March 18, 2017

Uniting Atheists in Support of Secular Activism

Minnesota women's march against Donald Trump

Secular activist, Lee Moore, recently posted "a letter to the atheist community" on Facebook. I'm friends with him on Facebook, so I was able to see the letter. I have since been told that no one who is not friends with him is able to see it because of the way he posted it. I don't understand Facebook well enough to verify this for myself, but that's why I did not try to link to it here. Essentially, Lee calls on atheists to end "the constant internal attacks" and come together to support secular activism.
So lets put aside our petty differences and unite like never before to push back these dark days. As I said in the beginning, I am guilty of attacking my fellow godless allies. No more, I pledge to do everything in my power to pull us back together and I hope you do the same.
Aside from minor quibbles over whether there has been, currently is, or should be an "atheist community" or an "atheist movement" rather than a secular activist community, a progressive atheist movement, or something else, I did not see much in Lee's letter that I expected to provoke strong disagreement. There was one exception, though, and that concerns the partisan political slant it reflected.
Our current president and his band of miscreants have pretty much declared war on the separation of church and state. Those Bush years we all dreaded are back with a vengeance. Our rights are threatened, and we have to stand together to fight for them.
While the stated focus of Lee's letter was on atheists coming together to defend our rights, it is difficult to imagine that your average Trump-supporting atheist (or atheists who supported Bush during his presidency) would feel enthusiastic about signing up. I believe this reflects on ongoing difficulty many liberal atheists have figuring out what to do with conservative atheists. Do we want them in our community only if they abandon their values and adopt ours, or are we willing to treat them as equal partners?

Staks Rosch (Dangerous Talk) followed up Lee's letter with a post offering his support and taking things in even more of a political direction (e.g., he describes Lee as having "called on unity to fight against the Trump administration"). Staks adds some examples of the sort of issues he'd like to see us come together and fight to improve, including science education, climate change, and separation of church and state. He also takes a bit more of an explicit focus on Trump, describing him as "our common enemy." Again, I wonder what this communicates to conservatives.

Here's my quick take:
  • I admire both Lee and Staks. Based on what I know of them, which admittedly isn't much, they seem like good people.
  • I agree with both Lee and Staks that the Bush administration stimulated secular activism on the part of liberal atheists, and I expect the Trump administration may do the same.
  • I think it would be fantastic for politically liberal or progressive atheists to come together to work on whatever goals they wish. If there is going to be a partisan political agenda involved (e.g., opposing Trump), I find it misleading to label this "the atheist community" or "the atheist movement" because it is not either of these things. It needs a "liberal" or "progressive" qualifier.
  • I believe that those of us who are liberal (or progressive) atheists need to do some "soul" searching on the subject of conservative atheists, how to treat them, their role in any community or movement we wish to build, and so on. Calls for unity need to be genuine or they may provoke resentment and backlash.
  • I have seen a few people reacting negatively to what Lee and Staks wrote because they are equating it with Atheism+. I understand the concern, but I don't believe that either Lee or Staks were part of Atheism+. I don't think that is what they are aiming for here. I think they are interested in boosting secular activism and perhaps struggling a bit with political partisanship.
  • If the goal here is to increase the number of secular activists, my suggestion would be to minimize the Trump focus, make it about the specific issues around which one is attempting to stimulate activism, and make an effort to appeal to the broadest possible audience.
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