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Thanks to recent political campaigns’ increased spotlight upon
heartfelt avowals of faith by candidates, the small atheist contingent
in this country has lately been developing a certain grumpy
assertiveness.

Not all Americans with a secular outlook count as atheists — not in
the sense I mean. Nonbelievers and secularists have for a long time
constituted a significant majority among the chattering coastal
intelligentsia, but very few of these people are vocally and
identifiably atheists. They’re just distracted, agnostic nonbelievers.
They find religion largely irrelevant or obsolete, except as a
nourishing source of family traditions and cultural richness. They feel
no need of a faith, per se; mostly, they don’t bother to think about it
much. People who actually take the trouble to say, “I’m an atheist,” in
contrast, usually have fairly strong and active anti-religious feelings.
They have a strong faith, in other words, which consists of — atheism.
(The Atheism Web offers a
more in-depth guided tour through the belly of the Beast.) These are the
people who are starting to express those feelings more often and more
forthrightly in response to a perceived expansion of religion’s role in
the sociopolitical discourse.

Some of these rumblings are coming from individual commentators such
as MSN UnderWire’s
Susan McCarthy.
Others come from church/state separatists. Groups such as Americans
United for Separation of Church and State,
of
course, encompass segments of both the libertarian and the atheist
spectra — some of those who feel most strongly about maintaining the
separation of church and state are hardcore
atheists,
but others are just
(quite reasonably) nervous members of religious minorities.

What’s more interesting is stuff like Colorado’s Citizens
Project.
In its own words, the Citizens
Project is “a grass-roots organization in the Pikes Peak region dedicated
to upholding the traditional American Values [sic] of pluralism, freedom
of religion and separation of church and state,” envisioning “a
community committed to working beyond ignorance, prejudice and fear,
where differences are respected, individual rights are protected and
diversity is celebrated.” The story is all there in that little home
page description. It’s rather sweet in its way — standard, idealistic
rhetoric with a left-wing bent. The interesting aspect is how
garden-variety liberalism has crystallized, for these people, in a
robust church/state separatism that culminates in the frank
anti-religiosity evinced by its newsletter,
FreedomWatch.

Really, there is no reason why ideals like tolerance and diversity
and, yes, individual rights need conflict with a religious outlook. It’s
a false association, this linking of intolerance to religiousness. What
happens is that too many of our high-profile religious people eschew the
pursuit of these values entirely, perhaps on the grounds that they are
tainted by their association with the left, or perhaps just in favor of
pursuing other issues they find more urgent and compelling on their own
terms. Religion, therefore, comes to be associated by simple people,
like these well-intentioned Coloradoans, with intolerance and frank
bigotry. Atheism then becomes attractive by virtue of the sheer rude
strength with which it opposes a religiousness that has come to be
identified with oppression. (Yes, oppression. It does exist.)

John McCain rode the backlash generated by the less diplomatic
spokesmen of the Christian right straight into a brick wall when he got
so carried away by it that he called several of them “evil.” He was wide
of the truth, of course, but he was articulating an impression shared by
a growing swatch of America that is increasing sharply in importance.
Sensibilities matter. Many of the currently left-identified ideals are
legitimate ones. Phenomena such as Dr. Laura’s anti-gay rhetoric do
religious people no favors. Some of the most articulate of the American
faithful are, to use an expression much favored by my father, shooting
themselves in the foot.

Speaking of family values

This is kind of a fun little Web moment in the making — and besides,
it’s a project of my brother’s, which always bodes well since he’s the
very best kind of new-style computer geek: able, smart, and even pretty
damned cool in his techie way. (No, I have no problem with nepotism –
why do you ask?) Anyhow, his brand new site,
uuuuuu.dotdotdotdot.org
pronounce it double-u double-u double-u dot dotdotdotdot dot org
– is currently in its promising infancy. As you may or may not be able
to guess from the name of the site, what he’s looking for is
contributions of confusing, annoying, difficult-to-pronounce,
hard-to-remember, unwieldy URLs. E-mail him that howler you noticed in
an ad this morning and he’ll be sure to cover you with sloppy kisses.

Grist for uuuuuu?

The new Slashdot-sponsored look-up-anything reference site
Everything 2 promises to be well worth
a bookmark. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to get into it this week –
teething problems, no doubt. I’m recommending a look-see ASAP anyway,
because the people at Slashdot, by and
large, know their stuff. Despite its irritating candidacy for
uuuuuu-etcetera, it (Slashdot, that is) remains the community forum
mecca of hardcore geekdom.

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