Joe Provenzano

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Would atheists benefit from a community? Are they maximizing such benefits?


But, I don't believe they would organize 'just one way' - (theists have not), they would still benefit from organization around core concepts. Every moment as unorganized individuals, extends a sub-optimized, limited approach to progress/evolution. Atheists need communities - maybe more than other groups since the current lack of community weakens both individual atheists and the communities in which they live.

Their bibles? The dictionaries of science, ethics and law.

Atheism 2.0 makes good points about what could be gained. I want the benefits communities bring but, there are only religious options within a 25-mile radius of me. I need a 50-mile radius, to encounter an open minded community (Unitarian Universalist) that I can participate in. This is not because I live in the woods... there are close to a million people in that circle. To the degree that I want to participate (engage with like-minded people, celebrate a wedding, funeral or special occasion, host a meaningful discussion, etc.) as a community member, having a single, distant, option is unacceptable.

Such lack of organization is a clear weakness and stunts potential. We can learn from ANY communities... our lack of organization is so apparent. (as Atheist 2.0 discusses)

We need to find our 'Martin Luther', our 'Gandhi", our spark. On one hand, I'm optimistic... but on the other, I fear that I was born to soon. We have not found such fighters because the injustice that occurs (to isolated atheists) is largely invisible and escapes notice relative to the other injustices forced upon groups by the very same powers (politicians, community leaders and church leaders of the status quo).

We did have our leaders (Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, etc...) but, the first priority was the political structures and establishments - we must continue the movement. They gifted us separation of church and state. They would debate and advance the good points of Atheist 2.0. Community 2.0? Atheists need to unite!

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    Jan 30 2012: Suggest teaching ethics at school would be a good start.
    Also suggest teaching about religion from a secular viewpoint would be useful.
    • Jan 30 2012: In Mexico I had a course on ethics in high school. I thought that was the norm.
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        Jan 31 2012: i was shocked to find out australian many public schools still have religious instruction classes. gendrally christianity. parents can opt out and the child does nothing. ethics classes as an alternative have been trialed but fiercely resisted by christian groups. so much for seperation of church and state.
  • Jan 29 2012: Your original question is an excellent one Joe. I have had this conversation many times with other atheists and agnostics. I attended meetings of our local atheists’ organization. I stopped going to those meetings about 7 years ago because the focus of the meetings was generally about being anti-religion. They just couldn't see that being anti-anything is not productive. They meet once a month with no permanent meeting place. When the local media needs to have the atheist view point they contact one of the individuals from this organization. It is generally not my view point and in some cases makes the conflicts with the religious organizations in the area worse.
    Yes the potential is there, but so are some very tough problems to solve with the atheist population as you can see from the threads above. Atheists are generally independent, skeptical and the diversity of views outside of those with a religious context can be very divergent. Example..some atheists are liberal, but some are conservative and/or libertarian. It is tough to bring these individuals together to agree on anything much less avoid conflicts. The one thing that has been tried to bring them together is anti-religion. See the problem? Being anti-religion is not productive to society. Being non-productive or even destructive to society is not viewed favorably within the community you belong. That is why atheists rank at the bottom for trust in most communities. Agnostics fare no better.
    Really it comes down to this….if you don’t believe in a God and what the world’s religions are selling then you have come to the very basic conclusion that all you have is one life to live (dumb soap opera ruined a perfectly good organization name). What can you sell an atheist? Time! Time doing what you like to do and spending it with people you like to spend it with. Yes, those are the limited number of seconds you have left passing by reading a dumb post from me.
  • Jan 29 2012: What can you work with such a diverse group of individuals. It would be like herding cats right? Incentives is the best I have come up with. In a capitalistic society what is time worth. Money = Time. I spend 50-60 hours a week earning time. Money to buy food so I don’t have to grow or raise it which saves me time. Money allows me to do the things I like to do or dream about doing in this life time. So how do I earn money being a member of an atheist community? Shares of that community. I invest money and time in that community. Think co-op. Think share of a publicly traded company. More like a dividend. The more I do to benefit the community the more shares I can earn. The better the community does the more money each share earns. The more shares I earn the more money and conversely time I have. How do you earn shares? Invest time or money. Atheists tend to have above average education levels: doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, professors, investment bankers…….. Not only that but with such diverse backgrounds and above average intelligence put them to work with a single purpose and message. Improve their lives and the lives of those around them (including the religious). Put religion out of business by doing what religion claims to do for communities but only better.
    Now the tricky part I haven’t quite figured out, governing policies of this theoretical no religion community. How do you keep religious influence out of this theoretical no religion community? Guess you would start with Rule number 1. If it can’t be proven by scientific principles then it has no place in community discussion. How do you gain membership into a no religion community that pays to be a member? Rule Number 2 You can be a member but to earn paying shares you have to either invest money or invest time. What is the money invested in? I am leaning toward the members in good standing. Scientists with promising research. Inventors with promising ideas.
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      Jan 29 2012: >Incentives is the best I can come up with.

