April 17, 2024

On Atheist Warm Fuzzies

By Lilandra

I suspect atheists experience less warm, fuzzy moments than theists.  A lot of us are philosophically opposed to something like bowing our heads with family, and friends in prayer before we break bread.  A skeptical mind can be quite the buzz-kill to believer fellowship activities.  In real life, I sense that I make religious acquaintances, friends, and family uncomfortable when I won’t at least bow my head when they are praying thanking an invisible deity for food.

However as a former Christian, I remember the campfire moments -voices raised together asking god to Kumbaya. In retrospect, the plaintive plea asking god to come by here seems naive, because frankly he never really did.  Can you imagine being the sole, skeptical person at that campfire trying to disguise the fact in order to be accepted that you didn’t believe any god was present?

I sometimes wonder what it must have been like to be Thomas Jefferson.  One of the few people of his time that didn’t believe that their god wasn’t telling them to drive out or even kill the heathen or heretic of a different sect. It must have been maddening.  His disappointment with the Puritan persecution of Quakers influenced his view of secular government.

So where does an atheist go to satisfy human social needs for the feeling of acceptance and fellowship?  Where do you go to feel the love? Speaking as an introvert, I find large groups draining to my underdeveloped social skills.  However here in the South, religion is ever present in most social interactions; it can make even the most confirmed loner feel isolated.  It feels good to sometimes go somewhere where at least you don’t have to watch what you say.

Recently, my husband and I went to the Dallas Gay Pride parade to march with The Metroplex Atheists.  The Metroplex Atheists received cheers from the happy crowd all along the route.  Some of the regular members were telling me how different it was from the Independence Day parade.  They said that they have been booed and told that if they thought it was hot today wait until they went to Hell.  One even told me that parents cover their children’s eyes as the Metroplex Atheists go by.

A church float followed ours that was apparently welcoming to homosexuals.  I couldn’t help but wonder why gay people would go to even a gay-friendly church given that most of the discrimination against LGBTs is religiously motivated. I remember when we protested Gov. Rick Perry’s Prayer Rally.  LGBT rights groups were there to protest the American Family Association’s religiously motivated homophobia.  They didn’t want to ally with atheists.

Someone adept with photoshop sees Aron somewhat differently than I do.

LGBT Christians puzzle me.  In the worst cases, it must be something akin to Battered Woman’s syndrome. It is an abusive relationship where you are convinced that the abuse is deserved because there is something wrong with you.  You are sick and need god to be better.  In extreme cases, it can be likened to Stockholm syndrome where you adopt their mentality in order to survive.  “Former” gay pastors are an example that comes to mind.

However, looking on the LGBT friendly church float, I think for most gay theists it must be the Christian fellowship and community they are accustomed to.  Again, I have fond memories from my childhood of the warm fellowships around the fire with other Christians.  It can be hard to leave that security blanket behind.

What does atheism have to offer in exchange? Many atheists insist that being an atheist should mean a nonbelief in god/s and nothing else. That is cold comfort to someone leaving behind the only community they have ever known.   A few others insist that there are limited resources in our community and those should be spent on more worthy causes like the fight against theocracy and furthering science education.  Those are inarguably worthy causes.

However, I believe the more the merrier.  I don’t believe it exhausts our resources in the slightest to discuss expanding our community to be more welcoming to women, racial minorities, and LGBT people.  Not in an exploitive way like theists have done.  For every warm Christian memory I have, I have many others of Christian authorities corrupted by absolute power over people threatened with Hell not to question their authority.

I’ll never forget my young friend, who was molested at a church house cleaning fundraiser. Soon after, the 40 year old man was made youth minister by my pastor, who excused his behavior by blaming the victim.  To this day, she is an active church member, who would likely shun me for being an atheist.

If we ever expect that kind of exploitive power of the church to wane; we are going to need to be more welcoming to its victims.  How do you build a community from scratch without a traditional culture?  That is a more worthy starting point that groups in my area like the Metroplex Atheists and Fellowship of Freethought are already starting on.  If you’re in the south, you can also commune with other community-deprived atheists at the Texas Freethought Convention.  If you are a ‘dictionary atheist’, who believes that atheists should only concern themselves with nonbelief; you can at least get out of the way.

