President’s Column – “Positive Atheism”
By Bjorn Watland
Minnesota Atheists is the state’s largest and most active atheist organization. How did we get to be that way? Through the efforts of founding members, such as Shirley Moll, Steve Petersen and August Berkshire, our organization is continually fulfilling its mission to provide a welcoming community for atheists, educate the public about atheism, and support the separation of state and church. We are strong promoters of ‘Positive Atheism,’ which means different things to different people. To me, I see Positive Atheism as advocating several things.
The first is honesty and openness. Since we do not believe in any gods, we must rely on ourselves to resolve issues great and small. We cannot appeal to the heavens to feed the hungry, or to ease the mind of someone we have wronged. We must do so ourselves. With Minnesota Atheists, I have found members having a good sense of integrity. With people like that, it is easy to disagree respectfully and know where someone stands.
The second is that atheism, as a unique worldview, should be respected. While atheists differ on social issues, a person’s lack of belief in a god or gods should not affect how others consider his or her opinions. Lately, there has been more effort to include atheists in interfaith dialog panel discussions and atheists’ opinions are being heard regarding social and ethical issues. Minnesota Atheists has been proud to participate in these efforts.
The third is to stand our ground and let people know we are atheists. This does not mean being indiscriminately anti-religious, but rather, voicing our opinions on specific issues. Through respectful dialog, we can challenge any organization which seeks to limit the separation of state and church or seeks to harm others simply because they are atheists. We focus on protecting our rights and building a community, rather than seeking fights about the existence of God, because we have found we can make a larger difference this way. If an organization seeks a friendly theological debate, we won’t object; we think that our arguments based on truth and evidence stand strong, but our energy is better spent in other ways.
We should not be ashamed or be afraid to admit we are atheists. As president of Minnesota Atheists, I will continue to work to make our organization unnecessary in society. That may never happen, but it is my goal. When atheists don’t feel like a minority, when their opinions are respected, and when religious intrusions into our government and society are no longer problems, Minnesota Atheists will have no purpose. Until that day, I will stand with you.