Atheists can do more than not-believe: they can help others while we’re all here
Sunday 15 March 2015
It’s time for atheists to move past theoretical questions about the existence of God and onto more practical pursuits – like how to fight for justice.
The atheist community is quickly coming up against the limits of debating whether God is real. The New Atheist movement made a splash in the early 2000s with its brash assertion that the existence of God was a hypothesis that can be examined, debated and critically analyzed like any other, and rejected if the evidence is found wanting. Its critiques, targeting both the feverish imaginings of fundamentalism and the stale platitudes of conventional piety, were as cleansing and welcome as a cool breeze in a stuffy room.
But while that stance can be the beginning of a philosophy, it can’t be the end. It raises the question: once you no longer believe the claims of religion, what do you believe?
For many, being an atheist makes this world and life infinitely more significant, since they’re all we have. Having seen so many examples of oppression, injustice and violence promoted by religion, atheists can and should have a strong reason to desire justice in society. That’s why atheist groups, especially atheist student groups, are increasingly joining forces with other social change movements and emphasizing how their goals and ours intersect.
The oldest and strongest example is secular groups’ support for LGBT rights, since we’ve long recognized that the primary opposition to them in America and other Western nations comes almost entirely from religion. In the pending US supreme court case that could establish same-sex marriage nationwide, two venerable national secular groups, the American Humanist Association and the Center for Inquiry, submitted a friend-of-the-court brief urging the justices to rule for marriage equality.
At the thinnest end of the wedge, in places where equal rights for same-sex couples is a radical and fiercely controversial proposition, atheists are present too. Amanda Scott, a paralegal student and humanist celebrant in Mobile, Alabama, weathered a storm of harassment when she spoke up against a proposal to put religious plaques on government buildings. She’s also the founder of Mobile Equality, a non-profit group dedicated to educating the public on LGBT rights.