November 9, 2008

One Atheist's Post-Election Thoughts

Sen. Barack Obama in Austin, TX
Sen. Barack Obama in Austin, TX (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
After the historic victory of Sen. Barack Obama, now President-Elect Obama, it seems that two words are on the lips of every media pundit: "Now what?" It hardly seems fair to be asking this already, but I think we better get used to it. As if Obama didn't already have his hands full with an economic crisis, two wars, and 8 years of destructive Bush rule, he has the added pressure of being the first African American president. He is going to be under far more scrutiny than usual. The last thing he needs right now are the outstretched hands of his supporters, expecting immediate favors. And yet, this is precisely what he will get. In the aftermath of the election, we are all trying to figure out what his victory means for us.

How might Obama's victory affect atheists? The very question is misleading because it suggests that we are a far more cohesive group than is the case and that we have some sort of shared agenda, which is sadly also not the case. The best we can do is select a few issues which are likely to be of interest to the majority of atheists and speculate about them.

This is precisely the strategy the Humanist Network News (HNN) selected for a recent article (update: link no longer active) on the subject. They identified issues likely to be of interest to atheists and humanists as "separation of church and state, First Amendment rights, protecting a woman's right to choose, marriage equality for gays, etc." I agree that all these issues are important to me. I'd add others, but these are a good starting point.

Perhaps the most important point made by the HNN article was that those of us in the reality-based community cannot afford to be complacent. Improved grassroots and political organization is essential. I sincerely hope that this will prove to be the primary lesson learned from Elizabeth Dole's campaign of anti-atheist bigotry.

The Secular Coalition for America, the first lobbying organization that focuses on promoting the rights of American atheists must be strengthened. Perhaps (and we really don't know this yet) the new administration will be more receptive to their message.

The election results as a whole, and not just focusing on the presidency, seem to indicate some reduction in power of the Christian right at the national level. Personally, I perceive any decline as both small and temporary. I am convinced that the Christian right will regroup, focus their efforts on local and state politics, and regain any strength they might have lost. I think history suggests that this is the most likely outcome.

What I encourage every one of us to think about is how we, both as individuals and collectively, can work more effectively to accomplish our goals. Obama is not going to do it for us, and some evidence has already surfaced suggesting that he may not be much of a friend to atheists. No, this task is ours. The best we can realistically hope for from Obama is that he will throw fewer obstacles in our path.