October 17, 2007

Atheism In America

While reporting on the annual Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) convention in Madison, WI, the Associated Press notes that it has been a good year for atheism. I agree. Impressive sales of atheist-oriented books have pushed atheism into the American consciousness to a degree not seen during my lifetime. Not only do there appear to be increasing numbers of us, but we are slowly starting to become better organized. A national freethought radio show just launched, and membership in freethought organizations such as the FFRF are increasing. Growing numbers of nonbelievers are tiring of remaining in the closet and beginning to speak out. We seem to have that critical yet elusive force of momentum on our side. The challenge is how we can build on this year's accomplishments and sustain the current momentum while taking our growing movement to the next (and yet to be defined) level.

I suppose this notion of needing to maintain our momentum as our secular movement expands is one of the main reasons I continue to be interested in how best to organize nonbelievers. We really have become better organized, but we have not yet managed to harness the political power inherent in our numbers. Our potential is vast, and many are sensing that we could be on the verge of something truly impressive.

Since I am periodically criticized by Christians for what they perceive as intolerance, hatred, and the like, I'd like to clarify exactly what I hope our movement can accomplish:
  • I want a society where all citizens may receive a quality, secular public education. Such an education will be recognized as necessary to (1) ensure that future Americans are competitive in a global economy, and (2) produce an informed citizenry, capable of intelligently participating in this democracy.
  • I want a society where policy decisions are made on the basis of reason and the best scientific evidence available. Politicians should have access to the best available science and should be expected to base policy decisions on data rather than appeals to fear and ignorance.
  • I want to strengthen separation of church and state because I recognize that this is the only way to (1) guarantee continued protection of personal religious freedom, and (2) prevent theocracy. I recognize that religious belief is important to many Americans, and I want to assure that they remain free to practice their religion in their own homes and churches without interference by the state. Only a secular democracy can assure that all Americans retain religious freedom.
  • I want to promote social justice as a corollary of secular humanism. That is, we should promote the sort of treatment for others that we would seek for ourselves. The idea that an American could have a full-time job and still live in poverty should be sufficiently abhorrent to motivate us to action.
In reading over these goals, it strikes me that making progress on any of them will require greater political activism on the part of nonbelievers. In addition, I can't help thinking that there are many theists who would be interested in working toward exactly the same goals. Perhaps one prong of our growing secular movement should be focused around developing collaborative relationships with believers interested in the same goals.