There is a lot that I don't agree with Sam Harris on. I have always loved his 'atheism is not a philosophy' quote though. He wrote it in Letter to a Christian Nation. I have met quite a few atheists and I certainly don't agree with them on everything. Hell, Irish and I don't even share the same exact worldview. That's the thing about thinking outside the box, even when you agree on something as big as whether or not a benevolent deity exists, you may not agree on anything else.
A lot of the more vocal believers would adamantly disagree with Harris' assertion. I can hear them now: 'Atheism isn't just a philosophy, it's a religion! A religion that wages a war on Christmas! Atheists want to kill believers!' To believers of any faith that happen to be reading this, let me assure you, none of this is true. At least not of me. That is my point though. I don't speak for all atheists, we're too diverse. We have no consistent philosophy.
Harris went on to say, "Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs." Holy TARDIS of Gallifrey, Yes! This is what I wish I could get the religious people in my life to realize. Atheism is not a religion. Religions are belief systems based on faith. Atheism is the lack of a belief, one very specific belief. There is no 'War on Christmas', there are simply people that want you to realize that your holiday is not everyone's holiday. And while I am sure there are a few insane people wishing death on believers that happen to be atheists, they are not doing so in the name of atheism. You can't do anything in the name of atheism, not really.
Well dear reader, you're right. And you're wrong. Those and many other groups do pursue secular causes, but not in the name of atheism. American Atheists makes it into the news a lot because they spend a lot of time in court. Their cases tend to piss people off.
More recently, they gained the right to erect a granite bench outside of a courthouse in Bradford County, Florida. The bench will be engraved with secular quotes from several people, including Thomas Jefferson and Madalyn Murray O'Hair along with the punishments the Bible lays out for those that break the Ten Commandments. This all happened because Bradford County decided that the area outside of their courthouse should be a "Free Speech Forum". Basically, as long as you're willing to pay for it, you can place a monument there. A Christian men's group put one up that listed the Bible's Ten Commandments. (Color me unsurprised.)
(This one is in Austin, I've seen it myself. Ugh.)
American Atheists originally sued Bradford County, saying that the Ten Commandments monument violated the separation of church and state. The county asked the Christian group to remove their slab so that they could avoid the cost of going to court. When the Christians refused, the county decided to offer American Atheists a compromise: the Christian monument would stay, but the non-believers could place their own. (Wasn't that always an option? I don't know.) Everyone agreed and the bench will soon be in place.
David Silverman, the source of inspiration for this fantastic meme and President of American Atheists said, “We have maintained from the beginning that the Ten Commandments doesn't belong on government property. There is no secular purpose for the monument whatsoever and it makes atheists feel like second-class citizens. But if keeping it there means we have the right to install our own monument, then installing our own is exactly what we’ll do.”
I have to say, I don't like the whole thing. There shouldn't be any allusions to religion or anti-religion on government property. Our government overlords should remain silent on all matters of faith. No invoking God as you take an oath, no National Day of Prayer, no giving money to groups tied to religion. But all of that happens. Atheist organizations act, not in the name of atheism but in the name of free-thought, tolerance and understanding, a secular government, fact-based education and knowledge, an equal society, a better humanity.
Harris has said that the term 'atheism' shouldn't exist. We don't have a name for people that don't believe in fairies after all. He's technically right. A lot of people shed the label in favor of Humanist or something similar. Still, most of the world believes in the supernatural to some degree, especially deities. We are the minority. I could go on for quite a while about the concept of labels in general but I think that calling oneself an atheist is important. We may not have a joining philosophy but we do face discrimination around the globe. Believers have to know that we are not evil crazies intent on taking away their Christmas trees. How will they ever know that if we don't openly admit our disbelief?
Again, not every atheist will agree. But I think most would. Something happens when you realize there is no sky daddy to make you be a better person. You realize that you have to take care of yourself. No one is going to rescue you or swoop down and save the world. You realize that we are our own saviors, we have to be. It is scary and overwhelming. It's more than that though, it's empowering. You aren't alone. There are billions of other humans. You don't have to have all of the answers, you just have to be willing to listen to the other people. If we all listen, I think we'll find that we can solve our problems. We can recognize our deficits and work to fill them. We need no heroes.
The Recovering From Religion organization is planning to open a telephone hotline for those that are doubting their religious faith. The people answering those calls will not offer any prayers or speak of an afterlife that will diminish this life. But they will be able to offer a voice of comfort and reassurance. We may not have a benevolent deity, but we have one another. And that is enough.
Originally Published on Wary Wonderlust