Why do Atheists need a group?
Why do atheists need a group? We don't have anything in common other than not believing in god. I don't join groups with other people who don't believe in unicorns, not believing in something isn't a reason to join a group.
I hear this a lot from secular, non-religious, and atheist people. I even hear it from religious people. Atheists have a tendency to reject 'groups'. We are lone wolves, who reject society's norms and tread our own path, rebels and freethinkers who break the chains of ideology to free our minds. Or at least that's how many of us like to see ourselves.
Many who break away from religion reject everything associated with it. Religion can cause a lot of harm. Many denominations have ways of suppressing individuality, discouraging free thought and questions, and indoctrinating its members into its ideology. The methods used by churches to accomplish these goals can be powerful and damaging. The church has had a long history of using, not just emotional manipulation, like shame and guilt, but also more direct methods such as excommunication, shunning, torture, threats of hell, promises of heaven etc., to keep people in the church even if they don't believe.
The threat of having your support system, your community, and your family taken away if you don't think like everyone else prevents people not only exploring other ideas, but also from expressing themselves in an authentic way. It can be crushing to feel different from everyone around you when you are part of a church with toxic faith. You love your family, you love your friends, and you don't want to lose them, but everything they believe in is in opposition to what you think or who you are, and it can be a heavy weight to carry.
So naturally, once someone gains the courage to leave their religion, they may feel the need to reject the idea of being in a 'group'. Belonging to an organization or group can feel too constricting to someone who has freed themselves of an organization with an oppressive ideology. Many who leave harden their hearts and put up walls. They don't want to join a community or a group because their experiences tell them being part of a group is oppressive to individuality.
And honestly, they aren't wrong. Groups are subject to the will of those who lead them. You can have a great leader some years, and other years you may get a complete sociopath. It can be risky to be in a group, to buy into their mission, to be loyal. Atheists are more aware than most of how easily people can be controlled in a group.
But not all groups are terrible things. Just like anything else, relationships, friendships etc., you have to be able to recognize a healthy group dynamic vs. a unhealthy group dynamic. A healthy group will allow for disagreement and respectful debate. A healthy group will allow for individuality. A healthy group will allow individuals to set boundaries for themselves and decide what level of interaction with the group is best for them. A healthy group doesn't leverage your personal tragedy or pain to push an ideology. A healthy group does not tolerate bigotry. A healthy group does not threaten, demean, or punish those who don't want to be part of the group. A healthy group accepts you for who you are.
Someone can end up losing a lot when they leave religion. They lose their system of support, their friends, their community, and sometimes even family. Atheists need a place to go to replace those things. We need a way to support one another, to help each other make it through the day. In a perfect world, being an atheist would be no big deal and wouldn't require any special community at all. But we don't live in a perfect world. Our reality is there is a lot of discrimination against people who are non-religious and we have to stand with each other and give each other moral support.
There are kids who are having harmful ideologies impressed on them at an age where they can't defend themselves. There are LGBTQIA+ people who have religion used as an excuse to discriminate against and harm them. There are workers whose employers make hiring decisions by using religion to tell who is trustworthy and who isn't. There are women whose bodies are being regulated by people who use religion to justify taking away their rights. There are people whose entire families disown them for not conforming to the family beliefs. There are atheists who struggle to find mental health support to deal with religious trauma.
As long as there are religious people using their ideologies to oppress others, atheists and other secular, humanist, freethinking people will need a robust community to protect them. One person cannot change society level problems on their own. We need to come together in numbers great enough to make a difference. We need to have people to lean on when times get hard. We need sources of secular support for people who don't want to go to a church for help. We need community.
If you are strong enough to make it on your own as an atheist, and you don't need any support, that's great! But we need your strength. There are so many who need our help, they need the strongest of us to build the resources to help them, to advocate for them, to create change for them. Leaving religion only solves your own oppression, it doesn't create lasting change for anyone else. Not everyone can do it on their own, maybe more people would feel safe leaving their religion that is causing them harm, if they knew there was a supportive community to help them if they took the leap.