President’s Column: Atheism Plus Humanism
By August Berkshire
When we began as the Twin Cities Chapter of American Atheists in 1984, and when we became Minnesota Atheists in 1991, we chose the word “Atheists” for three reasons. First, it is an accurate description of who we are. Second, we did not want to choose a more euphemistic word, such as “freethinker” because, in defining it, we would eventually have to admit we were atheists. We felt it was far better to start off with the truth than to hide behind another word. And finally, we chose “Atheists” because it was inclusive. For example, you could belong to any political party and still be an atheist.
As atheists, we expose the weaknesses of pro-god arguments. As part of this, we reject “supernatural” “revelation,” since it has been shown to be a failure, and accept the scientific method as the best means that humans have yet devised to understand reality. We reject “revealed” ethics in favor of naturalistic ethics based on empathy and consequences.
We also support separation of state and church. Although it is possible to be an atheist and not mind theocracy, the idea that “religion is good for society even though I personally don’t need it” seems a bit hypocritical. Moreover, history has shown that the best way to preserve the rights of both theists and atheists is to have separation of state and church.
We oppose instances where government is commandeered to promote a purely religious agenda, such as government-led or -endorsed prayer in public schools, creationism in public school science classrooms, and religious monuments on government property.
We also examine things such as civil same-sex marriage and find there are no valid secular arguments against it, only spurious religious arguments, so we have become champions of equal rights for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transsexuals. The same holds true for doctor-assisted, euthanasia (with appropriate safeguards that the decision is rational and voluntary).
From there we have decided to make what I consider to be the one exception to atheism and separation of state and church by supporting the pro-choice position on abortion. Other state-church separation groups, such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) and the Secular Coalition for America (SCA), recognize that abortion is not strictly a state-church issue and have not taken a stance on it – even though there is no more staunch a feminist in the world than FFRF co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor. The reason we have taken a pro-choice position is that we think the secular pro-choice arguments outweigh the secular (and religious) anti-choice arguments. Moreover, opposition to a woman’s right to choose is almost entirely religious.
Our motto has always been “Positive Atheism in Action,” and by this we mean that we do not simply critique god-ideas but we derive a secular morality from our atheism and use it to try to make the world a better place. In this we are no different than secular humanists or the newly coined term “Atheism Plus.” But it’s not always easy deciding what the secular ethical position should be.
Recently, two of our members approached us with the suggestion that we examine the pro-vegetarian position at one of our monthly meetings. This is not a state-church issue, but, personally, I can see a connection to science, health, the environment, and secular morality – things most of us are very much interested in. Other members of our board disagree that this is an appropriate subject for one of our main monthly meetings and believe it should instead be the focus of a Meetup.
What about human-made global warming? While we can accept it as a scientific fact, to what extent should we spend money on reducing greenhouse gasses vs. spending money adapting to a warmer climate?
Gun control? Legalizing and regulating currently illegal drugs? Legalizing prostitution? Genetically modified food? Nuclear energy? Voter Photo ID? While I think all of these subjects would make thought-provoking Meetups, should Minnesota Atheists take official positions on any of them?
As a 501(c)3 tax-exempt, nonprofit organization, we are prohibited from supporting or opposing political candidates – though there are some we would certainly oppose if we could, due to their heavily pro-theocracy positions. Neither do we support or oppose any political parties. We have members who call themselves Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Greens, Libertarians, Socialists, and Communists. There is even a new National Atheist Party, and we take no position on that either. All we ask is that whichever political party you support, please do what you can to get them to recognize the equal citizenship of all Americans and to support separation of state and church.
Ultimately, Minnesota Atheists belongs to its members, not to the president, not to the board. We’d like to hear from you as to what issues you think we should discuss at one of our monthly meetings and what issues you think rise to the level that we as an organization should officially support or oppose them.
To review the current Minnesota Atheists policy positions, go to mnatheists.org/information/public-policy-positions. To respond to this column, please contact a Board member (see page 2). Or, send a letter to the editor to James Zimmerman at firstname.lastname@example.org, or mail to Minnesota Atheists, PO Box 120304, New Brighton, MN 55112. Or, speak up at one of our business meeting that precede our regular monthly meetings (contact our chair Heather Hegi at email@example.com if you’d like an official spot on the agenda). Or, attend one of our monthly Board meetings on the third Wednesday of the month (all members are always welcome).