February 5, 2006

Atheists Unite!

This morning we went to the RET meeting and heard from Herb Silverman, former South Carolina gubernatorial candidate and the man responsible for removing South Carolina's prohibition on atheists holding public office. It's interesting to note that he and some other secular humanist leaders have managed to raise enough money to hire a lobbyist, who is opposing religious-motivated laws like the proposed ban on same-sex marriage.

He had a lot of interesting ideas for rallying our group, and I'm heartened to see that the group already has taken some of those ideas and put them into action. In two weeks, we'll be having a debate on Iraq. I think debates are useful for building membership, building interest, and building publicity. It's also nice for The Wife and I to start to feel like we are accepted members of the group and to find many faces and names familiar -- today we noticed a lot of the "new people" who showed up to the meetings.

It's interesting to think what could happen if SHAFARists (skeptics, humanists, atheists, freethinkers, agnostics, and rationalists) found enough common to organize and take political action as a counter to the religious right. But I think Silverman is more realistic in suggesting that we work towards a day when those who have doubts about religion and the existence of a deity are as comfortable revealing that fact about themselves to the general public as those who subscribe to mainstream religions are. Particularly here in Tennessee, there is little hesitation for someone to say, "Well, I'm a Baptist." But that is not true for those who are not Christians; and particularly for those who do not believe at all, it takes some courage to step up to the plate and say, "I'm not like everybody else here." Christians are taught that atheists are both fools and evil ("The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good," Psalms 14:1) and that they are doomed to hell ("He that doubteth is damned.... For whatever is not of faith is sin," Romans 14:23) and many seem to ignorantly believe that without the check of religion or the fear of eternal punishment, that atheists will do whatever wrongful act they believe they can get away with.

So while I am outraged that Tennessee still has a prohibition on atheists holding public office (Tenn. Const. Art. XI, § 2), just as South Carolina did, I'll content myself with more modest goals than changing the Constitution here. Battling that sort of misunderstanding, gaining social acceptance and a place at the table of public life, are ambitious enough goals without running for Governor. Only when it is more socially acceptable to be open about one's doubts and skepticism will the lack of wisdom of that particular bit of law become apparent.

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