I have recently become a part of the Skepchick Events team (huzzah!) and as part of my duties I spent a good chunk of my day going through meetup.com and finding what events are available for atheists and skeptics so that we can pass that list on to you, dear readers. I was somewhat dismayed, I have to say. First of all, the vast majority of events involved drinking. Now I have nothing against drinking, but I will say that this is an incredibly limiting type of activity. Not many organizations have their meetings at pubs, and you know why? Because it’s a social activity, not an activity that generally leads to productive action or discussion. It also precludes any people who are too young to drink, people who prefer not to drink, anyone who has issues around alcohol (of whom there are many), and generally creates an atmosphere of socializing instead of accomplishing.
This is not to say that socializing does not have its time and place, but it should come second to whatever mission we as skeptics or atheists want to accomplish. Many of these groups appear to not have a mission or purpose beyond connecting atheists and giving them a place to speak to each other, but that seems to be an incredibly insular mission. yes, it is important for us to provide emotional and social support to each other. It’s important for atheists to know that we are accepted by a group of like-minded individuals. But it’s also important, if we are going to create groups, for us to understand what we hope to accomplish by being skeptical and by being skeptical together. Do we feel we can improve the world in some way? Improve the reputation of atheists? Work to decrease woo and increase rational thinking? Do we have political goals? Would we like to undertake volunteer work?
All of these are important as the business side of atheists or skeptical meetups, as are serious discussions of philosophical, scientific, and other questions that help us figure out how we make meaning and understand ourselves without a God. However I’m not sure if any of these tasks are improved by undertaking them around alcohol or in the atmosphere of a pub.
As young people, we are in a particularly good position to begin branching out in the types of work and meetups that atheist groups undertake. I know that a number of college groups have hosted “hug an atheist” days, or “ask an atheist” panels. These all seem to be good ways to reach out to the community instead of simply socializing with a community that already exists and patting ourselves on the back for being smarter than religious believers. But it is important that older groups begin these kinds of actions, and that high schools and colleges advertise more.
It’s important for each atheist/agnostic/skeptical/freethinking organization to take a look at its goals and missions before it begins to plan its schedule. If your group tends more towards A+, then it would be prudent to include social justice action on your calendar. If your group seems to be humanist in tendency, then volunteering. If you simply want to improve the reputation of atheists, then informational efforts are important. But regardless, almost all of us have needs and wants beyond meeting up with people we already agree with, and having a good beer.
We can just do that on top of other great work.