February 4, 2019

Secular Organizations Do Not Need to Be Perfect

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I don't think that any of the national secular organizations we have here in the United States are perfect. I cannot think of a single one that doesn't periodically do something with which I disagree or find off-putting in some way. But since I am not perfect either, this does not necessarily mean much. Still, I think it is probably fair to note that all the secular organizations have made mistakes. All have fought battles they shouldn't have fought, and all have failed to fight battles they should have fought. But even though none of these organizations are perfect, I would much rather have them than not. That means I will continue to do what I can to support them.

Protecting the separation of church and state is an uphill battle. Christian extremists have made it clear that they oppose it, and they have demonstrated that they are far more effective at electing people to office who will do their bidding than we have been. We need organizations working on our behalf to preserve the separation of church and state. Much the same could be said for efforts to reduce anti-atheist bigotry. It sometimes seems like we have been at this for a long time with little to show for our efforts, but we have made progress. We need strong organizations working to end anti-atheist bigotry.

The Enemy of the Good

It is often tempting to learn about something a national secular organization did with which we disagree and say, "That's it! I can no longer support such an organization." I've had this reaction at one point or another with most of the national secular organizations. As a result, I have little difficulty understanding why people might react this way. And yet, I have not cut off my support for these groups even when they do something I regard as a mistake. Why? Because I think all of them get it right most of the time. I believe we need these organizations even though they are not perfect.

I'm not saying I would never withdraw my support from one of these groups no matter what. I am sure there are horrible things one of them could do that would lead me to react that way. Still, I would much rather have an organization that did some things I didn't like from time-to-time working to advance the secular goals I care about than turn by back on all of them for being flawed in some way. We need these organizations, and we can't allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good.

Has one of these groups embraced "social justice warriorism" too much for you? So what. Are you seriously going to write them off because some of their staff have broader activist interests than you do? Don't get me wrong - I've done my share of wincing in response to statements I have seen from some of these groups. But that does not change the fact that I appreciate most of what they are doing and find myself wishing they had the resources to do even more of it. Or maybe you find the leadership of one of these groups a little too White, too male, etc. Maybe that is not ideal, but does it really invalidate everything the organization is working toward?

If we want strong secular organizations working for us, we need to stop tearing them down every time they disappoint us in some way. Instead, we need to get serious about supporting them. Here are a few simple ideas of how you can do so:

  • Join at least one national secular organization as a member.
  • Connect with several national secular organizations on social media and amplify their message by sharing their content.
  • Inform others with similar interests about these national secular organizations.

Political Implications

As I write these words, it occurs to me that everything I am saying here about secular organizations could be applied to political candidates. In fact, it probably should. I'd rather have a flawed politician working for what I care about than someone with fewer flaws but little interest in representing me. This is why I regularly vote for Christian politicians. Sure, I could refuse to vote for any candidate who was a religious believer, but it is hard to see how that would accomplish anything of value.

Just as there are no perfect secular organization, there are no perfect political candidates. Some are better than others, and the better ones need our support. I'd rather have a politician who was going to fight for some of what I wanted than one who would actively oppose most of what I wanted. If I devote my time to tearing down those who will only fight for some of what I want, I am more likely to get one who will do nothing I'd like to see.

With the Democratic primary ahead, I am hoping those who are beginning to evaluate the already crowded pool of candidates will give this some thought. Hopefully, those who are concerned about various candidates' position on church-state separation, feelings about atheists, or whatever else will ask these questions. For those on Twitter, maybe it is time to revive #AtheistVoter.

Nobody Gets a Free Pass

There is nothing wrong with any of us trying to shape our secular organizations or our politicians to do more of what we want and less of what we don't want. Many of us do this, and many more of us probably should do this. At the same time, I think we need to be careful about how we do it. When we throw hissy fits on social media and bash these organizations or politicians because we are upset with something they did, we need to realize that this may lead others to withdraw their support for them or even begin to work against them. In extreme cases, that might be what we want. In most cases, I'd guess that this is not at all what we want. We want the organization or the politician to shape up, not to give up.

Reasonable adults should be able to understand the difference between advocating for their interests and attempting to destroy any person or organization who does not cater to all of them all of the time. Let's be reasonable adults.