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Machines Like Us

How to make atheism matter

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

If I were in charge of American atheism—which I am not, but then again who is?—I would ask myself the following questions: Why does poll after poll indicate that we are one of the most disliked groups in the United States? Why are there so few self-professed atheists among 535 congresspersons and senators? Why have all three branches of the federal government turned their backs on the vaunted mid-century policy of church/state separation? Why has atheism—a once formidable intellectual tradition—become such a “little idea” as R. Joseph Hoffmann memorably put it in an important recent essay?

As head atheist in charge I would first get my priorities straight: The intellectual crisis of atheism is actually far less severe than the political crisis. Pop atheists have certainly made atheism a small idea. Hoffmann himself emerges from the erudite and thoughtful Secular Humanist circle. Alongside that school there exists some truly excellent scholarly research about nonbelief.

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