33 thoughts on “On Atheist Warm Fuzzies

    1. But women aren’t instructed to be killed because they are women. The ‘few odd mentions of homosexuality’ in the bible do.

  1. What I’ve heard when I’ve asked the same question in the form of “How can you be gay and a Republican?” or “How can you be female and support Todd Akin?”, is this:

    “We’re not single issue voters.”

    And at first, this seemed like a reasonable reply. After all, we are more than our gender, religion, or sexual preference. A gay Christian may find the warmth of Jesus more important than the ability to marry.

    But then I realized: This is a group that views your whole category of people as lesser. As not equal to “Real Americans”. And even if the group has some other great messages, how can anyone support an ideology which views them as less than a real person? I think at that point, you have to take the good ideas that drew you to the group, and then start your own group that keeps those but loses the terrible stuff.

    Obviously Christianity is very fractured, and I think the Unitarians have done a reasonable job of this. I’m still waiting for more of it in the political sphere; the Republican party has some good ideas that need to be separated from the (admittedly somewhat religious) muck and mire in which they are ensconced.

    1. Biblical Christianity is not something you can pick and choose. Throw out all the racist, homophobic, misogynistic, genocidal, war-mongering and what you are left with in the Bible is trite hokum. There is no baby when you throw out the bathwater.

  2. I completely agree. As Atheists, we know what it’s like to be “outcast”, shunned, told that we don’t belong, that we’re not “true Americans”, etc. If anyone knows and understands what it’s like to be “on the outside”, it’s (1) the LGBT community and (2) the Atheist community. (Imagine being both LGBT and Atheist! Wow!) In addition to this, people who are thinking that this religion stuff is “all a bunch of crap” are seriously afraid that if they give it up, they won’t have any social circles at all! Unfortunately, this is totally true for many!

    We can do better! We know what it’s like and we can help make sure that it’s not that way for others! Creating a loving, caring, inviting, social circle should definitely be among the top priorities of any Atheist group. Let the only uniting attribute in the group be that “we don’t believe in this God stuff” and let everything else vary widely. We can show all of those religions what “love and brother/sister-hood” should really be like. By discarding all of the religious bigotry, we produce a really friendly and helpful world where everyone is welcome!

    At least that’s what I strive for, personally. 🙂

  3. I’ve always understood the “warm fuzzy” phenomenon to be caused by the body releasing endorphins — natural pain-relieving / “feelgood” hormones which are chemically similar to an extract of the poppy plant — in response to some action which benefits the population, according to instinctive programming.

    I can vouch for the qualitative similarity.

  4. I don’t understand how it ‘wastes our resources’ to strive to be the most decent human beings in everything we do. Yes, I believe that means opposing the irrationality that is harmfully manifested in religion, but it also means giving a shit about injustice and inequality.

    It’s great holding lofty ideals of a better world for all, as one without religion would undoubtedly be, and pushing forward towards better science education, and just genuine education in general, untarnished by dogma that flies in the face of what is actually, demonstrably real. This does not mean, however, that we should not be outraged when we see people being treated poorly right now in the here-and-now, and we should express that outrage and make sure that the abusers know that it is not OK in our book for them to behave as they are.

    If you’re an atheist who doesn’t give a damn about issues of social injustice then it’s little different from a theist who accepts Evolution; you’ve got one thing right, well done, have a cookie.

    You’re right, we need to be the most decent human beings we can, and that will indeed make us more welcoming to those who would leave religion behind were it not for the sense of community it brings, but that should not be our prime motivation; being the most decent human beings we can ought to be.

  5. I’m a gay man and an atheist (in Texas no less). The disconnect between how I perceived my sexuality and how I was taught to perceive it is primarily what drove me into investigating other religious traditions and eventually figuring out that none of them made much sense. It’s weird, but it’s often easier to come out as gay than it is to tell people I’m an atheist.

    I get my warm fuzzies/endorphins from exercise and meditation (learned while looking at Buddhism), both of which come without hellfire or a collection plate.

      1. I don’t, very often. I’d love to see the atheist equivalent of youth groups/church potlucks/mission trips become more common. I’m thinking of the medical mission trips I went on to Guyana in my teens. Even then I remember thinking about how many more people we could help if we didn’t close up shop mid afternoon to get ready for the “crusade” thing in the evening.

