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Friendly Atheist Forums • View topic - Choosing our battles

Choosing our battles

Choosing our battles

Postby JulietEcho on 15 Jun 2009 9:55 am

For those of us who are not only atheists, but also activists (to the extent that we'll perhaps donate money or time, write letters, sign petitions, etc.) who work towards repairing the separation of church and state, it's easy to become overwhelmed with potential "battles" to fight.

There are religious rituals that are still part of our highest government offices in the US - swearing oaths on the Bible, praying before opening sessions of the Supreme Court, the National Day of Prayer, the "Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, the "In God We Trust" on federal currency, etc. Other countries, like Canada and England, are more secular in many ways than the US, but don't technically have separation of church and state at all.

One of Hemant's recent posts - about prayers on police websites and at their headquarters - brought up the necessity of "choosing our battles" wisely. While atheists are slowly becoming a larger and larger sub-set of the population, we still don't have the money, time, or (most importantly) political capital and public goodwill that's necessary to fight injustices.

Some argue that the "little" violations of church and state are what desensitize people to the big ones, and that if religion is allowed to seep into the cracks in local government and everyday life, the population will remain apathetic about the ways in which it invades federal government and policy.

Others argue that it's more important to score big, public victories that will make it into the media and send a message to those who continue to inject religion into government on a smaller scale.

There are still others who seem to judge on a case-by-case basis whether a battle is worth fighting. They might find different factors relevant to the decision: Where is the problem, geographically? What sort of allies can we expect? Who will fight our efforts? How will this help or hurt our public image?

How do you think that we, as atheist activists, should choose our battles?
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Re: Choosing our battles

Postby Huxley on 15 Jun 2009 10:46 am

This is an almost exclusive American problem.

It has got to the stage that in England, should someone insist on saying grace before a meal, all the rest would look at them in a puzzled, annoyed manner.

Clearly religion, more clearly, Christian religion, is infesting secular activity in America. Although we have a state religion here, all it has done is to effect a continued move towards secular opinion. O'Reilly would have a stroke if he saw the way Europeans (Non muslim) conduct their religious lives. Is religion exclusively right wing in America ? or do liberals hold religious views?

Honestly, the thought of our Police forces, bowing their heads in prayer before going out on thier shift, would cause hilarity amongst their ranks. Most would just walk out.

So it's difficult to suggest a way to choose your battles in America. You might only hope for a gradual erosion of religious sensibilities and become proactive in that. First of all, you need to make religion an uncomfortable position and you must remember, the English have been creating that since the end of the Civil War in 1651! We have had time to adjust the religious view. America it seems, remains in its infancy with religion.

Do American Right wing Christians consider themselves the last bastion of Christianity?
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Re: Choosing our battles

Postby hoverFrog on 15 Jun 2009 11:07 am

I'm all for a zero tolerance policy on fighting religion. That or surrender entirely and let future generations grow bored with religion as we have in England.

By way of analogy imagine a culture rife with blatant sexism. Do you allow the occassional slap on the arse by the male boss? The pay discrepencies? Promotions passed over due to gender? Or do you fight each and every instance till the dinosaurs who are responsible for the institutional sexism are all gone.
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Re: Choosing our battles

Postby Neon Genesis on 15 Jun 2009 5:44 pm

I used to think that some things like having virginity scenes in capital buildings were no big deal and that there were more important battles to fight, but Dan Barker raised my awareness this past Christmas that these "little issues" can be just as important. For example, after Dan Barker was allowed to put up his atheist sign next to the virginity scene, other religions wanted to start putting up signs too, everyone from the Jews to the Phelps to even the Flying Spaghetti Monster and if I'm not mistaken, they eventually started running out of room. When the Phelps wanted to put a sign that said something about Santa Claus says you're going to hell or something like that, they finally decided enough was enough and that it's inappropriate for any religion to put up decorations in government buildings. The way I decide on whether or not something an important battle or a little issue is this. If it's ok for your typical fundamentalist to put up police prayer signs in their front lawns, then is it ok for the Westboro Baptists to put up their own signs? If you wouldn't allow the Westboro Baptists to put up such a sign, why should typical fundamentalists be allowed to? If typical fundamentalists are allowed to put up signs, why not the Wesbtoro Baptists? And as I pointed out in the friendly atheist blog, some Christians will always think atheists are whiny until we stop complaining and let them do whatever they want, so why care what they think? If popularity is more important than violating the constitution, then why not just go all the way and pretend to be a Christian?
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Re: Choosing our battles

