I have often felt overwhelmed by the divergence of “non-religious” groups out there. On the surface it seems ironic that “not” being something would cause the formation of any group at all. After all, being “non-religious” in a predominantly religious society suggests some degree of not being a joiner. We are individuals first and foremost and we don’t want an authoritarian body telling us what to think or do.
That being said, I have no problem joining in with a collective cause when I agree with it on my own terms. Of course, I can not speak for the vast diaspora of “non-religious” persons with its divergent and often contradictory interests.
No doubt, there is an important place for the distinct efforts of the Secular Coalition for America, Americans United for The Separation of Church and State, and The Godless Americans Political Action Committee as platforms for secular activism. Also, The American Humanist Association, The Ethical Culture Society, American Atheists, The Freedom from Religion Foundation, The Skeptics Society, The Atheist Alliance, etc. provide interested persons with valuable community to the degree that interested persons find value in them. Without any interest in one particular organization dominating another, I think that there is plenty of room for all of the ones I named. Did I leave anyone out? I think that it may be best that way. After all, we are not all the same.
What divergent sorts of interests might “non-religious” persons have? I have at least three.
1. In the case of humanism I find social value in associating with persons of common humanistic interests. This principle applies across the broad spectrum of my other interests, so why shouldn’t it apply to humanism? Since humanism is a positive philosophy, as opposed to atheism, it is a philosophical interest that can be shared. I don’t think that this point necessarily applies to atheism or antitheism, accept to the degree that one may feel these ideas relate to a humanism or some other positive philosophical stance.
2. There are secular causes associated with being non-religious. These are matters of civic importance in the sense that non-religious persons need to work together politically if they are to thrive unsuppressed. This point applies as much to religious minority groups as much as it does to non-religious persons.
3. Humanism embodies ethical concern for all people. It has gone hand in hand with the promotion of human rights and civil liberties for decades. Indeed, humanism is the most rational and true form of humanitarianism. If we wish well for the world and others it is only natural that we feel compelled to promote humanistic ideas socially.
Keeping these three points in mind, one can’t help noticing connections. between them I don’t think it is realistic to expect all non-religious persons to see this, nor should we try to force the horse to drink the water. But, I think that CFI seems to recognize it. I also like the fact that CFI does not require the wearing of a particular label. What do CFI people call themselves? Inquirers? Non-religious persons often disagree about a great deal, and that’s OK as far as I’m concerned. In fact, I think that it’s good. Absolute freedom of inquiry is the goal and this includes the freedom to criticize one another. Tolerance is key. Respecting the right of individuals to form their own conclusions is not the same thing as respecting the ideas that they embrace, however sacred.
CFI may not be a “big money” label, but I think that it is a good one and contributes an essential component to “the cause.” Let people call themselves atheists, brights, freethinkers, humanists, secular humanists, skeptics, or whatever else they see fit. (I would particularly like The Council for Secular Humanism to retain some degree of independence from CFI.) The Center for Inquiry can be most effective as an umbrella by retaining its broadness as it is and continuing to grow. As it is currently going, it does not devour other groups but enhances and encourages them. Such an umbrella is desperately needed, not as a vehicle to provide leadership but as a tool that fosters cooperation.
Someone made a point, in another thread on this forum, about how a blockbuster film with a “funky atheist” could be the best way to promote atheism. Call me crazy, but I really do think that this is the true place where a “big money” reputation comes from. Christian fundamentalists have keyed into this reality with their megachurches, rock bands and left behind video games. All it would take to boost CFI involvement, exponentially, would be one heavy FX action thriller starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie as CFI affiliate genius kung fu ex-green berets combating Christian fundamentalist terrorists with a lunatic plot to bring on a nuclear apocalypse.