Skeptics, We Need a Long Term Strategy!

Given the fact that skeptics are only making meager progress toward our common goals in society let's think together about a long term strategy. Do we have one? Does anyone? Care to discuss this?

As a former minister I know that Christians have several long term strategies with strong organizations. Maybe we can learn from them?

Their first strategy is to reach children. They target children in the home and the church. The younger the better. There is a group called Childhood Evangelism, which seeks to convert kids as young as they can. Richard Dawkins calls things like this "child abuse." There are bus ministries geared toward getting kids to church. Norman L. Geisler, who is considered the "dean of apologetics," was raised in an atheist home but was converted as the result of a bus ministry that brought him to church every Sunday for ten years!

Then there are college campus ministries like Bill Bright's Campus Crusade for Christ. William Lane Craig is involved with this group. There are even rich Christian benefactors who have bought up hundreds of thousands of copies of Josh McDowell's books which are distributed for free on college campuses!

Then on the cultural level there is the important Samaritan Strategy, where by doing good works in the name of Jesus they influence our society.

Christians have legal groups to protect their rights as well, like The Christian Legal Society.

There are other things Christians do to reach people and inflence society. Are we as skeptics interested in doing likewise? I know we don't have the numbers or means to do as much as Christians do, but are we serious about changing society and influencing minds, or not? I think most people who become skeptics simply get on with life, since after all, this is the only life they will ever have. Only a small minority of them become passionate to change minds and change society.

As an agnostic, Robert G. Ingersol was probably the most powerful orator in the 19th century, speaking to standing room only crowds. He was rich and he was powerful. He could speak out as he desired, and he did. There are many books available that contain his speeches. As such, he could've financed a national atheist/agnostic organization to influence American society. Our movement could've been started much earlier if he had. But he didn't. Now we have several of these organizations. Are YOU involved in any of them?

Is there more we can do? Is there more YOU as a skeptic can do?

The biggest problem might just be fear, and some of this is justified. There is the fear of coming out of the so-called closet. If you have not yet done so, at least seriously consider doing this. There is power in numbers. You realize, don't you, that in numbers we may be the second largest denomination in America behind Catholics! One in four Americans may be either agnostic or atheist. The more of us who tell the people we know what we think, the better. Just think of it this way. There have been a great many people who went before us and suffered a great deal so that we have the freedom to speak out, some of whom were burned at the stake. Don't trample on their blood. If they did this for us then we should do it for those who come after us.

Any other thoughts?

26 comments:

Zachary Moore said...

rich Christian benefactors

Don't underestimate this. Most secular individuals haven't yet learned how to effectively donate to causes.

Rob said...

I thought I left Christianity so I could get away from all that religion stuff....

Jesse said...

I'm completely surrounded by Christians. I'm married to one, and all of my friends and family with few exceptions are Christian. Joining an anti-religious organization seems rather unnecessary. I don't want to go around trying to deconvert kids. I'd rather persuade them as adults when their minds have developed.

John W. Loftus said...

Rob and Jesse you have proven my point that most people who become skeptics don't do much to support our common cause. I'm not judging you. I don't know your full story nor do I need to, since you speak for many others. Just take baby steps, okay?

Jesse, I heard from a reliable source (but don't have the reference right now) that a campus minister told his wife he could no longer believe, and his wife surprised him by saying she couldn't either! You never know what the reaction might be. Certainly you take a risk to do so, but again you just don't know. People who like you before will probably still like you afterward. Ask questions. Tell people you've read a book (like mine?) and ask them for their opinion.

David B. Ellis said...

In my opinion the most effective means of encouraging skepticism here in the US does not involve the direct promotion of skepticism at all.

The nation's where religion is weakest are the one's with universal health care and a strong social safety net---this is no coincidence. Religion is clung to in large part out of a sense of insecurity.

You want skepticism to grow in the US---work toward the goal of universal health care. Try to get our government to put more money into infrastructure and less into military adventures.

All indications are that if we did that people would start naturally drifting away from religion.

Jesse said...

I suppose I gave the wrong impression. I told my wife and nearly everyone I know that I no longer believe in God, Jesus, and the immortality of the soul. My friends and my wife, who I would call an agnostic Christian, has been very supportive.

I think it's more important to promote skepticism as a way of thinking than our specific conclusions. I have had discussions and debates with my wife and my friends about the legitimacy of Christianity. And I try to keep skepticism at the forefront.

