Are you, my atheist – agnostic – freethought – humanist – secularist readers, tired of being used as the tool with which others bash the things you claim to value? I say claim to because I think that a person who values something would be adverse to being used as a tool in its destruction.
Earlier this year, Kieffe and Sons auto dealership put out advertisements telling you to sit down and shut up. They should have not only been forced to apologize, but to run an advertisement in which they retracted their earlier statement. Instead, they made money. (See: The Pledge Project: Sit Down and Shut Up.)
Then, Illinois Representative Monique Davis told an atheist witness to a legislative hearing that atheism is a philosophy of destruction and that he had no right to be there. Her so-called apology actually was founded on the bigoted belief that atheism brings immorality – a school shooting that, like all school shootings, can be blamed on the fact that God has been removed from the schools, and only religious students can be moral. She should have lost her job over this. (See: The Moral Argument for Davis' Resignation in Detail)
We had Army general Petraeus endorse a book that said that atheist soldiers are incapable of fully contributing to their military unit and, unlike Christians, may have a personal agenda that could lead to the unit's failure. (See: Petraeus Book 'Endorsement' Draws Fire)
We had North Carolina Senator Elizabeth Dole send out an fundraising letter in which she accused her challenger of meeting with 'those people' – atheists, secularists, humanists – that no good North Carolinian would be comfortable sitting down to dinner with. (See: Guess Who Is Not Coming to Dinner.)
In a society, we grow certain cultural elements by the use of praise and reward, and we inhibit or shrink them through the use of condemnation and punishment. In each of the examples given above, the perpetrator was met with more praise and reward than condemnation and punishment. So, in this culture, those elements were allowed to grow.
What, for the Elizabeth Dole re-election campaign, began as a profitable fundraising letter, is now a full-fledged campaign. Dole now seeks to defeat her opponent, Kay Hagan, by accusing Hagan of talking with atheists, humanists, and other undesirables. (See Friendly Atheist: Republicans Smear Senate Candidate Kay Hagan for Meeting with Atheists.)
Let's be clear about what Hagan's crime is here, according to Dole. Hagan is not being criticized for agreeing with any particular set of positions. Dole is condemning Hagan for the crime of merely talking to atheists, scularists, and the like. Not only are we wrong - we do not even have a right to present our case to those who may be our elected officials.
I want you to know what it means to allow this campaign to succeed.
If it succeeds, it will serve as a warning, from one end of this country to the other, that no candidate is to meet with or associate with atheist citizens. It will serve to put up a firewall (or, actually, strengthen an existing firewall) between atheists and those with political power. where the last thing a person in or seeking political power wants to be seen as doing is having an association with atheists, freethinkers, humanists, and the like. If we allow this meeting to be punished rather than rewarded, we would be foolish not to expect that future meetings will be harder to come by.
So, if we value what we claim to value, we will not allow ourselves to be used as a weapon for the destruction of those values. It is time to react with anger to make sure that bigots suffer punishment for their behavior, rather than reward. Whereas Elizabeth Dole's defeat for her bigotry earlier would have been a good thing, it is now essential to anybody who wants the secularist community to have any voice in the political arena.
Once again, I hasten to add that there is a right to freedom of speech and freedom of association, and freedom of religion. This right is not a right to immunity from condemnation or criticism for what one says, who one associates with, and one’s religious beliefs. It is, instead, a right to freedom from violence. So, in calling for the condemnation and punishment of these bigots, that condemnation and punishment must stay within the boundaries of words and private actions. Private actions have to do with issues like where to shop, what channels to watch on television, what to buy, who to go out with after work, what causes to contribute to, and who to vote for.
Dole and her cohorts deserve condemnation and punishment for their bigotry, but not the type of punishment that violates – or even threatens to violate – their rights through violent actions or threats of violence against persons or property.
However, within those bounds of words and private actions, we have our rights as well.
The bigotry that Dole is attempting to milk and nurture in her campaign is, actually, the same bigotry that resulted in the candidates for President having two faith-based debates or meetings, but which allowed them (encouraged them) to refuse to participate in Science Debate 2008.
We claim to value science, the scientific method, reason, and scientific thought. There is, in this country, a very strong anti-science contingent.
How does that anti-science contingent grow? It does so by equating science with atheism and by asserting that whatever is associated with atheism is to be condemned. Here, again, we claim to value science, but we allow ourselves to be used as a weapon in its social degradation and abuse. If we truly value that which we claim to value, we would not allow ourselves to be used as a weapon in this way. We would think that it is important to take a stand – to condemn and to punish (within the bounds established by existing rights as stated above) those who use us in this way.
One of the things that this campaign complains about is the desire to see 'under God' removed from the Pledge of Allegiance and 'In God We Trust' removed as the national motto. It is time to put some effort into communicating with the country why no good person would support 'under God' or 'In God We Trust'. These are the tools through which the nation teaches hatred and contempt for atheists to young children every year – an adverse emotional reaction to those not 'under God' or who do not trust in God – that gets fixed into their immature brain and frozen there.
By planting anti-atheist bigotry into the brains of young children, North Carolina (and the country as a whole) creates a block of adult voters with that same bigotry fixed into their brain that these candidates can then exploit in campaigns such as this.
To fight back, we must fight against the practice of feeding anti-atheist bigotry into the brains of young children. If we are not willing to do so, then we are willing to allow them to continue to use us as weapons for the sake of promoting an anti-secular government and anti-science values that will ultimately do all of us great harm in the long run.
There are those who say that, because of Dole's campaign, it would be a good idea to contribute to Kay Hagan's campaign. That would do some good, and I will not argue against it. However, this type of contribution is fighting the symptom, not the disease of bigotry itself. In order to fight the disease of bigotry the message has to be delivered to the people themselves.
I suspect that there are others who would be thinking that the North Carolina campaign is so far away from here that, "It does not concern me, so I have no reason to get involved."
If you are a member of an atheist, agnostic, humanist, secular, or similar organization in any state, then you need to be asking yourself how you are going to protect the electability of any politician that should happen to meet with leaders of organizations such as yours. If you can't (or won't) protect the electability of those leaders, then those leaders have every reason to avoid you and your organizations and to focus their attention instead on organizations who will take steps to protect and promote the electability of those who meet with them.
One of the ways to do this is to make noise about Dole's campaign not only in North Carolina but locally – to make sure that such behavior gets the condemnation and criticism it deserves among the people of whatever city or region you happen to live in.
Or, you can sit back and observe as people work to make sure that anybody who should show any type of respect or consideration for your views and your values are punished for their actions, and those who declare that you should be regarded as somebody who decent people should not invite to dinner (meet with, or talk to) are rewarded for their bigotry.
We can judge a person's true values by his actions – and what he really does not care about (in spite of his claims to the contrary) by his inactions.