Atheists Against the Tide

Josh Jarman of The Columbus Dispatch had an article about the recent rise of atheism that quotes many non-religious leaders. Even one of the religious people mentioned in the article is correct in his assessment.

First, Tom Flynn, editor of Free Inquiry magazine, on why the atheist authors are so successful:

“With (President) Bush trumpeting his faith-based initiatives in the face of the separation of church and state, you have a lot of those in the nonbelieving community who feel their civil liberties are in danger,” Flynn said.

Add that to the growing number of American atheists and you have a recipe for political activism, he added.

Flynn predicts that the popularity of these books is the first step in a coming wave of atheist activism. “It took a very concentrated effort on behalf of the gay community to make people realize you know a gay person,” Flynn said. “People realized, ‘Hey, I have a gay co-worker, and they’re fine.’ We need to do that for the nonreligious.”

Also mentioned is Marilyn Westfall, board member of the American Humanist Association, and co-creator of The Eloquent Atheist:

She said there is genuine concern about the strength of the religious right in this country.

“It seems that humans have gone through cycles in which religious fervor must be opposed for the sake of ethics,” Westfall said.

Finally, we have the president of the Humanist Community of Central Ohio (HCCO), Amy Birtcher:

… she has watched [HCCO's] numbers swell from the historic average of about 40 to almost 100 in the past two years.

She said people are turning to atheist authors’ works because they validate what they have been thinking for a long time.

“New members tell us quite regularly that the Bush administration and the current wave of conservative politics brought them out of the closet,” Birtcher said.

Still, she said, atheists remain one of the most maligned minority groups in the United States. Political polls reveal that people are less likely to vote for a nonbeliever than for a homosexual, she said.

“A lot of people are afraid,” Birtcher said. “They can’t tell their families. They can’t tell their co-workers because they fear real reprisal.”

They do quote Rev. Martin Marty, a professor emeritus at the University of Chicago Divinity School. He says this:

… just because the books reveal a cultural current in America, don’t expect a march on Washington.

The history of the various agnostic and atheist movements in this country, he said, is one of a failure to organize.

“Religions have the power to form groups,” Marty said. “When you look at the intellectual expression of atheism, it is very individualistic.”

Sadly, he’s right. As the saying goes, getting atheists to work together on anything is like herding cats. If we could actually get our &*$% together, we might be able to accomplish something and use our power for the better. If atheists supported the national non-religious organizations, it would give us all more opportunities to be heard at the highest levels of our government.

But so many atheists are wary of joining organized-anything.

Of course, no article on atheism is complete without the token religious leader who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. While Rev. Richard Burnett correctly points out that mocking the “other side” gets us nowhere, he also says that God “does not need to be defended.”

God is a faulty idea backed by no evidence and has caused a lot more harm than good. I’d say the idea needs some defending.


[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

  • http://wintershaven.net Jacob Wintersmith

    I think you mean “herding cats”.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com FriendlyAtheist

    I’ve heard both

  • Karen

    Herding cattle is EASY compared to trying to get atheists to organize! :-)

    I think a) many of us come from years of being organized in religion and we’ve become allergic to the very notion and b) those who were never religious are truly independent thinkers who resist joining anything.

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  • http://synapostasy.blogspot.com Aaron

    “When you look at the intellectual expression of atheism, it is very individualistic.”

    But few things bring unity like a common enemy, and that’s what activism is all about. Maybe the history of atheism has been disorganized, but we’re learning from our mistakes, and we have more incentive these days to do so.

  • PrimateIR

    Mockery Rocks.

  • CJ

    Hemant, it’s ‘herding cats’. Please change it, or you look like a damn fool. Perhaps you are unfamiliar with animals, but this really couldn’t be more obvious. Cattle are docile, stupid animals, and are herded all the time as a matter of course (like religious people). Cats, on the other hand, are known for their individuality and their difficulty in making them comply with your wishes. They like to do it their own way, on their own terms (like freethinkers), this being the whole point of this metaphor.

    I beg you, change it now before some enemy of this site catches it and (rightfully, in this case) mocks you mercilessly.

    Take care.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com FriendlyAtheist

    Geez… ok, ok. It has been changed.

  • http://mollishka.blogspot.com mollishka

    Thanks for the link, Hemant. Remember, the Dispatch was the newspaper whose Faith & Values editor (that’s the section this article is in, notice) who a few months ago pointed out that atheists were under-represented in the F&V section, and asked: should they be? Thanks, I’m guessing, in part to a flood from the blogosphere, the overwhelming answer was: more atheist stories! I think this article is an attempt at a step in that direction.

  • Kate

    Umm, we’re a group of people who prefer to snooze away Sunday mornings and are resistant to organized groups.

    Yeah…lazy and difficult to organize. :)

  • http://atheistrevolution.blogspot.com/ vjack

    What evidence supports the claim that atheists are hard to organize? One cannot just look at the numbers who belong to atheist organizations and conclude that atheists are hard to organize. Maybe the national organizations do a poor job of speaking to the needs of most atheists. I’m not saying that this is necessarily the case, but I see little effort expended to recruit and mobilize atheists.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com FriendlyAtheist

    What evidence supports the claim that atheists are hard to organize? One cannot just look at the numbers who belong to atheist organizations and conclude that atheists are hard to organize. Maybe the national organizations do a poor job of speaking to the needs of most atheists. I’m not saying that this is necessarily the case, but I see little effort expended to recruit and mobilize atheists.

    My evidence is anecdotal, but all the *major* attempts to rally atheists together have failed (when compared to religious rallies, anyway) in my opinion. Perhaps the groups do a poor job of organizing (I disagree), but nothing else has really taken their place, has it?

  • biologist.nick

    We all grouped together to screw up that CNN poll. If only there was more I could do without having to shut down my internet browser.

  • Marilyn

    When the godless march on Washington, D.C. was held a few years ago, the American Atheists (AA) did its best to put the event together, from the bottom up. I interviewed Ellen Johnson, president of that organization, after the event, and she said that not one more person decided to join AA, despite the org’s costly efforts to provide a venue for nontheists. In the interview she also mentioned that it is very difficult to bring people together, like atheists, who tend to be a bit more libertarian, as many nontheists come from backgrounds in which religion was the main source of community in their “rejected” past; thus any attempt to organize those who have made the decision (ethically) to forego organized religion has an added level of difficulty.


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