“Why do Atheists need to join a group?” This question, and others like it, are among the most common questions we tend to receive. What reason does an Atheist have that compels him/her to join or form a group? Why should anyone who professes to believe in nothing need a group to support that notion?
There are many answers; the human impulse to find a community we belong to, a desire to surround oneself with like minded individuals, the numerous common interests we tend to share, the fact that religion and free thought are chief among the few public avenues for serious philosophical contemplation and debate. However, one reason in particular serves as the primary motivation for our coalescence around our philosophy of nothing.
The religious in our society do not want us to exist.
When one is under assault, it is foolish not to form a defense. Circle the wagons, if you will. I’m not referring to literal combat, of course, although there are a great many within the Christian religion who have given us sufficient reason to be concerned. Talk show hosts who tout their Christian faith as the center of their moral philosophy, and subsequently encourage the attack by terrorists on cities they deem too immoral to remain unpunished. Or the religious leaders who point the finger of blame for hurricanes and terrorist attacks, AIDS epidemics or school shootings squarely on the shoulders of those their religion has identified as unacceptable. Internal terrorism, be it the assassination of abortion providers, the slaughter of soldiers by a religious fanatic, or the eagerness by which so many of the faithful embrace capital punishment or Crusader ideology when talking about our military campaigns in the Middle East.
Nor am I specifically referring to the legal mechanisms by which the religious try to undermine any idea they consider hostile, or contrary, to their own. 5 years into the 21st century saw the shameful escapade in Dover, Pennsylvania, initiated by a Christian so concerned over the threat that learning about evolution posed to his (and others) children’s indoctrination into Christianity that he tried to replace the standard science textbooks with modified Creationist versions, versions which made it clear to any reader that evolution was more than likely false. Failing that, he tried to require teachers to read a warning to students, essentially undermining the credibility of evolution before it was taught and suggesting the Creationist text “as an alternative source.” Ultimately, a district court Judge determined that Intelligent Design (which was the name used for the creationist alternative to evolution) was little more than the progeny of Creationism. His decision echoed those of the Supreme Court and lesser courts from years earlier, across hundreds of legal battles, all the way back to the Scopes trial in Tennessee.
Nor am I targeting the the fact that in 233 years we have had 1 Atheist serve openly in Congress (statistically speaking, we’ve probably had dozens of closeted Atheists serve in Congress, likely a few on the Supreme Court, and at least 1 Atheist President, all covertly so), or the 8 states whose constitutions mandate a belief in god as a requirement for public service, or the practice of swearing to god with a Bible when testifying in court, or any other legal situation which requires or suggests the same.
Ultimately, what many of the religious in our society want to destroy is the idea that is freethinking; that there exists a philosophy that encourages skepticism, inquisition, rational deduction, and rejection of unsubstantiated ideas is so threatening to their faith, church, and the very existence of their god that it must be suppressed, segregated, and destroyed. State Rep. Monique Davis, a Democrat from Illinois, put it best when she shouted at an Atheist testifying in a case about corruption, “It is dangerous for our children to even know that your philosophy even exists!”
What they seek is to punish thoughtcrime, and they have tried to do this for a very long time. That they have failed so completely is more suggestive of their own ineptitude than anything else, and the swelling ranks of the non-religious have the abuses of the more extremist of the faithful to thank. It is not the Atheist who started this fight; but being branded a sinner, a heathen, a corrupter of youth, a sycophant, an immoral servant of Satan will tend to lead a person to think in terms of conflict. Ultimately, if the scores of Christians, Muslims, Jews, and other religious people in America were to make no effort at all to impose their views and suppress any they dislike, then there would be no point to declaring oneself an Atheist beyond that of clarification. If they did not seek to define religion as necessary for a person to be moral, and to declare religion immune from criticism and investigation, there would probably be no freethinkers meeting as we do.
Thus, the purpose of an organization of Freethinkers has been decided for it, by those who have for so long tried to suppress it; to serve as a bastion of rationality, reason, and civility in an uncertain era of revolution.
We champion secularism, as it offers the greatest balance between church and state; each with it’s own sphere of influence, restricted from suppression or influence of the other, the state allowed only to step in when the abuse of the church violates the law of the land, the church allowed only frame public participation for it’s members. The principle of religious equality is such that only when no religion is supreme, nor is the absence of religion supreme, are the liberties of members of all faiths, and non-faiths, truly secure.
We champion science, as it offers us the greatest and only mechanism through which the mysteries of the universe may be deciphered. In the last 150 years we have discovered our origins, gained the ability for the poorest woman in Somalia to communicate visually with the wealthiest man in California, in real time, and to be understood by one another with little issue, gained the ability to decimate a city and to power one with the same technology, to move materials that have not existed a decade ago to a facility that would not have been possible 50 years ago to create a device that will not be usable for a year that allows a person with no clue as to how it is made gain the ability to do just that. We are in a sense, living in a time of miracles, but miracles created by man, unfathomable to the ancients, and only increasing in their ability to stupefy the uninitiated. Tens of thousands of years of religion serving as an anchor to human progress has been overshadowed by the magnanimity of our accomplishments in the years that science has taken over as the primary of epistemology progress, and we are better for it.
We champion humanism, for one simple reason. The longer man has been on this earth, we have learned how to be more moral, and we have done so. The more closely we have grown to one another, the less harm we feel compelled to do to one another. The more we have come to rely on one another, the more we have learned to work together, and the more wondrous things have come from this. We turned to each other in the face of great suffering, and we have created a life with far less in it. Man came into this world with no morality, and has created a beautiful one.
We champion logic, as it offers us the simplest and greatest means of discerning that which is real, from that which is not. Logic has allowed us to determine that disease is the result of micro-organisms, not the pettiness of gods. Logic has taught us that the infliction of pain is far less appealing when it is inflicted upon oneself. Logic has revealed that observation and experimentation get things done, something the millions of hours wasted on bended knee has not. Logic allows us to ask why with purpose, and to analyze the response. Faith has done none of these things; given the great proliferation of faith, it can be said only that if it were capable of answering questions, it would have done so long ago.
We champion equality and balance; without it, there is only chaos. It could be said that man’s sole purpose for much of our existence has been precisely that; to bring order and balance to a world of chaos.
Religion has much to offer; fear, ignorance, hatred, tribal social dynamics, structure, community, a rich history, but also a bloody one, a connection to the past, and a bulwark against the future, and hope, be it for something better, or the avoidance of something worse, both ultimately unnecessary, and a morality which has been defined out of necessity and refined with experience to a point where it is unrecognizable. It may be true that mankind has prospered in the first place because of religion, but it is more true that we no longer do. Religion has been rendered obsolete; it either defers to a superior morality or science, or it stands in stark contrast to the same. Much of the battles fought to today are fought because of the resistance to change that is so prominent in the religious community.
Why form a group of freethinkers? Because we need to; only in force can our influence be felt as it should. 40 million voices are far louder and infinitely clearer when spoken in unison; like a choir, our message is most lucid and best heard when sung in concert.