Taking Back America for Atheists

woman wrapped in American flag

My feelings toward patriotism, or at least what often passes for patriotism in the United States, have never been particularly positive. From what I have observed, patriotism usually takes the form of fierce nationalism, American exceptionalism, blatant denial of a number of very real problems facing our country, and mindless "redneckery." I know "redneckery" isn't a word, but how else do you describe the people who chant "USA USA" at pro-wrestling matches?

There's also the near-constant god talk that tends to be intertwined with patriotism for many. Can you imagine what would happen if an American president forgot to end a speech with the required "God bless America" phrase? With all that in mind, it is not easy for me to suggest, as I am about to do in this post, that we atheists might benefit from embracing a sort of patriotic atheism. I can only do so by recognizing that there are other ways of looking at patriotism. Just because it is often a negative thing does not mean that it has to be a negative thing. Perhaps there are would even be benefits for atheists in embracing a healthy sort of patriotism.

John (The Dyslectic Atheist) got me thinking along these lines in a 2010 post. Here's the part that set my mind whirling:

...we as rational people, we must take a stance, and begin fighting to rid all levels of our government of this deluded religious, superstition and nonsense - and then take back our nation as the secular one that our Founding Fathers had intended it to be – lest we become just another nation of ignorant warmongering, and death loving Christian morons.

He's right. Some would say that we have already become the nation of morons to which he refers, and there is ample evidence to suggest that they may have a point. Still, I can't help feeling somewhat encouraged that there are so many of us, including John, speaking out in opposition to this sort of idiocy.

The Christian right has long had their version of a "take back America" movement, perhaps best exemplified in 2010 by Fox "News" windbag, Glenn Beck and currently exemplified by more people than I can count. But they seek to take us back to a fictional time and place, turning us into something we've never been and disregarding much of our Constitution in the process.

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 atheists 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. Still, I think it might have some advantages. And we do have history on our side.

An early version of this post appeared on Atheist Revolution in 2010. It was revised and expanded in 2020.