As the name of the hoped-for movement states, my interest in the free-thought spectrum is this one specific thing: Atheism. Everything else flows from that, in my view, and a coordinated effort to empower and expand atheism will throw off benefits to every one of the sub-genres of the larger field of free-thought.
Regarding which, here are a couple of ideas I’d toss into the mix for One Billion Atheists by 2025:
Atheist Leadership Academy
Years back when I was working on a magazine in It-Shall-Remain-Nameless Town, there was this thing I was invited to apply to, the Nameless Town Leadership Academy.
You had to be sponsored, and my boss sponsored me. You have to fill out a lengthy application, and I filled out the lengthy application. You had to wait while a large Most Secret Membership Board studied your application, read your applicant essay, evaluated your educational and financial credentials — hell, for all I know checked your socks and underwear drawer for its highly-indicative April-fresh scent — and then weighed in on whether or not you were proper Nameless Town material. —I wasn’t.
It looked like nothing so much as a school for wannabe-rich Republicans. They had annual classes of 25 who paid dearly for the privilege of being lectured, led, and groomed in the philosophy of the radically pro-business founders and cheerleaders of the thing, all under the guise of “community service.” It seemed like not a week passed that the local newspaper didn’t have a picture of the smiling students posing with local power-suited bankers and real estate agents, developers and elected officials, at the site of the next development, the next big deal, the next Great Big Social Concern.
NOTHING happened in the town without their approval and involvement. If you weren’t aligned with them, you were a protester, a nutcase, a nobody, relegated to the backwaters of Nameless Town flow.
Say what you will, they got things done. Now and again, some of it was even objectively good.
Which is good reason for the Atheist movement to try it — a coordinated effort aimed at turning out educated, aware, involved and motivated atheist leaders in every city, state, country and corner of the world. Leading, coaching, training, conferring, problem solving, assisting in creating stronger, more focused and more strategic activism worldwide.
Something else should happen first, though. A …
Strategic Planning Conference
The goal of a Strategic Planning Conference would be to discuss and agree on strategy, both worldwide and regionally — Europe, North America, South America, Asia, and especially the Muslim world — for the next 10 to 20 years.
So far, atheist leaders, what there are of them, are a pretty scattered bunch. There are activists within the free-thought movement who champion science and reason, transgender rights, racial equality, feminism, gender equality, activism in the Muslim world, a great deal more — either as separate issues or en masse. There are bloggers and blog commenters, book writers, professional scientists, university professors, philosophers, speakers, artists, comedians, musicians, videographers, lawyers and clients, swag merchants, local organizations, and a great deal more (see the upcoming post on Reason Riders motorcycle club!) — not to mention the huge audience of readers, convention attendees, book buyers and quiet, private rebels.
The effect is definite, but far slower and less directed than it might be. I worry that the entire thing is fragile in certain critical ways, that a single catastrophic event could set the clock back on free-thought consolidation by years, decades, or even longer. (*)
Certainly all of these people talk to each other at conferences and events, in scattershot emails and calls, and certainly local groups tend to work together on fundraising and events. But as far as coordinated large-scale action, I’m not seeing it.
I’ll freely admit I’m out of the loop on major atheist events of the past couple of years. After my Dad died, my reading of many of the major atheist blogs and organizational communiques dropped off.
But again, I don’t see the world-spanning, cross-border organizational action I’d like to see. The Richard Dawkins Foundation comes closest to what I have in mind, but I don’t know that even they have organized the sort of planning conferences I imagine, seeking to take some of the disparate voices of the movement and aim them at a large-scale uber-goal such as One Billion Atheists by 2025.
I would dearly love to see it. It would be even better to be a part of it.
( * I also worry at the trend which consolidates major voices of the movement into blog networks aimed at income rather than broader matters. I’ve seen good blogs descend into the rapid-fire posting of outrage click-bait rather than the calmer ideation and analysis that informs and educates readers to the benefit of the larger movement. )