Atheism · July 30, 2007

Non-believer symbols – A suggestion for herding cats.

There’s been a lot of talk among non-believers about creating a symbol that we could share. The lack of consensus for such a symbol is discouraging, but not surprising.

Let’s face it, Atheist, Skeptic, Secular Humanist, Freethinker – no matter what you call us we all seem to have two things in common. First, a lack of belief in the supernatural coupled with a general attitude based upon rational inquiry. Second, a heavy dose of creativeness coupled with a desire for independence. These traits are invaluable when applied to discovering nature’s properties or ensuring basic human rights – but they are a hindrance to organizing under a single idea.

Getting non-believers to organize has rightly been compared, endlessly, to herding cats. So it isn’t surprising that when a symbol is invented, a large portion of non-believers hate it. And because we wish to be inclusive, rather than exclusive, many symbols are thrown out for not pleasing everyone.

This isn’t just about Atheism, the desire to be inclusive has resulted in the creation of Secular Humanists, The Brights, and other less serious groups such as the Pastafarians. These groups have their symbols, and each caters to a slightly different population of non-believers. Many non-believing groups have overlapping goals and social structures, and often their membership will belong to several groups.

There are symbols that are used to identify the godless. Familiar symbols like the Darwin Fish, or more obscure like the Invisible Pink Unicorn and Flying Spaghetti Monster. But no single symbol seems appropriate for us all.

I think that there is an answer in multiple symbols.

My idea is to use something like a cross between a Wiki and a poll – a place online where all the non-believer symbols can be dumped and edited as in a Wiki, but where the symbols can be ranked through polling.

Having these symbols in Wiki format would allow different non-believers to create their own symbol and dump it into the commons. Poorly executed symbols might be redrawn by more artistic non-believers and dropped into the Wiki again. Poor ideas will filter toward the bottom due to lower polling results and better ideas will filter toward the top.

The top three to five symbols would be favored by our community of non-believers, and through use they would become familiar to the public. Perhaps, years from now, one of these symbols will become “The” symbol for non-believers – but it won’t bother us at all if that never happens. We are a loose affiliation of individuals, after all.

I would love to set up some sort of Wiki that does this – but honestly I don’t have a clue how to start. And these days I just don’t have the time – which means that unless some kind reader does this it will never happen. If you have an idea of how to accomplish this, and you have the time to invest, I would love to see it. I’ll be glad to help – I just can’t do it on my own.

If not, and this idea still seems viable in a year, then I may try to set it up myself in 2008, just to see where it goes. But I’d really like to see it happen sooner.