The New York Times (!) just ran an article called More Atheists Shout It From The Rooftops.The Los Angeles Times (!) ran one called Are Atheists The Hot New Political Force? Barack Obama stated in his inaugural address that we are a nation–among other things–of nonbelievers (!).
It doesn’t get any better than this.
From the NYT article:
Polls show that the ranks of atheists are growing. The American Religious Identification Survey, a major study released last month, found that those who claimed “no religion” were the only demographic group that grew in all 50 states in the last 18 years.
Nationally, the “nones” in the population nearly doubled, to 15 percent in 2008 from 8 percent in 1990. In South Carolina, they more than tripled, to 10 percent from 3 percent. Not all the “nones” are necessarily committed atheists or agnostics, but they make up a pool of potential supporters.
Local and national atheist organizations have flourished in recent years, fed by outrage over the Bush administration’s embrace of the religious right. A spate of best-selling books on atheism also popularized the notion that nonbelief is not just an argument but a cause, like environmentalism or muscular dystrophy.
Ten national organizations that variously identify themselves as atheists, humanists, freethinkers and others who go without God have recently united to form the Secular Coalition for America, of which Mr. Silverman is president. These groups, once rivals, are now pooling resources to lobby in Washington for separation of church and state.
A wave of donations, some in the millions of dollars, has enabled the hiring of more paid professional organizers, said Fred Edwords, a longtime atheist leader who just started his own umbrella group, the United Coalition of Reason, which plans to spawn 20 local groups around the country in the next year.
From the LAT article:
Now, after President Obama reached out to them with a first-ever mention during his inaugural address (“We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus and nonbelievers,” Obama said), atheists think the time is right for a return to humanistic principles over religious influences in public policy.
“The climate is right in the country today for a major expansion of humanist ideals and humanist thinking — atheism, free thought,” Louis J. Appignani, the Florida tycoon who has earmarked $30 million for various atheist causes, told the National Journal. “I think we are on the threshold of a counter-revolution from the Bush years.”
Today the New York Times profiled the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry in Charleston, S.C., the beautiful community of southern gentility where the Civil War began. This time, said the group’s founder, the mission is not to declare war but to declare themselves.
“It’s not about carrying banners or protesting,” said Herb Silverman, a math professor at the College of Charleston who said the group has about 150 members on the coast of the Carolinas. “The most important thing is coming out of the closet.”
As someone who’s been writing about atheism for nearly eight years, here are some of the shallow criticisms and straw-man attacks I’ve heard:
“You’re too harsh, you’re intolerant, you’re going to turn people off.” Or, “you need to engage religion on its own terms, and learn more about why people believe. Or, “If you’re going to discuss religion, learn to make cogent theological arguments–you don’t want to sound like a fool.” Or “No one believes in the absurd God atheists describe.” Or “you’re never going to get people to stop believing in religion, so why even try?”
These objectors are people who pretend to be rational and open-minded. To prove it, many of them sport a “Coexist” bumper sticker on their car, which (while pretending to be impartial) promotes religion over non-religion (as Dennett describes, “belief in belief.”) Some versions of the sticker even include E=mc2, showing that the religious sympathizer is trying to lump ‘atheistic science’ in as ‘just another religion.’
These are objections the entire movement has been dealing with ad nauseam. And they’re clearly bunk. This bellyaching has always demonstrated to me more than anything else where a person’s true sympathies lie–with the believers. It’s also self-refuting. Consider these two scenarios:
Scenario 1: Atheists use in-your-face tactics, turn people off, and remain a hated and mistrusted group. That would seem to play right into the hands of theists and their sympathizers (the ‘spiritual, not religious’ types), keeping religion and spirituality ‘respected’ as the dominant sociocultural force, and atheism marginalized.
Why the objection, then? Is it because they’re actually afraid of Scenario 2?
Scenario 2: Atheists use in-your-face tactics, and as a result, a groundswell occurs of people who have previously been too timid to come forward. Atheism receives national recognition and is no longer hated and feared, but begins to be respected as a large and growing political force.
It is clear from this triple-play of atheist profile-raising (NYT, LAT, and Inaugural address) that Scenario 2 has already happened or is well underway. Fund raising for secular political action is entering the same orders of magnitude as the top religious lobbying groups. The scare tactics and attempts at intimidation by accommodationists have not only failed, but failed spectacularly.
As the Secular Coalition noted, “This is exactly the kind of visibility and respect we hoped to give you when we started our Coalition in 2002.“
So a hearty thanks to all my fellow atheist writers, as well as those who have donated funds or come out to their families and friends. Keep up the good work. You are making all the difference in the world.