      I agree such groups need incentives. However, incentive is naturally built in and the incentives are intrinsic - the best kind. (See Dan Pink TED talk). This is because it's human to need community.

      Also - think secular community more so than Atheist. My intent in using that word was to say 'secular people' and fill the productivity gap I see in that group of people. Religious people are invited but the group is about humanist not religious aims.

      Even if all such a group accomplished was meaningful discussion friendships shared it would add value. However, I'm confident that much, much more would result in improved community opportunities for secular citizens.

      I also agree with your idea of a co-op and earning dividends. Depending on individual group setup and objectives, there are likely to be costs incurred for comfort sake, bills to pay, etc.

      >governing to keep religious influence out...

      I think the unitarian universalists have done a good job with this. I'm sure some communities are more and some less 'spiritual' than others, but that's just people. Going to the 'herding cats' analogy is good here - not sure you need to do it. Focus all outcomes of the group on secular principles and objectives and people can talk however they want (from my perspective). If we have an objective to clean the parks I guess I don't care what's going on between the ears of each helper... I just care that the parks are clean. I think this takes care of itself by holding to secular principles and discussion within any formal agenda of the community. Your rules probably take care of this as well. We are probably on the same page if I amend your 'proven' statement to include theories that are being debated or presented in a scientific manner.
      • Jan 30 2012: I volunteer and don't expect anything in return other than the good feeling that comes with having done something positive for the community. But I suspect most of my follow citizens are not wired that way. The religious communities have good volunteer turn out and they can point to the fact, rightly so, that they provide community services which the secular community (if you don't count government entities) are generally not capable of providing. Those within the religious community that volunteer for community services do it not only for the good feeling but a chance to make a convert and for the reward of an eternal after life. That is kind of hard to compete with if you run a secular community organization. Hence the idea for incentives but maybe a more appropriate term would be rewards. I know a few secular individuals that volunteer for various community projects but it is not recognized in the community that such services are provided by individuals that are non-religious. I think a secular organization needs to put some effort into marketing their value to the communities they belong to.

        I agree meaningful discussion and friendships would be value add but I think positive action would go a long way toward cementing ties within the greater community along with members of the secular organization. I think a secular organization could be highly effective if it focused on reality and solving problems facing their communities and the earth in general. For these non-religious communities to create positive results it will require more time from those that truly get joy out of doing good in the their local communities and I think they should be rewarded for that work. I also believe any secular organization should be value add to its' members.
  • Jan 24 2012: They already have one - Unitarianism. We joined a Unitarian Universalist congregation for a time back in the 80s. The only thing I found I could say to describe their philosophy/theology was that they were more western than eastern, but there was no apparent creed other than political liberalism. As an agnostic on a path toward and through conservativism to libertarianism, I became increasingly uncomfortable with their angry ridicule of Reagan.
  • Jan 24 2012: If you are looking for a Unitarian Universalist community but there isn't one in your area, you have two options: The Church of the Larger Fellowship (terrible name) is a virtual UU congregation, at Or you can join the UU congregation in Second Life. Both provide community, inspiration, and consolation with no doctrine.
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    Jan 24 2012: This question would be better phrased as "Are atheists human?"

