I don’t believe in the existence of any gods. So, call me atheist if you want to. It’s an accurate description as far as it goes… which isn’t very far. I don’t center my life around what I don’t believe.
One of the things that is very important to me, however, is the Constitution of the United States of America. I don’t think that it’s a perfect document, but I’m a big fan of many of its core concepts, including the separation of church state.
It’s because I value the separation of the church and state that I can’t support the National Atheist Party.
The National Atheist Party has been in the initial stages of formation this year. It’s a genuine grassroots movement, and it’s doing all right as grassroots movements go, having secured representatives in 29 states and the District of Columbia. (If you’re interested, they’re still looking for representatives for the following states: Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming)
The creators of the National Atheist Party say that they were moved to create their alternative political party as a response to “religious fanatics” who have used their positions in government to marginalize atheists, putting atheists in a lower legal class of citizens than believers in theistic religions. I agree that the abuse of political power by religious zealots to promote their own beliefs in violation of the separation of church and state is a serious problem, but it’s for that same reason that I believe that the creation of the National Atheist Party is unwise.
The separation of church and state isn’t just a creation of the First Amendment. It also has its roots in the original body of the Constitution. In Article VI, the Constitution declares that there shall be no religious test for public office. The National Atheist Party shows disrespect for this core principle within the Constitution by creating a religious test in its own membership – for atheists, and those who support atheists, only.
I would no sooner vote for atheist candidates who asked me to vote for them because they are atheists than I would vote for Christian candidates who asked me to vote for them because they are Christians. Politicians have the right to be individually informed by their ideas about religion, and they even have the right to organize themselves into caucuses and political parties on the basis of religion. However, such efforts tend to lead to attempts to pass laws that promote the beliefs and practices of politicians’ own particular religions, and that’s unconstitutional.
I don’t want to belong to a political party that tries to spread any idea about any religion, whether accepting of religion or negating religion. I would much rather support a political party that was wise enough simply to stay out of the area of religious beliefs, and only go so far as to support the freedom from religious establishment that’s in the Constitution. A Separation of Church and State Party would be a fine idea. The National Atheist Party, however, is merely the mirror image of the theocratic politicians it opposes.
In its political platform, the National Atheist Party has a collection of great ideas. As far as I can see, they’re liberal ideas, and most of them have absolutely nothing to do with the atheist identity.
There is a need in the United States for a solid liberal political party (rather than the center-right Democrats or the Marxist-conspiracy-theorist Greens), so why couldn’t the people behind the National Atheist Party simply have joined with others to organize such an effort? My best guess is that the atheists behind the National Atheist Party would prefer not to work with Christians or members of other religions.
That distaste will be a limiting factor for the National Atheist Party. Atheists make up somewhere between 10 and 15 percent of the population of the United States, but most of these atheists are not enthusiasts about atheism. Most atheist Americans simply don’t believe in gods, and want to move on from there. They don’t want zealots to be allowed to promote religious discrimination, but neither do they want to isolate themselves from their neighbors and colleagues who happen to believe in gods. They don’t want to be primarily identified as atheists, because they’ve moved on past theistic religion to the extent that they can let go of their need to react to religious power plays. They’re principled in their support of the separation of church and state, but they’re not going to allow themselves to be provoked into anger.
This silent, nonreactive majority of atheist Americans won’t join the National Atheist Party. That leaves the National Atheist Party with a tiny portion of the population of the United States to work with. The National Atheist Party can’t succeed in putting any politicians in elected office in these conditions, and so, the National Atheist Party will succeed only in depicting atheists as an isolated, ineffective fringe.
Atheists pride themselves on rationality. So, let them be rational. Let them up come up with a smarter organization than the National Atheist Party.