July 4, 2011

American and Atheist

One Nation Indivisible
I wrote a post last July in which I speculated about the possible merits of atheists launching our own "take back America" movement.
What if atheists started our own "take back America" movement, focusing on restoring America to the secular democracy envisioned by our founders and reflected in our Constitution? Obviously, many of us are already working toward such a goal. Look at the efforts of organizations like Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Freedom From Religion Foundation. I suppose what I'm talking about here is more of a marketing approach than anything else.
I was not advocating such an approach as much as I was thinking aloud about it. Reader reactions were mixed, as they should have been.

Now here we are one year later, and it appears that American Atheists had a similar idea, one which they decided to put into practice today. In the 26 states that agreed to allow it, the group is hiring planes to display trailing banners with messages like "God-LESS America" and "Atheism is Patriotic."

I really like the "God-LESS America" message, but I'm less than thrilled with the claim that atheism is patriotic. I think that is because patriotism has such a negative connotation for me. Don't get me wrong - I love the fact that the United States designed intentionally to be a secular nation, and there are many positive things about the country where I reside. But it has never made much sense to me to take pride in the fact that I was born here when this was completely out of my control.

I suppose what has always bothered me the most about patriotism is that is often goes way beyond American Atheists' definition as "loyalty to one's country." Here is how I described patriotism a year ago:
From what I have seen here in the U.S., it tends to take the form of fierce nationalism, American exceptionalism (i.e., we're above international law), and mindless redneckery (I know that isn't a word, but how else do you describe the drones chanting "USA USA" at pro-wrestling matches?).
What I would like to see instead is a healthy sort of patriotism that makes no claims about our country being better than any other and does not gloss over our many problems but instead focuses on fixing them. Patriotism should be able making our country as good as it can possibly be. This is something I could certainly get behind, and I see atheism as having a huge role to play in this new sort of patriotism.

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