Is it time to start an agressive, "atheist pride" movement?

I am speaking as both an atheist and as a 60-year-old gay man who has personally witnessed the amazing liberation that gays and lesbians have brought about over the past 50 years through an agressive program of gay pride and individual coming out.

While things are still far from perfect for gays, I think even conservatives will often admit in their heart of hearts that reverses like Proposition 8 are just temporary setbacks.

It is my contention that the present situation of atheists, especially in America, (arguably the most religious of the western democracies) most closely parallels that of gays in the 1960s.

Admittedly, there are some comparisons with black pride and the black civil rights movement as well.

But consider this: It is now a proven fact that a majority of Americans will vote for a black man for President. But polls also show that a large majority of Americans would NOT vote for an atheist. And they answer this to the pollsters without even knowing anything about the hypothetical candidate or his/her platform!

The situation of gays and atheists is most comparable because:
[li]Gays and atheists are mostly invisible, unlike blacks[/li][li]Coming out of the closet is a form of social activism that initially upsets the majority and can lead to backlash[/li][li]But in the long term, the more members of this invisible minority come out, the more they challenge and destroy ignorant stereotypes.[/li][LIST]
[li]Both gays and atheists are victimized and demonized by Churches and by conservative religious believers.[/li][/ul]

In the early 60s, one or two small gay lobby groups existed, very timidly and almost disguised, in a world of intimidation and misunderstanding. In Washington, a group called “One” (i.e. homos=same) had a small office identified only by the letters “ONE” on the door.

Now I realize the American Atheists are somewhat better organized, less timid and have a web site, but I am convinced they represent only a tiny proportion of atheists.

In 1960, Richard Nixon could say in the TV debates that Kennedy’s being Catholic should not bother anyone, and that voters should only reject a candidate who had no religion. To my knowledge, nobody criticized that comment.

Almost 50 years later, Mitt Romney said something along the same lines during the recent primaries when someone brought up his Mormon religion, and he received relatively little criticism for what is in effect a grotesque and scandalous call to discriminate against some 16% of Americans.

About 2 years ago, CNN held a panel discussion about whether or not atheists are subject to discrimination in America. Incredibly, the panel did not include any atheists. It included religious leaders who essentially dumped on atheists as cry babies. Can you imagine for one second any other group being excluded from a discussion about them? After protests, CNN did allow the American Atheist Association some air time, but only in a format in which they were attacked by religious leaders. If you can find the items on Youtube please share the URLs.

I have seen footage of the few marches in Washington held by “Godless Americans” and they remind me of nothing so much as the initial, timid gay rights demos of the early 60s.

In retrospect, what really produced the amazing progress of gays and lesbians over the past few decades were the individual acts of “coming out of the closet.” They began with trickle of incredibly brave individuals who risked and endured physical attacks and discrimination, and eventually the trickle turned to a torrent. And with each gay person who came out, some ignorant stereotypes fell.

No doubt, atheists will be accused of having an “agenda”. Atheist teachers who go public will be accsed of trying to “recruit” their students and “destroy their faith”. The tricks of reactionaries and religious conservatives rarely change. But reactionaries are reactionaries because they are reacting to something. And that something can be the tens of millions of “no religion/atheist/agnostic” Americans who are ready to come out of the closet, who refuse to hide and remain invisible.

Here is a funny personal story. I work as a volunteer in a home for HIV/AIDS sufferers (most of our residents are not gay BTW). I am HIV negative personally, and so I work very hard scrubbing toilets, cleaning floors, painting, and helping those who are not as fortunate as I am. One day, one of the Directors, apparently impressed with my level of devotion, asked admiringly what religion I was. Now, the funny thing is, the fact that I am gay is of no importance to anyone in that home. But when I said I was an atheist, a few eyebrows shot up. It was not an expression of hostility but of mild surprise. I would like to think that a few stereotypes bit the dust that day.

So how about it? For starters, how about watching this “atheist pride” video:

Hell I’m in. Where do I get my t-shirt and bullhorn?

I vote no. Atheism is something one chooses, not something one is born with and unable to change. Militant atheists are every bit as obnoxious as the bible thumpers in my book.

The thing is, I am not trying to force upon anyone my atheim. I would just like people to know that I am not a bad person for being an atheist, that I have my own moral code which in some cases is stricter than Christian or Muslim codes, but is way more flexible (that is, I will adjust it when I learn more information). I also would like them to know that I don’t have a belief system. Atheism literally means “without god”, and I just don’t have any god in my life. My belief system would more accurately be called “secular humanism” or something similar.

I have seen people actually flinch when I tell them I’m atheist. Once I had someone stop talking to me. Oh, they didn’t tell me, though - I asked a third party why so-and-so seemed to be avoiding me, and it turned out, they were.

So I don’t have an agenda. I like the new atheist signs that are being put up in places. I remember being very lonely and alone, believing I was the only one out there - a sign that said something like “Atheism is not evil. You are not alone” I would have felt a hell of a lot better.

I don’t want to be militant. I just want to be accepted. Too many people think atheists just aren’t even human. I just want to reach out to other people who are growing up in religious households and having doubt and tell them - it’s OK. It happens. You’ll make it.

But it will never work. You put two atheists in a room, and there will be three opinions. How do we come together if we don’t have a central unifier? “Lack of belief” is not strong enough.

