Atheism. It used to be a taboo word; a word people would whisper in horror, causing dropped jaws and deep frown lines on foreheads at its very mention. Atheists used to be such a tiny minority that it was nearly impossible to meet one. Any mention of the concept could conjure up images that scene from RoseMary’s Baby; the one where Ruth Gordon tells Mia Farrow how wonderful it is that she’s carrying Satan’s Baby: “He chose you, honey! From all the women in the world to be the mother of his only living son!” she said, an evil and disconcerting smile spreading across her face.
There are some people who still think that atheists worship Satan or participate in infant sacrifices. Little do they know that atheists don’t believe in Satan because they don’t believe in the supernatural, and most of them just adore babies. Now, some of those odd and misinformed stereotypes are being dispelled because social media is growing atheism by the millions. There’s strength in numbers, as they say, and atheism has been expanding massively over the last ten years.
Even more notable than the jump in atheism is the increase in people who say they simply don’t adhere to any religion. A recent PEW study found that 20% of Americans now say they are “unaffiliated” with any specific faith or set of religious practices. 20% of Americans is a huge number: over 63 million people. Out of that number, roughly one third are atheist or agnostic. That’s over 21 million non-believing “heathens.”
Such a large number has undoubtedly been helped along by social media, especially Facebook. A search of the words “atheist,” “agnostic,” “skeptic,” “God” and “secular,” reveals close to 100 atheistic Facebook pages ranging in membership from a few thousand to a quarter million people.
Some of the pages are dedicated to a specific cause, such as promoting a safe haven for Syrian atheists or raising awareness that there are a huge number of black atheists. Some are designed to share information, news, opinion, commentary and humor among non-believers. One of these pages is Hammer The Gods, a group whose mission it is to:
Wield the hammer of logic, reason, and scientific evidence against claims of gods, religion and the religious
Promote Atheism in a positive manner
Discuss arguments for and against god(s), and refine those arguments for successful deployment on and off line
Analysis and discussion of arguments for and against the existence of gods and successful and failed arguments
Encourage Intellectual Honesty and intellectual atheism
Help Atheists and Agnostics to come out if it is safe to do so
Reinforce a strict separation between church and state
Promote equality and human rights
Share resources that assist in accomplishing these goals
The group has nearly 36,000 members and welcomes everyone for friendly discussion, sharing of information and “reasonable debate.” Its mission was conceived by page founder Ryan Burkhart, who takes a balanced approach to developing the page’s goals. He feels that assessing the correct communication style is the optimal way to share ideas about atheism with those who want to know more, and that the best approach is not to be rude or judgmental toward people who are religious. If someone wants to convey atheism properly, he says, they should stop to consider that the person on the receiving end of the ideas is a human being. Burkhart writes on Hammer the Gods:
Logic and facts are a necessity, but trying to sway others toward your position with dismissiveness and/or degradation is likely no more effective than trying to render an honest conversion to Christianity, by threat of torture or being burned at the stake.
It is also a great service to humanity and “the movement” to recognize that, however willingly or unwillingly a religious person came to hold their beliefs/disbeliefs, they are victims of religion – just like many atheists once were.
It is good to demonstrate the diversity of humanity among the “atheist community”, but we also must keep our eye on the brass ring. Being logically consistent, evidence-based critical thinkers is not something we can inspire and instill in others, if we fail to demonstrate those attributes in ourselves.
Another page, the Thinking Atheist, says they are a group which encourages people to talk about ideas, exchange information and meet other like-minded people:
This is a community for atheists, agnostics, and skeptics to exchange ideas, discuss issues, explore challenges, make friends and have some laughs. This is a proselytizing, preaching and troll-free zone.
While the vast majority of religious people simply inherited the faith of their parents, or adopted a blind allegiance to a comforting placebo, there are some who have legitimate questions and seek answers. This site certainly doesn’t have all the answers, but the quest for “truth” is something we embrace.
Indeed, when reviewing many of the atheist, agnostic and skeptics pages on Facebook, it is clear to see the members are interested in the free exchange of ideas, a focus on critical thinking and the prospect of raising awareness about some of the harm that can come from religion.
Facebook isn’t the only social media outlet growing atheism by the millions though; Twitter also has atheist members and groups that send out daily Tweets, news and information. According to the journal Physiological Science, social media is a significant factor in the spread of ideas because our brains are hardwired to want to share information with other people. Atheism has certainly caught on, big time, with millions of members across at least 100 Facebook group pages, and the number of people joining these groups grows every day.
As the concepts of atheism are spread through social media, the numbers of people who will become non-believers will undoubtedly increase. Some experts predict that religion will die out entirely in the next 50 years or so, and social media will surely play a role in its demise.
An editorial by Rebecca Savastio