Author Dan Arel
My focus is on the religious attack on science and the ill effects it has on our children, particularly in our educational system. Proper scientific education through free thought and critical thinking is key to our future. | @danarel
Martin Pribble, a much respected voice in the Australian secular community has started a new endeavor called The Not Alone Project. This project is a place for atheists who have not yet been able to come out to friends or family to come together and share their stories and receive and offer support.
It may not seem like a scary thing to do for many people, what’s the big deal about saying you don’t believe in god(s)? The truth is, however, people lose friends and family members over this announcement. Relationships are lost, some have lost jobs and social status. Is it any surprise it’s career suicide for a politician to announce non-belief? “Coming out” as it has become known (borrowing from the LGBT community), is a scary thing for many people. When you’re unsure of how others will react, and if they do react badly, who do you turn to?
The Not Alone Project is a community full of those you can turn to. There are people who can offer you advice on dealing with being shunned, or helping you find the right words to say “Mom, Dad, I’m an atheist”. In the following interview with Martin Pribble, I’ve asked him a few questions about this project and his thoughts on what makes it so important.
What made you decide that you needed to start The Not Alone Project?About 3 weeks ago I saw a tweet from a girl named Vanessa, who said she was about to announce her atheism to the world on Facebook. She was unsure of how to go about it, and was asking advice from the #atheism hashtag. I wasn’t following her at the time, but I answered her with what advice I had (having never been indoctrinated, I realized I didn’t have much to offer but support), and it then became clear to me that I really couldn’t give advice in these situations.
About 2 weeks later, I saw that Brandon Marlett was about to post his own “coming out” letter to Facebook, and suddenly the idea struck me, how about a project to help people in these situations. I was aware that the Richard Dawkins Foundation already had the “Out Campaign”, and I know there are many others who post pieces about atheist “coming outs”, but I hadn’t seen one that was made exclusively for this purpose.
I thought about it for a while, and the name “Not Alone” seemed apt, since it’s the isolation, or fear of isolation, that is of greatest concern to people considering coming out:
“How will my family react?”
“Will I become a pariah in society?”
“Will I lose my job?”
These are the questions I wanted to help allay. So once I had the name, I designed the logo, and started the blog.
Why do you think personally that society is so un-accepting of atheism?
It’s definitely rooted in the wider society’s insistence that religion is the cause and root of all that is good and worthy in humanity. Anything without this is, of course, evil. We as atheists recognize that this is not true, for often we are much more even-headed and fair when it comes to decisions of a moral or ethical nature, and see the true importance of life, especially since we each get only one life. This flies in the face of what religion teaches, which is that “good” can only come from religion, that if you follow the doctrines you get another life. Religions also teach us that humanity is created broken, and offers the “quick fix”, which in turn has deep psychological ramifications. And these are tenacious ideas, for not only do they claim to tell us why we are far from perfect, they offer us a free way out, at least psychologically. So people base their lives on these ideas in such a way that to be without this “part”, they would be without the ability to be “saved from themselves.” They then project this insecurity onto the people around them, and voila, the atheist becomes the worst of all possible creatures.
Many are scared to call atheism a community, given that really it’s just a word to describe someone who does not believe in gods. However, there is a huge community made up of atheists ready to offer support to those coming out. Do you think atheists should be more accepting of the idea of being a community?
One of the things that first attracted me to be an atheist commentator was the community. There were so many people out there, all ready and willing to debunk any and all ridiculous claims. Recent days have shown a different picture, with divisions being thrown up between those who just want to be supported by like-minded people and those who conflate atheism with social justice issues, and also the issues surrounding sexual harassment at conferences. Much of this has caused a fracturing of the community I once saw as a single united front against the tyranny of religious oppression, but these days there seems to be as many “enemies” within as there are on the outside.
Part of the reason I set up Not Alone was in response to this fracturing. Especially for those new to the “community”, there needs to be places where they can actually experience that community. I hope this project will help to do that.
What do you think are some of the best ways to support a new atheist?
Well, I guess giving them a voice is important. We all have questions, we all have concerns, and we all have uncertainties, but for many who are new to atheism, there is so much to learn. As a bit of an “elder” in the community, I really get a kick from pointing a new atheist to a good book, or a concept, or to be told I have made a difference in their life or perceptions or ideas. Not that it’s important that we all think the same way, far from it. But to be told where information is, rather than having to find it all for yourself, takes a big weight off. It relieves uncertainty and helps with the seemingly overwhelming amount of information out there.
What are your overall goals of The Not Alone Project? What do you see in it’s future?
To be honest, I don’t really have any. If it’s successful, the project will continue to do what it does. If not, it will just become another skeleton in the internet graveyard of good intentions. Who knows what the future holds? That said, it does feel nice to be giving back to the community, even in a small way
This project has the potential to change lives, and for the better. To have a place to call home and start a connection with a wonderful community of people is always welcome in the atheist, secular and or humanist world.
Head over, check out The Not Alone Project, share your story of offer support to those in need. This is humanism in action. This is how we are good without god.