Better to continue with “secular humanistic” philosophies.

I was just recently in Georgia, volunteering for a Senate campaign. A volunteer was looking to go knock doors, but she didn’t want to do it on her own, so I said I’d go along with her. We got to talking and connected pretty nicely. It came up that she was a Christian and that I was atheist. She said that she couldn’t have pictured that, because I was “such a good person”. She then asked exactly what I believed or didn’t believe, because it was the first time she had met anyone that held my set of beliefs. We had a great afternoon, she came back, and she was a very valuable part of our organization, to boot.

My point is that a lot of this can be done simply through education.

Sure, but unless you make it your business to go about mentioning it to all and sundry, those “inbound” opportunities are slim and far between. I think that an aggressive (not militant) movement would be good. It would help get some of the facts out there, and maybe give a heads up to the congress that we are not a small minority. 16% is not tiny here. Only 1.7% of Americans are Jewish and I don’t think that anyone here will argue that they command the respect of the politicians.

Norway is a good example of how atheists need to be a bit more assertive. It has been estimated that maybe 70-75% of Norwegians are atheists. But official statistics show the majority of the population as belonging to the State Lutheran Church. This is because of some legal mechanism that automatically registers people as members of the state church, probably based on what their parents were, and so on back into history. Obviously there is a mechanism for Muslims, Jews, Roman Catholics and others to be listed otherwise, and a Norwegian can apparently be registered as an atheist instead of a Lutheran by filling out some forms and going through some bureaucracy. But it is a hassle that most atheists are too practical and busy to bother with. So Norway continues to be listed as a majoritively Lutheran country.

So what? Well, how about changing the law? How about a law that says that people who DO believe in a religion can register themselves as members of that religion, by filling out forms? Otherwise, the default statistic will be “no religious belief indicated”.

There is a funny comic strip in which an American teacher tells Johnny that God has forsaken America to crime and terrorism because America has forsaken God. Johnny points out that Norwegians have massively forsaken God and yet have a low crime rate and a very peaceful, prosperous and happy country.

The teacher’s answer: I hope they speak Norwegian in Hell, Johnny!:smiley:

How about changing the law so the government does not register people’s religious beliefs?

Actually, you and I and everyone else as well was born an atheist. I don’t think people can be born believing in something they haven’t been told about yet.

That would be where that “and unable to change” phrase becomes important. I could become some flavor of religious person this afternoon, if I wanted.

Yes, but atheism is the default. People choose (or are forced in childhood) to become religious.

Sorry, I don’t see the point. Gays 20 years ago, and even today, suffer very explicit discrimination in a variety of areas. If atheists do, there are already existing laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of religion. Gays are not allowed to do things they wish to do, like get married. I’m not. Luckily, no one is forcing me to go to any church.
I agree that there is political hostility towards atheists, but you can’t force people to vote for an atheist candidate, so I don’t see the remedy. Religious tests are already unconstitutional.
I’m all for continuing to come out of the closet and the publication of books explaining and arguing for atheism, like in the past few years. I just don’t see what an atheist pride movement would ask for. I hope that if one does get started, they do better than the Brights. I get their mailings, but I’m not impressed.

Asking me to believe in God would be similar to asking me to believe in Unicorns or that 2+2=5… My mind is simply not built to do the 1984 style doublethink required for the job.

In fact, even if it is a choice: so what? Christianity is a choice too under that standard. Is it ok to discriminate against them if they’re in the minority?

Utterly irrelevant to my point.

I believe in Jeebus. (Now I’m a religious person)

I don’t believe in Jeebus or any other god. (Back to atheism.)

A gay person can’t just decide to be straight. Nobody can change their race on a whim.

True that it is a choice. But so what? It doesn’t matter if it’s chosen or not. Americans still look down on a group because of ignorant prejudice.

Please feel free to be as aggressive as you wish. But don’t claim to speak for every atheist or agnostic, marching along behind you.

We don’t need an Atheist Pope. Or another Madalyn Murray O’Hair.

Atheists don’t need to proselytize. If someone cares that I’m an atheist I feel fully free to dump on their idiocy to the full extent of my capability. If this proves to them that atheists are evil, malicious people, that’s all to the better. People avoid contention wherever they can, just as they should be doing when it comes to religious issues (and they especially will try to avoid fights where rational discussion is liable to put them on the defense.)

Ye olde eye for an eye defense.

Not just in Norway, but in most Western European countries atheism is the default setting. Unless you state otherwise, people will assume you are an atheist.

Seeing the crusade many religious Americans hold against atheism is incredibly… not just scary, but incredibly misguided. Holland and Germany, Norway and Denmark, have been atheistic countries for decades now. And nothing bad has happened. These countries score higher on several happiness meters. They have a lower rate of crime, poverty, abortions and teenage pregnancy then the USA does. People are spiritually aware, with or without (a kind of) God, and feel connected to their community.

Watching people feel all moral for wanting to “keep their kids away from atheists destroying their faith”… To me, it is as absurd as when they would claim that you can’t be a moral happy person and have brown eyes. Or red hair. Or like country music. Or eat spaghetti.

:: shakes head::

There’s a difference between being looked down upon, and being denied the right to marry, or forced to deal with segregation/Jim Crow/etc.

I actually don’t like that point, because I’ve heard the second part of it recently for the first time. “But most people grow out of it.” Annoys the hell out of me…