Monday, May 11, 2009

Atheism and U.S. Politics

I've been wondering lately if the problems atheists have in getting our voices heard in the political arena is less related to having the numbers and more related to having a consistent message. I think part of the problem with gaining consistency is that, as a group that's more of a common label than an actual group, we don't really have a message to get across, other than "leave your religion out of my politics".

There are a few atheist-friendly lobbying/political action groups, among them the Secular Coalition for America and Enlighten the Vote, though I can't begin to imagine how difficult it must be for them to agree on an agenda. Typically, atheists tend to lean more to the left, but I do know a few conservative atheists myself. This creates an interesting problem: atheist lobbyists and PACs wind up having to focus almost solely on issues of church-state separation and freedom of speech, limiting not only the scope of their message, but the base of talent that they draw to themselves and their chances of getting publicity.

There is also, of course, a great deal of hostility towards out atheists in this country. As a candidate for office, announcing that you're an atheist is almost guaranteed to kill your campaign. You face attacks from the hyper-religious right, not to mention the fear of atheists indoctrinated into even the more liberal Christians. We're one of the few remaining groups for whom stereotyping is still kosher in America. So not only do you have a smaller "automatic" support base, but you have to fight against lies told to defame your character - and any resistance you offer to defend yourself is usually seen as verification of the claims. (After all, if it's not true, why are you getting so defensive about it?)

I get the feeling that an increased atheist population wouldn't be enough to get us past these problems. After all, there are more women than men in the country, but we're still largely an androcentric culture. So how do we make our wishes known, despite the oppression of religious groups and the permeating fear of the 'godless heathen'? And as was noted in a comment to my previous post, how can we be public about our positions in places like the deep south, where an admission of atheism can be a social (or literal) death sentence?

I don't have any of the answers. I've got ideas, but again, I can't speak for all atheists any more than I can speak for all males. It's a conundrum...