April 9, 2010

Atheism and U.S. Political Discourse

The U.S. Capitol building in Washington.
The U.S. Capitol building in Washington. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It makes me feel sick to hear about teabaggers spitting on members of Congress, using racist and homophobic slurs, and throwing bricks through windows. Seeing Republican members of Congress egging them on is even harder to stomach. Part of me thinks that this is precisely what happens when we throw accountability out the window, but that doesn't mean I don't want to see it change.

As atheists, we have not been given much of a role in the political discourse of the United States. We seem to be the one group that both the left and the right can hate together. But because we haven't been allowed to have a role doesn't absolve us of all responsibility. Maybe we need to take on a larger role. After all, we tend to be more comfortable with the shades of gray which reveal the dangers of absolutism, religious extremism, and political polarization.

A political divide in the U.S. is nothing new. While our present state of affairs seems worse than anything I can recall in my lifetime, any student of American political history will tell you that it has been much worse during many periods. One doesn't have to go back further than the 1990s to see examples of the same sort of right-wing militia craziness we are seeing today.

Back in November, I posed the questions of whether political discourse in the United States can get any more divided and whether there is a "point of no return" from which recovery would be all but impossible. The comments left in response to that post were quite pessimistic, largely echoing my own feelings on the subject. Things have certainly worsened since November, and I expect that they may continue to do so for some time. I remain unsure about how bad things would have to get before we hit a point where they cannot be reversed. At the same time, I find myself wondering if we are getting close to it. Worst of all, I don't have a clue how to transcend this discourse.

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