Consider the pigskin in the field.
Once upon a time there was a group of atheists who happened to also like football. They got to talking about both subjects and realized that they could, nay should, band together to make a club. Doing so would help other atheists who also like football to find like-minded individuals, with whom they could discuss everything ranging from the separation of Church and State, to the Tuck Rule. ”We will call ourselves the Atheists’ Football Club,” said they. ”Surely the world will see that we atheists are just normal people who like football. Because really, who doesn’t like football?”
Soon, however, the Blogosphere and the Twittersphere and the every-other-kind-of-sphere exploded with response, and it wasn’t the kind of response the founders of the Club had in mind.
Some responses were rather benign: “Well, I like being an atheist, and I like football too,” said many, “But I don’t see what one has to do with the other, so I prefer to keep them separate. After all, many of my football-watching friends don’t consider themselves atheists; many of my atheist friends don’t care for football. Why limit myself?”
Other responses were far less constructive: “What do you mean you have to like football in order to be a member of the Atheists’ Football Club? YOU’RE MAKING A RELIGION OUT OF ATHEISM. Screw that noise.”
Others still were downright mean: “Oh so you got something against baseball? SCREW THE ATHEISTS’ FOOTBALL CLUB AND THE HORSE IT RODE IN ON!!” The Atheists’ Football Club was soon accused of intolerance, hypocrisy, and thinking themselves better than others, be they atheists who didn’t like football, football fans who weren’t atheists, or anyone else that didn’t fit the definition of “atheist who likes football”.
And others still were British: “THIS ISN’T EVEN FOOTBALL STOP CALLING IT THAT.”
Some Atheists’ Football Club members tried to offer a voice of reason. ”We exist, simply, because we don’t believe there’s a god and we really like football. And, we like letting it be known that we atheists are just regular people, such as most football fans.”
OK maybe this guy’s a poor example.
Other people tried in vain to call for some degree of levelheadedness: “Look, if the Atheists’ Football Club isn’t your cup of tea, just don’t join. There’s no need to be throbbing stinkholes about it.”
But this being the Internet, levelheadedness was a rare thing to find indeed. Instead, people shouted things like “You’re either with the Atheists’ Football Club or you’re on the wrong side of history!” and “The Atheists’ Football Club is for people who THINK they’re football fans, but instead are just baseball-fan-hating jerkfaces!” Names and insults flew.
Meanwhile, within the Atheists’ Football Club, tensions began to run high. The Michigan fans and the Ohio State fans alone caused a brawl that should have made national news. And woe betide the one blogger who said he thought that this was an NFL-level Atheists’ Football Club, not college-level. Sure, some would again try to remind the world in general that the Atheists’ Football Club should set aside its differences, and unite against its common enemy (Tim Tebow); but such pleas would be lost in the din of anger, insults, sarcasm, and power struggles.
But where did it all go wrong? In theory, an Atheists’ Football Club isn’t a bad idea. After all, atheism is a good thing. Football is a good thing. Having common interests is a great thing. Rallying against the negative stigma people have toward atheism is a good thing.
But a crazy thing happens when a group takes too narrow a focus, even independent of atheism. I mean, just football alone…
Throw into the mix that atheists have lots of interests, causes, and passions. Many of them are dissimilar; others can be downright incompatible. When the one common factor is lack of belief in any gods, it leaves room for plenty of UNcommon factors. Was it Dawkins who once said that organizing atheists is like herding cats? It’s a pretty good analogy (except that cats believe that they are god; still, point made). And to attempt to herd a handful of cats into a narrower focus can leave a lot of the other cats… well, okay, if they were cats, they’d just lick their butts and go take a nap. People, on the other hand, don’t like feeling excluded. It tends to be human nature to really really hate that, in fact.
And as for those people who do share both the belief that there’s no such thing as any gods, and a genuine appreciation for the game of football, many just prefer to keep them separate for reasons mentioned before: I have football fan friends who aren’t atheist, and I have atheist friends who don’t like football, and see no reason to join a group and by doing so– again– exclude a handful of other people.
So ultimately, the reason behind the (I believe, imminent) collapse of the Atheists’ Football Club will be not its intention (to include people), but its inevitable result: excluding even more people.