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Why Bother?

In Defense of Activism
By Amanda Chesworth

A question posed to decaffeinated coffee drinkers and secular activists, alike.

In our increasingly complex society, where the rise in population has reached such a height that it has torn through the very fabric of the atmosphere that sustains it; where we have humbly accepted an insignificant and meaningless place within a universe that spans fifteen billion light years in distance; where an excess in information has created a wasteland of confusion among us and the white noise now registers at concert volume, deafening the sense and sensibility of all humanity, we might conclude that the voice of an activist is proportional to silence and the difference to be made within our complex society, is as negligible as the neutrino's mass.

Just as the collection of neutrinos may account for the dark matter that staves of the collapse of our universe, however, a group of activists may be responsible for rescuing a civilization from a similar fate.

The Apathy Among Us

Apathy and its sidekick, cynicism, may represent one of the greatest challenges to the Secular Movement. It is one of many obstacles, the Secular Student Alliance, hopes to address and overcome as it strives to advance the cause of science, reason, and free inquiry. Apathy exists for a number of reasons. We begin by exploring the variety of forms it takes in relation to the Secular Movement, challenging each, laying waste to the whole lot, and providing a new set of reasons for an active participation in the secular community. Consider it a pep rally of sorts, with an impressive list of cheerleaders from time immemorial.

Apathy - Reason One

The freethinker is notoriously independent in his or her thinking. He has developed for himself a rich and stimulating intellectual life that he enjoys in solitude. He navigates through reality by relying solely upon the rational faculties he has nurtured. To consider that he shares these characteristics with other like-minded individuals and that the collection of such minds would serve some greater purpose may either be insulting or distasteful to the lifestyle he has grown to appreciate. The simple acknowledgement that freethinkers of this kind exist may allow for some level or degree of participation on their part. Remember; no man is an island unto himself.

Apathy - Reason Two

Similar to reason one, adopting labels and joining a group of like-minded individuals can cause discomfort to the freethinker. Labels, or "ism"s, usually carry baggage, some of which may suffer from historical distortion or the intentional slander of an opposing group. A label also tends to restrict free thought, something we wish to enhance, not impede further. There is reason to be hesitant to adopt a description of ourselves that is said to be shared by countless others, who appear, and no doubt are, very different from ourselves. The Secular Movement recognizes and celebrates such diversity, however. Having no concrete definition, no set of doctrines, and no boundaries one must conform to, the freethinker has room to breathe, and then some. Though we share numerous ideas and goals, the diversity among us is equally important and worth emphasizing. It helps our organization to evolve and it provides the necessary self-correcting, peer-reviewed process that promotes a continual challenge to our own thoughts and beliefs.

Apathy - Reason Three

The inherent structure of an organization is another distasteful quality that may repel the freethinker. Groups tend to employ hierarchical systems with possible mission statements, constitutions and sets of by laws to help govern all facets of the organization. This again, smacks of conformity and we ask ourselves how could democracy, liberty, individualism, and equality, possibly survive under such a regime. It would be suicidal, however, if an organization were not to employ some form of, yes, organization. A degree of structure is necessary for individuals to band together and have a cumulative impact in championing our cause. Through elections and delegation and a commitment to consideration and fairness, we are able to provide governance without falling prey to the problems we associate with organized groups.

Apathy - Reason Four

An unfortunate reality among organizations of all kinds is the high level with which they fall victim to corruption and hypocrisy. A group that attempts to champion a particular cause within society is especially prey to corruption leaking in. Many times, the leaders will actually take it by the hand and appear to advocate its practice. Many secularists have discarded organized religion because of the strong degree of corruption and hypocrisy, or it has helped an individual learn to question his beliefs. There are countless sources for such malady and the best way to safeguard a group against them is to continually investigate their presence in all facets of the organization. The self-correcting and peer review process can also provide the necessary obstacles to place in their path.

Apathy - Reason Five

The nonsense our world has known has probably existed since the dawn of our species, if not before. Irrationality is considered a far more popular choice than its counterpart, and as history attests, it always has been. Like electricity, humans tend to follow the path of least resistance and in regard to society and human interaction, that path has often been lacking in critical thought and inquiry. The solution to this problem, one of the main goals the Secular Student Alliance strives to achieve, is nothing short of a massive reconstruction of the road less traveled. It's time to pave the road, fill in the potholes, level the bumps, and straighten the curves, so that the practice of employing critical thought and inquiry in one's life becomes the path of least resistance. By fostering education and providing the tools of skepticism, the path will be simplified and people will travel it with greater ease.