        My current warm fuzzies are qualitatively similar, but are by no means similar in form to the social activities that kept me bonded to my christian peers when I was younger. I’m not terribly social, but it would be nice to have the option to on occasion “have fellowship activities” with other atheists.

        1. Are you close to any of the Texas cities? If so, which one? I know that Dallas and Austin have regular atheist fellowships like potlucks, restaurants, pubs, protests etc. Will we see you at Texas Freethought Convention in October? They have dropped the price this year.

          1. Honestly, never heard of Texas Freethought Convention before. I will look it up shortly! And I’m not too far from Dallas, but I work nights, which makes it hard to show up for evening social activities. But your post has gotten me to start looking for opportunities I wasn’t aware of before, so thanks!

  6. As an ex-Christian atheist, I can say I haven’t noticed any drop in the warm fuzzies. If there is a drop, it’s mostly a conversion of warm fuzzies to warm crunchies because knowing why something makes me feel good makes it feel more substantial and less vague.

    But in disclosure, I don’t recall feeling anything good from glurge as a Christian.

    1. Depends on where you are. When I lived in Odessa,TX they had Huckabeee meetupgroups but nothing for nonbelievers. The closest they had was a Unitarian church.

  7. The only problem I have with Aron is his attitude towards Marmite.Actually I prefer Vegemite, but I fear thats a distinction he may not make. Dawkins has biology, Hitchens (so good) had rhetoric, but Aron has implaccable reason…love you guys to bits.I’m getting old now, but also tired. Aron has been a great support because he is non-negotiable…love it, and it helps me. Where Hitchens said ‘that which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence’…good though it is…Aron responded to a question about why he didn’t believe in god with “why would I?”. That encapsulates everything.I suspect you understand, but the switch from defending my disbelief to getting the other side to defend their belief is enormous, and gratifying. More important is that is not the case; this is a search for a truth that corresponds to reality. You both articulate my thoughts better than I do…so I plagarise…thanks. Where shouls I send the Vegemite for Aron…poor bloke doesn’t know what he’s missing…just takes practice 🙂

    1. Yeah slave owning was bad, you can’t excuse that. However, it is quite remarkable to have a rational mind in an age where your neighbors thought it was reasonable to brand, crop the ears of, exile, and even execute members of competing sects.

  8. I was delighted to see “warm fuzzies” as I feel and use the phrase much, perhaps because I’m into the furry fandom. Anyway, may our communities continue to grow. Warm fuzzies!

  9. Toronto has a number of social groups that gather for god-free friendlies, as well as a local branch of the Center for Inquiry, which has all kinds of talks, movie nights and other things.

    The other option is organize something yourself. Host a dinner party, or a board game night.

  10. So where does an atheist go to satisfy human social needs for the feeling of acceptance and fellowship? Where do you go to feel the love?

    Speaking as an introvert, I go to the pub. Yes, it’s really that simple. I live in the Czech Republic and regular Church-going Christians are really a minority here. The vast majority of the population are either atheists, general nonbelievers (the “hadn’t thought about it much” kind) or believe in some form of “God is love” or “life-force” or New Age or “fate” without it having much impact on their daily lives.

    Looking at the diverse groups people I know here, they satisfy human social needs very simply: there is a fun and (mostly) healthy pub culture, people spend time in recreation areas in the country (“cottages”), and form ad-hoc social groups (boating clubs, gaming clubs, hobby groups, ex-school-mate groups, work colleage groups). It’s just not a fact that if you remove religiously mandated cultural involvement, you will have less social interactions. Instead these interactions are more varied, the social groups more like loose and randomly interconnected networks than a Church group would be.

    Since I used to be part of the Christian minority and my family was part of the local parish “community” I can understand the feeling of “How do you build a community from scratch without a traditional culture?”. For me personally the Christian mandated community was basically for the older generation, one heard the sermons and occasionally wandered around a campfire bored by the lack of anything remotely relevant to present culture. But as soon as I started interacting more actively with non-believers during the process of becoming an atheist, I discovered – wow the communities are out there. In fact all I had to do was just sit next to a stranger in the pub and suddenly I was part of a group and discovering numerous communities, having warm fuzzing moments.

