Atheist Pride


Today was the first full day of the American Atheists celebratory convention of its fiftieth year of existence, an event being held in Austin, Texas.  Austin, I have been told, is not “real”  Texas.  It is a university city with over fifty thousand students from all over the world as well as the eastern version of Silicon Valley.  Its inhabitants are considerably more liberal and better educated than the average resident of the Lone Star State.

Over a thousand people arrived from all over the country to attend this convention – all of them atheists, and all of them proud of it.  All ages were represented, thanks to the fact that the organizers provided child care that not only looked after the children while their parents were occupied but provided them with engaging activities as well.

There were accommodations made for people with various disabilities and atypical characteristics.  Two volunteer signers alternated in translating the message of the speakers to the deaf community.  The venue was friendly enough to accommodate several wheelchairs and scooters and a large handful of people with walking canes and other interesting extensions of the person.  There were a few anomalies.  One of the scooter riders was trying out a relatively new toy and was succeeding in shaving off sections of various wooden posts and skirting boards.  This was probably less destructive of the building than it might have been if her son had been granted his wish to soup it up to grand prix capacity.   Can you imagine what it would be like to have a loose scooter doing wheelies around the information tables, whizzing up and down the escalators and mowing down any blades of humanity in the isles of the convention hall?

One of  the Display and Information tables included a charming member of the community of Leprechauns who promised to grant my travel wishes around Austin.  As long as he does not drive a Promothean-mobile that cuts me off at the knees, I will gratefully accept his offer.  Another table included a person wearing an enigmatic top hat and a Wonderland vest and jacket.  The Hatted One turned out to be a science teacher with a creative side line in atheist cartooning and a matching sense of the absurd.

People shared and accommodated and helped and advised and engaged in various acts of welcome and kindness.  There were hugs and kisses and gifted lunches.  The beauty of it was that none of this warm behavior resulted from the wish to please a god.

Many of the attendees were participating in their first atheist convention.  When I asked them how they felt after their first day the predominant response, often with arms that opened wide in a gesture of inclusion,  was that they felt as if they had walked into a place where they were free to be who they really were and to be applauded and valued for it.  It was the proverbial “breath of fresh air” or “get out of jail”  card.

While the audience was predominantly white Caucasian there were a number of African Americans and Latinos involved as speakers, table display presenters and part of the general audience.  Unfortunately, the members of such minority groups were not as well represented as they were in the general population.

Richard Carrier suggested reasons for this phenomena .  Their needs and concerns, he explained, are not identical to the needs and concerns of the group that is currently predominant in the  active atheist community. His prescription was to listen to members of these groups, find out what their needs and concerns are, and then to do something to meet these needs and fix these concerns rather than concentrating solely on those issues identified by the current majority.

African Americans, for example, are less concerned with the threat of creationism being taught in school than they are with the yawning educational disparity between whites and blacks in America.  They are also passionately interested in prison reform and with the factors that lead to an over preponderance of African Americans in prisons compared with members that are identified as belonging to other racial groupings.

Carrier acknowledged that the atheist community, like the theist community, contains a wide cross section of personalities with various levels of socialized behaviors.  His belief is that the general atheist community has a duty to promote and demonstrate a general concern for other people.  He saw this as essential to countering the theist stereotype of atheists as uncaring and immoral.  He argued that it was also good for the atheist community itself.

I would go one step further and suggest that atheists have the capacity to outshine the theist community in their commitment to human rights and the promotion of human dignity.  Not only are most atheists demonstrably good without a belief in a god, they also have the capacity to be more generally compassionate than those who are constrained or warped by theistic doctrines.

In fact, an overview of the moral and social health of societies in the world community provides a clear indication that the greater the theistic beliefs of the society the greater the incidence of things that the world wide community considers to be measures of a sick and depraved society.  Ironically, this includes a number of issues that America’s theist communities consider to be evidence of ungodly behavior: murder, abortion, teenage mothers and divorce, for example.  It is ironic that the group with the highest divorce rate in the USA are those who identify as Baptists while the atheist group is one of the most conjugally stable.

The catch cry of American Atheists, as well as atheists in the wider world, should be that greater moral goodness is possible for an atheist because they are unfettered by religious dogma and the barbaric examples of godly behavior contained in holy books.   Moral goodness that is religiously unfettered is morally superior, not morally inferior.

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