Postby Chal on 15 Jun 2009 7:04 pm

Sun Tzu wrote:The victorious strategist seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory.
The Art of War should really be required reading, I think.

To say it another way, only fight the battles that you're going to win. Don't waste time and energy where you'll fail, even if it's a huge case. Take the easy victories, chip away at the enemy until even the strong points are weak enough to be taken.
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Re: Choosing our battles

Postby Huxley on 15 Jun 2009 7:41 pm

Sun Tzu's main victory was stating the bloody obvious.
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Re: Choosing our battles

Postby Chal on 15 Jun 2009 9:08 pm

And yet so many people get it wrong... :P

And actually, he gets into some rather esoteric details on spying and terrains and all that sort of stuff. The obvious stuff is just so much more quotable.
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Re: Choosing our battles

Postby JulietEcho on 17 Jun 2009 5:39 pm

Hemant asked this question on the blog today as well, and a comment made by someone else got me thinking about my own answer.

I think a high priority should be given to instances where citizens are forced to somehow positively acknowledge religious tenets (that a God exists, that prayer works, that a specific religion is correct, etc). If you have to sign something or speak something aloud that contradicts your religious beliefs (or lack thereof) as part of being a US citizen or partaking in US governmental services (public school, the police, the military, the courts), that's a battle I want to fight.

I'm considering joining the military, and I noticed, while I was at one of my local military offices, that the enlistment oath and officer's oath both end with "so help me God." I'm not in a position, personally, to fight a battle like that, but that's what big atheist organizations are for, right? Protecting the rights of non-believers so they aren't forced to essentially lie when they say our pledge or take oaths of office seems like a biggie to me.
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Re: Choosing our battles

Postby Huxley on 17 Jun 2009 6:25 pm

Meanwhile, from what I hear, when they find out you're an atheist, they'll have your ass in a sling.
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Re: Choosing our battles

Postby Neon Genesis on 17 Jun 2009 9:33 pm

SarahH wrote:I'm considering joining the military, and I noticed, while I was at one of my local military offices, that the enlistment oath and officer's oath both end with "so help me God."
I think they should change it so that you have to end the oath by saying "so say we all."
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Re: Choosing our battles

Postby keddaw on 18 Jun 2009 5:13 am

There should be a scale of battles that are worth fighting:

1. Things that affect people’s lives - faith based initiatives, circumcision etc.

2. Things that indoctrinate people, even subconsciously - pledge of allegiance*, teachers and subjects in school (teach the controversy!)

3. Things that allow religion into the public sphere - Ten Commandments in Texas, IGWT on the currency, national day of prayer, swearing on the Bible in court etc.

4. Tax exempt status for religious groups and other special treatment for religion and the religious.

*Pledging allegiance to a flag is stupid and unthinking. People should pledge allegiance to the Constitution and the Bill Of Rights, ideas are infinitely more important than symbols. Symbols represent everything I hate about religion, they obfuscate ideas and stop people critically reviewing those ideas. The flag also leads to the unthinking support of America and the government ("USA #1″ which isn’t true in any non-economic/military measure!)
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Re: Choosing our battles

Postby Huxley on 18 Jun 2009 7:10 am

Do you have to swear on the Bible in America? We dont have to here.

