In response to a tweet of mine that links to my blog post “Let’s get secular” and says we must normalize atheism because democracy is not spelled as theocracy, an atheist—Cworb, @Cworb1 on Twitter—said we should normalize and enforce secularism, but it’s unnecessary to push for atheism. I’d like to clear the confusion about this and explain why he both agrees with me and is right and disagrees with me and is wrong.
I am pushing for secularism
Cworb’s confusion began with a problem I discussed briefly in “Secularism and the requirements of democracy”, which is to conflate my arguments for secularism with my arguments for why we must and how we can normalize atheism. Below, I will explain what I mean when I say, “Let’s get secular and normalize atheism, because that’s what a democracy craves.”
It’s important not to conflate atheism and secularism. A free secular nation is about neutrality and objectivity. Neutrality means it doesn’t favor one religion over another and it doesn’t push religious beliefs on the people. Objectivity means it favors facts, like evolution and climate change. Secularism does not mean that people are forced to be irreligious. Secularism is even good for theists, who do not get someone else’s beliefs or interpretation of beliefs pushed on them.
As I wrote to Cworb, “I am pushing for secularism. To normalize atheism is only to change the perception of atheism and make it normal, not abnormal.” Part of the confusion he had over “Let’s get secular” and subsequently this tweet and why I wrote about both normalizing atheism and secularism is that we must become secular to normalize atheism, for a secular nation is the only kind that can achieve equality for all. I did NOT mean that we must make atheism the standard to become secular; I did NOT mean we should push atheism on people and force them to disbelieve.
Cworb questioned what normalizing atheism has to do with secularism and the opposition of theocracy; he wondered what atheism, the philosophical rejection of God, has to do with secularism, the political opposition of religion in government. I wrote that in a society controlled by religion, opposition of the religion isn’t going to be appreciated; therefore, secularism and the way to normalize atheism are connected. This is what I meant in “Let’s get secular”; only a secular nation can ensure equality, including equality for atheists, which would mean that atheism has been normalized.
I continued, saying that to normalize atheism has to do with freedom, as religious ideals and beliefs cannot be forced on atheists or other believers. Cworb then wrote, “Right. So, secularism is the solution to that particular problem, not atheism.” I agree with that statement, because that’s exactly what I’d been saying all along: secularism is the solution. He then said that I’ve said that atheism is the solution to theocracy, but I never have. I always said secularism, but I also said we must normalize atheism, for if a group is discriminated against, it’s not a free nation.
Secularism is the way to equality
The conversation with Cworb now led to bigotry as the topic, rather than secularism as before. In response to my saying a nation cannot be considered to be truly free if any group is discriminated against, he wrote that as long as atheists are not legally oppressed by another religion, people can judge them and the nation is still free.
I let slip that he called atheism a religion, even though atheism is only the rejection of theistic worldviews and not a worldview itself. But I wrote that if he thinks America is a free nation, I feel sorry for him, and I included the image included to the right, in which I state that religion DOES legally oppress many groups of people, including atheists. He then wrote that the nation isn’t free and he should’ve written “would be a free nation” instead of “is a free nation”, but didn’t have the characters.
He wrote that if I want to oppose discrimination, I should just plainly oppose discrimination and needn’t talk about normalizing atheism. I find this to be a very peculiar argument, as if I can oppose discrimination, but not specifically discrimination against atheists. He wondered what normalizing atheism has to do with opposing discrimination. I find this odd, as I explained it plenty of times, including in “Let’s get secular”:
I can imagine that a theist might perceive it as a threat that we’re trying to normalize atheism. What exactly is it we’re trying to do? Are we looking to eradicate all religion? Well, both yes and no. Mostly no. Right now, atheists just want to stop being persecuted, shunned by family and friends, denied jobs, and dehumanized privately, publically, and politically; atheists just want equality, which really isn’t much to ask for. Normalize atheism, because atheists come in all sizes, shapes, and colors and are normal people, for better and worse.
From "Let's get secular" (November 16, 2014).
I also responded that to normalize atheism has to do with opposing discrimination against atheists, because atheists are considered abnormal and therefore discriminated against, so we must make being an atheist something that’s normal. This is when Cworb’s confusion become clearer, as he asked me if I meant that making atheism more widespread is a more effective solution to stopping discrimination than simply opposing and attempting to stop discrimination itself.
As I thought was pretty clear, to normalize atheism isn’t about making atheism the standard; it’s about making it something that’s normal, just like it’s normal to be a theist. Personally, I think believing in magic shouldn’t be normal, but what normalizing atheism is about is to achieve equality for people with different beliefs, and more specifically for those with a disbelief in various beliefs. To normalize atheism isn’t about making atheism more widespread; it’s about teaching people that atheists are normal people. Even though I think believing in magic shouldn’t be normal, no one should be discriminated against for their belief in it or their disbelief.
Cworb finally understood and said he doesn’t have a problem with it if that’s what it means, though he questioned the use of the word “normalize”. I can understand why a misunderstanding could arise from this, but it was pretty clear in my blog post that normalizing atheism didn’t mean that atheism should replace theism, even though that should be a greater goal for humankind, as I’ll write about soon.
While I cannot say what it means for everyone, I can say what it means to me: to normalize atheism means to make atheism just as normal as theism; it means equality for atheists and theists.
Most of this conversation was a misunderstanding on his part, but one thing I do not agree with is his saying that one should simply oppose discrimination. I think this is a naive thing to say, as one cannot simply oppose discrimination as a concept and then everything is magically fine. This is because there are many types of discrimination.
There aren’t just people who are bigoted and people who are not, and if we just oppose the bigots, everything will be fine; there are people who are bigoted toward different things, different groups of people. The way to eradicate bigotry is then to spread knowledge about all different kinds of bigotry, not just bigotry in and of itself. Bigotry must be fought on all fronts: to stop discrimination of LGBT, we must spread information about LGBT; to stop discrimination of races, we must spread information about races; and to stop discrimination of atheists, we must spread information about atheists. We must spread knowledge about different prejudices.
I am pushing for atheism
I will end this blog post by briefly discussing Cworb’s saying we mustn’t push for atheism. In the sense of freedom, one cannot force another to believe one way or another. In fact, one cannot believe or disbelieve just because one is forced; it is a subconscious process of being convinced, sometimes coupled with a subconscious desire to believe in one way over another. So I have never and will never suggest that we force atheism on anyone.
However, we must work toward convincing people of the truth that no metaphysical claims hold any merit. We must work toward convincing people that science and logic make much better cases than blind faith and bad philosophy. Beliefs should only be respected to a point, and this point is that we allow individuals to hold them, but we do not teach them in school or use them to make policy decisions. I respect the right for people to believe the Earth is flat, but it would be wrong to let this belief dictate society in any way; it’s the same with any unfounded claim, like all religions.
This is why secularism must be enforced; the world must be run with reason, logic, facts, and objectivity, not personal beliefs with nothing to substantiate them. This is also why we must push for atheism, even though we do not enforce it; theists are wrong about their blind faith, and it’s in their best interest, and for the greater good of humanity, that they wake up.