Thursday, March 22, 2007

Stark, New Atheism, and Religion on the Defense

Pete Stark, as many of us now know, is the highest elected official to acknowledge a non-theistic view. I wrote a post when I first heard the news of the coming-out, when it was still an unknown Congressperson, but I haven't written anything about it since. I was waiting to see what the reaction would be....

Which was almost disappointing! The biggest fuss I heard was from the Christian Seniors organization, who went on to talk about child-strangling liberals. But for the most part, it was all neutral and positive reactions. Voters (in his district) seem unfazed. Some news articles praised Stark. Most were neutral. I even read news articles from Christian news organizations. The Christian Broadcasting network had two mentions -- a news report titled Atheist Congressman Honored, and a snippet in the Christian World News Religion Roundup -- both were straight unbiased reporting, with no opinions or inserted response at all. BeliefNet also had a completely unbiased report. I did find an opinion piece on, but it turned the story against the $1,000 payout (by the Secular Coalition for America for the nomination), and not the coming out!

I can't believe it. I never thought we'd get away with an atheist Congressperson without some serious backlash. Maybe we really will be seeing more atheists coming out.

The part of Congressman Stark's announcement that I found most interesting was his connection with Unitarianism. I have written in the past that a nontheist politician would suffer from not having religious group to back them. Unitarianism is a clever loophole in my theory! Stark has found a way to be atheist and be part of a group.

Hemant at FriendlyAtheist had a good article last week on the isolation that most atheists face -- or impose on themselves. He points out that well-known Christians are usually associated with their organizations. There aren't single lonely voices in big Christian names. Charismatic leaders and large followings are a symbiotic relationship. The leaders' charisma brings in followers, which makes the leader more powerful and able to reach more would-be followers.

The big atheists, though -- like Dawkins, and Harris -- are isolated voices, and lack a similar mutually-beneficial environment.

Hemant points out that there are a growing number of secular groups, but even the biggest are tiny compared to any religious organizations, and their leaders are relatively obscure. Definitely not household names. The problem, while it does involve the relative sizes of the religious vs. secular populations, also lies with the way atheists are organized. Or... aren't organized.

But despite our nebulous lack of organization, I think we're really starting to be seen as a growing threat. Think back a few months in US politics. Barak Obama was first being seen as a possible presidential candidate, which of course was the cue for all of the slimeball political groups out there to start hurling their slime. At one point, Obama was accused of attending a radical Madrassa school as a child. This was not true, but it did reveal that the Republicans considered Obama to be a real threat, which made me quite happy.

Do theists see atheism as a threat? Maybe not on the streetcorner, but I think theists are starting to realize that atheism is growing strong in the online arena. Online, theists are starting to get on the defensive. Unable to come up with anything truly innovative, they are instead flattering us with imitation.

They think Wikipedia is too liberal? They make Conservapedia.

Too many atheists on YouTube? They make GodTube.

Heathens are laughing at their MySpace pages? They make HisHolySpace.

I'm waiting for HolyDigg next. Scratch that, I just found Gospelshout.

I find this encouraging! Disgusting, but encouraging.


alex said...

“The part of Congressman Stark's announcement that I found most interesting was his connection with Unitarianism.”
Did he say that he is a Unitarianist? Because Unitarianists believe in a supernatural god, correct? He clearly said that “he does not believe in a supreme being.”
Either way that’s fantastic news and I hope more announcements like this will follow. Makes me damn proud to be from San Francisco Bay Area, which he represents.

David W. said...

I believe the exact quote from Stark was "a Unitarian who does not believe in a supreme being." From my understanding, Unitarianism can encompass a wide range of beliefs because it doesn't enforce any creed at all. My mom sometimes goes to a Unitarian church, and she's a pantheist. I've heard someone refer to it as the "atheist denomination" before, too.

I'd be proud too -- San Francisco sounds like a great place to live.

Intergalactic Hussy said...

I'm just happy someone in politics finally came out! I also blogged on this because you know there's got to be more atheist who just don't want to come out (yet).

As far as the Unitarian thing, people cling to the religion they were "born as" because they can't let go or still have some kind of a connection with that group. I know, because I was born and raised Jewish and am still very much a Jew in many ways...besides the god and religion part... :)

Naomi said...

I float this idea every chance I get!

Atheists need to model DrinkingLiberally. It's so loose and unstructured, it will fit the "herding cats" reputation we have. You show up when you want, no dues, not agenda, no meeting, no leaders, no elections, no lectures--just mix and mingle, and make friends.

See: Drinking Liberally®
Promoting democracy one pint at a time.
186 chapters in 43 states plus DC.

I "belong" to the Nashville DL. It's good, clean fun. And I like to remind everyone--the Boston Tea Party was born in pubs. And so was our Revolution!

David W. said...

Thanks Naomi. I have heard the term "Drinking Liberally" before but didn't know anything about it. I'll take a look.