In the United States, the forces of Christian extremism are highly organized, well-funded, wield sufficient political influence that they regularly manage to elect those who sympathize with them to local, state, and federal office, and still fly under the radar much of the time. As far as ideological opponents go, they are quite formidable. This raises an important question for any atheist who believes that the Christian extremist agenda (sometimes referred to as “Christian nationalism,” “Christian dominionism,” or “Christian theocracy”) runs counter to his or her interests: What can I do? What can you do to effectively oppose these things?
I thought it made sense to take a look at this question and see how we might answer it. Our challenge is that not every option is going to be realistic or desirable for every person. If you are currently 14 years-old, it would be nonsensical for us to tell you that you should immediately register to vote or apply to be a State Director for American Atheists. There are other things you can do, but those aren’t going to be among them…yet. But even beyond the obvious age-related limitations, we have to acknowledge that public secular activism is not going to be something that everyone can do for all sorts of good reasons. This means we should try to identify as many viable options as possible and encourage like-minded atheists to pick and choose those that work for them. Remember, doing something is better than doing nothing. Even if you can only help in small ways, you are still helping.
Get Politically Active
In order to help effectively, we need to be informed. Taking the time to inform ourselves about how our elected officials vote on matters of relevance to the secular community allows us to participate in the political process more effectively. For those who are of age, voting is one obvious way to help. Voter turnout among the religiously unaffiliated continues to lag behind evangelical fundamentalist Christians, and we need to change this. Perhaps working to improve registration and turnout would be helpful ways for people who cannot yet vote to contribute. In addition to voting and working to improve the voter turnout, we can interact with our elected officials and political candidates running for office. This does not have to be any more involved than a few emails or tweets. Helping in small ways is still helping.
Support Secular Organizations
Supporting secular organizations is one thing most atheists can probably do. Annual memberships in most of the national organizations cost between $30 and $40. This money helps to fund the efforts these groups make on our behalf to defend the separation of church and state. For those who cannot afford these fees, consider using whatever social media platforms you have to amplify the voice of these groups. This is an effective and often overlooked way to help. Follow these groups and share their content. None of these groups will be perfect, but don’t let that get in your way.
Depending on where you live, you may have access to local or state-level secular organizations. If you do, connecting with one of them is another way you can help. If you don’t have a group like this in your area, you might consider starting one. I realize this is more time and effort than many want to take on, but I’d be remiss in not mentioning it as an option. This is not only a good way to help oppose Christian extremism, but it is often helpful to have local allies. You might even make some great friends.
Create Your Own Content
If you feel strongly that Christian extremism poses a threat and want to do something about it, you might consider starting your own blog, YouTube channel, podcast, website, etc. Doing so would give you a different sort of platform to express your views and inspire others. I realize these things are all a lot of work for little reward. They are not going to be for everyone, but there are ways to make an impact without devoting your life to your chosen platform. If you have a unique voice that does not seem to be reflected in the content currently available, you just might be able to fill an important need.
I already mentioned using your social media platforms to amplify the messages of secular organizations, but online secular activism can be much broader than that. One easy thing every one of us can do is to share others’ content to boost their message. Think of yourself as an amplifier of good ideas. Whenever you run into something you find yourself agreeing strongly with something you’ve encountered and wishing more people would see it, share it.
You might also participate in secular hashtag activism. It is true that I have been somewhat skeptical about what this can accomplish, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t still give it a try. Two of the campaigns I’d really like to see revived are #AtheistVoter and #atheistsENGAGE. When we interact with elected officials or candidates running for office on social media and use these tags, we make it more likely that other secular activists will see what we are doing and join in. In essence, we are telling others, “Hey, this is an important conversation that those worried about Christian extremism may find relevant.”
Connect with Secular Activists
Most of us need inspiration from time-to-time and one great place to find it is those who are already doing effective secular activism. Connect with these people, learn from them, and borrow the aspects of what they are doing you find most appealing. I realize that identifying them is not always easy, but one decent place to start might be American Atheists’ list of State Directors. Other groups are organized in different ways and do not always support local groups, but you should still be able to find at least a few options on their websites.
At this point, I’d like to give a special shout-out to one of American Atheists’ State Directors in particular: Justin Scott (Iowa). While I’ve never even been to Iowa, he’s active on Twitter (@iowaatheist247) and is a great example of the sort of secular activist I’ve found inspiring. If someone were to ask me what effective secular activism looks like on Twitter, he’d be the first name I thought of.
Skip the Drama
I know it can be entertaining, but we probably aren’t doing secular activism any favors when we allow ourselves to get sucked into the latest drama taking place among atheists. I believe it can be helpful to learn how to take note of it and then step aside. We have far more important things to do. There is reason to believe that atheist infighting undermines our efforts to oppose Christian extremism and drives some great secular activists away from the cause. When we are already facing an uphill climb, this is the last thing we need.
It took me far too long to arrive at my current approach, but I have been happy with it now for some time. In brief, I do my best to be reasonable online and quickly unfollow those who engage in recurrent name-calling. I believe that is counterproductive, and I am not interested in supporting it. I’d rather focus my limited time and energy on atheists who are working to bring about positive change.