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Branding ourselves as the opposition

The above photo was sent to me by a fundamentalist Christian minister friend of mine and exemplifies the fact that the National Atheist Party’s name puts us at an insurmountable disadvantage in terms of our goal as a viable political party.

The last blog in this four-part series centered on why the word “Atheist” lugs with it a plethora of negative stereotypes. In this blog, I focus on one of the most politically debilitating – that all Atheists are against religion and other inexplicable phenomena.

Although the word “Atheist” merely means “without god,” the culturally entrenched stereotype that we want to do away with all religion and other supernatural claims will probably outlive the youngest of Atheist activists. For this reason, by naming ourselves as the opposition, we are jumping with “both feet” into a “trap deliberately set for us,” says Sam Harris in his revelational “Dangers” of “Atheism” YouTube talk.

Why does a label that implies we are against religion handicap us even when we feel we are only being reasonable and reality-based? There are a variety of reasons ranging from politically pesky to politically incapacitating. Starting with the weaker reasons, although atheism is not a philosophy or a worldview people attack it as such and “consenting to be thought of as a marginal interest group” or a “cranky subculture,” says Harris.

As a blogger for The Guardian put in “I don't believe in God, so why is it that I don't want to be labeled an [A]theist?” He says the definition of “Atheist” belongs to the “same dull category as 'non-driver' or 'ex-smoker'...There are so many richer and more positive ways” one can summarize themselves, rather than the “scorning ring of ‘Atheist.’”

Another problem, Harris notes, is that we must seem to oppose all faith claims – a waste of time and squandering of resources in a “myth-infatuated” world.

Many people have had experiences identical to scientific awe and aesthetic appreciation or believe they have experienced what appears to be psychic phenomena and attribute these to “something” (read: supernatural) out there. Others believe religion grounds you or gives you good morals, that the soul lives on since matter can neither be created nor destroyed (a physics law), or that the principles of physics and math are so perfect they must come from a “higher power.

Add to this near death experiences like floating out of one’s body and seeing a bright light at the end of a tunnel. Many people don't realize there are neurophysiological explanations, including oxygen deprivation, for such universal phenomena, leading them to believe in god(s) and other mystical events.

There is a host of scientific reasons related to survival that evolutionary biologists say prime the brain for belief in the supernatural (please see Why We Believe in God(s) by Clare Aukofer for more information on this topic). Most people aren't aware of the science behind mystical-seeming occurrences, which makes them incomprehensible on a rational level.

Harris says these unexplainable and often transformative moments can count among our most “significant life experiences.” To discount them is a “monumental task” and “makes us look less wise than even our craziest religious opponents.” Why? Because most people, even fanatical Christians, think they are extremely reasonable – after all, continues Harris, “no one wants to believe things on bad evidence.”

Naming ourselves in opposition also feeds into the “war on Christians” meme, which provokes sympathy for them and their causes. Another advantage it gives them is nothing unites better than a common enemy. This gives fundamentalist Christians stronger numbers in which to do their damage against women’s and LGBT rights, injecting “intelligent design”/creationism in the schools, hampering efforts at stem cell research and climate change mitigation, etc.

These are among the reasons why choosing a name that implies opposition to religion and notions involving the supernatural is not really a goal many people can relate to or want to invest time and money into. Harris notes racism is going away but not because people called themselves “nonracists."

Identifying ourselves with something positive like upholding and rebuilding our constitutional First Amendment rights to secular government is something that plays on – rather than violates – people’s tendency to see the world optimistically. Optimism, according to evolutionary biologists, is innate because it helped early humans to survive.

How I long for the day when the name of our political party will strike a more optimistic chord among both those who support us and those who differ, so that when I bemoan that religious tax privileging funnels away money from much-needed social programs the response I evoke from my minster friend will be more something more substantive than the usual dismissive “Meow!”

Originally posted to Secular Party of America on Sat Jun 22, 2013 at 09:20 AM PDT.

Also republished by Street Prophets and Progressive Atheists.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I like non-religious, rather than atheist (4+ / 0-)

    It sounds very neutral.

    "let's talk about that"

    by VClib on Sat Jun 22, 2013 at 09:23:02 AM PDT

  •  secular/humanist? (2+ / 0-)

    Don Benedetto was murdered.-IgnazioSilone(BreadAndWine)

    by renzo capetti on Sat Jun 22, 2013 at 09:35:22 AM PDT

  •  If the point is to keep religion out of politics (7+ / 0-)

    I don't see how becoming the National "Without Religion" Party doesn't make you exactly the thing you dread; a political movement focused on religion in politics.  

    I'm an atheist. I've got absolutely no interest in being part of a political "party" identified as atheist. It does me and the country no good; it's simply not germane to the problems of politics.

    Should people object to religion in politics? Hell. To. The. Yes. But that doesn't require any political "party" to do so. Weakens the argument, in fact, IMHO.

