November 6th was a day of victory for facts and reason. It was a day when a majority of Americans finally said enough is enough to the brazen overreach of political and religious extremism.
They said enough to the avarice of the 1%: enough to big money buying elections, enough to the systematic dismantling of unions and enough to the raiding of vital social programs to feed the gluttony of the ultra-rich.
They said enough to social excesses of religious fundamentalism: enough to the attacks against women’s and gay people’s rights, enough to ethnic and religious hate, enough to the intrusion of religion into the classroom, enough to endless wars and enough to the denial of science and facts.
They said enough to dysfunctional politics: enough to the legislative obstruction of the Conservatives, enough to the willful scorn of facts, enough to birthers and climate change deniers and enough to voter suppression.
However, this victory does not by any stretch signify the end of the war against this extremism. There is absolutely no chance that the Religious Right will have a “come to Jesus” moment and suddenly become rational, reasonable, and compassionate. Quite the opposite, it is already clear that the only lesson they took from this defeat is that they must become even more extreme, double-down yet again, dig in, and push their agenda that much harder.
The next four post-election years will be critical. As much as we might prefer to remain above the fray, we Atheists are desperately needed to reinforce efforts to push back against the Religious Right until changing demographics ultimately render them irrelevant. Although many Atheists have long served in active duty in this struggle, far too many remain pacifists.
Even as the fundamentalists pound away at the wall that separates Church and State, some Atheists prefer to maintain a live-and-let-live attitude, sometimes even criticizing our more activist leaders and cautioning against “militant” atheism.
But a militant Atheist as advocated by leaders like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins isn’t an angry or hateful Atheist, ranting and raving in futility against religion. Rather, militant Atheists are those who are willing to venture out of their safe circles and openly stand up in defense of science and reason in politics and in our everyday lives. A militant Atheist is one who courageously, intelligently, cogently, persuasively and persistently advocates for secular values. A militant Atheist is one who is willing to put his or her self on the front lines of activism to ensure that religious extremism will not dominate public policy simply because rational and reasonable people failed to stand boldly in opposition.
Moral integrity and conviction are hollow delusions unless translated into effective action. It is up to each individual to decide what level of direct action they are comfortable with, but following are some suggestions you might try to put into practice over these next critical years:
- Expect your leaders to organize bold, effective, and aggressive actions to combat religious extremism, and fully support your leaders in those activities. We should not be satisfied with secular leaders who simply reiterate worn out platitudes and expend all their efforts to remain safe and non-confrontational.
- Openly proclaim yourself as an Atheist. Embrace the label proudly and publicly. Agnosticism is truly the bankrupt refuge of cowards. There is no logical validity in any of the “rational” arguments commonly put forth in defense of agnosticism as some kind of principled stance.
- Understand that there are no small or inconsequential battles. Every battle against religious extremism, large or small, is worth fighting and sometimes the most seemingly inconsequential issue has profound implications in the larger war. The religious right fully appreciates this and so should we Atheists.
- Realize that there are no small or harmless beliefs. Every little belief we allow to go unanswered, that we tolerate, that we allow to appear equivalent to an opposing position based on fact, through our acquiescence or silence makes it easier for us to collectively accept bigger beliefs. Each one incrementally compromises our ability to discern or advocate effectively for facts on critical matters.
- Don’t buy into the argument that you must “respect all beliefs.” Not all beliefs are worthy of respect. If they were, then none would be in fact more worthy than any other. All individuals, regardless of their views, must be treated with dignity and respect, but beliefs are not people any more than corporations are people. Don’t allow believers to insulate their beliefs from scrutiny by claiming that disrespecting their beliefs is disrespecting them as persons. A proposition can only earn respect by virtue of how well it is in accordance with proven facts.
- Stand up at least on occasion as a champion for fact and reason even when there may be undesirable consequences. Take responsibility to educate yourself so that you can counter belief with facts and logic. When colleagues put forth what they assert to be evidence that the Earth is only 6000 years old, you should be willing and able to persuasively and factually refute such assertions
- Stand with religious moderates who are out on the front lines pushing back against extremism within their own religions. Despite our differences regarding the origins of morality and the wisdom of belief, we share fundamental values and have far more in common as allies against fundamentalism than the differences that separate us.
Our future well-being and even our very survival require us to have the capacity to make clear and uncompromised decisions based on actual facts, not upon fantasy or magical thinking. Unless Atheists as a whole are willing to stand up and stand together in large numbers, we should not be surprised as our secular society gradually succumbs to the unrelenting pressure of religious extremism.
Back in 1997, Dr. Carl Sagan saw clearly that even then we were on the path to a new Dark Age of ignorance and superstition. Since he voiced those dire warnings, the Religious Right has clearly proven that his concerns were well-founded. They will not quit now and neither should we. I urge you to enlist for active duty into a volunteer army of militant Atheists. Our secular freedoms require your service if we are to avoid the grim future that Dr. Sagan worked so passionately to prevent.