    So no, “atheists experience less warm, fuzzy moments than theists” is a false statement from my experience. Individuals breaking out from a strict religious hierarchy or cultural hegemony may well feel alone, but atheism as such has nothing to do with it.

  11. My experinece in the UK is very similar to that of =8)-DX in the Czech Republic. Remember that the US is uniquely backward in the Western world in terms of the sheer influence and pervasiveness of religiosity – whilst “what church do you go to?” is, I’m led to understand, a fairly common conversational question on meeting someone in the US, it would get you funny looks if you asked it of a stranger in the civilised world. The number of people who see their church as the hub of their social lives is a minority, and even many (most?) churchgoers have social groups and activities totally separate from their religious lives. Since we’re not as oppressed as atheists in the US, fewer of us see atheism as a defining or even major facet of who we are, and I suspect there are actually fewer gatherings of atheists (qua atheists) here than in the US (NB: this suspicion is pulled entirely from my arse with no evidence). We just get our warm fuzzies from getting together with friends or people who share a hobby or interest.

    On the other side of the coin, although there is a lot of prejudice against LGBT people from religions, there are christian sects that are more reasonable, and the LGBT people in those sects (rightly) make the point that being less accepting will cost them members. I guess these are less common in the US. It’s a little old, but here‘s a speech made to the General Synod of the Anglican church in Canada which paved the way for advances in the way that gay people are treated within that church. I may not agree with his views on the existence of deities, but I’m proud of my uncle Chris.

  12. You’re absolutely right, Lilandra about the need to actually meet up in communities of people who feel kinship and enjoy each other’s company as a base line.

    One thing I think we can all learn from the ill-feeling of the past weeks is the limits of electronic media to build, or define, a community.

    A wide community can be built quickly online, but not a deep one. People start by feeling kinship and a sense of belonging, perhaps unrealistically, then this can sour because the means of communication don’t allow a satisfactory way of resolving disagreements and keeping a sense of perspective. And when the sense of ‘belonging’ is threatened, then people get upset and lash out, thus provoking the exact same feelings in the target.

    People are much less precious in the flesh in my experience.

    I wonder if members of Metroplex Atheists for example, can disagree with each other, perhaps vehemently, without anybody’s sense of belonging or identity being threatened. If so, then they have acheived a level of community that doesn’t seem to be available to an online only community.

    A good example of these limitations, would be your request to dictionary atheists to get out of the way. This request is only necessary because of its context online, and because it refers to online activity. In the context of a flesh-and-blood community it wouldn’t make sense, because either the dictionary atheists wouldn’t be part of it and therefore wouldn’t be in a position to obstruct anything, or there might be individuals who could contribute to, and be constructive members of, your group despite being dictionary atheists, so long as they are amenable to reason, fun to be around and considerate to others’ feelings. There wouldn’t necessarily be a divide between dictionary and non-dictionary atheists in your group at all, because a flesh-and-blood group is well placed to accomodate a diversity of views and opinions about a range of topics, and enjoy chewing them over in a friendly fashion. It would also give you an excellent opportunity to change their minds by including them in activism to the level they feel comfortable.

    So, yes, let’s take a leaf out of Metroplex Atheists book and meet up together. Hear! Hear!. Still not sure about the leather underpants though!

    – Phillip

  13. “Many atheists insist that being an atheist should mean a nonbelief in god/s and nothing else.”

    Well technically that’s exactly what Atheist does mean… the word has a definition. If a believer realises they no longer believe but wants to keep the good values and the sense of community, become a secular Humanist.

    This, btw, is why I think A+ is a good idea… though admittedly I may have misunderstood, since I never quite got all thefuror surrounding it. Because Atheist is a way of saying “I do not believe in God(s)” and secular Humanist is a way of saying “I am a humanist who believes in the separation of Church and State”. A+, as I see it, means “I am an Atheist and a secular Humanist”. Which suits me fine.

  14. @=8)-DX

    “So where does an atheist go to satisfy human social needs for the feeling of acceptance and fellowship? Where do you go to feel the love?

    … I go to the pub. Yes, it’s really that simple. I live in the Czech Republic and regular Church-going Christians are really a minority here.”

    Ditto for me here in the UK.

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