When I first started realizing that I could no longer believe in a god, I did a lot of searching online for resources and to find others like me. I was surprised to find that not only were there some local groups of people who had the same or similar point of view but I found quite a few online communities as well.
It is comforting to know that there are others out there who have reached the same conclusion I have and it is nice to be able to converse with people who aren't going to judge me or look down on me because I'm a non-believer. I found it a relief to know that I was not alone.
I'm sure that everyone has had the experience of finding like-minded individuals - whether you agree on the same religious views or political views or have the same hobby. We like to connect with others like us. This is human nature.
The problem is that sometimes when we form these groups, we want to exclude those who disagree with us to the extent that we don't even want to hear their point of view. When we stop being open-minded enough to listen to differing positions, group polarization can occur.
We see this happening in the United States between the two major political parties. Neither party wants to work with or consider the point of view of members of the other party and we see now that the parties are starting to get more and more extreme in their rhetoric.
I've been watching with horror as this has happened within a particular online atheist community. It started off innocently enough. A group of atheists blogged on the same site and a community formed. If one of the bloggers had a problem with a troll-like individual, the others would step in to help him or her. Over time, the regular readers would join in to help keep the discussion civil and to correct any misconceptions. I enjoyed being part of this positive community and avidly read the blogs.
Then something happened. There was a schism caused by various reactions to a single incident that snowballed into a major issue. In short, a woman at a skeptic convention found herself in an uncomfortable situation and she blogged about it afterwards. A major player in the atheist community belittled her problem to a certain extent basically calling it a 1st world problem. The person who voiced this opinion did seem to rethink his position after others jumped on him but the damage was done. Almost everyone over-reacted. (in my opinion) Names were called and outrage dispensed by community members and her online community started lining up with her. It became such a horrific issue that anyone who dared to voice a different opinion was verbally beaten down by the aforementioned community members and readers. It became an "us vs. them" issue. You were either with them or against them and there is no middle ground!
Then a member of the community came up with an idea that they should create their own off-shoot of the atheism community and a safe place, she called it, where they could (I presume) communicate with each other without hearing dissenting views. The group is something very much like secular humanism -to the extent that I and others questioned the need for a new name and group for something that already exists- but absolutely excluding those who did not fall in line and agree with every last bit of their point of view.
The clique started targeting individuals and demonizing them. Those who opposed the clique, behaved badly as well. Neither side wished to have an actual discussion to try to come to some sort of compromise - at least not at this point - and when they started walling themselves off from dissenting views, all they could hear were their own voices echoing back at them. Before long, those views became more extreme. This sort of over reaction and radical actions on both sides is indicative of group polarization. It's a pity, really, because there are a lot of good people on both sides of this issue and they are wasting their time battling each other when we could be working together for the common good.
One can only hope that eventually there are enough of us who refuse to take sides and that some of those who are becoming more radical will realize the problem and work to resolve it. I do hope that we don't have to get even more extreme before a solution is found.
Image found here