    To which the answer would be your same 'YES!'

    It seems self-evident that we humans all need and benefit from community. This is probably the reason we've come up with so many religions over the years.

    And we atheists, despite our flat non-belief in the supernatural, still need community. Which is why we find ourselves now contemplating forming a religion of our own.

    Chris Anderson asked a very good question in Atheism 2.0 about the need to be part of something greater than oneself. Alain De Botton, despite having just delivered an excellent sermon, gave what I consider to be the typical cop-out atheist answer. And I've given it more times than I can count, so there...

    Being part of the hugeness of the universe is inspiring and numinous to the right sort of person yes, but I think the real meat of the issue lies elsewhere. It is not enough to be a part of something greater than the individual, one must feel that he or she is a contributing part of such greatness, whatever it may be. And so the standard secular answer fails to fulfill this need, for it's hard to feel like we actually contribute anything substantial to the greatness of the Cosmos itself. By contrast, devotion to pleasing the creator(s) of everything feels both within our reach and important.

    So what can we become a part of, what can we devote ourselves to, that is real, improvable, and worthwhile? Ultimately we all must decide for ourselves (such is the problem with lacking an infallible deity), but I'm currently leaning towards "Each Other."
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      Jan 25 2012: Nice. Love that! (Are atheists human?)

      I do feel like that. It's like "duh" of course we need community! I just too often see the focus on God v Not... and that doesn't leave me feeling like I'm contributing. I also agree that we will find it in service (if I can correctly go there) and especially service towards 'each other'.
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    Jan 24 2012: This sounds great and I understand the reason behind what you are saying and as Sanket has stated, it would be great to have a place in which people can discuss art, science, philosophy, etc.

    In spite of this, I do not think the gathering of atheist is going to really do any justice. As I have stated in a previous thread, a post like this gives the impression that atheism is a worldview, doctrine or a system of belief and none of these are true. Atheism is simply the non-belief of god(s) and as Sam Harris puts it "the destruction of bad ideas". .Now I am not saying that we need to get our morals, politics or anything from scripture our or intuitive feelings when we sit in prayer. What I am saying is that everyone should have the opportunity to contribute something to the world as long as its reasonable, makes an impact and serves a suitable purpose.

    Also art, science, philosophy, etc can all be discussed rather or not one is atheist.

    A more secular approach would perhaps be more beneficial being that its wholistic as opposed to just mentioning one particular group. (although Alain de Botton video did not speak about exclusion, this post would give off that impression).

    Just some food for thought.
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      Jan 25 2012: I think it's not about 'atheists' gathering and doing 'atheist things' - I would agree that I don't even know what that would be. What I see however is the huge loss societies and some individuals are incurring through lack of organization. It's probably similar to the way people look at climate and think... what a waste, what a shame, when will we learn to pull together and get this right? Of course I too believe that it starts with me and my single acts... but that's nothing compared to what we could accomplish together.
      • Jan 26 2012: Possibly your issue here is the assumption that all theists are part of a community or organization that is making some progress and that atheists are not. Many people above this post have pointed out that we are all part of various communities through our actions and relations, belief in a higher power aside.

        It seems that maybe you want the recognition that aetheists do good deeds as well. We do, but as we don't commit these acts of community and compassion under the same banner the entire group doesn't get the credit. Instead volunteers, donors, and other bland descriptors that have nothing to do with religion get attention and aetheists as a group look soulless compared to theists of identifiable groups.

        My question is do aetheists really need to be a group? Or can our energy be just as well put to use as members of other communities? We all need support and would love acceptance of our views, but is that necessary for the betterment of us all?
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          Jan 26 2012: Well... yes. That is my assumption.