  •  "Non-Delusional" is the box I tick when asked. (2+ / 0-)

    Art Pope: Karolina Koch.

    by here4tehbeer on Sat Jun 22, 2013 at 09:56:49 AM PDT

    •  Lol. (0+ / 0-)

      This reminds me of When my kids were little I used to always make my own box when filling out the race question on school forms.  I always made a box that said: Human, usually.  Every year the forms would come back pre filled for the next years registration, and that question was always pre filled with the "White" box ticked.

  •  Doesn't matter. (6+ / 0-)

    As the feminist movements in this country have discovered, changing the name doesn't change the stigma. Find a new label, the opposition will rebrand it as bad, too.

  •  I think you must (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    CBrachyrhynchos, pierre9045

    First answer this question for yourself: who are you dancing for?  Your own self?  Or some other religious or political party?  I feel that this is the same trap the Democratic Party has fallen into, a "first give no offense", define yourself with other people's words trap.  And that has given the Democratic Party a reputation for being spineless and unable to defend themselves.
    I AM an Athiest.  I don't have to apologize for that, nor do I have to acquiesce to someone else's definition of what that word means. If you let others define the words you use to describe yourself you've already lost every battle that comes after that.

    •  Our goals (0+ / 0-)

      are secular. atheists crave a secular government but so do secular jews, secular catholics - our main goal is the separation of church and state. This is not purely an atheist issue.

      If we do not want religion in government then we, who believe in the name change to better our party, need to understand that "atheism" brings religion, or a lack of, into the conversation.

      You ARE an atheist. So am I. That is WHO I am. But you could say the same of a religious person - that person IS a christian. But that doesn't mean the name has to be in their political party. There are atheists that will not join our party because they feel that religion has no place in politics and that means stating a lack of belief as well.

      •  I agree with you as far as this goes. (0+ / 0-)

        Perhaps you should have called the party the Separation of Church and State Party.  But I can't think of a faster way to doom a nascent Party than to have a bunch of infighting over what to call yourselves.  Don't do what all the other Parties have done and treat your own base like they're the enemy.

      •  The right move for the wrong reasons? (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        conniptionfit, pierre9045

        Changing the name because your actual platform is inclusive of a wide spectrum of religious liberties is a good thing.

        Changing the name to support a right-wing framing of "atheist" as a dirty word is a bad thing.

        And at the end of the day, atheists face prejudice and discrimination because of our atheism. We are excluded because of our atheism. We are attacked in political rhetoric because of our atheism. Our ethics and values are called into question because of our atheism. Anti-atheist bias is a real thing.

  •  What's with all the errors? (0+ / 0-)

    The word "atheist" is capitalized almost a half-dozen times in the middle of a sentence. Why do this when atheism is not a personal noun, nor an organized movement?

    As allergywoman notes, changing the name doesn't change the stigma. The stereotype is difficult enough to challenge when it comes from the prejudices of those trying to pick a fight over atheism, having that misconception supported by atheists does not help.

    •  CB,re. UR "Why do this"... (0+ / 0-)

      I can't answer 4 the diary author regarding UR query however I do admit indulging myself on at least one occaission simply to provide 4 the sought after ,IMO, orgasmic feeling that obsessive grammar, punctuation, spelling & Capital Letter use nut cakes seemingly,to me, get when they encounter one of the above that they can pounce on. Often, in my experience, these characters are so sufficed by a Diary or Comment error that they totally seem to loose sight of the Diary or Comments information and or intent.
      P.S.: Can U find an error 4 UR enjoyment above?

  •  But I am the "opposition." (0+ / 0-)

    I'm an atheist and a Unitarian Universalist. Should you wish to discuss my multi-faith community and family, I'm not hard to find, and you're welcome to do so, after you've taken the trouble of showing up to my community.

    But I am the "opposition."

    I'm the opposition because representatives can demonize people like me on the house floor.

    I'm the opposition because any petty beaurocrat can challenge my engaged pacifism and principles.

    I'm the opposition because I've been declared the endpoint of the slippery slope that starts with inclusion of LGBT people in organization like the BSA.

    I'm the opposition because my interfaith leaders are denied participation in interfaith events on the grounds that their atheism would be a disruptive presence.

    I'm the opposition because the Conservative media's "War on Christmas(tm)" (extended now to Thanksgiving and Easter) now spends half the year demonizing me.

    I'm the opposition because the conservatively religious demonize me, and the liberally religious lecture me.

    I'm the opposition because I'm called god-blind, a member of a cult, and compared to Stalin in liberal interfaith places like Street Prophets.

    I'm the opposition because others have chosen to define me as the opposition, instead of taking the time to sit or talk with me.

  •  what about freethinkers? the Free Thinkers Party? (0+ / 0-)

    Politics is like driving. To go backward put it in R. To go forward put it in D.
    Drop by The Grieving Room on Monday nights for support in dealing with grief.

    by TrueBlueMajority on Sat Jun 22, 2013 at 02:09:13 PM PDT

  •  I don't mean this as a criticism of your (0+ / 0-)

    position, but it's interesting to me that you have a 4-part blog series debating your own username.

    Gondwana has always been at war with Laurasia.

    by AaronInSanDiego on Sat Jun 22, 2013 at 11:59:40 PM PDT

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