When I table for the Freethought Association at Activities Night or Streetfest, I like to start my spiel with a list of the type of people that the group attracts. Although open to people of other creeds, the group has a primarily non-religious focus, and, so, attracts atheists, agnostics, humanists, rationalists, secularists, freethinkers, and so on and so forth. It’s a laundry list of names with complicated definitions, each of which in themselves represents another laundry list of different schools of thought that may in themselves be yet another laundry list of different viewpoints and values. And we haven’t even gotten to the blending and overlap between these groups, with people rarely identifying with just one. All of this held together with spit, string, and a collective scepticism about the existence of God.
This is not the kind of list you would want to take to the Laundromat. Basically, atheism is kind of complicated.
Not that you would think that from the common image of atheists in society. Putting aside the vitriolic (and unendingly amusing) visions of a scourging army of militant atheists out to destroy God, Christmas, and all the cat videos on Youtube, there is a common image in the collective consciousness about the average atheist. Not to nail it down to a precise character, but what comes to my mind is the image of a smallish, slightly rotund, pedantic, cranky, balding, bearded scientist with glasses and perhaps a slightly nasal voice, who is likely to fly into a rage at the slightest hint of a religious thought.
Obviously, this is not true. Last I checked, I have a full head of hair.
The fact is, atheists come from pretty much everywhere. With something as large as a god – who theoretically represents, well, everything – there are going to be a wide array of responses to the subject. Some come to atheism rationally. Some come by a gut feeling. There are at least as many ways to leave religion as there are to come to it, and the products of those experiences are wildly different.
So why, then, am I starting a column here at The Daily, purporting to provide an atheist voice after having just proven that it’s impossible to reduce irreligious thought to one person? Would this be a sign of some sort of the intellectual incoherency inherent to the movement, or am I just really bloody stupid?
Well, of course, everybody has their own opinion on a world without God. That said, those that subscribe to that particular creed often find themselves facing many common issues. Although starting any concerted action is like herding cats, there has been an atheist community forming in today’s world that often disappears under the radar of people that have other priorities, such as the inexorable glaciers of homework that are constantly threatening to cave in our tiny student skulls. As somebody that has been active in the atheist community for the past two years, I feel as though I can provide a window of insight onto general trends of the community, including a rough basis of the philosophy and some issues meeting it today.
I cannot pretend to be a representative of the entire atheist-agnostic-rationalist-humanist-secularist-free thought movement, but, in my column, I will try my best to be an ambassador of it.
One Less God is a twice-monthly column on atheist communities and philosophy. Harmon Moon is a U2 History student and VP External of the McGill Freethought Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.