          I'm not saying there are no communities to join - there just are not enough that are fully secular at their core. There is so much wasted effort involved. I'll also admit there are many examples, if I look far enough or travel far enough, yes - just not nearly enough in comparison to religious or special interest groups. I can't throw a stick without hitting a church or some guy on their way to Lion's club... Again, not saying those groups are bad. My point has been that they are less efficient at getting what I believe the majority of non-theists are after (and they are not 'after' being atheist - they have bigger service goals than that) when it comes to community.

          The core of the generally available groups have motives and goals that slow progress and ultimately sub-optimize what I would be after. They have goals after all that are partly the same but largely different. An analogy to the 'why not just do good within the groups available to you' would be like my American forefathers saying 'why don't we just keep the King in charge and we'll work within any opportunities that happen to come our way'. That's the type of sub-optimization I would hope to avoid.

          That is why these secular groups are needed.- for productivity - for making optimal use of invested resources, money, and time?
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    Jan 24 2012: Yes, atheists would definitely benefit from a community. If there were groups/ meetups where people could meet, say, once a week to discuss art, science and philosophy, then I am sure we could achieve what Alain de Botton is trying to say. Our morality should come from Jane Austen, Shakespeare and the like and not scriptures, and to be able to do that, we do need communities to strengthen and foster the learning.
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    Feb 3 2012: If the atheists are open to discussion they can organize in any way they want.
  • Jan 31 2012: Communities are good, I would think. But I just saw this TV show about atheism, or some sort of that, and among interviews and such, there was some footage of a kinda club of atheists, or some atheist reunion. I was displeased to see them making a ceremony of "debaptism." If we are going to be in the presence of such crap, I rather not join any clubs. I would have been the first there to say "What kind of idiots are you?" Sure to leave the place nauseated that those guys who should have reached their atheism by reason would perform such a ridiculous ceremony.

    Anyway, rants appart, I think skeptics clubs are a better gathering centre. At least I don't think they would suggest that kind of crap without having most attendants saying "what does that crap accomplish?"

    (I think you would guess what I think of Alain's proposals.)
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      Feb 1 2012: That does seem unneeded. I understand some of the pent up frustration on both sides but would propose taking the higher ground. My ideas are about creating a secular community not a gathering place to bash religion and not a place to define atheism - I agree with the many commentaries that suggest that would be a non starter.
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    Jan 25 2012: The old testament should be "The Wealth of Nations", and the new testament, should be "The Theory of Moral Sentiments", both by Adam Smith... A brilliant person... Also known as an atheists god.
  • Jan 24 2012: It's difficult to form a group around the absence of something. And I don't need a support group to validate my belief system. I'm all for coming together in groups to work for the common good, but bashing religion is just not entertaining or challenging or constructive enough for me.
    • Jan 25 2012: I would agree for the most part that bashing religion is not challenging or constructive. There are some theological arguments constructed cleverly enough to give the brain a work out. Sometimes religion has to be bashed, or at least put in its place, for the sake of not teaching fiction in science classes and the like.

      However, I completely disagree that bashing religion isn't entertaining.
      • Jan 25 2012: I concede the need for a defense against the imperialism of ignorance. I think loud, sustained laughter works well. I'd prefer to see something more proactive such as how to engage students in the scientific method as a philosophy as well as a method of solving problems.
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    Jan 24 2012: > Their bibles? The dictionaries of science, ethics and law.

    There are no such dictionaries. What's right, what's lawful, and what's true are matters of dispute.

    > Atheists need to unite!

    Would you get along with someone just because they were atheist? Why not just unite with a group of people with whom you share an interest? Some of them might be atheists.
    • Jan 24 2012: "What's right, what's lawful, and what's true are matters of dispute."

      Can "what's right" be established with a some degree of certainty? The same as what science tells us about the Universe?
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        Jan 24 2012: I used to think so, but the more scientists I talk to, the less I believe that.
        • Jan 25 2012: We will always have people that deny or do not agree with scientific knowledge. However scientific community is making continuous progress toward knowing more about the Universe.