What happens if you want to swear on the Qu'ran?
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Re: Choosing our battles

Postby keddaw on 18 Jun 2009 7:30 am

Huxley wrote:Do you have to swear on the Bible in America? We dont have to here. What happens if you want to swear on the Qu'ran?
I actually think you can swear on any text you choose (not necessarily religious), but that's not the point... Your word should be enough without having to have a book of mumbo-jumbo under your hand to make people think you are telling the truth.
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Re: Choosing our battles

Postby gschuette on 18 Jun 2009 9:01 am

I was going to post part of this in the Children and Atheism section.

I don't think that the neutral environment is atheist. I think that the neutral environment is deism. I think this is why people, children included, have a sense of something bigger than themselves. I don't think it is until you can talk yourself out of that, that atheism kicks in.

The reason I posted that above here is because I think that have an atheistic government, which is essentially what is being asked for with the lack of any religious support, I don't think is constitutional. I think that a deistic government is constitutional. Pray to who you want, but with the understanding that it's there. I agree Atheism isn't a religion, then it doesn't fit into religious freedom. Let alone the fact that I think separation of church and state has been largely misstated as the complete disregard from both. Church and State separation was created for the church, not the state, and even when it was created I believe it was understood to be as a separation in the manner of a marriage can be separated. Not divorced, they still have some connection, there is still some relationship there.

So, I put this here simply because I don't think atheism is the neutral position for Children or Government.
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Re: Choosing our battles

Postby JulietEcho on 18 Jun 2009 9:33 am

gschuette wrote:I don't think that the neutral environment is atheist. I think that the neutral environment is deism. I think this is why people, children included, have a sense of something bigger than themselves. I don't think it is until you can talk yourself out of that, that atheism kicks in.
Are you equating "atheist" with "secular" here? Because no one is asking for an "atheist" government. I don't want the government saying "There is no God" anymore than I want them saying "In God We Trust." The point of a secular government is that they don't take a stance. They don't need to. Why on earth does our government need to mention God or atheism in order to function well?

No one should be put in a position, by their government, to passively or actively claim or submit to religious beliefs that aren't their own. Right now, some of the "battles" atheists and other activists who care about church/state separation must face are against deist slogans, such as "In God We Trust" and "Under God" that don't specify *which* god, but many others are against policies, slogans, prayers, etc. that acknowledge a specific God that answers prayers and watches over people and holds them to their oaths, etc. Deists don't believe in an interventionist God, so many of these practices and statements would put them in the same position as atheists.

Do you think that only the strictly Deist components of government-sponsored religion should stay in, and everything else done away with? Would you support abolishing the National Day of Prayer, all ritual prayers in government, specific references to the Bible and other religious texts, the practice of invoking God's name in oaths and pledges, etc? Because if you really think that a Deist-referencing government is the most fair, all of these things would be unfair under that system.
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Re: Choosing our battles

Postby wall0645 on 18 Jun 2009 9:44 am

Huxley wrote:What happens if you want to swear on the Qu'ran?
I'm not certain about exactly where (I believe it was in my home state of Minnesota), but I know somebody has been sworn in using the Qu'ran. Nothing happened :lol:
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Re: Choosing our battles

Postby JTorch on 18 Jun 2009 10:35 am

gschuette wrote:I don't think that the neutral environment is atheist. I think that the neutral environment is deism. I think this is why people, children included, have a sense of something bigger than themselves. I don't think it is until you can talk yourself out of that, that atheism kicks in.
I have never had a "sense of something bigger than myself". Except my parents when I was a child, I guess, but that's a far cry from deism. I've never had to "talk myself out of" anything.
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Re: Choosing our battles

Postby Jasen777 on 18 Jun 2009 11:01 am

Deism take some thought to work out also. If anything is natural it's probably a sort of rough animism.
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Re: Choosing our battles

Postby Neon Genesis on 18 Jun 2009 11:27 am

gschuette wrote: I agree Atheism isn't a religion, then it doesn't fit into religious freedom.
Ok, correct me if I'm wrong, but did you just say that atheists should not have freedoms?
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