Reflections on Atheism (VIII)

OK… I’ve seen the atheist community on the web raise money for Camp Quest and I’ve seen it come together to support Damon Fowler and provide him with money for college. Great job, y’all.

Here’s my question: how have you rallied to do something like tornado relief? I’ve heard people call in on KLOVE and Air1 with a message like “I live in [small town] and I’ve got an empty 56-foot truck/am collecting diapers for kids in Joplin/am doing [insert good deed] and I wanted to let people know that if they wanted to help, they can contact [that person]. Is there some way that y’all get information on a national level? I’m not assuming that religious radio is the only way to do this — I’m just wondering how y’all would do it because I don’t know of non-satellite radio stations that broadcast nationally that would rally the atheist community.

As usual, I’d love comments.

2 thoughts on “Reflections on Atheism (VIII)

  1. Hey Jen,

    I suspect that atheists are in a similar situation to non-Christian religions in the U.S. on this particular point. Lacking radio stations, we have to focus on other media (and word-of-mouth in cities with large enough atheist networks).

    Most atheist media distribution is now through the internet (although traditionally it has occurred through snail-mail newsletters and magazines), so blogs, podcasts, YouTube channels, and so forth are most of what we have to work with. Most disasters end up resulting in a call-to-action along at least some of these lines. I suspect that the exposure of the average atheist to these sorts of things are comparable to the exposure of Christians to KLOVE, although I wouldn’t know how to measure that. A lot of that comes in the form of advertising or spreading around information about charities that are secular in the sense of “religion neutral” (even if not explicitly non-religious and sometimes even if originally founded by religious groups). So there are Missouri Atheist pages linking to lists like this one:

    http://technolog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/05/23/6700666-joplin-tornado-how-to-help

    The random-acts-of-kindness by locals (such as the ones you mentioned) would be organized mainly through the facebook pages listed there. The much smaller number of atheists means that most people wouldn’t find it worth their time to advertise along atheist-specific channels, at least not unless they had a particular reason to think that that would get the best response (frankly, even though I could probably get a shout-out from Hemant with a good enough idea, I might not even think about it in the first place unless I had a particular task where a lot of exposure to a scattering of anonymous internet people could help). So best bet would probably be through a public page like that.

    Or, even better in some cases, there are almost always volunteer organizations that set up phone lines where you can call and say “I’ve got a 56-foot truck and I’m ready to move.” or whatnot.

    Most atheist groups will attach to a larger effort rather than try to organize an effort from scratch (random-acts-of-kindness excepted). A good international example is Non-Believers Giving Aid, which was originally promoted by the Richard Dawkins Foundation:

    http://givingaid.richarddawkins.net/

    That site has passed aid to several disasters, and usually just forwards all the money directly to a disaster-specific fund set up by another organization (such as the Red Cross, in this case). Another such group is SHARE, from the Center for Inquiry (http://www.centerforinquiry.net/share/). Foundation Beyond Belief has a similar concept, although they have a more elaborate model and aren’t really focused towards disaster relief. This kind of group mostly exists to encourage atheists/agnostics to get involved (each has a steadily growing list of subscribers and is advertised in various atheist/agnostic/humanist media) and to provide access to charities that won’t engage in activities that are morally objectionable to humanists (such as the Salvation Army, which many non-religious and LGBT people refuse to donate to).

    But in general, we don’t really see any distinction between an atheist approach to charity or disaster relief, versus the way most other people/groups would handle it. So while it’s useful to target some messages directly to non-believers, it’s not really the case that people see a sort of “atheist community” response as distinct from “a whole bunch of people who are atheists” response. This is, perhaps, the most important distinction between humanism and atheism, insofar as humanism focuses strongly on this sort of moral behavior and so really does focus on this as part of the “humanist community”. Atheism is just a way of looking at the world, whereas humanism is an actual moral philosophy. (Notable difference between religions and other life philosophies by the way; irreligious people have no obligation to consider metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics as part of a package deal, but most religions tie together all three into one item.)

    But humanism is too broadly defined (although it’s associated with atheism, even religious people can be secular humanists if they subscribe to certain moral/political beliefs). In a sense, these secular (as in “religion neutral”) organizations like the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders already are the rallying of humanist communities (although they might not call themselves such). So inevitably it’s kind of continuous, where the atheist approach sort of blends into the humanist approach blends into generic disaster relief.

    Anyway, I hope that long comment helps. I’m on pins-and-needles about a new job application, but until I hear back… a lot of waiting around the house, mostly cleaning and surfing the internet.

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