          That does not mean that everything is set in stone. Rather scientific knowledge is evolving into every more accurate reflection of what we observe.

          I think the same is valid for morality and ethics. There exist basic principles that we can conclude from human basic needs?
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        Jan 27 2012: Zdenek, I don't see science as inerrant or continuously progressing. That sounds like an unquestioned Popperian view.

        Then, morality & ethics have been in dispute for thousands of years. I don't even know what progress would mean in ethics & morality since one can't measure success.
        • Jan 27 2012: If I look at what scientists know today about the Universe, evolution, human bodies, physics etc. I see a huge progress and knowledge in any area of scientific exploration.

          I think one of the greatest success so far in terms of ethics is establishment of universal declaration of human rights where almost all countries agreed on basic principles:

          In terms of practical application you can see people in countries in Middle East and elsewhere taking down despotic regime to replace it with democracies in order to be able to improve basic human rights such as freedom of speech.

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        Jan 27 2012: > science

        That is quite different to continuous progress.

        > udhr

        They're not actually universally agreed.
        • Jan 28 2012: If science continues to increase our knowledge and understanding with ever increasing accuracy, is that not a continuous progress?

          "Universal Values

          The core principles of human rights first set out in the UDHR, such as universality, interdependence and indivisibility, equality and non-discrimination, and that human rights simultaneously entail both rights and obligations from duty bearers and rights owners, have been reiterated in numerous international human rights conventions, declarations, and resolutions. Today, all United Nations member States have ratified at least one of the nine core international human rights treaties, and 80 percent have ratified four or more, giving concrete expression to the universality of the UDHR and international human rights."

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          Jan 29 2012: I agree completely.

          I don't think success is that hard to measure either... we could start by just watching the reduction in all the easier to measure violations...
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        Jan 30 2012: Zdenek, progress between 250 years ago and 1 year ago is very different than "Ever increasing accuracy". The former has happened, the latter has not.

        > UDHR

        Just because those who drafted it said the values are universal, does not make them universal.
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          Jan 30 2012: Agree they are not universal despite the title.
          "Rights" are man made concepts.
          Suggest none is absolute. Often they must be balanced against each other.
          Having said that, the UNDHR look pretty good to me and a lot of others.

          If we dropped religious pronouncements that claim absolute moral positions and focused on what promoted the human condition, human happiness it might be a good start. I suggest most would agree with the golden rule.
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          Jan 30 2012: Chris suggest you might be arguing semantics.
          Surely you'd admit we know more about the universe than our ancestors 100,000 year ago, or 10,000 year ago, or a thousand years ago.

          Suggest many high graduate today (those who actually studied) know more about life and the universe from a scientific perspective than anyone alive 2,000 years ago.
        • Jan 31 2012: Chris, science makes small progress daily and large progress each decade.

          "Just because those who drafted it said the values are universal, does not make them universal."

          Yes just writing them down does not make it universal. What makes it universal is the fact that most nations signed that document. Further:

          "Through ratification of international human rights treaties, Governments undertake to put into place domestic measures and legislation compatible with their treaty obligations and duties. The domestic legal system, therefore, provides the principal legal protection of human rights guaranteed under international law. Where domestic legal proceedings fail to address human rights abuses, mechanisms and procedures for individual and group complaints are available at the regional and international levels to help ensure that international human rights standards are indeed respected, implemented, and enforced at the local level."

          GM, basic human rights are based on what every human needs are. While "right" might be a man made concept, it has a very important role in a modern society and humankind progress?

          Otherwise I agree that focusing on human happiness is a good start. Further enable every human to have ability to develop to their full potential is the ultimate goal I think.
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        Feb 1 2012: G M, perhaps it is merely a semantic difference. However it does smell a whiff of "scientism", meaning roughly faith in science. It's something R Feynman and other fine scientists argued against.

        I think the TED audience (myself included) is likely to take claims of scientific progress at face value, or worse to talk about a theoretical model of scientific progress in broad terms rather than looking at the specific facts.

