The American Atheists unveiled a public monument in Florida today and have plans to build more around the country.
When I first heard this story I wondered, a monument to what? To no-god? To non-belief? Monuments usually stand for something, not for not-something. Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to erect a monument to science, or to reason, or to humanity or to nature? This is part of the problem with modern militant atheism: it all too often defines itself not with positive truth claims, but rather solely in opposition to vague and stereotypical notions of religions belief. Sure, “secular humanism” and “metaphysical naturalism” don’t have the same firecracker snap of “atheism,” but for a movement that purports to value truth over ideology, it seems like you’d want to make it explicitly clear from the outset precisely what you stand for. To borrow a trick from the atheist playbook: erecting a monument to atheism makes about as much sense as erecting a monument to non-stamp collecting.
To be fair, the monument does contain positive statements about atheist beliefs. I don’t know what all the text is, but one side has this quote from Madalyn Murray O’Hair:
An atheist believes that a hospital should be built instead of a church. An atheist believes that a deed must be done instead of a prayer said. An atheist strives for involvement in life and not escape into death. He wants disease conquered, poverty vanquished, war eliminated.
But hold on — those are all things that I, a Christian, also believe! I’m happy that (all? most? some?) atheists believe those things — but those beliefs really have nothing to do with atheism. No one wants to conquer disease because they’re an atheist. No one believes that we should do good deeds because they’re an atheist. (And while we’re at it, could they have chosen a more aesthetically uninspired design? Nothing like reinforcing the stereotype of atheism as a dry, boring, stolid, hard, drab way of life!)
To me, this effort on the part of American Atheists is waste of time and resources. As a Christian, I believe that a hospital should be built instead of a courthouse monument and that we should strive to conquer disease, vanquish poverty and eliminate war instead of getting wrapped up in petty legal squabbles over religious speech on public property. I don’t need or want a ten commandments monument, or an atheist monument or any monuments at all on public grounds. If modern atheism wants to truly set itself apart from the religious factions they so despise they’re going to have to do better than this.