Apathy - Reason Six

The subject matter dealt with by the secular movement is another source of apathy. People are quick to make the assumption that a non-religious organization spends a large part of their time attacking faith in god or ridiculing an individual's belief. The simple mention of the word "secular" or "freethinker" is found offensive by many or considered off-limits by the various forms of media that influence society's approach to any given issue. The secular individual may keep her distance so as not to offend or perhaps because she fears discrimination might result from active involvement within the secular movement. The Secular Student Alliance not only hopes to change the assumptions made about the non-religious lifestyle by steering clear of an attack on religion and individual belief, but it hopes to promote a society where tolerance and understanding for the secular stance is commonplace. By promoting reason, science, and free inquiry, we may reach a point where the direct challenge to religion is unnecessary. Instead, it will be a by-product of our efforts that each individual tackles on their own.

The above reasons are those associated with the justification for apathy towards an active involvement within the Secular Movement. Included was a brief mention about how the Secular Student Alliance will overcome the obstacle each reason presents and, therefore, attempt to minimize the apathy among us and strengthen the secular community.

We now look directly at the reasons why an individual should become actively involved in the Secular Movement.

Activism - Reason One

The past few decades have seen a dramatic rise in religious fundamentalism and political extremism. They are succeeding in rewriting history, obscuring church-state separation issues and manipulating constitutional rights to fit their own agendas. Agendas, that have included the continued persecution of minority groups, the placement of irrelevant religious doctrine in secular establishments, and the practice of silencing the opposition. The Religious Right now infiltrate every level of society and continue to gather momentum on our high school and college campuses. Our world is being steered towards another dark ages and our silence only accelerates the process. What greater reason could there be to become active in the Secular Movement. We are the candle in the wind.

Activism - Reason Two

In the above Religious Right campaign, freethinkers have been demonized and made scapegoats for a variety of social ills. Adjectives, such as evil, satanic, immoral, violent, and indecent, have been etched into our minds in association with the individual who lacks a belief in god. Misinformation about the secular lifestyle and the goals of the movement are widespread. Already, the atheist tends to think twice about using such a term and new labels pop up yearly to combat the more rapid manner in which the fundamentalists muddy their meaning. To fight against the Religious Right campaign is necessary to avoid the return of such punishments for heresy as burning at the stake and being pulled apart on the rack.

Activism - Reason Three

In addition to the above, there are many other forces within society, that may affect the rights of the non-religious individual. Without raising a voice in opposition or working to champion a cause that seeks to produce a more humane and intelligent world. Our rights rest on shaky ground and the forces at work against us continue to gain momentum. Our collective efforts act not only as roadblocks but also as cumulative safeguards against this happening in the future. We must protect and defend the rights of the secularist if we hope to keep them.

Activism - Reason Four

The benefits of science, reason and free inquiry are of extreme value in our present day society. Our dependence on science and technology, the complexity of our government and social structure, the variety of stimuli that reach our senses and the quality of life we hope to lead, require that critical thought be developed at every level within our global community. The future of humanity is a concern we must place at the forefront of our actions and behaviors.

Activism - Reason Five

As social organisms, a community can offer many benefits to one's life. For the freethinker, this community can unfortunately not exist in one's immediate surroundings. In fact, the opposite may exist, and we may be treated with hostility and disgust because of our worldview. This can be an extraordinary pressure for an individual to bear. Isolation, despair, and in worst case scenarios, suicide, can result. To be able to find other people that share your worldview and join with them in a community provides a sense of belonging that minority groups have searched for millennia. The friendships we develop are rewarding, the intellectual stimuli of our conversations are challenging and our outlook on life necessitates that we enjoy ourselves and make the very best of our time on earth. Supporting the secular community can literally spell the difference between life and death.

Activism - Reason Six

Secular activism has a rich heritage that extends far back into ancient times. To celebrate the many individuals, events and accomplishments that are part of the Secular Movement reminds us of the importance of our action and the fact that it is not just for naught. We gain strength from past successes and are rejuvenated in our optimism for the future that lies ahead, a future we hope to continue shaping. Remnants of the Enlightenment continue to illuminate but it is we who are responsible for keeping the flame burning bright.

Activism - Reason Seven

Many people hope to contribute something valuable to society. They have ideas about how to change the world, or at least opinions on what changes need to be made. Their mind's eye can imagine a more humane society, with greater tolerance, compassion and intelligence. Involvement in a movement that is committed to the cause to which you subscribe allows an outlet for your voice to be heard. It provides you with the resources and support to make the changes you think worthwhile. It immortalizes your efforts and celebrates your life.

The above is not an exhaustive list but does provide you with answers to the question Why Bother? It strives to inspire and motivate you into towards an activist stance and encourages you to join in our efforts by becoming a member of the Secular Student Alliance.

The bottom line is that there may always be a healthy dose of cynicism among us, but apathy simply renders us mute. Help break the silence.

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