Atheist Survival Index (ASI)


Literally, survival means to avoid perishing. Figuratively, it means to do well in your present environment. One can say “I can’t believe I survived that test” and “I narrowly survived being lost at sea” and they are both proper uses of the word. In the context of surviving as an atheist, it mostly means to avoid being oppressed by laws and ideas and other people. Although in some places atheism can and does cost atheists their lives, as in theocracies which are governments controlled by theism where being convicted of being an atheist is punishable by death, the more common survival challenges of atheists include overcoming theist-imposed stereotyping of atheists as being immoral people who cannot be trusted. The most common survival challenge for atheists is simply overcoming these ill-begotten stereotypes and finding acceptance.

Atheists or not, we’re all locked in a perpetual state of survival. The moment any life form emerges, it begins a lifelong quest for survival. From single cell organism on up to extremely complex life forms such as humans, the struggle for life is a fact of life. Even those who are comfortable today are subjected to outside forces that can and will create struggles in the future. Simply being alive is not an optimal state. Thriving is. Life wants to thrive. But there are no guarantees as to how well you may survive at any given point in your life. For example, two people who choose the same schooling, land the same jobs and do all the same things “right” will have differing levels of success. Things like luck, charisma, charm, outside help, and even sociopathy all create an advantages for some. Many people must work harder to maintain the same level of survival as their peers who are essentially doing all the same things and taking all the same precautions. There is no set recipe or method that guarantees optimal survival. Surviving well is an art form. It requires a combination of perseverance,  ingenuity, creativity, and the ability to consistently properly gauge one’s current survival state. Without having the ability to know precisely where you stand at any given moment, you may become ill-equipped to make decisions about planning your next move and all the skills and creativity you possess could be wasted by applying them in the wrong areas.

One of the more fundamental ways in which people improve their survival is through acceptance. Humans are social beings and as such, depend largely on interaction with others in order to survive. Since the earliest days of humanity, finding roles within the group was essential not only to the individual but to the group as a whole. Each group of humans needed hunters, gatherers, healers, story-tellers, tool-makers, and other roles essential to building a functioning thriving community. Only by establishing one’s self as an integral part of the group would one gain acceptance. This would be done by demonstrating one’s ability to fill a specific role or roles. If you were born a male, you would become a tool-maker and hunter at the very least. Or maybe a story-teller if you were exceptional.  If you were born a female, you would become a mother and a gatherer at the very least. Or maybe a healer if you were exceptional. Having exceptional roles translates into exceptional survival being as your value to the community is greater.

Let’s focus on the story-teller. Imagine the level of control the story-teller must have had over the  group. The story-teller was the conveyor of the excitement and accomplishment of the hunters who saw great victory and wanted to share that experience with the women and children and elderly. The story-teller, once captivating his audience, had the power to influence others with his way of thinking. He could explain the rain and thunder and earthquakes and lightening using a combination of tradition and personal conviction. He was trusted with ideas and communicating them. His world view was the clan’s shared world view. One way to compromise one’s level of acceptance would be to challenge the group’s worldview. To challenge the story-teller. In the modern age, this is precisely what atheists are doing. We are challenging the story-tellers. So how do atheists challenge the story-teller AND maintain acceptance? I think this has a lot to do with how far-reaching the story-teller’s views are. Has the story-teller influenced your views? Probably not if you consider yourself an atheist. Does the story-teller influence your family’s views?, your friends’ views?, your boss or co-workers’ views?, your community’s views? the laws governing your life? In order to gauge your current state of survivability as an atheist, you need to know the answers to these questions. The direct influences on your life are either in turn influenced by the story-teller or not. Or maybe only somewhat influenced. These direct influences determine your level of acceptance starting from yourself all the way to the laws of the land that affect you. Each separate layer of influence starting with yourself contributes to your overall level of survivability. The way we can determine whether these influences are positive, neutral, or negative is by using the indicator of acceptance. How accepted are you by your your family, your school, your workplace, and your community? For the purpose of determining your current state of survivability, we will use these most critical areas of influence:

  1. Self-acceptance
  2. Relatives’ acceptance
  3. Friends’ acceptance
  4. Occupation acceptance (school / work)
  5. Community acceptance
  6. Legal acceptance (covers laws locally and nationally)

For each influence, there will be an acceptance indicator with a weight of 0 – 2.

0 = Low acceptance
1 = Moderate acceptance
2 = Good acceptance

Using the sum of the acceptance indicators, we arrive with our Atheist Survival Index or ASI. The index may be somewhere between 0 – 12 with an emphasis on the lowest acceptance indicator with the most immediate influence. For example:

A kid in America in a more liberal area could have indicators like this:

S = 2 (person is comfortable with his atheism)
R = 0 (family is very religious)
F = 2 (friends don’t care one way or the other)
O = 1 (workplace is mixed and “coming out” is not an option)
C = 1 (community is somewhat mixed)
L = 1 (laws are consistently challenged for religious reasons)

This would be an ASI of 7R, meaning that Relatives (family) has the most immediate influence of the lesser than optimal acceptance indicator weights. R stands for Relatives and is called the “Trouble Indicator”  or “TI.”

A woman in Iran might have:

S = 1 (religious upbringing carries guilt)
R = 0 (family is very religious)
F = 1 (friends are mixed)
O = 0 (workplace is very religious)
C = 0 (Community is very religious)
L = 0 (Sharia law is imposed)

This is an ASI of 2 with a TI of S because the self has the most immediate influence of the lesser than optimal acceptance indicator weights.

Once the ASI is formulated, the first step toward improving survivability is to focus on improving the troubled indicator. In the case of the Iranian woman, she needs to work on accepting herself before she can work on building acceptance from her family. She may never be able to change the TI in which case she should move to the next TI which is family. And she may never be able to inform her family given the severity of punishment for coming out.

What I am looking for is someone to play devil’s advocate and tear this system apart so I can be sure it’s ready for prime time. Am I forgetting anything? Is it too confusing? Should people with such high risk like the Iranian woman include a special indicator?

The goal is to be able to help chart a course of improving survivability by moving through the circles of influence with the ultimate goal of establishing secular societies.

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