Although the title is a bit weird: Atheists can’t be Republicans? That’s a bit off. One thing we know is that atheists can be all kinds of things: Republican, Libertarian (oh, jebus, but there are a lot smug Libertarian atheists), Progressive, smart, idiotic, egalitarian, elitist. The message is good, though: it’s not enough to just be an atheist. We have to stand up for something, rather than just being against something, and that means that atheism has to find a conscience.
Individual atheists can, of course, have wildly divergent views, but the atheist movement, if it is to have any political clout at all, must focus on some key issues and make those part of the message. If we are going to claim to have positions based on reason and the intelligent interpretation of the evidence, then the climate change denialists, the sexists, the racists, the narcissistic worshippers of the Holy Market…they cannot be regarded as representative. The ones who think the solution to Islamic theocracy is to bomb Muslim countries or deport brown people should be considered as lunatic and beyond the pale as atheists who advocate nuking the Vatican or ostracizing Catholics.
It’s time for the movement to address bigger and real issues, and the biggest issue of our time is income inequality. Of all the developed nations, the U.S. has the most unequal distribution of income. In the past decade, 95 percent of all economic gains have gone to the top 1 percent. A mere 400 individuals own one-half of the entire nation’s wealth. Meanwhile, median household income keeps falling, and our poverty levels resemble that of the Great Depression era. In other words, the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer and the middle class is being decimated.
Atheists like to talk about building a better world, one that is absent of religiosity in the public square, but where are the atheist groups on helping tackle the single biggest tear in the fabric of our society — wealth disparity? They are nowhere. Its absence on the most pressing moral issue of our time makes it difficult for the movement to establish meaningful partnerships with other moral communities.
To remain white, middle class, intellectually smug and mostly apolitical will not only serve to alienate atheism from minorities and the poor, but will also ensure it remains a politically impotent movement that is incapable of building a better America. Growing up means less time and money spent on self-righteous billboard campaigns, and, instead, more resources allocated to fighting the political conditions that have caused this nation’s middle class and infrastructure to resemble that of a hyper-religious Third World nation.
I would broaden the mission a bit, though. On economic issues, atheists as a whole ought to be behind reducing the rich-poor divide — it’s the only rational position to take — but I would consider it legitimate to regard human rights as an umbrella topic to be more important, or to make the even bigger issue of environmental degradation the major crisis of our time. We can have a broad tent, but that does not include supporting ideas that conflict with reality.
Atheism is ultimately going to have to be a progressive political force, fighting for inclusion, evidence-based policy, humanist values, and the goal of expanding knowledge and power for all. We’re hampered right now by a rather reluctant leadership that tends to focus on pettier issues in the name of unity.