I’m clearly not the most politically active person, especially when I reveal that I haven’t voted in 2 elections, once for Bush/Kerry, the other Obama/McCain. This doesn’t mean I don’t take action in more indirect ways for issues I feel strongly about, such as petitioning, writing letters to the editor and blogging about solutions to policies about gay marriage and such. But I’ve always felt slightly out of place as an atheist amongst what is a demographically Christian country, the affiliations divided between Democrat, Republican and Libertarian, amongst the other smaller parties that can field candidates. Troy Boyle, out of Kentucky, was inspired by Richard Dawkins’ talking about why atheists weren’t more politically active in an interview. And so he created what was first called the Freethought Party on Facebook. The group wasn’t as popular, but the interest intensified when the name was changed to the National Atheist Party. The basic idea is that it stands for a secular America which does not favor even atheism, so as not to seem partial to nonbelievers. No one group gets more say than another so the government treats all groups as equally as possible. I can definitely get behind this group, especially with its platform as of now very much in line with my own political policies. They’re for gay marriage, abortion rights, stricter gun control, legalizing marijuana, reforming immigration policy and green energy development, amongst other likely issues, such as foreign policy. There are some difficulties that exist with the group, one of them being the name, which is less important, another being the group’s relative political influence in the country. But there are definitely good points to this sort of party’s existence in what has become a very theologically heavy climate for politicians and policymaking.
The name of the group is slightly problematic in the association people have with the term atheist. I suppose it’s a better choice in the long run than National Secularist Party, since secularism is touted even more by many politically motivated preachers as the ultimate enemy, so atheism is probably a lesser evil to portray in a positive light to a population that distrusts secularism even if they also ironically support it in their own ways with a selective separation of church and state. There’s also a difficulty that even if atheism becomes acceptable to the extent of other worldviews, there’s a difficulty with presenting a campaign for an atheist candidate, even at lower levels, such as mayor or governor. It’s one thing to not talk about it and use the platform previously described, but making your atheism something that compels people to vote for you would be more difficult on the grounds that people may never trust atheists enough to vote for them. This goes back to the old stereotypes about atheists not being trustworthy and thus not even accepted as witnesses in court for a time in the U.K. That kind of discrimination doesn’t exist, but the stigma of being an atheist in the context of politics still remains and running under the National Atheist Party ticket might seem obnoxious to some atheists, since it’s making a big deal of your position on the existence of God as opposed to your political persuasion that indirectly relates to your nonbelief. Therein lies the biggest criticism of the idea from within the atheist community, such as it is; when you make the focal point of your politics the fact that you’re an atheist, it smacks of the same issues that many Republican candidates have brought up as of late. When Bachmann, Cain or Huckabee appealed to people by using their faith, it seemed disingenuous and underhanded, so atheists appealing to other nonbelievers to vote them because they share skepticism would be a potential abuse and interpretation of their intent in campaigning. But the reasoning for most of the policies doesn’t require that you be an atheist, strictly speaking, so people can associate with it because they agree with the platform, not because they’re an atheist. The name is due to most of the people in it happening to be atheists and starting from an atheist perspective of secularism, which is not absolutely foreign to religious people, strictly speaking. So one doesn’t have to feel excluded, but I can understand if people decide to vote independent because they hold more unique political positions than the NAP does, which is admittedly a bit more left leaning than you’d expect. This might isolate more conservative atheists, but they could structure their own platform in an alternate secular party if they felt compelled to. Of course, setting up any candidate for election can’t happen until the group is permitted to do so. The best they can do now is advocate for issues and put money into that, but it’s at least a step up from not having any real representative party for atheists. There will always be those that prefer to be Independent Party instead of allying with the National Atheist Party for one reason or another, but I can see this developing some popularity on a state level, even if it never grows to the national level for a presidential candidate.
This is not to say there isn’t a silver lining to what seems a bleak issue. Atheism being represented politically in any sense is a benefit to the reputation of atheists as good, lawful, and most importantly, patriotic Americans. American Atheists did it with their 4th of July planecampaign, so why shouldn’t there be a party that advocates policy changes on the basis of secularism? It certainly doesn’t advocate atheism as a state religion, but neutrality to all positions of religion in terms of decisions that affect all people, religious or not. And the benefit of being able to put money behind big issues like green energy and gay marriage is something that atheists should want to do in and of itself, even if there is the association of atheism on a superficial level. Being able to affect political change and also spread awareness of atheism in the process is killing two birds with one stone. That’s not to say there isn’t a delicate balance here. One shouldn’t confuse advocating atheism and secularism in other venues with supporting political policy that affects believers as well as nonbelievers. We should be considerate of believers’ first amendment rights as well, but only within reason. There shouldn’t be favoritism or prejudice towards nonbelievers or believers respectively. That’s the main goal in all this, especially as advocating a fair secularism.
Atheism being represented politically, even if it’s just for policy issues instead of candidate support at the start, is a huge step forward from being subsumed into other parties or taking the radical independent step. Being part of a group of like minded individuals united by secularism as a political platform of is invigorating. The NAP may never be able to sponsor candidates, or at least not on the level of presidential or house representatives, but perhaps mayor or gubernatorial level. Basing a party around atheism might be a bit tricky. If the party was the National Secularist Party, it would be clearer, but there may be more opposition on the grounds of a vernacular understanding of what secularism is. And there’s a potential for abuse that is probably not the case for the NAP at present in terms of discrimination against believers, but the mere possibility does not mean we should reject the party outright. The name is one thing, but the basic intent of the people involved should be the primary concern. If you agree with them more than Democrats or Republicans, then you could associate with them. If you’re a believer, they don’t care, but I can understand if you don’t feel accepted. Independent party candidates can suffice as well in their own way. What’s key is creating political diversity in an atmosphere that is feeling a bit too similar on all fronts, from Ron Paul’s more libertarian Republicanism to even Barack Obama’s use of faith as a point to rally votes. You don’t need belief in God to motivate people to care about politics, just belief in humanity. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.