Five Reasons to be Openly Secular

Apr 23, 2015

Image: Shutterstock

By Robyn Blumner

There are plenty of days when people who don’t believe in God don’t think twice about their secularism. We nonbelievers can pretty much stay under the radar.

But then there are those times when nonbelievers feel like we must be the last acceptable target of untethered hostility, social animus, and just plain meanness. Like when Phil Robertson ofDuck Dynasty fame recently ranted that atheists hold no moral compass because God is not dictating right and wrong. Therefore, it must be okay for their wives to be decapitated and their daughters raped and murdered.

Obviously some basic enlightenment is needed (understatement alert!) on what atheism is — and the only way to effectuate that change is for us to make it happen.

Which is why on April 23 we celebrate Openly Secular Day, a day for atheists, agnostics, humanists, freethinkers, and the nonreligious to proudly proclaim their community.

Here are the five reason nonbelievers should be Openly Secular:

1. Phil Robertson, et al.

He may be a particularly dim bulb, but to varying degrees his views are widely accepted. Americans seem stuck on the idea that morality comes from religion. It is a misconception that flies in the face of available evidence. Studies demonstrate that humans are hardwired for empathy.

From a very young age, toddlers will try to help strangers even if it redounds no benefit to themselves. And brain scans show we literally feel each other’s pain. As much as any religious text, our morality derives from this remarkable evolutionary feature that binds us together and allows us to care for one another as social beings.

When good, hard-working nonbelievers come forward to friends, neighbors, co-workers, and loved ones, they are living examples of being good without God. It is axiomatic that giving Americans a sense of how prevalent atheism is and how many nonbelievers they actually know, trust, and like will erode negative stereotypes.

2. Living your authentic self is liberating.

Just ask celebrities like Saturday Night Live alum Julia Sweeney and boy-next-door television host, actor, and singer John Davidson, both of whom have made Openly Secular videos coming forward to say they are happy and proud atheists.

Hiding one’s true views on religion can be stressful. You may be asked to join in prayers at public, family, and work events — or even asked to lead them. In dozens of Openly Secular videos, people from all walks of life of all ages, races, and ethnicity say what a joy it has been to be open about their secularism. When that “secret” is unleashed it often loses its intimidating power. Being able to speak truthfully of one’s understanding of reality and the natural world is a central aspect of self-identity.

3. It creates a safe space for others to be secular.

It’s always tough to be the first to explore any cultural terrain. In many parts of the country it is dangerous to be an atheist. Physical attacks are rare, though they do happen, but there can be alarming consequences to being openly secular, including the loss of family, friends, employment, and business opportunities.

People who know they are unlikely to face a backlash may be more likely to shrug about being public about their nonbelief, but it’s important to come forward to expand the safe space for others. Openly secular people give license to others who are more reticent or have more to fear.

Coming forward as secular is an act of generosity toward fellow nonbelievers, just as the first courageous gays and lesbians who came out helped blaze the path for others. Going public is perhaps the only way to change the culture for us all.

4. Political power and public policy are skewed.

Atheists and agnostics make up upwards of seven percent of the U.S. population — a higher percentage than Jews and Muslims combined. People who say they have no religious affiliation, of which nonbelievers are a subset, are the largest growing cohort in the country, accounting for 20 percent of the overall adult population and fully one-third of adults under 30.

Yet secular people have no political power. There is not one member of Congress willing to call him or herself atheist, a label considered the third rail of politics.

That means openly secular people are foreclosed from public policy decision-making — ceding more power to the Religious Right than it deserves. The very people who rely on science and evidence-based thinking are cut out of politics and governance. No wonder our policymakers are so often in the thrall of religious dogma when deciding issues such as sex education, birth control and abortion rights, stem cell research, same-sex marriage, and climate change.

5. It’s cool to be secular.

. . . or at least an evangelical Christian research and polling firm says so.The Barna Group, a major marketing firm specializing in public attitudes toward religion, says in its 2015 State of Atheism in America report, “atheism has shifted in the past 50 years from cultural anathema to something the ‘cooler’ kids are doing.”

Well, there you have it, the best argument of all.

You want to be cutting-edge cool? Be Openly Secular!

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