I wrote this on James Scott’s blog in response to his comment on AC Grayling’s being in Australia for the Global Atheist Convention. I have always liked the ease and gentility with which Grayling delivers lectures on philosophy, interviews and talks often in relation to specific issues of ethics.
I have thought for a long time that the way to start to have a secular point of view within the public sphere is to mobilise politically.
In Australia there is a political party that began not so many years ago. It’s the Secular Party of Australia. The hard part, of course, is to increase the membership and the awareness within the public of the Secular Party as an alternative to voting for major parties.
Atheists are atheists and not necessarily aligned with the political right or left, although, it is probably safe to say that there is a leftish preponderance. It’s probably the herding of cats syndrome and I think the incidence of this syndrome increases with intellect (and I know how that sounds!!).
Australia has a proportional voting system which helps smaller parties to win a seat in the Senate. It’s very hard indeed to get into the Lower House as The Greens know. Of course, the Greens have global climate and ecological diversity (among other non-religious but ideological stances). Atheists have little to use as a rallying point that affects the majority. The only biggie is really the infiltration of religion in our social, educational and policy making fabric. And I don’t know how much actual interest can be whipped up within the population at large. Not much, it would appear. It just doesn’t touch the average voter’s fears. And that, and funding is what does interest voters.
I don’t know how many other political parties there are that specifically espouse secular and humanistic values. There is always a problem. Politicians are seen as accomplished liars (at least the long-lived successful politicians are). Those who enter the political arena with ideals are either one term wonders or learn quickly the ropes of political feather nesting.
The other road followed is publishing, as you point out. I know that being an evangelical or charismatic Christian or on some loony religious fringe or another pumps up the volume considerably. That quite possibly accounts for the number (30,000?? Good grief! Per year? Phew!) of Christian/god/church books published.
Interestingly, I suppose, is the fact that publishers see a market for such an interminable number of books that will sell. To even have an atheist or irreligious book published requires the author to be a well-known figure. Phillip Adams, Robyn Williams, Russell Blackford and Tamas Pataki are a few that I can think of who have come out of Australia. The delightful Catherine Deveny should write – she is more than capable AND well known to boot!
Atheism just doesn’t whip up the same fervour as religious nutjobbery. We only become incensed (and not all of us) when something really egregious occurs. And it doesn’t last because most of us have day jobs. So there is only so much that gets into print and so many of the newspapers are owned by moguls of a religiously savvy bent. Look at Murdoch!! It is pretty difficult to get a strongly-worded letter published in any of Murdoch’s papers.
Even if you were to spoon feed the journalists, their editors are probably chary of publishing unless they get a response from a Christian (and that’s not difficult! They have a stable of tame religites on whom to call). The editors never seem to return the favour to atheists unless there is some heavy lobbying for equal rights of response.
The other thing is that Christians are ‘witnessing’ for their god(s) while atheists are always the reactionaries righting those superstitions and plainly wrong explanations with a good belt of truth, science, reason and critical thinking. And, of course, no religite ever wants to know that!! And, unfortunately, the newspaper reading public usually doesn’t want to have to think (a bit like the journalists), so I wonder what actually gets through.
There is another point that is a problem. It is so easy for a religite to say ‘goddidit’ in response to anything published in any scientific field. It isn’t that scientists are chary of writing; it is more that time, research and teaching can be and are constraints. The other part of this is, of course, that atheists haven’t got a ‘cover-all’ response as do the religites (and their responses never vary!!).
Yes, atheists are nicer because we aren’t hell-bent (haha) and we are a reasonable bunch. Over the past 6 years, we have seen Dawkins and Hitchens, Harris and Grayling, Dennett and Thomson and others publish with greater or less success. However, there is a goodly library being built and, at least, it has quality if not the babbling quantity of religious ‘books’.
Yes, I agree with you, James, we all need to take a leaf out of their books and learn to be vociferous in print and on the hustings and to do this often. It does mean organisation though.
We have no hierarchy as you point out. However a loose collaboration between atheists who actually want to write and not be necessarily nice would go a long way to covering the religious blatherings that find their way into the press.
Divide the papers into manageable job lots and allocate a few atheist writers to each lot. Include a scientist or two in each group to cover the scientific angles (a lot of us ‘lay’ atheists have, in fact, educated ourselves in the basics of the various fields in science and can find qualified people if need be).
Would that work? Yes it would; it requires diligence (the religites have that in spades) and being able to maintain interest in having to say the same things over and over again. How Dawkins does it, I don’t know – he does get paid, of course!
The ultimate thing is education; keep the religite influence at a minimum in society, education and policy making. Tall order – it is only a few hundred years ago you and I would be burnt at the stake for mentioning anything like this.
As my husband is fond of saying: religion is in its death throes. It is being strangled to death by education and like any victim it is struggling and kicking in a vain attempt to preserve its life. In a hundred years, it will be no more.
What we all have to keep in mind is that we CAN hasten its demise but we need to organise and stay in touch with each other on a constant, idea sharing basis.