Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Ethical Atheist Politician - Excuses, Excuses, Excuses

Today, I want to add two plus two.

Last Friday, i claimed that the ethical atheist lobbyist would tell the ethical atheist political organization, "Go out and harvest political and economic support. The more economic ($) and political (votes I have backing my up, the more I can do."

Yet, last Thursday I wrote that our society has burdened most of us - as children - with a psychological aversion to admitting atheism and criticizing "one nation under God." The hostile reactions we get as adults reinforces those emotional reactions in ourselves and others. We live within a social environment that makes atheists timid and unassertive, while making theists assertive, self-confident, and prone to accept denigrating stereotypes of atheists.

Decent people trust in God and support one nation under God. Those who do not support such things deserve condemnation. We are verbally and socially spat upon on a frequent basis - daily, in fact. Comments that would get people fired if spoken about Jews or Muslims are cheered when atheists are the target.

When we add two plus two together, we get the ethical atheist lobbyist calling for more political and economic backing. At the same time, the atheist community answering with excuses - claiming that it is not necessary or, worse, counter-productive.

They say, for example, that we do not need to muster political and economic support because the lobbyist can work behind the scenes, influencing legislation in committee and in draft form that that does not even appear on the public radar.

Fortunately, no organization dedicated to promoting a sectarian state is aware of these techniques. Therefore, we can trust that they are not putting their political and enconomic weight behind the same tools. The ethical atheist lobbyist will have this arena all to herself.

These people, with their billions of dollars and tens of millions of votes, not only have countless lobbyists at work influencing legislation behind the scenes and beneath the social radar. They are also influencing elections - making sure that the people who get elected are those who would cheerfully slam their door in the face of any ethical atheist lobbyist. While it is true that the ethical atheist lobbyist is not entirely impotent, it is also the case that there is nothing she cannot do today that she cannot do far more efficiently with billions of dollars and tens of millions of votes backing her up.

Another excuse is, "Look at the trends. Things are going our way. We can continue to sit on our hands and do nothing. We will still win."

Passive people - people taught through social institutions to feel anxious and nervous about challenging the status quo - look for excuses to do nothing. And they are easy to find.

Active people look for ways to change things.

We can rest assured that religious organizations - religious leaders who see their economic contributions shrinking and political influence waning - are going to be looking for actions that they can take to reverse this trend. These are active people - taught to be confident and self-assertive by the same institutions that tell children that good people trust God and support a nation under God.

Thousands of religious leaders are going to try thousands of strategies in the years ahead. We should expect that some of them are going to succeed. And where they find success, the formulae for success will be adopted by others. They design new strategies - the way "creationism" became "intelligent design" and a movement to ban abortion became a movement to add so many costs and barriers to abortion that it is effectively outlawed - at least for poor people. The methods that succeed will draw economic and social power.

A third excuse we hear is, "We must be nice to religion. All of this criticism is just making them angry and uncooperative."

This is the social equivalent of, "If we wag our tails, look cute, and roll over on command, we might get a few scraps from the table."

We need good, professional advice on what strategies what strategies work and what does not. In the absence of hard data, we are inclined to go with our feelings. Those feelings are fed by the emotional attachments we are taught as children. In this case, it is fed by social anxiety over anything that is critical of religion or "one nation under God". The strategy of being nice to religion feels comfortable and, in the absence of data, we go with what feels comfortable.

However, in this case, we do have a bit of data that suggests that we need a different strategy. We have 60 years of history using this passive strategy - even condemning as vile those few in the atheist community who decide to challenge the status quo. The result has been a community in which atheists are almost entirely denied political power, viewed as the least trustworthy members of community, and where politicians themselves routinely say to the cheers of crowds that atheists are morally suspect and unfit for leadership.

Given these results, it may well be time to try something new.

We are also not entirely without evidence that the types of community messages we see - where children are taught that a good person believes in God, supports a nation under God, and trusts in God - impact the emotional development of children and affects their attitudes and behaviors as adults. We have seen it in other communities - among black children, homosexual children, and girls.

These are the predictable results of adding two (the need to muster more economic and political support in order to become politically effective) and two (a culture that feeds young children the idea that a good person trusts in God and supports a nation under God). The predicted result is a lot of people who are anxious about doing the types of things that would harvest the political and economic support the ethical atheist lobbyist could use - and continued political impotence.

It is a system that can be best countered by a campaign that is directed at challenging the message that children get, that to be a good person requires trusting in God and supporting a nation under God.

1 comment:

Bilbo Fraggins said...

Hurray! Finally a piece were we are 100% agreed(though you seemed to accidentally a word or 3 at the end there).

We can quibble about the most efficient place to put our limited political resources at the moment, but to actually accomplish anything we definitely need more of them.

I am quite please to say that my local atheist group is politically active enough that I can quote many of the IRS rules on the political limits imposed on 501c3 organizations.

For some reason I feel I should comment here just to keep up the pattern though. :-)

I guess to add something of interest I will point out some places for people to actually get involved.

Secular.org has (nationally focused) action alerts.


Freedom From Religion Foundation also has a similar list:


Freedom From Religion Foundation has local chapters(of which my local group is one). See if one is by you, or consider starting one/getting your local group to join.


Secular Coalition chapters are a work in progress: If you're interested in starting one in your state, see:


And of course, both of these organizations would love to have you as donors, and FFRF as members.