Before I start on my rant, I do want to say that I admire and respect those who took the initiative to take on such a major venture that is, in my opinion, a historic turning point.
It is a necessary and important step.
Kudos to them, even if I don’t agree with the name of the party.
Now, I expect that the name of this new American Political Party (not the creation of it) may be controversial amongst atheists for various reasons.
As soon as I read the email announcing this new development at least one of those reasons crossed my mind as well.
Why call oneself an “atheist” party? I don’t get it.
Atheism is nothing more or less than a lack of belief in gods. There is no doctrine or belief system associated with atheism.
Not that I haven’t had numerous spats with atheists who would claim otherwise, but frankly their claims are easily refuted because they fly in the face of reality and sometimes include a rather narrow minded and bigoted approach to what they consider to be an atheist.
Sorry folks, New Agers who don’t hold god beliefs are atheists whether we like it or not or whether we agree with them or not. Certain forms of the Buddhist religion are also atheistic. So, even religions can be atheistic.
There are, on the other hand, atheistic belief systems which currently exist and which are advocated and supported by many (not all) atheists.
Belief systems like the FreeThinkers and the Humanists.
So, why not call themselves the FreeThinkers and Humanist Party or the Secularist Party?
Here’s their explanation:
We are the “atheist” party for several reasons.
The founders of the party (Troy Boyle and Mark Smith) are atheists.
We know that there is a bad connotation to the word, and we want to reclaim the word and make it a positive connotation. Much like the African-American activists of the 50s did with “negro.” They don’t use it now, but it was a necessary first step.
Humanist and Secularist are terms that the public doesn’t understand very well.
Religious people do not call secularists, secularists. They call secularists “atheists.” So you are one whether you want to claim the label or not. When 80% of the population calls you an atheist, you should own up to it and depower them, not scurry to find some other less castigated term, in the hopes of escaping the stigma. As far as Christianity and all other Abrahamic faiths are concerned, Atheists, Humanists, Secularists, Pantheists and Pagans are all going to Hell.
Now, while I understand the sentiment, I disagree that these are good reasons to attribute a political philosophy to the term atheism.
And here’s why.
Just because theists don’t understand what a Secularist, FreeThinker, or Humanist is and just because theists think that all Secularists, FreeThinkers and Humanists are atheists doesn’t mean that we should pander to their ignorance. This would be the perfect opportunity to educate them.
Presumably, since they’re the National Atheist Party they are then going to include and represent all atheists including New Agers and those Buddhist and other religions which are atheistic as well as atheists who are politically in the left, right, middle, libertarian, etc.
Apparently not. (And I agree that it would be impossible to do)
From their web site:
The National Atheist Party is open to people of all races, sexes and sexual orientations, and cultures. We are committed to a government free of superstition and bias and are guided by principles of equal opportunity, recognition of merit, and economic responsibility.
So, since they want a government free of superstition, the New Agers, Buddhists and Jains are on the outs here.
Not a problem for me since I also want a government free of superstition. However, it does mean that they aren’t representing all atheists.
From their web site:
The National Atheist Party is a diverse, all inclusive, progressive, secular political movement and a response to the lack of representation for all free thinking people who are legal, law abiding citizens of the United States.
Here, they identify themselves as representing “free thinking” people, so now we have another exclusion. Atheists who are not FreeThinkers are apparently not included. Are FreeThinker theists included? (Yes they exist).
Again, not a problem for me since I’m a FreeThinker and an atheist. However, as I stated before, it does mean that they aren’t representing all atheists or all FreeThinkers.
The National Atheist Party is only representing the political viewpoints of the current members of the NAP and their existing policy is based on their political viewpoints. This, of course, effectively excludes those atheists who hold different viewpoints.
While I agree with most of what they say and while a democratically based policy is (or should be) standard practice in any political party and a good thing generally speaking, it does mean that they are not representing all atheists and may not even be representing the majority of atheists.
And, lastly from their web site:
We support the separation of church and state, and seek to ensure its strictest interpretation.
This last point is probably the only point that I can see all atheists (and many theists) agreeing on so if this was the only plank in the platform the argument could be made that they are representing all atheists who believe in secularism. In this case, the name National Atheist Party might work.
Now, just to be clear. I’m not saying that atheists shouldn’t organize. Atheist Nexus represents such an organization and I support them wholeheartedly.
I am saying that a political party can’t represent all atheists because we come from way too broad a spectrum of belief systems and the name, National Atheist Party, implies such representation.
What we could really use, and not just in the US, are Political Action Committee Lobby groups around the world which defend the rights of all atheists everywhere. Particularly in countries where atheists are oppressed and threatened with death or imprisonment for their beliefs like Islamic Theocracies.
All of this said, I do actually understand why the Americans would come up with such a political party given the religious extremism that is thrown in their face daily.
So, I’m not unsympathetic to this move. I just think it would have been better to do it differently or at least give the party a different name.
Call the party, The American Secularist Party or The Secularist FreeThinkers Party and start an AAPAC (American Atheist Political Action Committee).
The AAPAC would accomplish everything the founders of the National Atheist Party want including taking back the word atheist and giving it a positive connotation.
The name of the political party would be more representative of what it actually is.
Just some thoughts.
I still wish them well though and they’ll certainly get my public support despite my disagreement with their name. And if I was an American I'd probably join them.
Best wishes to them.