Don’t Just Cut off the Head of the Monster

It’s really late as I’m writing this… so I really hope it makes sense. It does in my head. But I’m falling asleep. So there’s your disclaimer.

Recently, Ben Jealous, the President of the NAACP, accepted the National Equality Award from the Human Rights Campaign for his leadership in getting his group to openly support LGBT rights:

As I watched the clip (ignoring all his Pledge of Allegiance references) I kept thinking about how there must have been members of the NAACP who opposed the decision. Perhaps one of the arguments was that it was not part of the NAACP’s mission to support gay rights — their core constituency was much more narrow in scope. Why go beyond that?

Then, I’d like to think the conversation changed.

While promoting the “advancement of colored people” was certainly the immediate goal of the organization, the broader goal of obtaining equal rights and protection for all people included LGBT individuals as well and that’s really what they have been fighting for. So the NAACP board voted 62-2 in favor of same-sex marriage.

I don’t know if that history is correct. It’s more of a thought than anything else. But here’s the point I want to make: We’ve seen a lot of discussion in the atheist world about what we ought to be focusing on. There are people who think our only goal (as a community) should be convincing people that God doesn’t exist.

I would argue that’s the immediate goal… but the larger goal is to get people to think critically and rationally.

That means atheists should be speaking out on issues that go beyond mere theology, like education issues (where critical thinking is often thrown out in favor of regurgitation and fill-in-the-bubble tests), LGBT and women’s issues (since both groups are harmed by religious beliefs not based in fact), universal health care (since God isn’t going to take care of anybody), politics (do you need a reason for this one?), etc. Sure, we’ll have disagreements on the substance of each, but I don’t have a problem with the general idea.

It’s fine if you think your answer to the God Question is the be-all and end-all of your atheism. I just think that’s too short-sighted. We know there are atheists who still believe in prayer and pseudoscience and other nonsense. To me, not believing in God means nothing if you still buy into other forms of bullshit.

This is why I don’t get bothered by the idea of Humanism or Atheism Plus or atheists who want to work on social justice issues. While they’re going outside the narrow scope of religion that we tend to care about, they’re still fighting the same broader war, and they’re still on our side. Religion and faulty thinking permeate so many other areas of our lives that it would be crazy to pretend our community shouldn’t care about those areas as much as we do the most basic question of whether God exists.

I’m all for cutting off the head of the monster, but we can’t forget to destroy the rest of the body while we’re at it.


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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.


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