Why Atheists are a minority

This week I observed a perfect example of why Atheism continues to be a minority path, even in contemporary secular societies.

When a book advancing a positive apologetic for Atheism was reviewed on Friendly Atheist, it set off a flurry of negative responses. A positive agenda, of saying what Atheists are for, and not just what they’re against, was just too much against the grain. It only became a source of division.

The Institute for Humanist Studies makes a similar observation:

We need to satisfy the same wants, needs, and desires that religion does. But if all we offer is criticism, argument, and anger, very few will listen to us. Unless atheists and agnostics somehow can satisfy the same needs, wants, and desires that are satisfied by religion, we will always be a very small minority.

When the believer asks, “What does the Atheistic and Agnostic life offer me and why is your way of life better?,” we should have some great answers. We need to distance ourselves from the usual answer: “It’s a more sensible, intelligent view of life, and a better way of life” — because it is not necessarily so.

In my own quest over many years, I have been disappointed in what I’ve found as an alternative to religion, whether it was a group of atheists, humanists, secular humanists, freethinkers, or others. They always seemed angry, spending most of their time defending atheism, and criticizing religion and a belief in God.

Believers, in contrast, usually had pleasant dispositions and were involved in all kinds of enjoyable, and uplifting community activities. Adding to the contrast was the fact that you could drive around on any day and see tons of cars in church parking lots, yet you had a difficult time getting 30 atheists to attend a monthly meeting. Atheism may be right, but it was losing the battle with religion. “Why?” I asked myself.

My answer is that most non-believers 1) have failed to understand that religions satisfy very important needs, wants, and desires, 2) don’t study and analyze how and why religions satisfy those needs, wants, and desires, and 3) do not work conscientiously to come up with a viable alternative that can satisfy most or all of those needs, wants, and desires that religion fulfills.

9 thoughts on “Why Atheists are a minority

  1. Atheists are negative by definition. If you define a group of people by what they don’t have in common how can you expect them to say what they are for?
    It’s like asking what colour all non-red things are, or the sound of silence. Can all non-iPod users gather for user group meetings?
    Negative qualities are, well, negative.


  2. Well see, I wouldn’t go that far, I think it depends on whether the Atheism of a group is part of a broader group agenda or not. Take Marxists for example, they’re generally Atheist, ideologically so, and they definitely stand FOR something. But their Atheism is more consequential. Because they stood for something they were able to self organise to a much higher degree, and get around their minority status by force of arms. Thankfully the New Atheists lack the vision necessary to “do away” with theism (and by definition, theists).


  3. Ha, Matt, that’s an interesting point, because even as I was reading your post, I was thinking “hmmm, what kind of atheists are we talking about here?”
    I’d be prepared to bet that among academics, you’d be hard-pushed to find the kind of atheist described in your post. The reason for that is very simple: most academics spend their lives engaged in believing in and exploring something, whether it’s in the lab or in archives. They’re basically doing all the things called for in that final paragraph.


  4. Matt, I agree that in some (perhaps even minority) atheistic circles there would be those that have limited answers to religious needs/desires. Unfortunately this line tends to relegate atheists as outsiders that fail to explore or understand humanity’s drive for ‘spiritual’ or ‘divine’ ideas. This is often a beginning of the us and them agenda that starts the often bitter unhelpful arguments that tend to overlook deeper searches for thought and meaning. Perhaps it is helpful to look at atheists as the same as theists in that we all have a limited understanding of God. We all have a drive to understand divine or unexplained aspects in life however suppressed that drive is.
    Perhaps theists can re examine their own praxis and how they Portray God in public life. After all isn’t it this concept of God that atheists ultimately deny. I have a hard time comprehending how any person can completely confirm or deny God because (if we are honest with ourselves)He stands squarely outside of our ability to fully comprehend Him.


  5. Matthew please find a quote re the unconscious patterning of the usual religious person—and atheist-materialist too.
    “The ego-bound, and pre-verbally brain-and-nervous-system-patterned, fixed ideas of creationists and religionists in general, are direct extensions of first-and-second-stage of-life infantile and childish dependency patterning.
    The ego-bound, and pre-verbally brain-and-nervous-system-patterned, fixed ideas of rationalists and scientific materialists in general, are direct extensions of third-stage-of-life-adolescent independence patterning.
    In due course, the power of religion to console the infantile and childish ego must be out-grown, and the power of worldly “realism”, and gross rationalism, and scientific materialism to fascinate and retard the clever adolescent ego (and, otherwise to defeat the infantile or childish ego) must be out-grown.
    But Truth Itself, Which IS Only Inntrinsically egoless Reality Itself, can never be out-grown
    Truth Itself IS the necessary Ralization That Awakens when all the ego-based and ego-serving alternatives are–with ego itself–all Perfectly out-grown.”


  6. Rebecca, I suppose the quesion is, how many Atheists are academics?
    I know there’s a higher proportion of Atheists amongst academics but if book sales and public commentary are anything to go by I would say that many are not.


  7. Ah Joshua, but many would say such incomprehension marks you as an Agnostic, not an Atheist. And just so were clear, in my book that’s a good thing because I find Agnostics generally have more intellectual integrity. Or at least that’s my experience. 🙂
    As for walls, having been shot down on MANY occasions for suggesting theists and atheists have the same drives, I can only say that where there is a wall between me and Atheists it has been largely been constructed from the other side. I have found some dialogue partners, but all too few. This post was prompted by my disappointment with the prevailing negativity. I had been hopeful that this book, with its more positive agenda, could have been a bridge. But alas not. It was rejected by many PRECISELY BECAUSE it was positive. That just left me despondant. But I am open to being encouraged by those that would persue a more bridging stance.
    As for theists re-examining their own praxis and how they Portray God in public life. Well, for starters (and please don’t take this personally) be aware that I hate the term “theist” because I see a hell of a difference between monotheists, pantheists and polytheists. Theist, as a minimising, stereotyping label, strikes me as just shy of perjorative. But rants aside, and taking your comments as aimed most directly at Christians, I would say many of us do. In fact the whole emerging/missional movement is aimed at that. But too many get their image of Christians from the media, which has no vested interest in giving moderates a voice, and so this largely goes unseen. We don’t have a public voice, because the public media isn’t interested in non-fundamentalist Christians. It would be nice if Atheists and Agnostics could actually look closer and recognize the diversity of the Christian movement beyond the stereotypes.


  8. John, transcending ego-centricity is core to the way of Jesus. That’s preceisely what faith is about. If that is your goal maybe you might want to give the way of Jesus a try?


  9. Hi Matt,
    sorry, I didn’t see your response.
    I wasn’t trying to make a statement about the kinds of people either academics or atheists are – it’s more than I agreed with your point about Marxists, and it occurred to me that within academia, there are plenty of people who are atheists, and who are working very hard to come up with viable alternatives. It’s a shame that the books written by these folk aren’t selling as well as the populist, trashy stuff.


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