Allowing Secular Activism to Evolve to Meet Changing Demands

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I've been paying attention to national secular organizations for close to 25 years. In that time, every one of them has done or said at least a few things that made me cringe. Most of these have been small. They reflect minor differences of opinion or style. I often agree with what they are trying to do but wish they'd do it in a different way.

And then there are the big ones. They are far less common, but they make me wonder, "Who thought that was a good idea?" What usually makes them big is that I worry that they'll undermine secularism in some way. Some seem to provide ammunition to the forces of theocracy. Others hit the sort of tone that may alienate would-be supporters.

I can't think of any examples so egregious that they led me to cut ties and disown the organization. I can think of a few that made me consider whether I should do so. I doubt I'm alone in this.

It is often a question of balance. I look at the good things the organization is doing and weigh that against the bad. Most of the time, it isn't even close. I'll agree with 90% of what they are doing. I then have to quantify the bad. How bad is it? Does it undermine the agenda or alienate supporters? If it continued like this, would I stick around?

I may reach out to the organization and express my views on what they've done or said. I don't expect them to change course in response, but they might if they heard from several others. I may also speak out here or on another platform to criticize their actions. My goal isn't to destroy them but to provide some feedback before things get worse.

I also remind myself that tactics have to change over time. We can't keep doing what used to work if we have evidence that it is no longer working. We need to try new things and take some risks. If we don't, things will get stale and become less effective. Some of my preferred tactics may be less effective than they once were. Secular organizations led by younger folks may have an easier time seeing this than I do.

Such considerations lead me to hold back at times, and I'm okay with that. I want to give these organizations some leeway to experiment. They may know better. My ideas are old-fashioned, and theirs may be better. They need to appeal to people who may not be on my radar at all.

I am convinced that there is great value in secular organizations. They are working for our collective interest. They are defending the separation of church and state. These organizations aren't perfect and never will be. That doesn't mean we need them any less than we do.

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