One reason I've had such an easy experience is because all of my friends including my wife and I went to the fundamentalist Oral Roberts University. We all came out with extremely negative attitudes toward religion and completely stopped attending church. They retained the metaphysical beliefs, while I eventually lost them.

My problem with atheistic organizations is that they tend to focus on the (obvious) negatives of religion instead of the positives of skepticism, critical thought, and humanistic values.

Perhaps my problem is that I have not found the right one to join. I don't want to join one that puts up signs that state that religion is "but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds," when religion is far too complex to be simplified in that way.

By the way, this website was of great help to me this year as I deconverted. I also think that your book is the best antidote to Christian apologetics and I hope to persuade friends of mine to read it.

Retired At 40 said...

I think organizing atheists/agnostics is a bit like herding cats. It is not as easy to organize based on non-belief as it is to organize based on belief. Non-belief is not our central focus and not really considered the most important part of our lives. But I'm all for someone trying.

Tyro said...

I think there's no hope of organizing all sceptics/atheists/agnostics/free thinkers/non-believers into a single, cohesive movement nor do I think it's even desirable. Heck, even Christians aren't organized like that despite their powerful organizational hierarchies.

There are several national groups within the US that you can support which I think is a good idea. I suspect that the way to draw people in and keep them will be to work at a local level through social activities. Drinking Sceptically has meetups for some people, meetup.com has other impromptu group meetings. I heard a good interview with another group that's organizing SkepticCamp, a meetup which emphasizes participation and sharing between all members (check it out, it sounds interesting. I'm trying to put something together for an upcoming meeting in my area). If you're interested in social groups you may find one already or if not it's virtually free to start your own.

Personally I'm not interested in belonging to any church-like group. My goals would be to reduce or eliminate the pernicious influences of religion in society - no Creationism in schools, no God in law, respect and tolerance for people of all races, religions and sexual orientation - and not necessarily for some atheist revolution. To that end I'm more interested in supporting church-state separation groups and increasing the visibility of atheism in society. Appearing in the media, giving talks, writing books, writing blogs, coming out of the closet about your own atheism, talking to your local schools and donating to some law suits all sound like great ideas.

Look at Europe's secular countries. There wasn't an atheist revolution and once they became secular the subject of religion quietly drifts from public discussion to private, where it should be. I'm in Canada and during our recent federal election the leader of the Liberal party gave an interview on the radio and mentioned God several times which became a major national news story. "What was he thinking?" and "why this blatant attempt to suck up to Christians?" That's what I'd like to see more of, not an elimination of religion but making it a private affair once again.

Jason Long said...

I agree that the problem will probably solve itself, with or without the push from skeptics. Western Europe is the perfect example. But in the interim, I do plan to become very active in volunteering once I retire (ten years hopefully).

Daniel said...

David B. Ellis:
The nation's where religion is weakest are the one's with universal health care and a strong social safety net---this is no coincidence. Religion is clung to in large part out of a sense of insecurity.


This is a good point. I used to be totally against the idea of nationalizing the US health care system, but over the past several years I have started to change my mind for a number of reasons (including the ones you describe).

However, I would point out that part of the reason Christianity (especially fundamentalist/evangelical Christianity) is so prevalent in the US is that religion in the US operates in a free-market system. This is to say that, because the US has never had an "official" church, the various Christian denominations have had to compete with each other for "customers". Those that market themselves best, or offer the best "services", tend to be the most successful. I think this makes it difficult to judge whether a European-style social support system would have as dramatic of an effect on "de-religifying" the US or not. But who knows? It probably couldn't hurt.

Jacob said...

David B. Ellis:
You want skepticism to grow in the US---work toward the goal of universal health care. Try to get our government to put more money into infrastructure and less into military adventures.

Warning: Anecdotal biased rant... but if the shoe fits...

I'm not an American and I don't live in the USA (I'm an Australian), but the impression I get from the USA is that many (Red states?) of its constituents perceive government run programs, such as universal health care, to be completely synonymous with Communism. I kid you not. I'm often surprised by the vehement anti-socialistic rhetoric that comes out of the USA when someone proposes giving everyone access to some base level of health care.

With that in mind, I wonder whether trying to establish universal health care would be any easier than simply promoting scepticism on its own.

