2016 Will Be Even Better
By William Cooney
Judging by the continued expansion of secularism here in the United States, it’s safe to say that 2015 was a good year and that 2016 will be an even better one. It may be hard to believe because the religious zealots—especially in the Republican Party—seem to be soaking up all the oxygen in the popular media atmosphere. Let’s face it, controversy sells. Let’s not forget, however, that what’s popular isn’t always what’s best.
Though secular ideas are gaining traction throughout much of the world, it often comes at a high price: atheist bloggers have been hacked to death for criticizing religion and promoting secularism in Bangladesh; Islamic extremists continue to terrorize Western standards of free thought and expression in Europe; and recent attacks in the US suggest that home-grown sympathy for radical Islam may be taking hold here. Despite these troublesome trends, the arc of this moral universe is indeed bending toward justice—to steal a phrase from Martin Luther King Jr. Enlightened principals, including even entrenched adversaries such as Russia and the US, agree that however complex the causes of this uprising may be, terrorism is not justified.
This doesn’t mean that Russia and the US should be let off the hook for instigating strife in the Middle East. George W. Bush and his neoconservative allies have much to answer for when it comes to the caustic cult of exporting democracy by force of arms; President Obama has much explaining to do for his profligate, and sometimes extra judicial, use of drones; and Vladimir Putin needs to decide whether Syria’s Bashar al Assad is a leader truly worth defending in this fight.
What has all this to do with the struggles of atheists you ask? Much, to be sure. Religious sectarianism is at the center of so much of the world’s unrest. But isn’t it also political? It may be, but throughout much of the world, politics and religion are inextricably linked. Israel is not just a secular state in the modern meaning; it is also a religious state. Many of the Middle Eastern states’ constitutions place God—or Allah—at the zenith of both social and governing order. This is precisely why separating church and state is so important. Keeping each free from the influence of the other is the best way to protect the integrity and viability of both. The late Christopher Hitchens offered some poignant analysis when he noted the irony of some of today’s Americans longing for the very thing they were fleeing when our country was founded: religious persecution.
The battle over whether our government’s founding was religious or secular is a battle worth having. It’s funny, but for a supposedly free country it’s amazing just how little freedom some of those who are not Christian enjoy. The Religious Right in America does not want freedom for everyone; they want the continued cultural dominance of their own Christian heritage. It is up to us atheists to lead the assault on this dangerous and tyrannical vision. Ironically, it is the secular perspective that is more conducive to true religious freedom. 2016 will no doubt be even better than 2015 for the cause of atheism.