January 6, 2012

The National Atheist Party

National Atheist PartyBig thanks to Hemant Mehta (Friendly Atheist) for his recent post about the National Atheist Party. He reminds me of something I've been meaning to address for a while: the National Atheist Party. Since I first heard of this organization, I have been trying to figure out what they hope to accomplish and understand their vision for improving the plight of atheists in the U.S. I'll share what I've learned after reading as much as I could find on their website and Facebook page, as well as watching the videos they have released so far. I'll also highlight the questions for which I have been unable to find answers because I think that is equally important in this case.

An American Political Party

The National Atheist Party describes itself as a political party. Great! I'd really like to see America get beyond this Republican and Democrat garbage and have several other parties from which voters could choose. The problem is, as Hemant points out, their platform goes well beyond the things most atheists have in common. Why is that a problem?

Here's the mission of the National Atheist Party:
To politically represent U.S. atheists and all who are drawn to our mandate, in a political process that has thus far marginalized and ignored one of the largest and growing segments of the U.S. population.
They say they want to represent atheists in the U.S., but their political platform (inexplicably buried on their website) is likely only going to interest the politically progressive atheists. They acknowledge that it is left-leaning. Fair enough, but I see no reason to think that conservative atheists would support the organization simply because it focuses on atheists. Atheists are far more diverse than what is reflected here, and atheism is such a narrow label for what appears to be a secular progressive agenda.

Running Candidates?

As a politically progressive atheist, I do agree with much of their platform. However, reading it leaves me wondering about the group's short- vs. long-term plans. Are they going to run their own candidates? If so, what are the merits of trying to compete as a third party vs. seeking to influence existing parties? What do they think the corporate media is going to do with candidates who are trying to run on atheism?

At this point, the National Atheist Party appears to be little more than a fundraising operation. I understand that a new organization is going to need money, but how effective can fundraising be when there is no clear idea of how donations are going to be used? This comes back to the unclear goals of the group. I would need a much clearer vision of the organization before I'd seriously consider donating money or time.

Initially, I would expect most of the positive action to take place at the local and state levels. But even here, I have not yet been able to figure out what goals the group is pursuing. They indicate that they hope to endorse candidates in the future, but it is not clear when this is going to happen or how it might happen. Are they running candidates for school boards or other local offices? This would seem like a logical place to start, but I haven't seen any mention of it yet.

Increasing the Political Activity of Atheists

Hemant is right to suggest that the National Atheist Party could be worthwhile if it manages to increase the political activity of atheists, bring people together in a political context, and begin to organize a potential voting block. Maybe with enough money and enough members, the group could turn into a political force of some sort. The question is how they get real money and active members without articulating clearer plans. Perhaps they are modeling themselves after Occupy Wall Street and avoiding the sort of leadership and vision I am suggesting. That would be okay, but once again, this should be clearly stated.

The question at this point is how the National Atheist Party intends to set themselves apart from established secular groups. With groups like Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Freedom From Religion Foundation already focused on church-state issues, American Atheists focused on promoting atheist identity and educating the public about atheism, and the Secular Coalition for America lobbying existing politicians on behalf of atheists, what is this group going to do to distinguish itself?

If anyone from the National Atheist Party would like to submit a statement sharing some of this information with readers of Atheist Revolution, I would be happy to post it.