Jacques Berlinerblau has some advice for US atheists.
The real priority for American Atheism concerns its political future, its ability to shape policy agendas so as to represent the interests of its constituency.
Does it? I don’t think it does – not (as implied) to the exclusion of other things. I don’t really think of atheism as having a “constituency,” or as expecting to be able to shape policy agendas so as to represent the interests of its constituency. That sounds like political operative talk, and while I do think atheism is political as well as philosophical (in the broad sense of the word), I don’t think it’s political in that way. It’s too specialized for that. Secularism can be political in that way, but not atheism.
The key question, then, is: What do atheists want? If what they want is to abolish religion—a New Atheist theme with deep roots in the Radical Enlightenment, Deism, and Marxism—then there is no political future. Atheism will simply remain a movement of overheated malcontents lamenting their great civic misfortune.
I think he has that wrong, and I said so in a comment there. We don’t want to abolish religion; we want to push it back, and to put it on the intellectual defensive, where it belongs.
“The Constitution,” vice-presidential candidate Joseph Liebermann famously intoned in 2000, “guarantees freedom of religion not freedom from religion.” It is precisely this form of demagoguery and its associated policy implications that atheists must strenuously challenge.
Freedom of and freedom from religion are not mutually exclusive.
Indeed. For once I completely agree with Berlinerblau. I despise that intonation of Lieberman’s; it makes me livid. (Berlinerblau gave Lieberman an extra n at the end of his name, and deprived Joe Hoffmann of his. Oh those pesky extra Ens!)
But after that Berlinerblau goes off the rails, because he’s too intent on being political in the sense mentioned above – the James Carville sense, the “framing” sense.
Widen the Tent: Why must the admission price to American Atheism be total nonbelief in God and hatred of all religion? Can’t the movement, at the very least, split the difference?
Why can’t those who have doubts about God but remain affiliated in some way with a religion be included in the big tent? Conversely, why can’t those who have no religion (see below) but some type of spiritual or faith commitment enter the movement as well? Why can’t skeptics and agnostics join the club? What about heretics and apostates? In short, democratic mobilization requires numbers. Atheism needs numbers, accurate numbers. . .
Why? Well because that’s what atheism means. Secularism can be (and is) that kind of big tent, but atheism does mean nonbelief in god (though certainly not hatred of all religion).
Reach Out and Touch (Moderate) Faith: And while we are at it, why can’t atheists make common cause with religious moderates? In its first decade of operations New Atheism has virtually assured its political irrelevance by acerbically shunning the very religious folks (think Mainline Protestants, Liberal Catholics, Reform Jews, etc.) who are waging their own pitched battles with fundamentalists. “Even mild and moderate religion,” averred Richard Dawkins in the The God Delusion, “helps to provide the climate of faith in which extremism naturally flourishes.”
Well, some atheists can do that, but some of us simply don’t want to. That’s because “political relevance” is not our only or main goal. Some of us just really do want to be free of all religion, even the mild and moderate kind, and we want to be free to say so, and to say why. We can of course make common cause with religious moderates on all sorts of issues, and we do, but we can’t very well make it on the issue of atheism itself.