June 2, 2007

Atheism: Becoming a Movement

Earlier this month, The Great Realization did a very thought-provoking post called "Is Atheism a "Movement?" I've been thinking about it ever since and have already linked to it in a previous post. However, I now feel the need to come back and address it in more detail.

Is atheism a movement? My initial thought was, "Of course not." How can a simple lack of belief in gods serve as a movement? But I soon reconsidered. Perhaps atheism itself is not a movement, but something is happening in America today. Call it a backlash against the influence of fundamentalist Christianity, a reaction to the Bush administration's assault on science and glorification of faith-based lunacy, or even a swing of the social pendulum, something is going on that is beginning to resemble a movement.

Criticism of fundamentalist religion has expanded significantly since 9/11. A focus on Islamic extremism opened the door, and many of us starting asking questions about Christian extremism as well. If fundamentalist Islam paved the way for Islamic extremism by teaching intolerance and glorifying religiously-inspired violence, could Christian fundamentalism do the same? The mainstream media begin to take notice when a couple of passionate atheists published books that ended up being bestsellers. Far from being an anomaly, the success of other secular books has spawned additional media coverage and continued interest by publishing houses. Clearly, there is now a vast market for such material.

As noted in The Great Realization post, it is strange to think about the need for a movement to promote non-belief. But I am not sure that this is really what the growing atheist movement is about. I see us a promoting reason, science, skepticism, and critical thinking. I see us as challenging the taboo against applying such methods to religion. Yes, we are attacking religion as being irrational and harmful to the world. However, we are also offering healthy secular alternatives (e.g., the application of the scientific method to inform policy decisions, secular humanism, etc.). We also challenge the common myths about atheists and seek to replace negative stereotypes with reality-based information.

There is an emerging energy among atheists, a growing drive to act in order to address the injustices we perceive. We want to live in a society where it is acceptable to be an atheist, and I think that increasing numbers of us are willing to take some risks to facilitate that goal. If atheism is starting to become a movement, then it is one in which I am proud to participate.

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