Constructive versus Destructive Atheist Activism

Chris Stedman gives voice to a concern I’ve had of late (and unfortunately does so in the Huffington Post, but we’ll let that go):

I maintain significant disagreement with many religious beliefs, but I do not wish to be associated with narrow-minded, dehumanizing generalizations about religious people. I am disappointed that such positions represent atheist activism not only to the majority of our society, but to many of my fellow atheist activists as well.

I have been guilty of this myself, and like Stedman, I have no qualms about actively questioning all forms of irrational, baseless belief, but I also have in recent years come to feel less adamant about casting all forms of spiritual seeking into the same ditch as fundamentalism.

Stedman’s prime example of the ugly confusion about what it is nonbelievers ought to be doing with their energies and activism is the embarrassing and grossly wrongheaded campaign by American Atheists to remove the “World Trade Center Cross” from the 9/11 Museum, something I also noted as a wrongheaded move because it focused to stopping religion willy-nilly, rather than acknowledging the object’s place in history. I wrote then:

I don’t have to like it. The World Trade Center cross was there [in the aftermath of the attack], and the people of New York divested it with meaning, and thus it became a character in the story of the 9/11 attacks. Its placement in the museum is not an endorsement of Christianity, it’s a page in that story. Whether I like that part of the story or not.

Suing to have it removed was vindictive rather than productive or consciousness-raising. Perhaps that’s the key difference: what can we do that is improves people’s awareness and sensitivities versus waging merely a zero-sum game of conflict?

Recently, Andrew Sullivan did a video post explaining his approach to prayer, and it was about the least objectionable explanation of what prayer is or can be that I’ve ever heard. I obviously don’t subscribe to his position or believe there is any mystical force listening to one’s prayer, but if Sullivan’s version of belief and prayer were the dominant one, there’d be little need for the anti-religious movement that Stedman sites.

Food for thought as we approach December 31, at this socially-constructed-yet-somehow-poignant time of reflection.

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