Wednesday, December 12, 2007

America’s atheists | Believe it or not |

America’s atheists | Believe it or not |

Believe it! According to The Economist article linked above, atheists in America would have a better chance at effecting change if we were to stop "picking the wrong fights." Of course, that's not our only problem, they also cite other reasons:

What accounts for the failure of atheists to organise and wield influence? One problem is that they are hardly a cohesive group. Another issue is simply branding. “Atheist” has an ugly ring in American ears and it merely defines what people are not. “Godless” is worse, its derogatory attachment to “communist” may never be broken. “Humanist” sounds too hippyish. A few have taken to calling themselves “Brights” for no good reason and to widespread mirth. And “secular” isn’t quite the word either; one can be a Christian secularist.
But none of that comes close to our biggest problem, which The Economist opines is our meanness. Sound familiar to anyone else??? We have been accused for years of being unpleasant anyway. I suppose that these criticisms are correct, at least to a certain extent. Many of us choose to speak out in favor of the separation of church and state wherever violations appear, rather than only when more groups are on our side. If that strikes some as petty, what can we do?
Also, the "new atheist" authors have brought this issue to the forefront with both the style and content of their writings. We have been criticized as "militant," "fundamentalist," "dogmatic" or just plain "rude". The root of the problem, again according to The Economist:
But another failing of the irreligious movement has been its tendency, frequently, to pick the wrong fights. Keeping the Ten Commandments out of an Alabama courthouse is one thing. But attacking a Christmas nativity scene on public property does more harm than good. Such secular crusades allow Christians—after all, the overwhelming majority of the country—to feel under attack, and even to declare that they are on the defensive in a “War on Christmas”. When a liberal federal court in California struck the words “under God” from the pledge of allegiance, religious conservatives rallied. Atheists might be tactically wise to accept the overwhelming majority’s comfort with such “ceremonial deism”.
OK, fair enough. We piss off a lot of people. And I'm all for strategy in the fight. But I will never understand why anyone feels that we should be satisfied with half-measures. But if these things piss off Christians, why wouldn't they be any more inclined to support our stand when it comes to "areas where American religiosity can do harm—over-aggressive proselytising in the armed forces, undermining science or AIDS programmes, alienating minorities at home and Muslims abroad". Can anyone say "stem cells?" How about other areas: gay rights? Abortion? Intelligent Design vs. Science in the classroom?
No, I'm afraid making nice with the religious will not make them any more likely to support a reasoned approach to any of the above. Therefore, what incentive do we have to abandon the quest for well-thought out policies at all levels of government? Or the constitutional right to separation of church and state?


  1. "No, I'm afraid making nice with the religious will not make them any more likely to support a reasoned approach to any of the above."

    I'm not sure this is true. I was, as early as a year ago, a committed Christian. Through the power of reason, I walked away from theism.

    As Carl Sagan would point out, what makes us different is much less than what makes us the same. I don't want to piss off theists just because they are theists in the same way that I, as a Democrat, don't want to piss off Republicans simply because they are Republicans.

    Dialogue, discussion, reason, tolerance, compassion and patience seem to be the key to overturning the millenia of religious belief.

    But thats just my opinion.

  2. CarriedtheCross: I agree, in part, with what you are saying. Of course, you are much more likely to convert a religious person to atheism through tolerance and understanding of their viewpoint, on an individual basis. I don't believe, however, that that concept translates well to the national debate over any of these topics. I think the abortion debate is instructive: no amount of cajoling or dialogue will make either side change their mind, but overthrow of the religious worldview might stand a chance? Who knows . . .


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