• We Still Don’t Need an Atheist Movement…Sort Of


    Two great responses to an earlier post in which I diss the Atheist MovementTM (in a loyal opposition kind of way).

    First comment, from Damion Reinhardt:

    Any individual can write a letter to their local  legislator complaining about the most recent encroachment of the chuch (sic) upon the state. A collection of like minded individuals (i.e. a movement) can arrange for dozens of activists to write scores of letters to an entire array of local reps within a week or two of the bill’s initial introduction. The latter approach is far more effective.

    Second comment, from Ed Clint:

    Really? Is those how you feel about the civil rights movement? Children’s rights? animal rights?

    Before I respond directly, let me disclose a bit on my temperament. I hate going to stadium concerts. I saw U2 in Madrid, 1987. A great show. But I looked around the huge stadium and saw everyone waving hands in time. The whole mass of people sang along with Bono. The scene in its entirety seemed almost an avatar of a fascist event. (Footnote: I heard that Jim Morrison was preoccupied to the dynamic of the singer-on-stage and crowd. He wanted to know how far he could push an audience. David Bowie once got himself in hot water for making what appeared to be an extended-arm Nazi salute to fans. Pink Floyd’s The Wall also connects the rock and roll stadium event with a dictatorial rally.)

    So I’m averse to collectives, even when I support the larger goals and views of the congregating group. Masses make me uncomfortable.

    But I also have a more logical or reason-based problem with social and political movements: they tend to situate themselves from the outside and address themselves to entrenched power. Even the civil rights movement identified itself as disenfranchised, as we can see in the most famous address of the heroic Martin Luther King, Jr.:

    In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

    It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

    In my mind, we atheists are not seeking to cash a check. We are not looking for America to make good on a promise to us. We are not calling America on its default.

    In my mind, at least.

    No, I think a better approach is to mobilize, as individuals, into the power structures that are nominally available to all. Movements are not unimportant, and the atheist movement has served a decisive need for visibility and show of strength. Movements must evolve, however, by motivating individuals to work in and with the institutions that are often the targets of (legitimate) criticism.

    My mom really did say to me “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.” I think this is so for running a school, a town, a state, or a nation. I want to see atheists running school boards and seeking presidencies.

    Ultimately, my point is that affiliating with a movement is a beginning to what atheists can do and be in America. I can tell that my thinking on the issue is too mushy in some parts. I’m willing to risk sounding like a jackass, though, to see if others agree that there is more for atheists than a movement.


    Category: Uncategorized

    Article by: Larry Tanner