What Should Activist Atheists Be Focusing On?
I have had a thought percolating through my head this holiday season. No one can deny that we atheists get more “press coverage” this time of year than at any other time. FOX is convinced we are waging a “War On Christmas”, which is extreme stupidity on one end. On the other end, I see many theists and even some atheists commenting on some of the activities of activist atheist and atheist groups in a negative light. My question is this: What should we, as activist atheists, be focusing our attention on?
The court case over nativity scenes in Santa Monica, CA has certainly had more media attention than it deserves. So too has the WWII memorial that is a statue of Jesus on a ski mountain in Montana. The story of the small restaurant that now has to offer its “church bulletin discount” to atheists has also received a ton of press. All of these stories have become rallying points for the anti-atheist crowd. They paint us as bullies who want to destroy everything religious in this country—from statues to traditions. Whether or not you agree with those lawsuits is up to you. To be honest, I do care about them, but they are not as important to me as other issues.
Further, I can’t help but ask if some of these “other things” will not be nearly as divisive (at least on atheist/theist lines) as nativity scenes and statues that have been standing for decades. Please allow me to explain. The blogger at The Ramblings of Sheldon recently wrote a very similar piece to this. I am going to use some of his ideas, his post is well worth your read, and you can do so here: Do Prominent Atheist Groups In The US Secretly Hate Atheists? He blogs by the name Sheldon, though he is not the actor on the popular television show.
Sheldon points out that in Kentucky, there is legislation afoot that is seeking to pass blasphemy laws that would outlaw atheism. This law would make atheism punishable with up to a year in prison. You can read about it here. [Correction: Infidel753 has informed that, "The Kentucky article you linked to has been updated to say that the law doesn't actually make it illegal to be an atheist. It requires Homeland Security offices to post religious plaques and imposes jail time for failing to do so. Still a blatant First Amendment violation, but it's important to keep the facts straight." He is right and you should know. Thanks Infidel753]
Sheldon discusses the absurd situation in Oklahoma where a judge ordered 10 years of mandatory church service (as well as public service) to a youth who was found guilty of vehicular manslaughter. You can read about that here.
The rest of his article is well thought out as well, and I highly recommend you read it.
Vjack had a video on his blog yesterday about a teacher who stated that “Democrats don’t go to heaven”. You can watch that video here
I would add to this list, I think it is worth fighting religious exemptions for things like the HHS mandate. It is worth fighting the pro-creationism and anti-science/evolution cases wherever and whenever they pop up. Issues like these, and the one’s Sheldon highlighted are really important to me. Why does this matter?
I think that we atheists have a terrible public relations problem in this country. I do not think that we are out to destroy other people’s traditions. I do not think that we are all lefty commie freaks. I do not think that we are divisive or that we are all anti-America or that we are demon spawn or that we are immoral or amoral, etc…yet those are things that many people would ascribe to us.
While I personally don’t really care what someone thinks of me, and will not let popularity dictate what my actions will be, I view the larger movement a bit differently. If we are going to effect the changes that we want to see in this country, I can’t help but wonder if we would get farther if we were perceived in a better light.
If we choose to fight the types of things that Sheldon described and those that I added, I can’t help but wonder if we will find that many non-atheists will agree with us. Will we find allies that we did not expect? Will we accomplish things far greater than the removing of a statue. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to see religious statues removed from public venues, but, will we accomplish goals of that nature more easily if we are viewed as a group that is respected? Will we have an easier time accomplishing those goals if we are perceived as a group that is trying to make society better for all and not as a group of malcontents “that are trying to ruin people’s traditions”? As ludicrous as the latter belief is, it is quite common.
I can’t help but think of the debacle between Bill O’Reilly and David Silverman. O’Reilly is a clown, and while he was yelling that Silverman and atheists are “fascists”, Silverman was yelling back that he is a “patriot”. So am I. So are many of you. I can’t help but wonder if more people would view us that way if we took on the larger issues that are of much more importance than statues.
I am well aware that many atheist groups are fighting the above “larger” things and do not want to take anything away from them, or from those fighting the smaller battles. In short, my questions for you all are: Do the smaller battles that atheist organizations often choose to fight help us or hurt us in the long run? Does it matter? Would we be better served spending more time, energy, and money on the larger issues highlighted above? Truthfully, I haven’t decided on my own answer yet, and it is something I have been thinking about. Seeing as how this blog consists of my thoughts, I thought I would share these questions with you all.
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