And this also relates to Daniel's comment about the free-market system in the USA. The whole "user pays", capitalistic juggernaut is the very thing that these religious folk revere (as I've discovered on some fundamentalist blogs), so daring to suggest that some of their money might benefit the nation if used for social services is frankly on par with telling them that they should donate to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

In short, I think the religious folk of the USA would fight against universal health care with as much, if not more, vigour than they would fight against the promotion of scepticism. Why? Because spreading scepticism might claim other peoples' souls, but universal health care is going to claim dollars from their pockets!!

DJ Wilkins said...

John, I'm definately for a more strategic and organized effort. I think a website that talked about such a strategy and featured links to skeptic organizations both in terms of activist and outreach organizations and social organizations would be a great tool for those looking to be involved on many levels. Something like the One Campaign website (one.org) / organization that is really just a united voice for several other organizations could be of great value. Amongst those organizations featured by the organization could be social websites for skeptics as well as groups on facebook and myspace of that nature.

This could include forums for discussion and so on. Public policy efforts could be supported through a mass email list which could be quite healthy with the assistance of featured organizations and sites reaching out to there current members to become a part of this larger effort.

Emails to individuals in each state with information about social activities and efforts could be emailed out to all featuring events from all the associated organizations.

And the website itself could be a place to feature a larger collective vision signed off on by all the organizations developed during some kind of get togethers with heads from major organizations present and such - with the kind of long term goals you mention.

A smart IT team, some capital and coordination with major atheist/agnostic organizations like the Freedom From Religion Foundation would get us moving.

Just an idea.


Thanks,

~DJ Wilkins

Bart said...

I've thought on this issue long and hard. David Ellis hit on a valid point with the health care issue. It comes close to the solution, but just misses the mark.

Why does religious politics have such a huge influence in politics, where secularism fails? The answer is clear. Differing sects of theism might argue till the end of the world (heh), but come election time, they are a unified front. The current secular movement is attempting to bring everyone under the same 'big tent'. That won't work. The only system that will work is to use the 'many small tents' theory.

We need to court leaders who will promote a secular agenda, appealing to as many different types of secularists as possible. Once those running for office recognize that they can be assured of a reliable voting block, they will shift their politics to the secular side.

In todays politics, talking about science can be the 'third rail'. But only half of Americans believe that evolution is false, and everyone loves NASA. By encouraging rational people to go out and vote for leaders that support rationality, we can increase the secularness of our government.

Grass movement operations only work when there is a clear goal at the end. The goal can't be 'the end of religious influence in government'. It should be to get candidate X in office, because candidate Y thinks that the universe is 6k years old.

John W. Loftus said...

Thanks for your comments everyone.

Jesse said...By the way, this website was of great help to me this year as I deconverted. I also think that your book is the best antidote to Christian apologetics and I hope to persuade friends of mine to read it.

Thanks. This encourages me. It's nice to know what I/we write helps people.

AdamH said...

Why do you need a long term strategy?

There is no long term for any of us, given atheism

In a hundred years or so we will all be gone and this site drifting deserted in cyberspace.

Gandolf said...

"Is there more we can do? Is there more YOU as a skeptic can do?"

Yes im sure there is but knowing where to really start is a problem.And without wanting to sound like a bleater but Combined with the fact that as a disbeliever in taking into account that coming from very cultish religious folk im kinda in some ways disadvantaged in effect being totally outcast.I personally find it not so easy.

Not that im about to let the said sanctions daunt my enthusiasm ,if anything this only serves to show me good reasons and strengthen my dislike of certain characteristics within certain types of religion even more.

I maybe might be many things but one thing im not is gutless.I wouldnt have shot the gap at age 15 if i was.

I have not done to bad in life though and i hope in the near future to be able to become more involved.

"Christians have legal groups to protect their rights as well, like The Christian Legal Society."

Yes and this is one area i would like to maybe get involved in and see if maybe in future there is some way the rights of those of no belief can be protected against bully tactics by zealous believers.

Yes "There are even rich Christian benefactors" that cause good reason for worry.

But i do still have some faith in the general goodness of humanity sooner or later shining through.And if i can when im able i would like to get together with other like minded folk who wish to see that specially children do not continue to suffer from the abuse that all to often comes as part and parcel of the fate of being born into religion.

That "There are even rich Christian benefactors" tells me they have plenty of money to afford to pay for their sins.

And it would soon build up a trust fund that would suffice to enable more and more protection against religious oppression.

