If you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed more and more of my tweets and posts have focused on atheism and (dare I say it) the atheist “community”, as opposed to ripping on religion. I think this is because I have been doing a lot of personal reflection and musing on my own goals regarding atheism.
Assume for a second that I’m right, and there are no gods watching us, instructing us, or using us as pawns in some great galactic chess game. I would love to live in a world where religion was not an issue. No religious wars, no kids being indoctrinated into harmful beliefs, and no religious groups trying to force their beliefs into law. I sincerely hope that belief in imaginary deities is dying out, and in the future Yahweh will be lumped in with Zeus and Ra in the myths of old.
This is not going to happen in my lifetime. I have accepted this. So what now? What should my goal be?
There is room for all types of atheists, I think – firebrands, civil debaters, apathetics, and everything in between. I admit I first came to Twitter looking for a fight. When I first accepted that I was an atheist, I wanted to shout it from the rooftops. Most of us are formerly religious and feel like we’d been lied to our whole lives; can you blame us for wanting to lash out? More than even wanting to vent my anger and frustration, I wanted to deconvert people. I wanted them to feel the freedom I felt now that I was no longer chained by the shackles of religion.
But slowly, over the course of about a year, I backed off from frustrating, endless debates with Twitter theists. While I was never enthralled with the big names like Dawkins and Harris, I became much less dependent on their words and ideas to shape my own. I became much more interested in displaying atheism in a positive light as opposed to just ripping others’ beliefs to shreds. Having been on both sides of the argument, I am in a unique position to be an intermediary. This could be my goal, I thought.
Bridging the Gap
Encouraging secularism and advocating for separation of church and state is a great place to start. This is a common ground that atheists and theists should be able to come together on. Having a secular government not only protects atheists, it protects the religious from having OTHER religious views forced on them. Christians are so terrified of sharia law, yet are perfectly happy to have the government support their Christian beliefs. This is a bad move on their part, because any step toward a theocracy opens the door to some religious faith besides their own coming into power.
Some people think groups like the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) make atheists look petty by suing over what they think are “little issues”. While working for the FFRF may not be my particular calling, I think what they do will be important for us in the long run. By squashing small instances of religion overstepping its bounds, we can make secular government the norm, as it should be. If we let people get away with violating others’ rights in the name of religion in small matters, they will have less of a battle in the big matters. Give them an inch, and they’ll take a mile, right? Call it a version of the broken windows theory, a criminological theory which states that:
Maintaining and monitoring urban environments to prevent small crimes such as vandalism, public drinking and toll-jumping helps to create an atmosphere of order and lawfulness, thereby preventing more serious crimes from happening.
A highly debatable topic, but it makes a lot of sense to me. I am far more likely to leave a dish in the sink if there are already dishes there to begin with. I bet people are more likely to litter in an area already full of litter, don’t you think? If religious people are used to their particular faith holding sway in their local schools and town halls, they are much more likely to, firstly, assume that most places are operated in the same manner, and secondly, to continue the push to encroach others’ freedoms in a bigger venue, like the federal government.
One of the difficulties many former believers face is that there really is no framework to atheism. It’s only a position on the existence of gods. From there, an atheist has to decide a lot of things with very little definitive guidance. She must explore systems of morality, develop a sense of purpose, and adopt a worldview. In contrast to most religious groups, there is no leader outlining what an atheist can and cannot be, do, or feel. It is only fair, then, that we sometimes challenge and change our own thoughts, feelings, and attitudes even when it comes to atheism. It calls to mind the preceding, less often quoted line of my favorite quote by Thomas Jefferson:
Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear.
I guess what I am trying to say, is don’t be afraid of a little introspection. Skepticism doesn’t end with atheism. Continue to be a skeptic – of yourself, other atheists, and atheist “leaders”.