The opposition to the religious right has been a dismal failure for thirty years, but the modern secular movement provides another viable strategy. Read More
The most important step atheists can take right now is to come out of the closet. The voting public must see that atheists are good, moral neighbors, friends, coworkers, volunteers and even relatives. Just as the LGBT had to become visible to be accepted, so must atheists. Wear a t-shirt with the word atheist on it. Be sure atheists are listed wherever religions are itemized. Speak up about atheist books at book clubs. There are numerous ways to promote visibility of atheism, different for everyone, of course. But come out we must. Our country needs us to come out. Other closet atheists need us to come out. Trapped believers need us to come out. The future generations need us to come out. We must combat this power-hungry group using religion as a skirt to hide behind. Come out now.
I agree with the above commenter and I appreciate this post Dave. It is hard, however, to simply come out as a non-believer. I have found many times that being a skeptic to religion (especially Christianity in the US) dramatically changes others opinion of you despite the type of person you are. I recently turned 26 and my long-time girlfriend broke up with me mainly because she could not see us together based on us having different values and wondering how that would affect raising our children. When discussing philosophy with the religious, I have found it hard to reason or express your opinion even when presenting the most reasonable arguments. I have faith (no pun intended) that eventually rational, secular citizens will guide the way for humanity but I don't see it in my lifetime.
One issue humanists of all stripes face is that because we may not have churches we lack for a fixed and regular meeting place in the majority of communities. Churchs have always been involved in activism all along the political spectrum.
A place to socialize, develop a culture, feel safe and a sense of belonging are real issues despite the fact that surveys keep saying our numbers are growing.
I agree with both statements above, but I work in a public institution where a majority of employees in my department are precticing and active christians. Politically, it would be very costly for me on a personal and professional level to do so....so I try to help in my own way.
...that we were so all-powerful!
Frankly, Dave, I wish we religious conservatives had a FRACTION of the clout you assert we have!
The Agenda of the right is ultimately doomed to fail. Maybe not in short run, but eventually it will. You cannot insist on denying evolution and teaching creationism. Such a stance will not endure. Nor will their position on contraception and abortion. Ironically all those positions require government to regulate and control the citizens with laws that restrict our most basic freedoms. Kind of odd coming from folks who hate government intervention.
"If religiosity is exalted, no demographic is more validated than the ardent, die-hard, vocal, conservative Christian who lectures about 'traditional values.'"
In other words, more devout=more conservative. That is the tired, media-championed stereotype, and one that "seculars" promote non-stop. Ironically, the best favor your group can do for the left is to either retire from the debate or stop supporting the right's self-image as the "true" Christians.
In other words, thanks for the offer of help, but no thanks.
I reply to very few comments, but I want to address this one because I think it raises an important point. You are perhaps correct that there is an untrue stereotype - perpetuated not only by seculars but virtually everyone - that, as you say, "more devout = more conservative." However, when I made my statement (which you quote at the start of your comment), I was not agreeing with the stereotype, but merely stating the undeniable reality that the stereotype persists. That is, if religiosity is exalted, in the minds of many the religious right will seem, to some degree at least, validated.
That issue aside, I think your comment that seculars should "retire from the debate" if they disagree with you is troubling - ironically a direct contradiction to the point of the article.
What is ironic about my disagreeing with the main claim of your piece? I have that right. Secondly, I said nothing about seculars agreeing or disagreeing with me--I pointed out that, if seculars are going to cater to the religious right's view of itself as the "true" believers, they should leave the debate, simply because they're aiding the enemy.
You claim not to agree with the "more devout=more conservative" stereotype, yet you treat the mention of religion (or "relgiosity") by public officials as an instance of exalting it! That's Negative Bias 101, and nearly anyone can easily recognize it as such. All I'm suggesting is that, if "seculars" want to help the liberal cause, they should demonstrate the wisdom and humility to recuse themselves from a debate they are clearly, and rather spectacularly, unable to approach objectively. I consider that a reasonable request.
Gospel means "God News" -- so I've been told. An evangelist is a person who spreads such good news.
But if the News is false, it's not Good.
The actual content of the Gospels includes some excellent, revolutionary principles attributed to Jesus of Nazareth, but most of the rest is implausible, and the notion of Salvation by the Sacrifice on the Cross would be insulting to the Creator of the Universe if such a Person existed.
The revolutionary principles, for instance that you should not pray on the street corner, nor invoke the name of God to support your simple promises or assertions, are generally ignored by any of the self-styled Christians from Billy Graham to the most reactionary Right.
