We’re New Yorkers, citizens of the greatest city in America! And since we represent the saner people in our city, we’re also the most enlightened and influential of New Yorkers! We are a large and united voice to be respected and reckoned with! We cannot be ignored. Hear us roar!
Well, not so much. Our collective roar is that of a mouse not a lion. We are about as organized and animated in common cause as the pigeons in Central Park. Other groups like our Hasidic community command politicians to respect their power, to kiss their rings and attend to their every crazy self-serving whim. Threaten politicians with the wrath of the atheist voting block and they will only be forced to wipe away their tears of laughter.
Why is that? There is certainly no shortage of atheists in New York and organizing is logistically easier here than in most areas. There are lots of shared interests to bond us atheists together and plenty of important causes worth uniting around. Yet our atheist organizations have a lot of difficulty recruiting and energizing members as compared to similar atheist organizations other states.
One major reason for this may be because living here in the Big Apple we don’t feel as personally impacted or oppressed by anti-atheist sentiments as are fellow atheists living in other cities. We don’t feel particularly trod upon and don’t generally suffer abuse in our day-to-day interactions. We can admit to being an atheist without being ostracized from the country club and local PTA. It may be true that a recent Quinnipiac University study found that 30% of New Yorkers would be reluctant to elect an atheist to office, but most of us aren’t running for public office anyway. Bottom line, it just doesn’t feel much like we New York atheists are personally under attack because of our atheism.
So it is understandable that New York atheists aren’t very activated by atheist issues. People don’t think much about causes until they’re personally affected by them. Sure, I guess I should care more about starving kids in Africa, but I don’t know any of them personally so it’s hard to get too worked up. People typically become really active in a cause only when it personally affects them. We’re apathetic about gay rights until we have a gay child. We don’t think much about cancer until our spouse is stricken. We don’t condemn guns until our child dies to a shooter. It is often only when something impacts us profoundly that we suddenly become an activist and are motivated to spend a great deal of our energy convincing everyone else they should care about it too.
You find these “born-again activists” out there working hard for every possible cause. It sometimes seems difficult to accept their impassioned urging that we should care, when they never cared until it personally affected them. You have to wonder, what kind of person are they that they only became concerned about a problem after it affected them or someone they love personally? Was it not a problem before it impacted them? Did they not pretty much ignore the pleas of those affected before they were personally impacted?
The truth is that there are way too many important and worthy causes for us to become deeply, emotionally involved in every one. But it would be nice, would it not, to choose a cause, any cause, that you really care about, rather than maybe someday simply adopting a cause only because you have been stabbed through the heart by it?
I don’t fault any of my fellow New York atheists for not being rabid, militant atheists. I only fault you if you have no cause you care about because you have not been personally traumatized yet. There are so many tremendously important causes; one of them should touch you before it touches you. There are many causes, like poverty or global warming or clean water that are worth fighting for before you personally suffer from their effects. Find your cause before it finds you.
But if you don’t have another cause you are passionately invested in and working hard for, why not atheism? It is a worthy cause. Bias against non-religious people is widespread and real. The continual pressure to move America toward theocracy has to be resisted with blood and sinew. The Separation of Church and State is as important as any fundamental principle and the NYC Atheists are fighting to protect it. Further, atheism is a foundational cause since belief-based thinking inhibits real progress on a wide range of critical issues for us and for our planet.
So join them. Don’t let NYCA President Ken Bronstein and a handful of other dedicated NYCA members stand alone. Stand with them to fight against superstition and ignorance and to fight for a fair and just and sustainable nation built upon a real foundation of sanity and reason.