance to draw out a shy person, but we can't actually force all our readers to feel comfortable enough to leave that very first comment.

PhillyChief said...

I know I bookmark certain postings from people and drop them into posts that I make on other forums.

A strange thing for me is experiencing religious bullshit on non-religious forums. Some of you are aware of my headaches on the Chiefs forum which is a football fan forum. I've also had some legendary battles on computer graphics forums. I've actually been banned before over the issue. Absolutely ridiculous.

the chaplain said...

Phillychief:
I'm sorry to hear about your problems with the non-religious sites. I read about your issue with the Chiefs site on your blog, but I didn't know about the computer one. How did religion ever come up on those sites? If I'm visiting photo blogs or music blogs, I don't suddenly start writing about camping or politics. Sheesh!

PhillyChief said...

I had a lot of headaches on CG Society. Everything from bible passages in people's signatures to blatant god talk in posts. It's one thing when it comes up in a general section, but in the middle of a discussion over bugs in a new version of an application? WTF?! That forum has an exceptional set of rules which would be awesome if they actually applied them, or at least applied them blindly to everyone. Instead, they opt for quiet over fairness and we all know how well christians can organize to cry foul and raise a stink. After a ridiculous amount of this crap, I signed a post "btw, there is no god. Have a nice day" and that lead to my first banning (due to my excessive charm, I tend to get invited back to places where I get banned generally). What I found amusing was after that first incident, I had some very nasty crank calls and discovered my email address had been passed out to just about every place on the internet involving gay sex and bestiality. Oh those whacky christians. Naturally, as SI pointed out, these people have all those kinds of places bookmarked or simply committed to memory from repeatedly visiting them. I just found it amusing that these so called moral people would do such things and that I was the bad guy. Like I always say, they are firm believers in the ends justify the means.

sacred slut said...

I would think most lurkers are either 1) too busy/rushed to post 2) found someone had already said what they were going to say 3) are still scoping out the group.

Unwelcome? Pish-tosh.

sacred slut said...

Also re: emails, I used to have my address posted. I prefer to keep my lives segregated. I found too much intrusion and some unwelcome advances.

Of course, that could be the fault of my choice in blog theme. ;D

The Exterminator said...

slut:
Why not set up an email account just for your blogging persona? That way, it's still part of your segregated temple life.

Spanish Inquisitor said...

Of course, that could be the fault of my choice in blog theme.

And those dirty pictures. ;)

But yes, it's so easy to get another account, through Gmail, or Yahoo. I actually have an account through my home service carrier, which is automatically redirected to my main email account at work, so everything comes to one box. Works nice, and insulates me at the same time.

Sorry for coming to this so late, but being away last week has me playing catch up, both blogging wise and professionally.


OK. I've read this thread, now on to No More Hornets.

Infidel753 said...

We also need to keep in mind that we may rarely have the satisfaction of seeing our efforts, if such they be, bear fruit in any specific way. Looking back at cases where I ended up changing a strongly-held view of my own, it was never because of a single "eureka moment" due to reading some one especially-brilliant polemic. It was always a gradual process driven by an accumulation of exposure to new facts and new ways of looking at them. Many postings on atheist blogs may serve to help along such a process in readers who will eventually abandon what remains of their religion. The point where you come right out and admit to yourself "I don't believe that anymore" is the last step, almost the epilogue, not the beginning -- and certainly not the whole thing.

John Evo said...

Infidel -

You sound like me! This is exactly the argument I make whenever the "you can't change anyone" challenge comes up.

It depends on how you define "change". If you mean a sudden epiphany that you were able to induce - no, you can't (or maybe you can, but it’s probably a one in million thing). If you mean to pull one tiny chink off a coat of armor - yes, you can. You might be 25 years down the road, not know the person anymore, and have no idea how their life has gone, when the final chink falls.

Is it worth spending your time on people who will show no signs of change or gratitude? Only if it’s worth it to stop and give directions to a total stranger to a place you are fully familiar with and he is lost. How many times have most of us done that in our lives? Would we do it any other way?

Infidel753 said...

I'm certainly glad that others took the time to write the books and articles that helped me in the past.

The Exterminator said...

Infidel:

Looking back at cases where I ended up changing a strongly-held view of my own, it was never because of a single "eureka moment" due to reading some one especially-brilliant polemic. It was always a gradual process driven by an accumulation of exposure to new facts and new ways of looking at them.

I agree completely. And I'd also add that what you wrote doesn't apply only to religion. I think it's true of political views and artistic tastes, too.

Infidel753 said...

I think it's true of political views and artistic tastes, too.

Certainly so. Actually it was politics I mostly had in mind when I wrote that. Having grown up in an atheist family, I never had to go through a "deconversion" where religion is concerned.