July 18, 2018

Secular Activism and Atheist Activism: Are There Meaningful Distinctions?

'Windows Open Simultaneously (First Part, Third Motif)' by Robert Delaunay
Robert Delaunay [Public domain], Wikimedia Commons
When I think of efforts to preserve (or expand) the separation of church and state, I tend to think of secular activism. That is to say, I would typically define secular activism as focusing primarily on church-state separation. I recognize that it could be broader than that, and I am not arguing here that this is how it should be defined. I'm merely explaining that I tend to associate the two.

This raises the question of whether there is such a thing as atheist activism that is distinct in any meaningful way from secular activism. Are they merely synonyms, or do they mean different things? Is there anything we could count as atheist activism and not secular activism or vice-versa? I'm really not sure. It seems like many people use "atheist activism" and "secular activism" interchangeably, and I think that's probably okay.

If I was going to argue that the two were meaningfully distinct (and I am not at all sure I want to), I'd probably suggest that they overlap but have somewhat different points of emphasis. As I said above, I associate secular activism with efforts focused on church-state separation. On the other hand, I tend to think of atheist activism as more focused on things like ending discrimination against atheists, working to overcome bigoted attitudes directed at atheists, providing support for people who are mistreated because of their atheism, and that sort of thing. Another way to say it would be that I see secular activism as aimed at promoting secularism and atheist activism as somewhat more of an identity issue aimed at making life a little bit better for atheists.

Are there atheists who are interested in this sort of atheist activism while simultaneously having little interest in the separation of church and state? I think so. I believe I've encountered at least a handful of them online. Are there atheists who prefer to focus on church-state issues rather than anything having to do with atheist identity? I think so. Again, I've met some online. As for whether secular activism and atheist activism are really different enough not to use the terms interchangeably, I'm still not sure. What do you think?