        However there are reasons to doubt scientific claims that can be observed even by people who just read the newspaper and don't actively take part in sceptically examining results. I'm referring to the economics of scientific research.

        Zdenek, sometimes models get worse before they get better. One example is European maps of inland Africa:

        It's indisputable that 2.5 centuries after discovering the microscope, the conventional wisdom on disease and biology is much more accurate. But there are many instances on a shorter time-scale of false results being widely believed true, or of true results being widely believed false. For example there were several instances of decades-long fraud perpetrated by prominet scientists which recently received international attention.

        The online journal PlosComp Biology would not exist were it true that science makes (forward) progress daily.

        Just to be clear: I am not disputing that "we" know more today than "they" did 2,000 or 200 years ago. Only arguing that scientific progress is not monotonic.
        • Feb 1 2012: Chris, yes I agree that sometimes a scientist will make either intentionally or unintentionally misleading observations, experiments and claims. After all scientists are humans as well. For this reason, it is important for the scientific community to carefully review each experiment and claim in order to minimize mistakes. Sometimes it takes a decade or more before a new theory is accepted.

          Efforts are being made to make data from scientific observations publicly available and the process of selecting scientific papers for publishing in scientific journal more transparent and fair. This will further improve scientific process.

          Yes if you pick a particular theory or scientist you can see a problem but overall I see progress, in some fields it is gradual and in others rapid, toward better understanding. Of course we might never be sure one hundred percent about anything =)

          In terms of early maps of Africa, the article explains that early maps were based on accounts of explorers rather than scientists. Gradually scientific methods of measurements and observations were introduced which lead to accurate maps.

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        Feb 2 2012: Zdenek, it sounds like we are more on the same page now. It's funny, I was talking to a friend who just finished a PhD in geology today and she used the phrases "science is B.S." and "marketing" several times each. Although as you say, we do seem to get somewhere over decades so something about the macro process is effective.

        Before the maps of Africa got better, they got worse. So cartography's progress was non-monotonic.
        • Feb 2 2012: Yes I think we are. =)

          Unfortunately some professors and scientists are not good teachers and that is perhaps where your friend finds frustration with science?

          I find it rather fascinating to hear about technological singularity where, according to this theory, our technology (and science behind it) will evolve in ever increasing speed, resulting in machines taking over their evolution (science?) from us (unless we merge our bodies with technology to keep up).

          Good discussion. take care
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      Jan 25 2012: I'm okay with the dispute. How do you know what your disputing though? I can't believe the answer is to not have a transparent way to express ideas. It doesn't mean they can't change. The meaning of words and ideas are always in dispute but that can be taken to a ridiculous extent as well. My hope is to raise productivity not slow it down.
  • Jan 24 2012: There already exist many atheist communities.

    As Ryan Bennet pointed out, Atheists are humans, and humans benefit from communities. Good thing too. I have yet to meet a single atheist, or theist for that matter, who is not part of a community.

    I'd also like to say that Orlando Hawkins post was spot on. We can discuss art, science, philosophy, how to live a good life, and who our favorite sports team is regardless of whether one believes some god or gods actually exist or not.
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      Jan 25 2012: Yes and yes... and yes, it's not about god or no-god. "There already exist many atheist communities." - What I like about what Ryan Bennet points to though is that when we get together, we are not getting together to be Atheist's... that's not going to benefit much... we get togethers as humans and try to look for ways to server "each other" / and our fellow human beings. This is the sort of community that if better organized and millions strong could do great things. (Build hospitals, schools, museums... solve big problems, teach... serve.)
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      Jan 25 2012: Thanks. Watched that and it was engaging. That properly suggests the base upon which the community I'm thinking about would want to sit. Without such a posture of 'open mindedness' - or - if people go around feeling they 'know' exactly what is, it would seem to eat away at the potential of the group.
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    Jan 24 2012: I think Richard Dawkins is emerging as an 'atheist leader' of sorts.