The really Good News is, that since Darwin's explanation of the Origin of Species, we need no longer imagine that the cruelties of the natural world are the creation of a Being who claims to be Good.
"Politicians" did not say "legitimate rape . . . " Only ONE politician said that, and he was immediately condemned by everyone in his party. Get a real issue and state the facts correctly.
I happen to find the rise of the christian right fascinating because it shows the limits of progressive social engineering. This defiance of the agenda of secular do-gooders arose organically, in many locales in the U.S. and without central planning, and it seems to illustrate Friedrich Hayek's idea of a spontaneous order.
The rise of the christian right also seems to reflect a conflict between male and female reproductive strategies, because its leaders seem a lot more interested in regulating women's sexuality than in policing the thoughts and lifestyles of atheists. Conservative politicians can bad-mouth atheists all they want, but they still offer to cut our taxes, deregulate our businesses, let us buy firearms and ammunition, let us publish and read atheist literature, let us have freedom of travel and so forth, so in most practical matters they would keep us in pretty much a godless utopia compared with the situations of atheists in countries like Indonesia.
Yet these same politicians say they want to restrict women's access to abortions, and even to contraception in some cases, along with the imposition of abstinence-based sex ed in schools. What underlies this obsession?
I submit that the christian right has groped its way towards the understanding that it represents the interests of society's productive beta males, the kinds of men who would make good husbands and fathers, yet most women find them boring or sexually yucky because they would rather hook up with thugs, bad boys and cads. Progressive social policies enable women to indulge in their self-destructive preferences by providing a substitute husband through the state, making abortion legal and giving women all the contraceptives they want so that they can have their fun with irresponsible men. This lifestyle ruins women for stable marriages, and beta males have started to develop some class consciousness that this system works to their disadvantage and treats them as chumps. Hence many of them have gravitated towards conservative christian churches which offer to represent their interests politically by working towards restrictions on women's sexual freedom. Humanists like Niose who try to impose the grid of "reason versus superstition" on the christian right miss the real issue at work here: The conflict involves competing reproductive strategies, not an ideological struggle over whether gods exist.
It never was, though it's an interesting fallacy when you analyze it, since it's the sum of many false notions. It presumes that fidelity to factuality, or lack thereof, is what characterizes the chief divide between left and right, when in fact the divide is almost totally a moral one. As for "reproductive strategies," the right is unhappy with the degree of independence won by women with the legalization (and improvement) of birth control. They want to reverse their fortune. Which, luckily, the majority of American women realize.
The bad boy syndrome is a sad development, to put it mildly, but blaming it on progressive policies (read: birth control)? Come on. How about a mass media which relentlessly glorifies bad male behavior, which presents as glamorous and heroic men who, in real life, would be in jail, on the lam, divorced, or unhappily married? It can be no coincidence that so many women are trying to live in a false reality manufactured by TV, Hollywood, popular novels, and so on.
I think that your explanation is still getting at the symptoms rather than the underlying condition that caused it.
Progressives and secularists had their moment in the 1960s, and while a number of positive changes occur, there were some problems that led to a backlash not only among people of ill-will but among reasonable people.
I'm particularly referring to the crime wave from the 1960s to the 1990s that turned a lot of scared people into neoconservatives, made liberalism a dirty word, and lead to a revival of "family values." Fear of crime was not primarily coded racism, but a reality-based phenomenon. I recommend William Stuntz "The Collapse of American Criminal Justice" on this topic.
Unfortunately, the progressive social theories of the 1960s were often based on "reason" but without much of an evidentiary base, that is, reason without empiricism.
These days, it's conservatives who are straying far away from the data, not only on evolution but on climate change and other topics. I think this will untimately discredit conservatives and the religious right, and give progressives and secularists another chance. However, we need to get things right this time, relying not just on theories that sound reasonable, but that are validated by sound data.
Atheists unfortunately hamstring themselves in challenging Christianity. They want to fight for the separation of church and state but avoid challenging or scorning Christianity.
I luckily am a Polytheist and have no such qualms about invalidating Christianity or scorning their beliefs. So long as a Christian zealot believes in their Divine and Inherent right to impose their god and beliefs onto others, no amount of secular reasoning will change their belief.
So you have to challenge their claim to that Divine and Inherent right. Which means invalidating Christian beliefs.
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Dave Niose is an attorney, activist, and writer. He is president of the Washington-based American Humanist Association.
When and how should we open up to loved ones?