The Secular Decade March 14, 2010

The Secular Decade

Sean Faircloth, the executive director of Secular Coalition for America, has now announced publicly what his vision is for the future of our movement at least as it pertains to the SCA.

The last bit (emphasis mine) is the part I’m most interested about:

First, national reporters will instinctively seek quotes and analysis from SCA about public policies that privilege religion — just as now they seek quotes from the ACLU on civil liberties. Soon after, our stands on issues such as the protection of children from religiously-based abuse, military discrimination and emergency contraception will be automatically understood by the general media to be a call for civil rights and justice based on a compassionate adherence to a rational worldview. We’ll see thousands more people become active, dues-paying members of our ten coalition organizations, spurred by the enthusiasm and pride that comes from joining a great movement for justice. By 2019, we will help see to it that ten or more members of Congress will state publicly they are nontheist — just as Representative Pete Stark did in 2007 as the first-ever member of Congress to “come out” as not believing in higher power.

I don’t know how possible that is, but I think if it happened, it would be the most important step up for secular Americans in the foreseeable future — seeing people who think like we do, in elected office, openly admitting that they don’t believe in a god.

It would also be nice to see those people admitting as much before they get elected to public office — getting elected in spite of their non-theism. Hell, getting elected partially because of their non-theism. How incredible would it be to not have that taboo of atheists being unelectable?

Sean mentions some tactics he is pursuing to help achieve his goals. One of them includes instituting an internship program on Capitol Hill. The Secular Student Alliance is working alongside SCA to make that happen. We want young atheists to get more interested in politics, enough that they’ll run for office in the future. Not all of them will win their races, but some just might.

I’m not saying they should make policies in favor of atheists. I’m also not saying they should side with the Democrats in all instances. But it would be refreshing to have people in government who we know think rationally about at least the “god” issue, perhaps the most important issue of all.

Do you think Sean’s goals are achievable?

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  • Years ago the city I live in had a committee that was to revamp garbage and recycling collection. That committee was very close to declaring that, since townhouse communities are like apartment complexes, they would need to install communal dumpsters. The only reason that policy was stopped was that one of the members (a neighbor in my association) was able to convince the rest of the committee that townhouses were different. Separate rules more accommodating to townhouse life were passed. The committee avoided making a bad decision that would have been based on ignorance, only because somebody who knew better was there.

    Now, I don’t want to compare Congress to trash committees, but it is a similar situation – how can the folks in Congress expect to take all viewpoints into consideration when writing laws if they are ignorant of some of those viewpoints? I’m not saying Congress needs to bow to all viewpoints, but when they weigh their decisions, knowledge of those viewpoints is better than ignorance.

    I hope more non-theists get elected, and as Hermant states – they get elected with the populace knowing of their non-religious views.

  • Ron in Houston

    At the risk of sounding like Bill Clinton – exactly how public is “publicly?”

  • I think if we can shake the negative opinion of us, there is a chance that more non-theists could get elected into office.

    I know we need angry atheists, but I feel the more we can focus on our similarities with the believers, the better chance we would have. We all want a better country and we all want good things for our communities.

    It would be a great change though. If the fear of Atheists were to diminish to the point where we actually became accepted.

  • ecorona

    Absotively it is possible. With the growing awareness of actions like the Texas School Board, visibility for LGBT rights, and First Amendment violation litigation (see FFRF), and the continued attention of secularists across the country and around the world – the Religious Right will be thrown under the bus by the corporations who control the government in the interest of maximizing their profits by reducing the amounts spent on superfluous things like religion and repression of human rights. I don’t like the idea of corporate control of my life (we have to fight that too), but I refuse to allow anyone to control what they claim is my soul.

    Nothing’s easy, but stay active and loud. Equality will be achieved. Tell them “KEEP YOUR GOD OFF MY LAWS!!”

  • Miko

    If you want some nontheists elected for the purpose of publicity, go for it. If you think that it’ll actually change how this country is governed, you’re in for an unpleasant surprise. After all, there are probably that many undisclosed nontheists now.

    Hemant: the “god” issue, perhaps the most important issue of all.

    According to the UN, “On average, 62 million people die each year, of whom probably 36 million (58 per cent) directly or indirectly as a result of nutritional deficiencies, infections, epidemics or diseases which attack the body when its resistance and immunity have been weakened by undernourishment and hunger.”

