Why atheism is no longer an elitist ideal, but a broader movement.
What does Atheism mean? I’ve tried to tackle this question for a long time. Recently, my views on what atheism means and it’s importance has changed. I used to concur with the classical notion of atheism, that atheism was merely “a lack of belief in gods or deities.” Yet, based on the growth of atheism, I am beginning to evolve in my views.
To the dismay of the atheists I know, I personally don’t call myself one. If I had to choose a term to describe myself it would be agnostic, though I also understand the criticism from atheists that the term doesn’t have much meaning. I just personally prefer the term, due to the fact that I don’t know the certainties of the universe. I will say that I am an agnostic leaning atheist.
The importance of atheism today compared to in the past is evident in how we look at it. In the past, atheism was a term mostly associated with intellectuals. That’s not to say only intellectuals were non-believers, but the idea and influence of atheism was found mostly within elite academic circles.
The modern idea of atheism is much different. This is especially true since we tend to refer to atheism today as a “movement” rather than just a circle. Atheism has branched out to millions of people, both common and elite, and because of this atheism has begun to coalesce into an actual unified movement. I say “unified” somewhat loosely, though.
Richard Dawkins, preeminent in the atheist and secular world, once said that trying to “Unify atheists into a single movement is much like herding cats. They tend to be far too intelligent to be lumped together in single categories of thought.” For the most part, Dawkins is right. Atheism has no unified doctrine, necessarily. Atheists can be found on both the left and right of the political spectrum, ranging from progressive on the left to libertarian on the right.
In spite of the fact that atheism is not supposed to have a unified philosophy and is only supposed to represent a “lack of belief” in god, atheism today has turned into a full blown movement, rather than a simple lack of belief.
We now see atheist organizations, even atheist churches, springing up and engaging people across the country. Slowly, atheism has evolved from an ideal of elite intellectuals to an accessible ideology that more people are buying into. Atheists believe whole-heartedly in the separation of church and state, the rights of the LGBT community to live their lives free of discrimination, and the right of women to access their own healthcare decisions, all without the interference of religion
Whether progressive or libertarian, atheists all tend to share key ideals even if they disagree on other issues. As much revulsion as I have for the economic and social philosophy of Ayn Rand, and my belief she was a sociopath, she did have some decent views on abortion rights and the plight of the LGBT community. There are many views I and other atheists and agnostics share, even though I vehemently disagree with Rand on many of her key issues.
Atheism today is a movement of like-minded people, who are pushing to affect public policy. Rather than being merely an academic circle, thinking without acting, atheists are now both thinking and acting. No more are they being constrained to the fringe of society. Obviously push-back from religious conservatives is inevitable, but its expected.
Atheists are tired of being marginalized and demonized, especially in the United States. Atheists are literally banned from running for office in some states, and are considered among the most mistrusted groups in America. One poll actually found that many Americans would rather have their daughter date a known rapist than an atheist.
Rapists are more trusted than people who don’t believe in god. Doesn’t that speak so strongly to the philosophy of the religious right? You can be evil and do evil, as long as you believe in God. You could be the most kind person on the planet, but damned to hell if you don’t believe.
Atheism today is a movement, one that’s making its voice heard and pushing back against the lies of religious conservatives. what Atheism means today is much more than a “lack of belief.”