If Atheists Really Cared About Social Justice…

Despite all the drama surrounding “Atheism Plus,” and regardless of whether or not you personally want to use that label, many of us care a great deal about social justice and helping those in need. We see what religious groups do in response to these matters and we feel that we are just as capable of making things better.

But what does that mean?

What would it look like in action if atheists became more involved with issues beyond the existence of gods?

Here’s my partial list of issues our community can (and should) take action on right now:

  •  Marriage Equality: This is near and dear to my heart because my state (Washington) will be voting on this issue in November. Voters in MaineMaryland, and Minnesota will also be voting on same-sex marriage this November. I can’t speak to the details about efforts being made elsewhere, but here in the Evergreen State, things are ramping up: People are needed to 1) volunteer at a phone bank to reach undecided voters, 2) host fundraising parties, 3) raise Millions for Marriage, 4) canvas local neighborhoods with signs that say APPROVE Ref. 74, and 5) talk to businesses in their neighborhood and ask them to support Ref. 74 and the freedom to marry.
  • Support groups: When atheists are suffering, they need our support. Whether they’re recovering from religious abuse or have just lost a loved one, having a network of people to lean on is powerfully important. Some organizations have started to do this and Vyckie Garrison created the Spiritual Abuse Blogs Network. And a commenter suggested a link for secular therapists.
  • Atheists in nursing homes: Have you ever been to a nursing home? They can be pretty depressing and lonely. Many church groups make a point of visiting elderly residents in their local nursing home who are Christians. But who visits the atheists? Imagine how much joy you could bring to someone by just stopping by to say hello.
  • Lobbying: This is a huge category and really deserves its own post. There’s so much brokenness that can most efficiently be fixed through changes in legislation — not just with what the laws say but how things are funded. Organizations like the ACLU, FFRF, and the Secular Coalition for America are already doing amazing work. If you want to help in this area, you can volunteer your time, donate to these and other organizations, or contact your own representatives and talk to them directly.
  • Young atheists: Groups like the Secular Student Alliance do so much good! And they keep getting better. Anything we do to support the next generation in a positive way gets extra gold stars.
  • Comprehensive Sex Education in Public Schools: First, we need laws requiring that all sex ed that’s taught in schools must include medically accurate information about contraception and abstinence. Second, we need to fund those programs. Easier said than done, but if this is a topic you’re passionate about, go volunteer with Advocates for Youth.
  • Creating & maintaining a directory of secular health care providers: I’ve done some looking and I haven’t found a good resource for this but our community needs this. I’m hoping to be able to make this happen locally in my area in the next year but we need it everywhere.
  • Quality public education: So much of the social justice issues we fight for are rooted in problems of poverty and opportunity. Education is the great equalizer. If you give people the opportunity to succeed with a proper education, you raise the bar for everyone; whole communities thrive. But the way we fund public schools today creates so much disparity in quality. A student’s education is based on where their parents can afford to live, and thus the cycle of poverty and disadvantage continues.
  • Prison reform: We have the highest documented per capita incarceration rate in the world. That is a symptom of a very broken system. To bring down this rate, we have to attack the problem from many angles (improving education, reducing poverty, decriminalizing cannabis, truncating the power of prison worker labor unions, rehabilitation, etc.) Instead of solving the problems that put more people in prisons, we just keep building more prisons. There’s also the problem that prisons are used as captive audiences for preachers. Atheists generally don’t reach out to help rehabilitate those in prison. This goes for people stuck in the juvenile detention system as well.
  • Foster care reform: First off, there aren’t nearly enough parents who are taking on foster kids. Additionally, if there’s any chance a kid will return to their parents, social services won’t let them stay with any family for very long for fear that they’ll get too attached and will have difficulty going back to their parents. That results in the average foster kid getting bounced around a lot. There’s no stability in that, no real home for them during their formative years. And many of the kids have issues with anger (honestly, do you blame them?) and many parents just don’t know how to handle them. They’ll have a kid for a few weeks and then just bring them back. Think about what kind of psychological damage that would do to a kid. Coupled with all of this is the fact that many foster parents are very religious. I had a conversation with one such parent who bragged about how many foster kids she converted to Christianity.  We need more people willing to be foster parents and we need more programs for these kids to give them stability and help working through all the awfulness that life has thrust upon them.

I know that’s a dense list but it’s far from exhaustive. As for Atheism Plus, I don’t know if it will grow or fade away. But I know I’m going to keep pushing hard against the broken things I see around me. What should I add to this list?  What are you pulled into action to fix?

About Ericka M. Johnson

As a lover of science and reason, Ericka M. Johnson has an affinity for evolutionary biology and is the president of Seattle Atheists. She revels in any opportunity for a thoughtful debate on the meaning of life, the universe, and everything (especially over a pint.) Follow her on twitter @ErickaMJohnson


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