Is atheism winning the culture war?


Barking dogs chase passing cars that they never come close to touching, and I doubt they consider the ramifications of actually catching a vehicle. Cars, of course, ignore the dogs. Many atheists have long been barking at how our mainstream culture seems wrapped in religion, and most religious people have simply ignored the atheists. However, it appears that atheists are getting closer to “catching” the mainstream culture, and should consider strategies and ramifications.

Here I use the word “atheist” in a big-tent sort of way to include agnostics, humanists, secular humanists, freethinkers, nontheists, anti-theists, skeptics, rationalists, naturalists, materialists, ignostics, apatheists, and more. If you don’t know what each of these words means, don’t worry. Even those who identify with such labels often disagree on their definitions. Parsing words might be a characteristic of folks engaged in the secular movement. My inclusive term “functional atheist” embodies those who live as if there are no personal, judging gods.

The Secular Coalition for America (of which I’m founder and president emeritus) includes 11 national, nontheistic member organizations. The members cooperate on the 95 percent they have in common instead of arguing about labels. We all agree there should be a wall between religion and government; that we should increase the visibility of, and respect for, nontheistic viewpoints; that we should encourage and help pave the way for atheists to come out of the closet; and that atheists deserve a place at the table of public opinion. How best to achieve our goals is not so clear.

Atheists have long been known primarily for criticizing religion and protesting the intrusion of religion into government. Such actions are often called for, especially when conservative religionists set a political agenda that affects those who don’t share their religious beliefs. We must confront and respond, and let the undecided judge who is more honest, reasonable, tolerant, and fair. Recent books by many atheist authors have created media interest in atheism, if not its full acceptance.

Written By: Herb Silverman
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  1. ” For many years, I’ve been encouraging atheists and humanists to organize and cooperate in order to change the culture “

    When we have the numbers the culture will change. Sweden comes to mind!

  2. I don’t know about Atheists winning grounds, but it’s more like religion is losing ground miserably.

  3. It is instructive to follow the history of black civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights.

    You see a pattern like this:

    1. early adopters. Through force of personality or unusual skill they command respect, usually in a smaller community. (e.g Jackie Robinson).
    2. small organisations.
    3. dispelling stereotypes, primarily by example.
    4. coming out of the closet (announcing you are in favour of equality, for gays, announcing you are gay).
    5. large organizations.
    6. visibility in the media, books…
    7. formal lobbying.

    Richard came up with an atheism scale. There is corresponding outness scale. People hide and gradually identify publicly with being atheist and in favour of atheist rights.

    Because the process takes generations, and because in general it is continuous, it easy to think nothing is happening, when in actuality it is right on target. We are so used to pushing a button and expecting an instant result. In this game much of what you do will not have obviously visible results for a generation. Think of it as like planting redwood seeds.

    It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do
    the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that
    doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if
    you do nothing, there will be no result.

    ~ Mahatma Gandhi 1869-10-02 1948-01-30

  4. In reply to #2 by adiroth:

    I don’t know about Atheists winning grounds, but it’s more like religion is losing ground miserably.

    In any sort of fair comparison, religion is bunk. Science is reasonable. Religion can only reliably win by ensuring the mark never learns science.

    The Internet is making it harder and harder to keep people/kids from learning science. Digital TV has science channels. It is just a matter of how long the churches can hold on. We have not been able to wipe out con men. Churches are just a flavour of con men. They will do whatever it takes to get their money. They can adapt. They are nowhere near as stupid as their teachings.

    It might be instructive to enumerate non-religious cons and why people fall for them. Then with that understanding, tackle the churches.

    Hint: have you ever had a friend, known for his enthusiasms, try to convince you to buy expensive wearables with strong magnets sewed into them.

  5. He mentions “public opinion”, which I don’t think should appealed to. Instead of adopting that sleazy tactic of “followship” which politicians exploit, public awareness or consciousness should be influenced; rationalists should be taking the lead.

    Owning up to not knowing certain things and being able to live live with the fact is a healthy exemplar.

  6. Cars, of course, ignore the dogs. Many atheists have long been barking at how our mainstream culture seems wrapped in religion, and most religious people have simply ignored the atheists.

    I think this reflects an American view-point.
    In much of Europe, atheists just get on rationally with their lives, while the cultural Xtians are not bothered about this. It is religious leaders and fundies who bark loudly in Europe, as they fade into the background, or retreat into their ecclesiastical kennels!

  7. It seems to me that there is only in recent years anything approaching the scale of a war, previously however decisive the day, there have only been skirmishes. If there is a war the religios are losing it faster than we can win it. Ireland is a glaring example. The catlicks sapped their own fortifications when their filthy goings on were uncovered. The RCC continues to shoot blindly in its own ranks at its own supporters I am only surprised that the rank and file have stood it for so long. It says much of human stupidity that people will stand still for a good shafting and hang around for more of the same while being blind to the reality of the perpetrator. Muslims do a great job of showing what a really devout believer is capable of while the less devout publicly deplore the carnage as terrorism. They don’t acknowledge that it is within the core of their own abrogated surah that the rational for this behaviour arises. We get the same islam is peace tripe but I’ve yet to hear an imam say these surah must be wrong. Their most interesting own goals are that some muslims will kill other muslims over something as trivial as the succession of Mohammed. It is as mad as half of the UK waging war on the other half over details emerging from Henry VIII’s family values and yep we’ve been there and done that.

    None of this is being propelled by atheists, all we are doing is pointing and laughing everytime we hear messages about the real jesus and the peace of dar el islam. Now if we were organised on the lines of some of these ponzi politico-religious schemes……….?

  8. Throughout my school years, from about grade 3 and up, I found that just talking about the idea of a god as a silly idea and expressing my lack of belief was enough to get the other kids to agree it was silly. Most of them never even considered the idea there may not be a god, just as a three-year-old wouldn’t doubt Santa. The atheist way of thinking was not available in the home, or if it was, there was too much respect given to the authority of religion. The conversation is the key to gaining cultural and moral ground.

    It is for this reason that blasphemy is such a dangerous idea. Almost any atheist discussion could be seen as blasphemy; whereas, differing religious views, at the very least, all support the idea of a god or gods… something greater to be feared. It then becomes a matter of details. All religions have the satisfaction of propping up each others’ delusional fantasies. Atheism, calls them all nutters and with a single utterance of “I don’t believe”, knocks them all down, completely.

  9. In reply to #11 by Timothy McNamara:

    Herb, it is winning. I recently suffered a brutal car accident, nearly a month ago. The paramedics didn’t expect to find a pulse in the vehicle I was driving. No legal fault was mine. A driver took the wrong side of the road on a narrow bridge for a second or two. My two passengers were two of my th…

    Sorry for your loss and glad the others are ok. My wife is pregnant with our third and I would be shattered if something were to happen. Having had two children already, I know what to expect and I can’t wait.

  10. In the bad old apartheid era,we got kicked out of college (temporarily) for protests in which we banded together and sang “We shall overcome” Now, looking back, people see how wrong it was to discriminate against people because of skin colour.

    Now, with atheists becoming more vocal than ever before, “we shall surely overcome”.Who is to say how long this will take? But someday in the future people will be wondering what the fuss about atheism was about,because they will see that we are no better and no worse than anybody else.We’re just people doing the best we can, with what we have.

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