Of course any peaceful beliefs would have no need to worry.

twinertia said...

The "many little tents" strategy is best, and must be handled through investment in community foundations.

I've got a pilot program warming up this coming June, so stay tuned.....

NFLP said...

Retired At 40 said,
"I think organizing atheists/agnostics is a bit like herding cats."

--Herding cats becomes easier with an electric can opener.

With the downward spiral of ministries' donations, it's a good time to encourage the moderate clergy to go after the charlatan televangelists like Parsley, Hinn, Robertson, Roberts, Murdock, Tilton, etc.

The resulting in-fighting will help bring the ugly underbelly of Christian leadership into focus.

Matthew said...

John,

YES! yes, yes. Long-term strategy should be a given for any group. Those not interested in such can simply opt out; no problem.

(btw, Thank you for your work. I'm so glad to see this blog and to see questions like this posed.)

I grew up in East Texas as a fundamentalist and wanted to be a minister until age 23, when I had studied enough to see the falsehood.

De-converting (detox) was not easy, even with my being a very good student, an assiduous truth-seeker, and willing to question. The cognitive dissonance faced by people who grow up as we did is very serious. Such false world views are diseases suppressing people and filling them with (sometimes unconscious) fear while wearing a mask of love and truth.

ALL the efforts we make toward educating people of all ages are critically important.

Fundamentalist religion is one of the greatest hindrances to human progress worldwide and throughout history. Plus, the amount of time and resources, both external and psychological, humans devote to religious pursuits is truly staggering - and it is wasteful. ALL of that power needs to be turned toward solving real problems and making the real world a beautiful, peaceful, loving, honest, knowledgeable, clean, and sustainable place, long-term.

Ours is a joyful desire to liberate and to see ourselves and our world be the best it can be, flower. Such a noble goal deserves real long-term planning.

CHURCHES? GROUPS?
People coming out of Christianity often need good help, love, and support. Many of them are accustomed to lots of peer support from church. While some who have commented here seem opposed to the "church" thing, churches fill very important social functions for so many people, esp. families. They are also lifelines in troubled times or after family disasters. I personally wish to see groups spring up everywhere to serve these needs/functions for people leaving Christianity (and other religions). I have seen Unitarian churches, liberal churches, and atheist/skeptic groups trying to do it. I think such efforts should be growing tremendously in the near future. I'd like to see something like humanist churches - there is a great deal in life / the universe worthy of positive celebration, and many people need social support groups. These 'churches'/assemblies could meet social needs while promoting education, awareness (of local, national, and global issues), science, love, healthy living, and community - and having support groups for former Christians who want it.

Another example - Would it be good for groups to offer help to ministers (with families) who face losing their jobs as a result of their deconversions? Such people often have hearts devoted to public service and should ideally be able to continue their social roles while teaching a better message.

I could go on and on.

What do you think?

Matt

Charlie said...

Jesse,

My problem with atheistic organizations is that they tend to focus on the (obvious) negatives of religion instead of the positives of skepticism, critical thought, and humanistic values.

Precisely. Many progressive religious people already speak out against the negatives of religion.

Gandolf said...

Charlie said..."Precisely. Many progressive religious people already speak out against the negatives of religion."


No where loud enough or frequently enough though,as yet i suggest.

They still need a jolly good hurry up!.

Bet ya there is plenty of people around the world still being abused some even committing suicide that would agree.Hell we have only given them hundreds of years to get their shit together.How much more patience should be relied on?.Many people dont have forever,we all die.

Jim said...

Great topic, and thank you. I agree that having a stratigic focus is a very good and helpful idea.

Here's what I think we should focus on:

1. Furthering the progress of Humanistic and compassionate programs like Universal Health Care. (This means -- "NO MORE BABY EATING!" You hear me atheists?)

2. Encouraging programs in schools that promote critical reasoning, and eliminate the Christian influence in our textbooks.

3. Show the world that atheists and skeptics are healthy, happy, contributing people. How about an Atheist Soup Line, or School Library fundaisers?

4. Stand up for reason, and against irrational religion--wherever we encounter it.

Darren said...

There's always nihilism, I suppose, but you're going to have a hell of a time getting people behind that. Otherwise, atheism really doesn't have an "end game". Sorry, guys.

M. Tully said...

John,

Great post and great insights from the comments. My first impression was was the same as several of the commenters, "Here we go again, trying to herd cats."

