At the end of the nineties or maybe the beginning of the new century, I started reading about atheism and Freethought. All this classic literature, much that I’d never heard of, available freely online. I also joined online atheist groups. For the most part I only watched and listened.
In 2006 I started attending conferences. Back then most of the conferences were “big” (tiny by today’s standards) national conferences. It’s only been in the last few years that regional conferences, many of them spectacular events, have been regularly hosted by local groups here in the Midwest.
I was thrilled, maybe thrilled isn’t a strong enough word, ecstatic maybe, to find other atheists. I met authors and entertainers, scientists and activists, tons of other atheists. In 2009 I became the Missouri State Director (they are now called Regional Directors) for American Atheists and I also founded a local group – Columbia Atheists – in my hometown. In 2013 I became the National Affiliate Director for American Atheists and I still run our local group (though I’m stepping back my level of involvement there quite a bit). This is all volunteer btw, I’ve never been paid for atheism.
At the beginning of 2009 I succumbed to the lure of Facebook, then Twitter. These two require mention here because I have used them primarily to connect with other atheists. Sure, I’m Facebook friends with members of my family and my wife’s family, and people I went to school with and know “IRL,” but the overwhelming majority of my Facebook friends and Twitter tweeters are other atheists.
It’s difficult to imagine what my life would look like without the internet and modern communication technology. I wouldn’t know an nth of the people that I know. I wouldn’t have read the books I’ve read, I wouldn’t have gone to the places I’ve been. I wouldn’t think the things I think, I wouldn’t say the things I say, I wouldn’t be who I am right now.
Too many atheists are still isolated. But before the internet so many more of us were. Over and over, when someone new shows up at a group meeting or a conference, or even on an online forum we hear some variant of “I thought I was the only one.” That is the power that popular belief has to force people into hiding, and that’s the power that modern communication technology and community, whether in meatspace or online, have to subvert that pressure and connect us.