Over the past decade or so, the New Atheists, including the prolific “Four Horsemen”, have made their non-belief, and their relentless assault on silly religious beliefs, a very public (and very loud) affair. High School students, and others, have subject themselves to harassment and vitriol in order to stand up for the Separation of Church and State. A little over a week ago, ~20,000 atheists gathered for the largest rally of nonbelievers in history. To many, it seems that there is an atheist movement, possibly similar in scope to the Gay Rights Movement or Civil Rights Movements, is on the horizon.
But is it really? Sadly, I’m not very optimistic.
In my inaugural post on this blog, I described why atheism is not a religion (see what I did there?). One of the principle reasons I cited for this was that atheists don’t really have any unifying beliefs–we have a unifying lack of belief. While we demonstrated that we certainly can get 20,000 people to go to a rally (that I wish I could have gone to), we have yet to show that we can field, and mobilize, behind so-called “pro-Reason” candidates or have a meaningful impact on policy. For all of our recent forays into the national discussion, bigoted, small-minded beliefs about atheists still run rampant, and it is still considered okay to publicly vilify people who don’t share the majority’s theistic beliefs. We only have one Congressman who (openly) considers themselves an atheist.
Why don’t we have more of an impact? Well, the fact is that, even though “making sure that policy is guided by reason, rather than dogma” is a warm and fuzzy sounding political platform, it is a woefully incomplete one. I have known atheists who are liberal, conservative, libertarian, socialist, and even one (silly rich suburban kid) who called himself a communist, and with all of those different ideologies, it really would be quite difficult to field an “atheist movement” candidate who would be able to appeal to such a wide range of ideologies. Sometimes, I wonder if all atheists can agree on is atheism. Just tax policy alone would be enough to lose a big chunk of voters, regardless of what position you took.
And, unlike Evangelicals, who were willing to forsake most of what Jesus had to say about giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s and discouraging wealth concentration in order to align themselves with businessmen to create today’s Republican Party, atheists (at least me, but I’m sure others as well) aren’t willing to so cheaply sell pieces of their ideology in order to make a political coalition. I just can’t see many atheist libertarians voting for Democrats, for example (personal note: I am an exception to this, but the folks at Reason would seem to differ).
And even if we were willing to sell out some of our beliefs for political expediency, which of those beliefs would we sell out? Not all atheists value social issues or science issues over economic issues, and it won’t be easy to get those votes when the Religious Right has the Republican Party and the low-tax platform by the short and curlies.
Those are just some reasons why I think it won’t happen any time soon, but we have to try. This is one area where I would not only be open to being wrong–I would prefer it.
Edit: Thunderf00t is more optimistic than I am.