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Why Create Another Secular Organization?

March 6, 2008

Someone recently asked my why I wanted to form a new organization, when some organizations already exist. They also asked why I wanted to wait until the fall of 2009 to begin the organization. My response was becoming so long that I decided to adapt it into a post. So here it is.

Why Form Another Secular Organization, When Several Already Exist?

I do not wish to criticize specific organizations that already exist, but the approach I’m taking is to find out what many different organizations do really well. That way, I can combine the best qualities into one cohesive unit: community building, social support, civil rights, service, outreach, networking, and perhaps some other qualities.

As far as I can tell, there are few if any organizations that exist on a national or international level that have a high level of grassroots support. On the other hand, there are many local atheist organizations that seem to be doing quite well in fostering a sense of community with their members. I have also seen a great deal of success accomplished in local polyamory groups of providing social support by simply having an informal system of facilitators that make regular announcements of social events and provide anchors for groups to form.

Many secular organizations have democratic elections, but some do not. I appreciate the fact that there are only a small number of people willing and able to be leaders in a non-profit organization. I also realize that some groups face the danger of having large numbers of people join so that they can disrupt it and steer it away from the goals it was created to accomplish. However, I believe the benefits of elections and clear term lengths outweigh the dangers. Right now, I’m thinking term lengths would look like this: 2 years for chapter officers, 4 years for regional, and 6 years for national and/or international. Those numbers are tentative. Also, I would like to conduct more research before I decide whether or not we should have term limits.

A third key difference between my organization and existing atheist organization is the methods and mentality that are used to approach our goals. Rather than believing we opposed to all religious organizations on all issues, and thus creating a self fulfilling prophecy, we will work in partnership with them. True, there are some religious groups that will be more difficult to reason with than others, but there are also some that will be willing to work with us if we present ourselves as contributors to the community, rather than purely agitators. For example, The United States Atheists in Portland, Oregon helped organize an event called the Catholic and Atheist Dialogue Night. I think every chapter should at least attempt to have these kinds of events. I do believe that once religious organizations no longer see atheists as an overt threat, they will be much more tolerant and likely to listen to our ideas. That is not to say, however, that atheists or the ISS should tolerate bigotry, discrimination, or violence. Or that we should necessarily agree with religious organizations on most things or anything. However, if we disagree in a way that is non-threatening, we will be five steps closer to being viewed with respect and tolerance. On a local level, it will be impossible for atheists to be accepted members of the community if we make ourselves enemies of that community. I intend for the ISA to spearhead the public relations campaign that atheists so desperately need.

Why Wait Until Circa Fall 2009 to Launch The Organization?

The reason I’m waiting a year and a half is because I may be going to grad school then, and wherever I end up being will be where I start the international organization, have headquarters, and probably start several local chapters myself. That will also allow me to plan the organization in great detail. Rather than start quickly and uncover flaws in the way we’re organized later, I would like to research other atheist organizations and NGOs heavily. That way, I’ll be able to learn from their mistakes, and follow their lead in areas that they are strong. It will also allow me to write and build up a national (and possibly international) audience so that I will already have grassroots support for the organization when it starts. It will also allow me to build up publicity for the organization… the closest analogy I can think of is when Alfred Kinsey’s team of researchers would discuss their upcoming books and build public interest in them before they actually were released.

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