“Why is atheist activism ok if religious evangelism isn’t?”

My best friend, who’s a Christian in the loosest, most progressive sense of the term, asked me that question last night. I didn’t have an answer, and it really threw me. Was the movement I’ve come to care so much about doing the same thing as the evangelicals I can’t stand?
After a lot of thought, I came to a conclusion: No, it’s not. Atheist activism is propelled (or should be propelled) by the desire to better the world. Just as the feminists, gay rights, and neurodiversity movements want equality for all, so do we. We see a culture that rejects and suppresses the rights of minorities, that rejects and suppresses science, and we want to change it. We want to changes the attitudes that create this culture of suppression and inequality, and in order to change those attitudes, we need to change the beliefs that support them.
If all religious people were like my friend – if they accepted and supported science, believed that women should have a right to decide what happens to their bodies, that marriage should be between whoever wants to get married, that church and state should be kept separate – in short, if they truly supported good science and equality for all – then I would have no issue with religion. If all religious people shifted over to the type of religiousity as my friend, I’d call it good enough and be done with it.
But the fact is that many religious people don’t believe those things, and those people are, by far, the most vocal of the religious. The progressive believers should stand up to them and tell them that religion isn’t an acceptable reason to deny people rights, but they aren’t. And since they won’t, atheists have to.
We want equal rights for all. We want people to be taught fact, not fiction, and be able to make informed choices. And if religion is the reason people give for not wanting the same, religion needs to go. If we loosed people from the bonds of religion, the majority of them would probably come to the conclusion that equality and information for all is a good thing. Sure, we’d still get some anti-science bigots, but they wouldn’t have the special exemption from criticism that religion affords, and we’d be able to improve the world. And that’s what I’m fighting for: a world where there will be no acceptable excuses to deny people their rights.

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Posted on January 10, 2012, in activism, Atheism, feminism, Religion, Social Justice. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Interesting post! Cool to see that our convo helped in the writing. The part about people like me (progressive religious people) needing to stand up to conservatives really made me think….

  2. The leading voices in religion will always be conservative; this is doubly true of monotheistic religions, and also true of some other ‘accepting’ religions. This is a bit struggle for a lot of Christians I know, who grew up with the belief and can’t part with it. This is why many non-denominational and Unitarian churches are growing. Those Christians (and I used to be one) are stuck in the middle of the conservative voices that speak for their religion (Christianity) and the secular voices who speak against religion. It’s not a fun situation to be in, and your friend may feel like she’s always defending herself against secularist or explaining the hateful attitudes of religious leaders away with ‘but I’m not like them!’ statements. In the end, I wanted to pick a group with leaders that I could identify with. Hence, freethoughts, atheism, skepticism, ect. As an answer to your friend, atheist activism can be filled with people aren’t good skeptics. Being an atheist doesn’t magically jump your intelligence into genius category. But you’re right that the overall goal of atheist activism is to make a better world. A good way to talk about this with Christians is freedom of religion, separation of church and state, and the ability for you and them to live free of theocracies and religious extremism.

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