March 23, 2012

Measuring the Success of the Atheist Movement

religion is fiction

Before my brief hiatus away from blogging, I posed the following question:
How do we measure success with regard to the atheist movement (i.e., on what basis should we evaluate our progress or lack thereof when it comes to our shared goals)?
Lets take a look at how you responded.

One point of general agreement was the idea that progress could be measured through surveys of public attitudes toward atheists. That is, public opinion could be one valuable indicator of progress. I agree completely. The normalization of atheism is an important goal and a great way to assess progress.

Another idea involved tracking the overall number of people identifying themselves as atheists. It was suggested that many shared goals would follow from this indicator. That is, if we reached the point where a majority of Americans rejected any religious affiliation, we wouldn't see mentions of gods on our currency or in our pledge. This was a good point. A shift in numbers ought to produce many concrete gains.

A closely related idea was to monitor the number of people holding public office who openly identified themselves as atheists. One advantage of this would be that numbers alone might not be enough, as a religious minority could still wield considerable influence (e.g., the American Taliban).

Others stressed the importance of strengthening separation of church and state and the abolition of Christian privilege. I agree that continued legal efforts are going to be needed, especially in the short term. The Christian majority is going to resist any signs of decline in membership or power, so we had better be prepared to work in the legal arena. While I certainly agree about the importance of abolishing Christian privilege, I see that largely as a consequence of the other efforts.

Decline in religious membership was also mentioned. As religious membership declines among the youth, it seems at least possible that we are seeing the beginning of a gradual demise. I remain quite cautious about predicting that any trends evident today will continue unchecked. After all, religion has been declared dead in the U.S. before, only to come surging back. Need an example? How about the fact that we are actually debating contraception in 2012? But I agree that tracking religious activity among the youth is important.

In the end, I think GodlessMonster might have come up with my favorite suggestion of all: we will know we have been successful when atheist blogs are no longer needed.

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