It was a fine year for atheism. At the risk of being a bit tartish, I’d even call it VERY fine. American Atheists celebrated its fiftieth anniversary, Sylvia Broeckx made a beautiful film showing the world the day to day struggles and triumphs of your average atheist, Tombstone da Deadman and Shelley Segal both released elegant albums on atheist themes… we even got ourselves a new Doctor Who (not directly related to atheism, granted, but Whovianism seems to be the new common denominator amongst Our Kind, doesn’t it?)
There were, however, some embarrassing moments amongst the general progress, and as it’s a time of resolutions, here are three notions that might serve us well moving into 2014:
- Let’s stop letting ourselves get drawn into petty fights.
Obviously, I’m thinking of the Billboard Wars. I wrote about this in the last Freethinker – how we let a stupid, stupid billboard (“Thank God you’re wrong!”) draw us into responding with a monumentally stupider one (“OMG: There is no God!”). As atheism grows more successful as a way of looking at the world, it’s also grown cockier, and one of the unfortunate side effects of cockiness is that it occludes your ability to figure out what fights are worthwhile and which are not.
My hope is that, in 2014, we’ll be able to watch Christians do deliciously self-destructive things in mis-guided attempts to regain their groove, and resist the urge to respond in turn at the cost of dignity. Clever we might be, but nobody is clever enough to enter that battleground without looking the worse by scuffle’s end.
2. Argue less, live more.
One of the peculiar things which has happened with atheism is the drawing of a causal link between two events that were merely temporally proximate. We saw that the numbers of atheists surged as more books came out Arguing about the weakness of theism’s proofs, and thought that the latter must have caused the former, and that the way to grow even bigger is to be seen to argue MORE.
Arguing is fun, and familiar, and changes minds just often enough to keep the whole structure rumbling onwards. It is lifestyle, however, more than argumentation, which have swelled the ranks of the non-believing. A surging mass of humanist sentiment refined to perfection in the 19th century, dashed upon the rocks of the 20th century’s excesses, and only now coming back into its own. It’s about the personal thrill of engaging with humanity face to face even as the maw of mortality threatens to swallow you, the planet you’re on, and everything else. That boundless, dark-edged optimism of a Doctor Who that is infectious and life-sustaining in a way that our arguments never have been. Enthusiasm, happiness, curiosity – the sight of people living by those watchwords is intoxicating and attractive, and we need to be seen doing more of that.
3. Support our pragmatic efforts via a mass of creative ones.
This really goes with #2. After decades of slogging up the political and legal hill, our intellectual forefathers having fought and scraped for every bit of ground, we are finally just able to poke our noses into the rich valleys of pure creativity beyond, to evaluate who we are, what we mean, and how we WANT to live. And the proper medium for those questions is the creative arts – in movies and novels, comic books and songs. These aren’t fluffy side-pursuits that distract from the Serious Work that atheism has before it. Rather, they form the absolutely crucial foundation of self-understanding without which all of our future pragmatic acts can’t sensibly constitute themselves. They’re the place where we’ll find out what is, fundamentally, important, and thus will form the rudder for future action, galvanizing the movement (though I hate, hate that term) in ways we can scarcely imagine now.
In short, we need to live, and to create, and do both with the dignity of the humanity whose virtues and vices we have made our business.