Should secular organizations combine? Or should we try to look big?

In a recent Minnesota Atheists newsletter, oft-times president and general all round Atheist Leader August Berkshire wrote about the idea of Humanists of Minnesota and Minnesota Atheists combining. He notes that this may have been impossible in the pas when the philosophies of the two groups may have been quite different, but that now the philosophies are pretty much the same.

I have to say that I agree that as far as I can tell, Minnesota Atheists members and Humanists of Minnesota don’t seem to be at odds. I’ve seen members of the two groups in the same place many times and fights, or even mild arguments, never break out. Of course, this is Minnesota, so I may be missing something. Perhaps there are withering stern looks that I’m mising. but I don’t think so.

I also agree, and this is almost an aside with this observation by August:

“In my almost 30 years of atheist activism, it seems to me that virtually every schism, split, or separation in the freethought movement was based on personalities, ego, desire for power, or quibbles about a name – not on atheist/humanist philosophy. Can we rise above our differences for the greater good of coming together under the banner of a unified atheist and secular humanist organization? Should we? Or are there rational obstacles that are just too great to overcome?”

There seems to be nothing to stop Minnesota Atheists and Humanists of Minnesota from melding. They can call themselves MASH. Minnesota Atheists and Humanists of Minnesota.

But there is a down side that I want to point out because I think it is important. Numbers. Right now there are these two major groups and one or to other Minnesota based secular groups other than CASH. That is not very many different groups.

This problem occurred to me a few years ago when I was strolling among the UMN student group tables during “put your student groups out on tables” day on the Saint Paul campus. There as a table for each of at least 15 different clearly religious groups and probably a half dozen or more groups that were not explicitly religious but that were in fact religious just under the surface. And the tables out that day represented about a third, or less, of the actual groups out there. And then there was CASH, the one, single, lonely secular student group on campus. CASH has a couple of dozen members. If those members were distributed among six explicitly secular groups, they would have had six tables at that event.

More recently I attended the Anoka county Youth Gay Pride day fest, held on the banks of the Mississippi a few blocks down the street from my house. There were about 10 groups represented there that had to do with gay youth, and at least half of them were explicitly religious (i.e, they were churches). Had there been a table for Minnesota Atheists that would have been just one explicitly secular group. If there were five or six explicitly secular organization involved in human rights and social justice in Minnesota, there could have been a few of them at that event, giving the churches a run for the money.

Ditto for the May Day parade. Ditto for Pride Fest. Ditto for whatever-whatever. You get the point.

Perhaps instead of Minnesota Atheists and Humanists of Minnesota, merging, maybe they should each undergo mitosis!

OK, no one is going to go for that, but there are ways we can both combine and make ourselves larger. The two organizations can form the Minnesota Secular Coalition and also the Committee for Secular Approaches for Social Justice (CSASJ) and contribute a few people to each one to help run them. These organizations would provide a vehicle for outreach to communities that we are currently not reaching but that are reachable. Then, once or twice or even three times a years, at the right moments, we can put out a bit of extra effort and all of us can staff tables at some event or another.

And, then, instead of having a dozen churches and poor little us at one table, we can have a dozen churches and a half dozen us. Give them a run for the money I say!

In the mean time, we could perhaps consider a combined membership deal. For a bit extra, you can expand you membership in one group to include the other group(s) at the same time.

We can take a page out of the books of nature. A whole chapter, perhaps. The chapter on “looking bigger.” And sometimes, a little scary might be good too.

Updated with some corrections.

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3 thoughts on “Should secular organizations combine? Or should we try to look big?

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  1. I approve of your rising to my challenge of providing a rational reason for not combining.

    Yes, at festivals it might look good to occupy a lot of tables. Of course, it would be the same cost and have the same visual effect for one large group to buy two tables as two small groups to buy one table each. In fact, a single two-table wide space might be even more impressive. I’m thinking of Gay Pride events where OutFront Minnesota has an entire large tent. Everyone remembers them, and not so much the myriad of small tables other groups have. It is also easier (personnel-wise) to staff two combined tables than two separate tables, making it easier to do two festivals on the same day, should such a possibility arise.

    And what about the majority of days in the year, where there are no festivals? Two groups that combine and have economies of scale (e.g. the cost of only one newsletter) can free up money to be more visible to the public.

    I had thought of a combined-deal membership idea before, which can be a little tricky if someone is already a member of both groups and has differing expiration dates. But probably something could be worked out. So maybe your comment will spur us to consider the idea – which could well be a stepping stone to uniting!

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