    Go back 150 years and it’s not surprising that people were dying of starvation and problems related to malnutrition, since we didn’t know then what we now know about agriculture. These days, it’s inexcusable. And it’s a problem caused 90% by U.S. government policies (ethanol fuel subsidies, subsidies for not farming, tariffs and blockades, propping up dictators who oppress their people and even steal food aid, patent protection for basic processes such as appropriate-technology irrigation systems and for the plant-genetic base, etc.) Since this one factor is leading to more than half of annual worldwide deaths (and also more than half of all child deaths), I’d say it automatically qualifies as the most important issue. When the U.S. starts punishing homosexuality by death or reinstates the Inquisitors, I’ll be willing to bump the “god” issue up to the top ten. Until then I doubt it makes the top hundred. I’m willing to fight for it, since I’ve got enough free time. But church-state separation is most definitely just a smaller piece of my ultimate goal of everything-state separation.

    NoYourGod: how can the folks in Congress expect to take all viewpoints into consideration when writing laws if they are ignorant of some of those viewpoints?

    This is what the economist F.A. Hayek described as the “local knowledge problem.” It actually permeates all aspects of government, and it is one reason why effective governance at any level beyond the local is theoretically impossible (where “local” is defined as the most decentralized level on which the problem is theoretically solvable; e.g., the gay marriage issue could be decided locally by the couple that is deciding whether to get married).

    Putting a few nontheists into government won’t fix the problem either. We’d then have to put a few bakers into government, a few snake wranglers, a few prostitutes (the real sort–not the kind already there), etc. At the end of the day we’d just have to give up and declare the problem unsolvable. The problem of running everything from one central decision making body, that is. What we need to do is stop trying to solve the problem from the same angle that created it.

    To use your example, what business is it of the city to run a trash committee anyway? Wouldn’t it be better to organize trash services provision as a member co-op or through some other sort of market-provided solution? The city, at most, should require that trash be disposed of in accordance with some basic guidelines necessary for sanitation. The exact details of how are, as you pointed out, best left up to the people who best understand the particulars of the problem as it affects them.

  • GSW

    As an atheist, I was routing for Obama – in the belief that he was a closet-atheist, and his speech including non-believers was a step forward.
    However, I am not an American. I do not live in the USA.

    I would be interested in a poll showing whether anyone else is(was) of my opinion and whether atheist in America voted for him for this reason.

    (Actually, I am no longer certain that he is a closet-atheist. Possibly just a closet-not-christian)

  • EllenBeth Wachs

    Of course Sean’s goals are achievable. May I suggest, however, a more positive attitude than taking the posture of

    Mehta’s assertion, “I don’t know how possible that is…”

    Perhaps we can take a lesson from the “spin” doctors and state it as a given conclusion. In that way, we influence the public’s (and maybe our own?) perception of how we view our role in society and government.

    Not only is it a possible goal, it is a necessary goal and we should make it a mandate for our community.

  • (Fair warning – the following is somewhat off-topic…)

    Miko: what business is it of the city to run a trash committee anyway?

    The same errant argument (aka “libertarian argument”) could be made for streets, sewage control, and even defense. Sometimes there are efficiencies of scale, so having a larger organization, such as a city, arrange for trash disposal can be more efficient than having 250,000 individuals (or 1,000 co-ops) process trash removal.

    And even if it were not more efficient, effectiveness must be taken into account for some things (such as trash, sewage control, and defense). If co-ops can process garbage removal at 80% the cost of a city, but are only 90% effective, that leaves 10% more garbage laying around, polluting the city.

    There may be limits as to the efficiencies of scale – maybe garbage and sewage treatment are best handled by mid-sized organizations such as towns, cities, or counties, while defense is best handled at the national level. I’ve lived in towns where garbage disposal was the responsibility of the residents, based on town guidelines. 300 households each with trash being burned in barrels in their back yards was not a pretty sight. Don’t ask me if it was legal – I was a young’un and just did what I was told, but in 8 years I did not see a single person cited for violating town rules by burning their trash that way. It’s not a pretty sight extending that to a city of a quarter million people.

    Miko: Wouldn’t it be better to organize trash services provision as a member co-op or through some other sort of market-provided solution?

    Hey – Why not use market-driven/market-provided solutions to the financial industry? It’s GOT to work there!
    (OK – that was a bit snarky, but sometimes market-driven regulations just don’t work. The tricky part is figuring out where they do, and where they don’t.)

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