I often am conflicted about the subtitle of this blog, “The Atheist Movement in America.” Can a lack of belief in a thing really be considered a movement? And does the word “movement” make atheism seem like a trend or a fad that has risen and will fall again in popularity?
In short, no, atheism is not a movement. In a perfect world, it doesn’t need to be described as such, because it describes a non-belief. We don’t need to create a “movement” to promote the idea that unicorns don’t exist. However, people who do not believe in unicorns are not persecuted for their beliefs. They aren’t fired for believing in unicorns, compared to history’s mass murderers, called immoral, etc. It’s clear to see that this religious country in which we live has a problem with atheists. Atheism has existed since before religious texts were written and will exist long after I am dead. So can I really describe atheism this way? I fear that the word “movement” belittles the cause a bit.
What is “the cause?”
This is a question asked to me by a friend when I told him I was afraid Christopher Hitchens’ beligirent manner and incendiary book titles are going to “mess up the cause.”
My answer to him was similar to the description above. America has a problem seeing that atheists are normal people, capable of possessing morals and values, contributing to society, having loving families and showing compassion. An atheist can possess all the positive values that a person of faith can. Many Americans do not realize this. And well spoken atheists that have spoken out recently like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris helped Americans to see that atheists are not all black-fingernail-polish-wearing, hot-topic-shopping, pentagram-wearing baby eaters. In fact, I’d hope that very few are. The more that these authors speak clearly and present their points, the more Americans will understand and be comfortable with atheists. That is “the cause” — to help Americans recognize atheists as normal and productive members of society.
There is a chain reaction effect. When a well-spoken person is on CNN talking about atheism and appears to be normal and treated normally, then more atheists won’t have a problem with telling people about their feelings about religion. The more atheists that come out of the closet, the more accepting those of faith will be.
So this brings me back to the word “movement.” Is atheism a “movement?” It has to be. There has to be some sort of organization to the rise in acceptance of atheism, especially in the wake of the religious/political ties of the last decade. Fellow atheist blogger, Vjack wrote about this topic recently on his blog, The Atheist Revolution:
Without improved organization, we atheists, secular humanists, and/or freethinkers are never going to have much of a voice. Unless we can find common ground, even if it consists of temporary alliances focused on particular issues, we are doomed to be barely audible voices of reason in a sea of superstition and irrationality. A noble position? Perhaps, but I tend to be more concerned with results than appearances.
What we need is a grassroots freethought organization along the lines of MoveOn.org. Regardless of what you think of their politics, you have to admire the influence they have come to have. Picture an internet-based alliance of atheists, agnostics, secular humanists, and freethinkers where the members would have a voice in setting the goals of the organization and where the organization would use websites, e-mail, text messages, etc. to mobilize members to make our voices heard.
With that I urge you — normal, everyday good-citizen, moral-possessing atheists — to not be afraid to discuss your atheism with those of faith. Be prepared to speak calmly and rationally and let them know you have many of the same concerns they do. The more Americans that see atheists as normal, the less we’ll need an “atheist movement.”
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