October 4, 2020

Atheists Working Together to Change the World

The world is changing

A political candidate with no more than a handful of supporters would not perform very well in an election. Imagine someone running for president in the U.S. who was consistently polling at no more than 1% and showing no signs of improvement. Nobody is going to win a presidential election with the support of only 1% of eligible voters. This seems obvious, doesn't it? Elections are about building support, and there is strength in numbers, after all.

So why do we atheists seem to have so much trouble figuring this out when it comes to bringing about the sort of changes most of us say we want (e.g., ending religious privilege, preventing elected officials from legislating their religious beliefs, reducing anti-atheist bigotry)? We complain about how the world we have is different from the one we want while refusing to work on overcoming the petty differences that keep us from working effectively with one another. We are like a politician running for office who is polling at 1% and is unwilling to acknowledge that this is a problem or do anything to change it.

The unfortunate reality is that there are not enough atheists, at least not in the U.S., for us to be effective without working together. Some of our religious neighbors despise us because we do not believe in their gods, and they would prefer to remain in power so they can continue to impose their religious beliefs on us. As long as we remain divided, it is difficult to imagine this changing. Even though there will likely be more atheists tomorrow than there are today, our power will remain limited as long as we refuse to work together.

I hope I somehow manage to live long enough to see the day when atheists grow so tired of letting the Christian right win that we decide to stop doing so. But as much as I'd like to see this happen, I'm pessimistic about getting to do so. Even if there were more of us than there were of them, we often seem to prefer attacking and undermining each other versus working toward shared goals. As long as we remain divided, we will continue to be easy to defeat.

How to we come together? Here are a few quick thoughts:

  1. Identify a small and manageable number of goals on which most atheists can agree without getting bogged down in the list having to be comprehensive or reflecting any one faction's top priorities.
  2. Forgive one another for past mistakes (we have all made them).
  3. Recognize that making some progress in a limited number of areas is far superior to making little if any progress in any area.
  4. Raise awareness about problems that are important to us without demonizing those who might not share our views about what it important.
  5. Selectively reward the efforts of others that are consistent with our goals, no matter who they are.
  6. Use social media to raise awareness, promote secular activism, and let those doing good work know that they are appreciated.
  7. Join at least one local, state, regional, national, or international secular group or organization.

The bottom line is this: we are going to be more effective if we work together. That means that we need to identify and overcome the barriers that prevent us from working together. Doing so will require some of us to let go of some old grudges and move past our need to be right. But because I'd rather see us make more progress on secular goals than get in the last word, feel morally righteous, or stroke my ego, I'm in.