It’s nothing you haven’t already heard, but The New York Times is publishing an article tomorrow on the isolation of atheists in our political culture.
Only one of the 535 members of Congress, Representative Pete Stark, Democrat of California, publicly identifies as a nontheist, according to the Secular Coalition of America, a lobbying group based in Washington. For that matter, the coalition has existed for only three years and runs with two staff members and an annual budget of about $300,000. As both presidential candidates ardently court religious voters, atheist support is considered so controversial that several Democrats writing on the atheist blog Petty Larseny quipped that the best way to hurt the Republicans was to form a group called Atheists for McCain.
“We are where gays were at the time of Stonewall,” said Lori Lipman Brown, the director of the Secular Coalition, referring to the 1969 riot in Greenwich Village that was the birth of the gay rights movement. “And the thing we have in common with gays back then is that day to day you’re hidden. If you make the decision to come out, you’re treated very badly.”
“We should have a base of at least 30 million Americans to work with,” Ms. Brown continued. “And yet those who are active are a much smaller percentage. We’re probably looking at just a few hundred thousand active participants. It’s hard to even quantify.”
One problem with turning out the atheist vote is finding it. Atheists do not reside visibly in certain neighborhoods like blacks or Hispanics or gay men and lesbians. They do not turn up on the databases of professional associations like doctors or lawyers. And as nonbelievers, they axiomatically do not come together for worship.
With their trust in the power of reason, atheists might also be ill-equipped for the gritty work of retail politics — the phone banks, the door-knocking, the car pools to the polls. If nothing else, they are coming late to the craft.
Sadly, I’ve found all that to be fairly accurate. We’re bad at organizing and we’re difficult to organize.
Until we can get enough atheists willing to band together on communal issues, we won’t get much done. The Secular Coalition for America is an anomaly in that sense.
Reading atheist blogs is fine. Reading atheist books is fine. But unless we can transform our thoughts into action, it’s all pretty useless.