There are two types of atheist groups

Wow Darrel Ray is brilliant. He nails it on "First generation leadership." Because of my type-a personality and my inability to trust easily I was unable to spot future dedicated activists when they aligned with me early in their activist "careers." Ashley Paramore and Shelley Mountjoy were by my side at the beginning. If I could have known to expand their leadership role early enough, they might have never needed to go become superstars elsewhere. 

Check this article out if you would like to learn more about how atheist groups function, and how we can improve them.



Two Types of Leadership in the Secular Movement

Leadership among secular groups tends to come in two general flavors, those that are led by one or a few charismatic leaders (often the founders) and those that are led by a less centralized executive group.  There is plenty of room for both types of groups in the movement, but it is important to be conscious and intentional in understanding and recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of both.  For purposes of discussion, we will call these groups “first generation” and “second generation,” respectively, although they may not always fit that classification.

First-Generation Leadership

First-generation groups are often led by charismatic leaders. These are lean and activist groups.  The founders have a sharp vision for what they want to accomplish and move fast to get the job done.  They are often the leading edge of the movement and have influence out of proportion to their numbers both within the movement and in the larger society.  Their strengths are invaluable because they are pacesetters, influencing the overall direction of the movement.  

Despite their major strengths, it is also important to understand the weaknesses of first generation leaders.  They are often an insular group and less democratic. Since first-generation leaders are generally autocratic, they tend to attract members who respond to strong, direct leadership.  This limits membership, since only a fraction of the target population responds to this type of leadership.  

Challenges to their leadership or vision are not welcome.  It may be easy to join one of these groups but hard, if not impossible, to gain a position of influence. For this reason, the leaders have difficulty grooming the next generation. Upcoming, promising new leaders often see no opportunity to take part in the core functions of the organization and, therefore, don’t stick around long.  Further, the boards of first-generation groups are generally a reflection of the leader and, therefore, typically very insular as well.  The age range within this type of board is often similar to the age of the founder.  This makes for a leadership structure that has a limited view and tends to be resistant to change.  


Further, he talks about how groups led by charismatic leaders suffer when the external environment changes.  The decision to start was born from that change in environment.  The atheist world is much different today than 6 years ago.  RRS is still needed, but atheism united will be more current and relevant.  The project was born from the idea that we didn't care what banner we impacted the world under, we just wanted to have the biggest impact possible.  We decided it was necessary to create something different.  How justified Darrel Ray makes us feel.

"As long as the external environment remains consistent with the conditions in which the organization was founded, it will continue to 

function. But when the external environment changes, it can present difficult challenges. To the degree that an organization influences the surrounding culture, the target of its efforts must change. Culture is a moving target, and organizations that don’t adjust their influence strategy run the risk of using yesterday’s successful methods on today’s culture. 

A good example is the civil rights movement, where many of the first-generation leaders continued following a vision that was rendered obsolete with changes in legislation and social norms."


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Cpt_pineapple's picture

I think "first generation

I think "first generation leadership" is one of the few times I agree with Darrel Ray.




Sage_Override's picture

My attitude is generally not

My attitude is generally not to trust anyone until they prove to me that they can respect my, well, let's face it, sometimes overly eager views, as well as my dedicated stances, inability to back down from debates and recognize that I am genuine in everything that I do.  This is probably why my social circle isn't as large as I would prefer, but breaking off a lot of the dead appendages that I used to call friends and past girlfriends gave me a perceptive glance at just how much they gave a fuck about my life, my opinions and my overall unique observations to the world.  Those that I have left in my life I keep around because they are either smarter than me, have experienced more in life so I can learn and grow (not live vicariously through so much) and they possess feedback to help me better myself or challenge my outlook without being stupid or condescending to the point of insulting.  



"When the majority believes in what is false, the truth becomes a quest." - Me

BeltwayAtheist's picture

Recognizing true leadership

Leadership...something near & dear to my own heart.

Thank you for throwing out such a big fat softball for me to hit out of the park..or perhaps you are throwing out chum in hopes of attracting a great white shark.


Now I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I won't comment on "she who shall not be named".   However, I will analyze your characterization of "superstar".   Superstar is a word of art used to describe someone who out-shines their competition and thus stands out or becomes highly visible and recognizable in public.  How does one become a superstar?  If we look at science as a guide...a super-star must go through different phases or in other words complete a stellar evolution:

Stellar evolution is the process by which a star undergoes a sequence of radical changes during its lifetime. Depending on the mass of the star, this lifetime ranges from only a few million years for the most massive to trillions of years for the least massive, which is considerably longer than the age of the universe.

All stars are born from collapsing clouds of gas and dust, often called nebulae or molecular cloudsNuclear fusion powers a star for most of its life. Stars similar to our Sun gradually grow in size until they reach a red giant phase, after which the core collapses into a dense white dwarf and the outer layers are expelled as a planetary nebula. Larger stars can explode in a supernova as their cores collapse into an extremely dense neutron star or black hole. It is not clear how red dwarfs die because of their extremely long life spans, but they probably experience a gradual death in which their outer layers are expelled over time.

So using science as a guide, before a star is born, it requires other elements before Fusion is possible. Have we not seen this play out in real life?  A group of like-minded people come together and a group is formed.  That group then coalesced around an idea...and then if that idea is powerful shines brightly and people take notice. 

Unfortunately for the group, and the powerful idea, one element of the star acts like it's the most important element, and then tries to become bigger than life itself, dancing around the universe like they invented life itself.  The star may not realize how unattractive this behavior is to the other elements, and slowly but inevitably the other elements leave the "Nucleus"....and suddenly the once bright star becomes very dim.

In a similar vein, when recognizing true leadership, one gravitates to those who understand that they need others to shine, and if one doesn't respect the process of becoming a star, or one doesn't realize the importance of  the presence of other elements, then that person is  NO LEADER...and certainly NOT a SUPER-STAR.


Furthermore, anyone who plots & plans for the quickest path of claiming the working title of "leader" and then doesn't care enough to have a working plan while in their role of leader is a FALSE & FRAUDULENT LEADER.  The ability to quickly attain the role of leader is insignificant compared to the ability to govern and have a reasonable plan of action while in the role of leader.

Moreover, anyone who does not do any due diligence to find out the truth of any matter by digging through the weeds, or by simply doing some rational inquiry is intellectually lazy, easily corrupted, and subject to frequent manipulation.   You might say that person deserves to be lied to if they believe any gorram story...especially when it comes from a singular point of view.  The person who makes a judgement on any other person without first having the balls or the gumption to directly reach out to the person is a poor role model, and is NOT worthy of any leadership role...and consequently should not be followed.


I challenge anyone on RRS to prove me wrong.