But after more careful consideration I find myself in the same camp as Jesse. Let's promote the positiveness of skepticism.

No matter what the ideology of our fellow Americans, the one truth that holds steady was stated by George Patton, "America loves a winner." Deep down inside, when push comes to shove, we choose the (perceived) pragmatic solution.

I had this personally driven home recently in a discussion with a coworker over the moral legitimacy of torture (I honestly couldn't believe we were having this discussion in the 21st century). What swayed him was not any affront to humanity, but rather whether or not it was an effective way to reach a desired end.

My idea to promote skepticism? An add campaign...

...Empiricism, it works!

journey said...

John, You sound like an evangelical evangelist! Kidding aside, I think there it is human nature to want to congregate and join together. I for one, as a new "deconvert" will be looking to find a way to unit with others of like mind, so your interest is of interest to me. Looking back and evaluating the reason I became a Christian in the first place, had a great deal to do with the need to assimlate in to "group think."

Gandolf said...

Hi journey ,i dont know if its so much of a "WANT to congregate and join together"

Maybe it amounts to more of a NEED to.

In fact i think that atheists over all dont have the tendency to want to create or belong to groups,kind of shows up in the fact that not many such groups have actually been formed doesnt it?

That doesnt mean that there has not always been many atheists throughout the world though does it!.

No personally i think its more that atheists now see there is a NEED to create more of a combined voice.

Its not really something they necessarily want or are used to being though.

But then mostly crowds that gather together to oust an oppressive regime out of power in some country for instance,most of them have better things they would each much rather occupy their personal lives with.Many things most likely a whole lot more fun.
But its the importance of the matters that effect them also, that makes them all take note and decide they NEED to take an interest and become involved too.Its the fact that they know unless they all do mass together,then their personal lone voices alone over and against all the combined power of the well organized oppressive regime group.Is never likely to be heard or amount to any change or ever make any difference at all.

Nothing is ever likely to change much unless they do get involved as a group also themselves.

Often i see on blogs Christian folk trying to poke fun back at atheists, suggesting they are becoming fundamentalists and evangelical evangelists for atheism etc blah blah!.
But i suggest thats just a ploy for a counter reaction to the interest thats been happening with regards to the dislike of to much religious rule.The interest that is present in matters of just how honest and truthful these religions and Gods really are, that often have such effects on all our lives whether we choose to believe them or not.

Of course there is many reasons why some faithful folk see this interest as a danger ,one is that many honestly believe we ALL need to believe and have faith in THEIR god/s.

Another reason is there is much money involved,or some see it as a way to control.No doubt there is other reasons too.

But i suggest ,mostly the atheist movement is not at all about becoming a religious faith after all at it roots is in non belief!.

The movement that is here is more about a need,not a want at all.

It actually goes against our beliefs!,which is why we have found it so hard to become involved as a group.We are types who mostly think people should have FREEDOMS and ALL try to get along,not be confined to specialist groups and have to many rules.People should mostly do and believe what they wish as long as it doesnt adversely effect anyone else.

For starters there is a NEED in some countries for FREEDOM, for those who live in fear of even (expressing their disbelief) !.There is a NEED in this WORLD for beliefs to STOP being so often involved in the roots of war and intolerance and control.

There is so many reasons for a NEED for people even of no faith to take an interest in matters of faith and belief.Whether faithful folk wish to (open their eyes) to see it as a fact or not.They may laugh and try to poke fun at us,but who then is still really being the blind fool?.Do they really comprehend the full importance of matters at hand.

Speaking for myself, honestly i find it so bloody boring!.I find it so boring that religion and faith has effected my life so much,even though i dont have faith.As a person of non belief i have no wish for everyone to be religiously the same,im quite happy to just be happy with the folks i find myself happy with .Spending time with them and letting others do the same.

However peoples faiths we are often only born into, dont always allow this.

Religions has adversely effected my life and my kids lives also, and i can see the NEED to get involved with others to bring about some future change.Religion seems to be something that tries to make people all robots,controlling any disbelievers.Making all manner of rules with which they would have all to have to adhere to if they could.

Nothing evangelical involved Journey , but by jove their is plenty of PASSION fired up by a great NEED :).

Journey, people like myself who know very little of scripture to recite who are more mere logical simple folk,need people like John and Harry and many others here and elsewhere to confront the faithful on the grounds of matters of indoctrinated scripture etc.