April 24, 2015

Advancing Secular Goals

English: Picture I made for my goals article
Picture I made for my goals article (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
What are your personal goals when it comes to atheism or the larger secular community? Do you have any? Are you seeking to bring about some sort of social change, provide support to other atheists, promote secularism, protect or expand certain freedoms, or something else? I have been asking this question of myself lately and finding that it is not an easy one to answer.

Part of the problem I'm having is that my goals often seem to change. I don't have to look back more than a year ago to identify a goal or two that was at least moderately important to me then that seems much less so now. And I certainly have some goals today that strike me as more important than they did a year ago.

As of this moment, some of my goals include the following:
  1. Protecting the separation of church and state by promoting the necessity of a secular government that provides both religious freedom and freedom from religion
  2. Promoting reality-based public education
  3. Informing others about atheism in order to replace stereotypes and myths with accurate information
  4. Critiquing religion in order to contribute to the gradual erosion of the power and privilege it enjoys
  5. Encouraging the use of scientifically-informed and data-driven approaches in the legislative process
  6. Promoting freethought as a way of minimizing tribalism and reducing conflict
For the sake of brevity, I initially allowed myself no more than five goals here. But I just had to add #6 because I've been focusing so much on it lately. This is an example of something that I was not thinking about much a year ago. So while there are others, these would be my top goals at the moment.

Why bother to think about goals? I think it might be helpful to have a set of goals for at least three reasons. First, it can help keep us accountable for our own behavior. I can ask myself what I am doing and how much of it is consistent with my goals. Second, it can help us determine how (or if) to interact with others who may be doing things that run counter to or are irrelevant to our goals. How much time I devote to this could be guided by what is relevant to my goals. Third, sharing our goals with one another might reduce misunderstandings. We may still disagree, but at least we'll know where the other party is coming from.

If I find myself getting sucked into yet another controversy, I could start by asking whether it is relevant to my goals. If it is not, I may decide to skip it if I can't articulate why it is worth my time. And if it is relevant to my goals, I can pursue it with a clearer understanding of why I am doing so.

When I encounter a blog post, video, altered photo, cartoon, or tweet that seems to be aimed at provoking others, I have started to ask myself how this material is consistent with my goals. Sometimes it is. A great bit of satire that manages to poke fun at someone's bad behavior while communicating something of value would be a perfect example. Other times, the material does not seem to have any value and exists solely for the purpose of hurting someone's feelings. Maybe keeping my goals in mind will help me skip over it and look for something more productive.
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