What More Atheists Must Do Nicole Scott Free Inquiry

Imagine for one moment a perfect world free of hate, hunger, disease, and rush-hour traffic, a Lennonesque utopia in which no one steals from the poor, kills for sport, or murders their parents for money. Surely, in the vast expanse of the universe, such a planet exists. But it isn’t this one.

Amazing as it is, our world is nonetheless infested with countless afflictions, and number one on the list of pestilential parasites are human beings, or what American humorist Mark Twain dubbed “the damned human race.”1

How damned are we? It’s true humans are a species that is capable of extreme evil, but we are also endowed with supreme benevolence, neither of which comes from a supernatural power but from within our very own selves. Most atheists accept this humanistic premise because there is substantial evidence to support it, but we also share the world with a lot of very nice people who don’t. As far as they’re concerned, goodness flows from God, and evil comes from refusing to submit to God’s authority.

Worse still, some think Satan is working through nonbelievers, which may explain in part why many of these very nice people have a long history of not being so very nice to us, which, unfortunately, continues to this day. Large portions of the American population still perceive atheists as untrustworthy.2

So, what do we do? Roll our eyes in bewilderment and keep keeping to ourselves? How’s that been working out?

The most formidable challenge atheists face in the United States is convincing a majority of our fellow citizens and political leaders who think we shouldn’t have a say in anything to listen to us. In truth, they will never respect us until we respect ourselves, and that cannot happen with many of us still too fearful to venture out of our closets.

Like Dorothy entering Munchkinland in the luminous landscape of Oz, more of us must open our doors and step out into a bright, beautiful world that is no less ours than anyone else’s. Can we do this? Can we embark on a journey toward making the dreams we have only dared to dream up until now come true for ourselves and for others? W     e must if we wish to become citizens in equal standing with those who think they have a God-given right to run our country and tell the rest of us how to live in it. And it shouldn’t take a house falling on their heads to get their attention.

Just as our ruby-slippered girl from Kansas discovered at her journey’s end, the power to find our heart’s desire has been within us all along. It simply takes more of us politely and unequivocally saying to others these four little words: “I am an atheist.” Just look them in the eye and say it proudly and with a friendly smile. Not everyone can do this yet, but for those who can, please do so—and as often as opportunities will allow.

Some of those opportunities might be, for instance, when someone invites you to join a prayer group, asks which church you attend, offers you a New Testament for free, or informs you that you need to go to church. Other ways to convey this message could include reading a magazine or book about atheism, perhaps Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not a Christian, in public places such as the waiting room of your doctor’s office or under an umbrella at the beach. You might also try responding with the title of an atheist book the next time someone asks if you’ve read any good books lately.

Atheists living openly and magnificently free within their own communities is one part of realizing this dream; another is believers and nonbelievers alike coming together under the banner of amicable coexistence. A necessary means to that end can be accomplished most effectively by resurrecting and faithfully practicing one of the more unifying forces ever created on Earth—the Golden Rule, a humanistic ethic that goes back about 3,500 years and is found throughout the world in many cultures and major religions, including Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, and Sikhism.3

Still, treating others as we would have them treat us—and vice versa—does not imply that they or we refrain from saying what we honestly think for fear of offense. Quite the opposite! Some ideals, such as free speech, are vastly more important than any self-serving claims of hurt feelings.

Strengthening our demographic has never been and still won’t be easy. It may require traveling down a perilous road riddled with resistance and woe before we can stand eye-to-eye with some of America’s great and powerful evangelical leaders determined to preserve their long-held positions of self-proclaimed omniscience that apparently comes from somewhere over the rainbow.

As we travel on, we’ll likely pick up a few new friends along the way, which would be marvelous. But our success will largely depend on finding common ground with those who have disdained us for ages.

Of course, it will require more than a bucket of water to melt our differences and achieve lasting unity as “one nation, indivisible.” For starters, it will take shared causes and values, gracious good humor, and meaningful discourse between us.

No matter how accepted atheists become in the United States or how much camaraderie we may achieve with theists, there will always be those who perceive us as a menacing fleet of flying monkeys that should be driven out of the country. But no matter. It will be quite enough for most Americans to simply see atheism as a horse of a different color in a pasture filled with horses of many hues.

Our ultimate destination, of course, is not a cornfield in Kansas or some celestial castle in the clouds but the ideals established in the First Amendment, which ought to protect the freedom of belief of every American. In this lies the most defining journey of all—returning to our secular roots. Once we have arrived there together, only then can we rightly say there is no place like home.

[1] Twain, Mark. Mark Twain on the Damned Human Race, American Century Series. Edited by Janet Smith. New York, NY: Hill and Wang, 1962.

[2] 2. Pew Research Center, “In U.S., Jews viewed warmly, atheists and Muslims less so,” July 22, 2019. Available online at pewresearch.org/religion/2019/07/23/which-religious-groups-know-what-about-religion/pf_07-23-19_religiousknowledge-update-010; W. Gervais, D. Xygalatas, R. McKay, et al., “Global evidence of extreme intuitive moral prejudice against atheists.” Nat Hum Behav 1, 0151 (2017). Available online at https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-017-0151; W. M. Gervais, A. F. Shariff, and A. Norenzayan, “Do you believe in atheists? Distrust is central to anti-atheist prejudice.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101(6) (2011), 1189–1206. Available online at https://doi.org/10.1037/a0025882.

[3] Stephen O’ Sullivan and Philip A. Pecorino. “Chapter 9 Kantian Theory: The Categorical Imperative Not the Golden Rule,” Ethics: An Online Textbook, edited by Stephen O’Sullivan and Philip A. Pecorino, 2002. Available online at qcc.cuny.edu/socialsciences/ppecorino/ethics_text/chapter_8_kantian_theory/Not_Golden.htm. Retrieved January 2, 2022.

Imagine for one moment a perfect world free of hate, hunger, disease, and rush-hour traffic, a Lennonesque utopia in which no one steals from the poor, kills for sport, or murders their parents for money. Surely, in the vast expanse of the universe, such a planet exists. But it isn’t this one. Amazing as it …