There’s Evolution for Dummies and Windows for Dummies, so why shouldn’t there be an Atheism for Dummies? I can think of quite a few smart folks and, umm, more than a few dummies, that could use that book. Dale McGowan is the author of Parenting Beyond Belief and executive director of Foundation Beyond Belief, he’s finishing up a book by that very name, and he takes a crack at addressing why its just now being written:
WaPo— It’s only been about eight to 10 years since the freethought movement (atheists, agnostics, humanists and skeptics) began to move off the cultural margin in a significant way, and fewer since most of the public has become aware of atheism as an organized presence in the United States. Between the explosive growth of nonreligious self-identity and the more regular presence of the organized religious voice, people naturally have questions about what atheism is and what this growing presence means for them.
“Atheist” is one of those words that people first hear as a whispered accusation, like “communist” was when I was growing up. It was, and often still is, a label that captures their darkest fears. Knowledge is the antidote for fears of all kinds, and a book that sheds light on what atheism is (and what it isn’t) is likely to diminish the fear of it. Everybody wins when we’re less fearful of each other.
I never thought much about being an atheist. It was like someone who knows they are gay from the onset of secual awareness. My parents, both Christians who attend church every Sunday, were ultra cool about it. They encouraged me to form my own opinions and have always respected whatever I decided. In the suburban circles I grew up in, atheism rarely came up for discussion and, when it did, it was usually me pushing it as a topic, not my peers.
The rise of the religious right in the 80s, their incorporation into an increasingly unhinged Republican Party focused almost solely on exploiting genuine faith to serve the bottomless greed of conservative zillionaires, has thrust religion into national politics and intruded into our individual lives to a degree that simply cannot be avoided. There is now a sense that many Americans are just sick as hell of having someone else’s fundamentalist holier-than-thou religious bullshit shoved down their throats. That collective reaction goes way beyond atheists: the entire country sans the extreme right shows tantalizing signs of being fed up.
For now there is no one central organization positioned to harness that discontent that comes close to what the wingnuts have — it’s hard to imagine how that would even work — and dominionists have a big natural advantage, their clubhouses already existed on every street corner in every region of the country. All they had to was infiltrate them and introduce conservative ideology disguised as theology. They have reliably delivered votes, political contributions, and supported people and orgs outside of traditional churches dedicated in whole or part to advancing that agenda. As a result politicians from both parties flock to them and run away in horror from us.
But isn’t there a feeling in the air that a new movement could be ascendant? And that, you, me, FTB and baby-makes-three are the tip of that spear? I think so. But how it evolves and what good it does remains to be seen.