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Sit Down and Shut Up, Or Not

Why active atheism? Why go out into the world proclaiming a lack of belief for all ears to hear? What difference does it make if people know I am an atheist or not? If I'm not trying to convert people (I'm not), why bother mentioning it? Why build a web site devoted to atheism? Why frequent atheist message boards? Why join and form organizations? Why donate money to the cause of atheism? Why read books about atheism? For that matter, why are there books about atheism? Why try to explain about atheism to people who just cannot share my view? Why not just sit down, shut up, and let the world roll along?

We deserve a sense of communityThere are many questions there, but they all really boil down to the same one. Why do I work for atheism? I'm not making any money. I'm probably not going to change the world. But many others and I persist in doing it anyway.

There is one very simple reason for this. I believe in myself. I believe in the ability of the human race to change. I believe that knowledge and acceptance are the keys to the future of American society. For that matter, I believe those things are the future of human society in general. Knowledge and acceptance of what, you might ask. It is that which is different which most frightens people. That which is different, and therefore easily vilified, diminished, and derided.

Atheism is different. Although it has existed for centuries, it is little known and understood by the majority of today's people. So misunderstood is this philosophical stand, in fact, that many people associate atheism solely with communism and cannot envision the two separately. Those in the know realize that communism may have used atheism, but atheism is not ideologically dependent on communism. They did not invent atheism they just borrowed it.

In today's American society, the majority of the population will sit back complacently and tell you that Christian men founded the United States of America as a Christian nation. They will also say that America is a Christian nation today. In fact, deistic men were crucial in the founding of the U.S. of A. as the first nation with a separation between church and state. And today, it has people of nearly all religious denominations, and of none at all.

This is one of the reasons that we have atheistic activists: to correct public perceptions that belittle the contributions of non-Christian Americans, and to assert our place as members of the American society. Thomas Jefferson would not appreciate being described as a Christian, so we must speak for him. Nor would he would he appreciate a sentiment often heard today, which is "The constitution guarantees freedom of religion, not freedom from religion."

Jefferson, of course, is the man who coined the idea of a wall of separation between church and state. There are factions in today's America who would breach, or even abolish this wall. This is another reason we must have atheist activists. We must join with others to protect everyone's religious freedom. Mormons, Baptists, and Catholics have brought some of the largest "get religion out of government" cases. We must join our voices with these people who believe in freedom of and from religion, so that everyone is represented.

Finally, one of the best reasons for atheist activism, especially the education brand that I specialize in, is the public perception and understanding of atheism. Some people believe that atheists are wicked, immoral, or ignorant. Others believe that atheists are devil-worshippers, or that we are against society and the religious. A good part of the duty of the atheist activist is what can rightly be considered public relations. It is necessary for our acceptance, as a part of society that people be aware of who and what we are.

Atheists also have a duty to each other. What people of a religious persuasion get in church, atheists must give each other. We deserve a sense of community. Likewise, we need a sense of companionship with those of a like mind. This is part of the purpose of forming and joining atheist organizations. This is also a good portion of the reason that we have web sites, message boards, and mailing lists. They allow us to exchange thoughts and ideas with atheists all across the nation and the world. Through this we can know that we are not alone. Through this we can share our trials, and comfort others who go through the same.

So we see that it is not possible for atheists to simply sit down and shut up. In fact, it is necessary for our place in society, and as people, to stand up and speak out. Without this presence in the world, no one can know us. No one would be able to understand us. And we would be unable to influence the world around us.

Kim Shultz
November 15, 2000


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