Let the Halls of Power Resound: Adam Lee

By Adam Lee

Freethinkers have an unparalleled opportunity to put our message before the public.

2006 was a banner year for atheists. Between momentous events like the downfall of evangelical mega-pastor Ted Haggard, the conviction of creationist Kent Hovind, and the continuing threat of religious terrorism, the world has seen clearly that religion has no monopoly on morality.

Our numbers and our influence continue to grow. Not only do the nonreligious number as high as 15% of the population in America, a news story from November concluded that we are now one of the largest and most important groups of swing voters. Meanwhile, evangelical Christians are publicly lamenting the fact that young people are leaving the faith in droves, while the Catholic church is struggling with a lack of available priests and is unable to fill open clergy posts in many countries.

At this moment in history, atheists have an unparalleled opportunity to put our message before the public and define who we are and what we stand for. Clearly, however, we still have a lot of progress left to make. Politicians of both parties still pander to religious voters and bash nonbelievers far too often, viewing it as an easy and foolproof way to win votes. The media are still suffused with distorted and false stereotypes of who we are and what we stand for. And the pastors, ministers and other advocates of non-reality-based beliefs still command far too much power and influence in the world, with predictably harmful results.

This state of affairs is especially deplorable considering all the positive benefits nonbelief has to offer. We should be proud that we are atheists. We make our moral decisions guided by conscience and the common good, rather than living our lives in slavish conformity to a set of bizarre and arbitrary ancient rules. We have the courage and the strength of character to make up our own minds and to stand firm against threats of divine wrath, eternal torment, and the disapproving roar of the majority. We recognize and reject superstitious fantasies and do not clutter up our minds with muddled and uncritical thinking. We do not attempt to excuse hate and bigotry by claiming a divine mandate. We are willing to ask questions and to doubt, rather than follow blindly or remain in passive and fearful obedience to what we have always been taught. We walk by the clear light of reason rather than stumbling along in the fog of faith.

For too long, many societies have maintained the ridiculous notion that all these praiseworthy traits are something to be embarrassed about. It is long past time that we confronted this sentiment and exposed it for the falsehood that it is. Instead of making excuses, we should be encouraging everyone to live this way.

In a world suffused with superstition, where nonevidence-based beliefs are harming and killing real people with real lives every day, I would like to suggest that we freethinkers have a moral duty: a duty to speak out, and more importantly, a duty to take action against harmful irrationality. There are enough of us, if we organize effectively, to make the halls of power resound with our voices.

It has often been said that atheists are by nature too individualistic and too non-conformist to organize in the way that religious constituencies are organized. There may be some truth to this, but I do not think it is unrealistic to expect freethinkers to perceive the threats posed to our liberty by unchecked religious fundamentalism and to unite to fight back against it.

Although organizations like the Freedom from Religion Foundation do excellent work in safeguarding the separation of church and state, we as individuals can and should do more than just joining and supporting. What we need most of all are raised voices. To that end, I say that every freethinker should make it a point to contact their public officials regularly, whenever issues of concern to us arise (as they inevitably do) and become active in the political process. We should take every chance to publish letters, guest essays, and editorials in local newspapers, magazines, and whatever other media are available. There are many strong, articulate voices for freethought already, but we need every one we can get.

If every nonbeliever participated in such an effort, we could truly become a great force for good. Instead of waging a defensive operation, debunking stereotypes and turning back church-state violations where they occur, we could go on the offensive, spreading the good news of atheism and promoting a positive, reason-based view of the world. There are almost certainly a great number of people who would be glad to join us, if only we can reach them. What freethinker wouldn’t be glad to help release another person from the fetters of fundamentalist superstition?

Adam Lee is an author and skeptic living in New York City, and an unapologetic atheist who believes passionately that freethinkers deserve a much stronger voice in our culture than they’ve been given in the past. Both on his weblog, Daylight Atheism, and as a proud member of FFRF, he hopes to be able to defend church-state separation and spread the good news of freethought.


Freedom From Religion Foundation