It's good to be back. I apologize to anyone who has shown up to the pub over the last month only to find it "closed". I also thank you for making a return visit. Where have I been? To be honest, I have spent the last month in the haze of an anxiety attack. Yep, anxiety is my chronic condition and the last month has been a nightmare. The good news is that 2011 appears to have ushered in a renewed state of reality and calm (at least some more prolonged periods) and I am energized to get back to contributing to the cause of reason, logic, and rational thought (oddly enough, three concepts that I lost sight of personally over the last month).
So what does this all have to do with today's post? Well, I last left you with a hint towards my next rambling: should the atheist movement take an atom bomb or pin prick approach to spreading its word? What's the difference? The atom bomb approach is akin to "The New Atheism" and is an all-out war on all religion aimed at disproving and eliminating all theistic and supernatural belief. A great example of this approach is Richard Dawkins' film, The Root of All Evil . When I say "pin prick" I am referring to an approach that is not any more tolerant of theistic beliefs but much gentler in its approach to opening the eyes of those believers who are ignoring their own skepticism and disbelief. My first use of the phrase "atom bombs versus pin pricks" was in response to a post by "Godless Girl" (http://www.godlessgirl.com/2010/11/atheism-isnt-a-big-deal/). Her argument was that atheism is just not a big deal. It simply means that you believe in one less deity than a religious person. I commented that there is place for both the "atom bombs" and "pin pricks": atom bombs on a macro level, fighting the systemic permeation of religion into our social and political institutions by making atheism a "big deal"; and pin pricks, on a micro level like Godless Girl's blog, spreading the uneventful, normalness of atheism.
So what does this have to do with my recent journey through the abyss of anxiety? Well at some of my lowest points I thought of people who are faced with personal struggles, whether it be poor health, loss, or poverty and how it is natural to look for something positive to grasp onto. I was feeling it at several points. I could see how, when presented with the support of organized religion and the concept of "god", people in the darkest of low points feel compelled to believe and be a part of a greater existence. The concept of community and supernatural saviour that comes with committing to religion is understandably attractive to someone looking to be propelled out of any type of suffering.
The atheist community has an opportunity to reach out to those who are looking to be lifted out of a personal mire. While we cannot offer a supernatural fix I believe we can offer something better. A fix based on the power of the collective human good. A fix that explores the capabilities of our own mind and personal strength. A practical fix that relies on that which already exists within a person rather than that which hypothetically exists "somewhere out there". All of this with the same sense of community that organized religion has perfected.
For too long atheism has carried a negative connotation, and while the noble (and necessary) efforts of Mr. Dawkins, Mr. Hitchens, and the like will surely continue to be misinterpreted by those afraid of the possibility of their truth, local atheist organizations have an opportunity to create positive "pin prick" communities, reaching out to those in need while spreading the message of logic, rational thought, and reason. For every bus sign declaring there is no god we should post another sign advertising our local soup kitchen. For every humanist meeting aimed at debating morality without god there should be another proving that morality through charitable activities. For atheism to lay the roots we so desperately need it to, it must begin to focus equally on what does exist in this world: atheists who care about their communities.