SSA 2011: Dave Silverman on a Fight Atheists Can Win

Dave Silverman, president of American Atheists (and recent subject of Jon Stewart‘s scorn) gave a talk at the Secular Student Alliance 2011 conference that earned him a standing ovation and got the audience energized about being activists.

It’s about how our “movement” will ultimately succeed no matter the opposition and how it is vital that atheists proudly and confidently come out of the closet.

This was one of those talks that I loved to listen to… despite cringing through parts of it (like when he compared our plight to the Civil Rights movement). Also, in case you missed it last week, Tyler Curtis is still waiting for a citation for the “30% Under 30″ number that Dave mentions.

That said, Dave is a dynamic speaker and great at rallying the troops. Watch the video and you’ll see why.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.zamecki Joe Zamecki

    We’re in a civil rights movement. How can that not be obvious?

    • Thesaintsrevnege

      It isn’t obvious unless you get out from behind your computer and into real life atheism!

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      To suggest we’ve had to deal with the same kind of oppression as black people (or gay people) did is ridiculous.  Yes, there are civil rights battles we have to fight, but c’mon, they had it far worse.  That’s all I’m saying.  To compare our struggles to that of those other movements is a bad idea.

      • Anonymous

        I certainly agree about the African-American Civil Rights Movement, but I wonder if we don’t share more with the LGBT movement than it first might seem. Greta Christina had a great post about this:

        http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2010/02/what-can-the-atheist-movement-learn-from-the-gay-movement.html

        Edit: Also, it seemed his only goal in comparing us with the Civil Rights Movement was to show another example where religion was beaten. (Assuming you’re talking about the bit around 18:00.)

      • Anonymous

        I certainly agree about the African-American Civil Rights Movement, but I wonder if we don’t share more with the LGBT movement than it first might seem. Greta Christina had a great post about this:

        http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2010/02/what-can-the-atheist-movement-learn-from-the-gay-movement.html

        Edit: Also, it seemed his only goal in comparing us with the Civil Rights Movement was to show another example where religion was beaten. (Assuming you’re talking about the bit around 18:00.)

      • http://profiles.google.com/statueofmike Michael S

        Even to compare it by saying “They had it worse than us, and they won?”

        • Pseudonym

          That’s a very good way of putting it.

          Having said that, unlike the civil rights era, and unlike the LGBT community today, there are very few laws or regulations which specifically discriminate against atheists. There are no laws requiring that atheists can only go to atheist universities, no laws preventing atheists from marrying… you get the idea.

          Almost every which discriminates against atheists also discriminates against other, often larger, groups, such as Buddhists, Muslims or people who want to learn actual biology in school.

          In many respects that makes it a harder fight, because you run the risk of seeming petulant and petty.

          Hence Hemant’s reservations about the “Seven in Heaven” thing or the cross-shaped piece of the WTC towers. If that’s the big discrimination you’re facing, you’re pretty well-off.

          Yes, they had it worse than you, but they did have one advantage: they didn’t have to pick their battles carefully.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Astrokid-Nj/100000972850767 Astrokid Nj

        http://thinkerspodium.wordpress.com/2011/05/03/patricks-fallacy/

        It works like this. Your opponent makes an analogy between one thing and another thing, purportedly showing how they are the same in a particular way. You then find a different trait one of the things possesses, and declare that it is utterly horrible to analogize a thing with that trait to the other thing.It almost always works because it’s not actually an argument, it’s just an attack. If it were an argument it would be a text-book fallacy, because it’s claiming that your analogy is offensive and therefore wrong. But it’s really just an attack. And since things are multifaceted, you can usually find at least one way in which it would be offensive to compare any two pairs of things.

    • Anonymous

      I think you might be confused between “a civil rights movement” (which we obviously are) and “The Civil Rights Movement,” which is short for the African-American Civil Rights Movement.

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.zamecki Joe Zamecki

    We’re in a civil rights movement. How can that not be obvious?

  • Al Y

    The bit about the cross is pretty terrible PR. Its going into a museum about 911, and religious symbol or not its part of the history of the american reaction to the attacks. It even seems a bit petty to me. The idea that we will ultimately prevail over opposing cultural forces is very feel-good but not necessarily true. Its quite possible we could fail hard.

    For these reasons and personal preferences on speaking style I simply don’t find him a compelling speaker or a particularly good representative of nonbelievers.

    • http://profiles.google.com/statueofmike Michael S

      When someone tells me to “kick ass” I just think of the EXTREME dudes from Harold and Kumar.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1615481552 Adam Clark

    The gay rights movement serves as an excellent model for nonbelievers to use to gain broader acceptance from society as a whole. We are the least “trusted” segment of the population (at least politically), mostly due to ignorance, by well intentioned people who were misinformed in their youth, and have never been exposed to the fact that the concepts of morality, ethical behavior and “goodness” are not concepts created by and for the exclusive claim/use of religious organizations and institutions.

    We are dealing with generations of indoctrinated individuals who we must educate to break that paradigm. In that sense this is very much a civil rights issue.  

  • Chrism4549

    I think it’s a civil rights movement. Of course, I live in the south. If you’re down here you might be more likely to think there’s more discrimination going on against us (and homosexuals). I’m surprised that’s controversial.

  • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

    There was a student post about David possibly making up the 30% under 30 statistic, but in the video I can see there’s even more stats to question… The “Myth” billboard cost 23k and got over $10,000,000 in press? I’d like to see this counter he has and how it calculates how much the press is worth. Sounds to me like that episode of South Park where all the internet/youtube celebrities boast about how much metaphorical money they’re worth.

  • Ronlawhouston

    I’m with you Hemant.  There is no doubt that discrimination and intolerance exists; however to compare it to the civil rights movement is in my opinion cringe-worthy.

  • Ferule Bezel

    His bit about the broadbasedness is simply false.  There are very few Republicans or Libertarians in  atheist movements who stay for long.  And why should they.  We are now seeing the usual statist groups trying to (and way too successfully) shanghai skeptical organizations for their pet causes.  Cheap shot insults aimed at Republicans are common and Libertarians are strawmaned all the fucking time.

    Secularism is only a subset of my general interest in the defense and expanded protection individual freedom.  I will not give money to any organization that only supports the small set and works against the rest.

  • randall.morrison90

    About those so called threats that appeared on facebook and the like; the odds are that some atheists were involved.  Its called “Disinformation Tactics”.  There is an expecially vicious group active in Kansas City Mo. that is going national.

    More later.

    • Djboomnasty

      Expecially? Maybe you mean “especially”?

  • Pseudonym

    Does Dave really think that atheism is the last phase of the American civil rights revolution?

    So in a decade or two, atheism will be mainstream. What if things turn really ugly for Muslims in the mean time? Is Dave going to stand up for their rights?

    What about the rights of transgendered people (which is not part of the current discourse over LGBT rights)?

    Hell, race is still a huge issue, even though it’s framed as being about undocumented labourers. When people start fleeing Pacific islands as they get flooded out by rising sea levels, they’ll want to relocate. We can probably predict in advance what the Rush Limbaughs of the day will say…

    The battle for civil rights will never end, and it is part of the job of those who have already “won” to pay it forward.


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