This ongoing conflict between sectarianism and secularism is the raison d’etre for a non-theist movement, and it is why categorical disrespect for godlessness matters. The assumption that religious belief is essential to morality advances mistrust of secular governance. Of course, religious people have a right to their biases, and the irreligious have a right to challenge them. Non-theists can always voice their opinions individually, but, like other ideological and demographic minorities, they need a movement to amplify their voices. And regardless of their individual psychic needs for recognition (which do not interest me), non-theists have a collective political need for a movement that encourages openness about disbelief: The more godlessness is normalised, the less it will seem inherently immoral, the more likely the perspectives of non-theists will be considered, instead of reflexively condemned.
What should they bring to the church/state debates? As a small, disrespected, irreligious minority, non-theists should appreciate freedom of conscience. Non-theism is often associated with hostility toward religion, thanks partly to the prominence of a few ‘New Atheists’, but it can and should promote respect for religious liberty. People who believe in no religions are not apt to privilege any one of them: evangelicals tend to be wary of Mormonism, as the Republican primaries have demonstrated, but to an atheist or agnostic, belief in the resurrection is no more or less worthy of respect than belief in the Angel Moroni.
Scepticism is a great leveller; it favours extending equal speech and religious rights to all orthodoxies, which is the essence of civil liberty. Freedom of conscience doesn’t distinguish between new, outré religions derided as cults and traditional mainstream faiths, as former American Civil Liberties Union executive director Ira Glasser tried explaining to an interviewer years ago. He was asked about the chanting, saffron-robed Hare Krishnas, who commanded little popular respect. They were ‘weird’, the interviewer remarked to Glasser. ‘I don’t know’, he replied. ‘Have you taken a look at the College of Cardinals?’
Wendy Kaminer “In America, atheists are still in the closet”, Spiked!, 2012-04-11
April 12, 2012
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