Wednesday, December 11, 2013

My Answers to Atheist Revolution's Big Questions, Part 2

My previous post dealt with the first two of six Big Questions that divide the atheist community, as put forth by vjack at Atheist Revolution.  Moving on....

3.  Is there an atheist movement that exists independently of the secular movement, and if not, should there be one? Some atheists insist that there can be no such thing as an atheist movement because atheism is not the sort of thing that can bring people together; others believe that it is meaningful to think of an atheist movement that is distinct from the secular movement even though the two have much overlap.

I think this question goes back to the first question.....what are the goals and concerns of atheists?  If you want to eradicate all religion, I think you will find yourself in a somewhat different camp than most people who make up the secular movement.  The secular movement is broad and diverse in makeup, and is concerned with keeping religious beliefs from overpowering public debate and reason and becoming laws of the land that affect people who are not part of the religion themselves.  From the wikipedia entry on secularism, discussing the views of the one who coined the term:

Holyoake invented the term "secularism" to describe his views of promoting a social order separate from religion, without actively dismissing or criticizing religious belief. An agnostic himself, Holyoake argued that "Secularism is not an argument against Christianity, it is one independent of it. It does not question the pretensions of Christianity; it advances others. Secularism does not say there is no light or guidance elsewhere, but maintains that there is light and guidance in secular truth, whose conditions and sanctions exist independently, and act forever. Secular knowledge is manifestly that kind of knowledge which is founded in this life, which relates to the conduct of this life, conduces to the welfare of this life, and is capable of being tested by the experience of this life." 

The basic thrust of the secular movement can be summed up by the common American expression "separation of church and state".   It's not a new idea, really.  One could even interpret the words of Jesus as having invented an early form of secularism:  "Render unto Caesar the thing's that are Caesar's, and unto God the things which are God's."  

I think that most of the important political goals of any realistic "Atheist Movement" are dealt with pretty well in the Secular movement.  I think that most of the pressing issues facing atheists (at least in America and most of the West) can be dealt with through promoting secularism.  Laws on the books saying atheists can't be elected, atheists being forced to pray before public events, open discrimination against non-believers in government or the military or in schools...I think "secularism" covers these quite nicely.  Only the more zealous anti-theist atheists will want to go too much further as an organized political movement.  And while I admitted in my answer to question #1 that I personally would like to go further, I don't see any reason why others will necessarily agree with me. I think religion is oppressive and promotes a lot of bad ideas....but many people, including some atheists, seem to think that many people need the comfort that such beliefs and social structures offer, and that as long as we can achieve secularism as a broad public policy, the rest can be safely left alone with the individual.  For the most part, I think that view is correct, if a little...unambitious, and maybe too willing to take the bad with the good.  But society will never be aligned completely without force, and there can even be strength in a diversity of the very least, with a diversity of views, dissent will always be tolerated to some degree, even if it's not popular.  Secularism could still exist without atheists.  But where would atheists be without secularism?  In hiding, most likely.   

However, there is still a further distinction to be made.  While I think that the secular movement is a worthy home for the atheism-related political goals of most atheists, it is NOT quite enough for every atheist and every purpose atheists might have. Atheists may be tolerated or even valued by the secular movement at large. It may adequately protect us from the ills and biases of a religious society.  It may be enough of a movement for most of our political needs, but it is not a community.  

I think a vibrant and diverse atheist community is far more important, useful, and valid than any kind of directed atheist movement.  Because of the narrowness of the goals and the diversity of beliefs of those who comprise it, the secular movement will never be for atheists what other causes sometimes are for other groups...a place, an interaction, a zeitgeist, where atheists can truly let our hair down and say what they really think as atheists.  

While most of my political needs are met by secularism, I still very much value the company, the talking, the sharing of ideas and perspectives that comes from other atheists who also speak out...who comprise the community. Other than a very few friends, I get most of this interaction from the online atheist community, such as it is. Debates, discussions, new ideas and perspectives, or sharing jokes about religion, or just complaining about all the dumbass shit I deal with at times from believers- you should see my fucking facebook feed sometimes, God Galore- without having to worry about offending the believers or making waves or experiencing too much in the way of social consequences.  All of those human interactions that don't fit comfortably within the "secular movement"....that's what the more loose-knit Atheist Community is for.  It may act as a "movement' here and there, for one activist or charitable reason or another from time to time, but I think atheists are simply too intellectually diverse to pick a full political platform of any kind outside secularism.  

Where to find this community?  Start with the blogrolls of atheist blogs you read, or search for facebook pages, or do some searching in your own local community...we're everywhere these days, in all shapes, sizes, races, and political views, and there's always room for more!