December 1, 2015

Why I Returned to the Atheist Community

In 2013, I wrote an article called "Why I Left the Atheist Community". In it, I expressed contempt for both the "Atheism Plus" and the "anti-Atheism Plus" crowds, how I was refusing to participate in conferences, and how I was hesitant to consider joining any atheist groups.

The article quickly became one of my most read pieces, and a few months later after it had gained considerable traction, Salon and The Friendly Atheist published articles about why they are and aren't leaving the atheist community, respectively. Such timing was coincidental, but I found it amusing.

Prior to "Why I Left the Atheist Community," I wrote "Why I Don't Go To Sceptic Conferences", and in that too, I wrote about my frustration with "Atheism Plus" and the infighting that was occurring in the atheist community. It was a precursor, of sorts.

It's nearly 2016, and I feel it's time to give both articles a follow-up.

In January of 2014, I created an account on Facebook where I parodied Jesus, claiming to be the satirical return of Christ, but with the addition of him being a douchebro with a dash of sexy. I wrote a lot of terrible one-liners and had the character put into some interesting situations to the delight of the audience I had before the account was inevitably banned 6 months later.

bro jesus screenshot
For example

My only regrets are that I didn't take more screenshots of my brilliance, and that I didn't keep a back-up of my used and unused comedy material before my computer was accidentally wiped.

Occasionally I would break character and give interactions of my life outside of the account, one instance in particular being when I was working in the print and graphic design industry and was having to print a bulk order of pro-life, pro-family campaign fliers for a local political candidate. It was through this instance that one of my disciples following the account learned that we both lived in the same city, and we kept each other as unmet friends.

It was a few months later, in July, that she again contacted me, insisting that I join her for food and drinks with her friends in the "O'Fallon Freethinkers" group.

American Family Association Bigotry Map with O'Fallon Freethinkers
The American Family Association listed us as a Humanist
organisation on their anti-Christian bigotry map a few years later

When I wrote "Why I Left the Atheism Community", I mentioned a new freethinkers group that had started in my living area, but what I didn't mention was that I had joined their Meetup group but never attended them. In fact, I had forgotten about them entirely, until this friend mentioned them.

So I joined them and we talked about coming-out-as-atheist stories, nerdy shit, and at the prompting of my friend, the Jesus page over drinks and food. What we didn't talk about was how certain ideologies are more right than others, or how there's a need to purify our community over even the smallest of disagreements.

And you know what? I keep going back.

Later, after seeing a promotional flier for a talk being done by The Atheist Experience's Russell Glasser at my school, I found myself joining our school's Secular Student Alliance chapter; a group that I wasn't even aware existed. In that group, I made new atheist friends who were closer to my age, I found love, and I later lost love. That group led me to the awareness of the first ever Gateway to Reason conference, which took place in August of 2015 and for which I wound up working, and where I met so many excellent people, many of whom also came from so far out of state! (And a couple from Canada!)

Additionally, in the October following, the O'Fallon Freethinkers held Seekerfest STL, which hosted talks done by some of the speakers who performed at Gateway.

Most recently, one of my friends from the Secular Student Alliance convinced me to come with her to Skepticon, the same conference that I missed for two years and then avoided for the next three. There I manned a vendor table and met some interesting people, shared laughs, and had a very interesting discussion on transhumanism and the bodily physics of teleporters over beers and fake cigarettes. Skepticon was great, but dare I say, I didn't enjoy it as much as I did Gateway? I'll probably return again next year, however.

I can see the value in these conferences now that the atheist community has largely settled down and relaxed again. For events like Skepticon, it's basically a huge party with the biggest name recognition, and the biggest of it's kind that is also free. For an event like Gateway to Reason, it's less of a party and more of a three-day educational presentation and a sense of community the size that Saint Louis has never seen before. And for groups like the O'Fallon Freethinkers, it's basically a large group of friends hanging out and drinking booze at a sin-themed bar.

And for those things, and for the experiences I've been able to have the past two years, I am grateful.

author Tighe Craven

About Tiger
Tiger is a 23 year old college student, activist, and professional
living in the Saint Louis area. When he's not being apathetic to the
idea of God, he is doing public speaking about mental illness and
is a photographer and a bassist.