Sunday, February 12, 2012

Getting United Around Winnable Battles

By Gary Berg-Cross

Rob Boston’s recent WASH MDC talk on "The Christian Nation Myth” was a real crowd pleaser and provoked some interesting Q &A and follow on discussion. One from WASH board member Stuart Jordan who noted that the total atheist-nonreligious-freethinker-humanist community in the US is still both small and diverse with some estimates around 17 -19% (Demographics of Atheism - a 2002 survey by, estimates the proportion of the world's people who are "secular, non-religious, agnostics and atheists" at about 14%). So one important question is how to get united on issues and be effective, something discussed at various times in this blog. Rob’s response was two-fold -on the nature of the conversation and the need to “pick battles carefully.”

The first problem is how we address people of faith. We need to dial back the message so it doesn’t sound as if people who believe in God are necessarily idiots. This is too much like a debilitating culture war in which we start out by denigrating the intellectual ability of all religious people. A tough stance may win an immediate argument but humiliating groups can also stop conversations that might be fruitful and lead to practical allies.

On the 2nd we aren’t likely to make much progress on getting ‘In God We Trust’ off of our currency. We won’t easily reverse having the ceremonial use of ‘One Nation Under God’ in on the Pledge of Allegiance. These things will take many decades to reverse.

We should not antagonize people with issues that we can’t win in a reasonable amount of time and effort. Instead we should focus on areas like government subsidies to religious groups, faith-based initiatives that consume tax dollars that could be used elsewhere or their efforts to block the teaching of evolution.

The latter weakens school curriculums in a covert & disingenuous way, often as a effort to introduce creationism via Intelligent Design into the schools. This like the excesses to block women’s reproductive rights, abstinence only programs, & blockage of stem cell research provides natural allies to our secular humanist efforts.

Such things as special tax exemption for churches religious bothers some and will also produce allies. This increases the overall tax burden for everybody else. Enough people recognize that in the US synagogues and churches have affluent constituents that can take care of their financing.

The thing to stand up for as we gather allies is that religious groups have no right to tell us how to run our live. One this principle we can find allies in the fight for human-based rights.

1 comment:

Edd.Doerr said...

Excellent column! This is the message that I have been pushing for decades, as AHA president and as head of Americans for Religious Liberty. We on the left end of the religious spectrum need to realize how much we have in common with vast numbers of people who wear a religious label of some sort. We need to think carefully about priorities and strategies, and how to work with winning coalitions.

I will be dealing with these themes in my talk before the WASH MDC meeting on March 3.