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Goals of Liberation Atheology: What Should Liberation Atheology Strive For?

Criticism of Religion & Theism Involves Many Smaller Steps


It's difficult to describe a single set of goals for liberation atheology because atheists are so individualistic in their own goals. For some the goals will be relatively moderate while others will seek to push them to what appears to be their logical conclusion. At best, this might allow us to describe a continuum of goals: a bare minimum to start with and without which liberation atheology makes no sense then further goals which some may not regard as necessary, but which others see as the logical consequence of the principle that human liberation requires first liberation from religious and theological systems.

1. Should Atheists Have Goals?

Atheism is not an ideology, world view, belief system, philosophy, or anything similar. This does not mean, however, that atheists as individuals or even as groups cannot have goals, desires, intentions, or agendas. These goals can't be a part of atheism per se, but they can be part of what atheists do individually and collectively. Thus questioning why atheists would have goals means questioning why atheists would ever do anything politically, either as individuals or as groups. It presumes that atheists don't care about improving society, politics, culture, economics, etc., which is a bigoted presumption against atheism. Of course atheists care, which means atheists can, will, and should act politically.

2. Awareness of Unjust Religious Privileges

Perhaps the most fundamental goal of liberation atheology is to raise awareness of all the ways in which religion generally or specific religions like Christianity are privileged throughout culture, politics, and society. Not all religious believers are conscious supporters of faith-based discrimination or oppression, but tacit support for religious privileges makes it easier for people to be harmed by religion and theism. As a non-conscious ideology, religious privilege depends heavily on people remaining in denial about it; raising awareness of its existence is a necessary step towards undermining it. That, in turn, is a necessary step towards eliminating the ways in which religion and theism serve ideologies and agendas of oppression.

3. Awareness of How Religion and Theism Have Served Oppression

People are not just in denial about how religion is privileged, but also about how it has been instrument in oppression. People only want to see the good that religion has done, going so far as to claim that evil is only done in the name of "false" religion as if it were impossible for religion to inspire anything bad. When people stop giving religion a privileged social status, they may cease giving it a privileged moral status. They need to see it as another type of ideology which can be used for good and evil and which should be critiqued like any other system. If people stop seeing religion as inherently good, they can stop seeing religion as necessary for morality and, therefore, something which people can dispense with entirely.

4. Awareness of Atheists & Understanding of Atheism

Part of getting people to understand that they can dispense with religion entirely will be getting people to understand that secular atheism does not undermine morality, purpose, or meaning of life. This is greatly enhanced by raising awareness of the presence of atheists in society and an understanding of what atheism is. Ideally this shouldn't be necessary, but many religious theists are ignorant of how many atheists there are around and even of what atheism really is. In many cases, simply being open and honest that one is an atheist will go a long way towards achieving this goal.

5. Encourage More Atheists to Come Out

The fact that atheists feel the need to hide who they are helps perpetuate myths and misunderstandings about atheism and atheists. Simply by keeping their atheism a secret, atheists perpetuate the idea that atheism is something that people should by ashamed of. What this means is that being open and unapologetic about your atheism is a first and necessary step towards any sort of activism. No matter what other goals atheists might have when it comes to society, culture, or politics, they must first achieve the personal goal of being able to be honest to others around them about what they really believe. There can be no liberation atheology without first a personal liberation from shame or fear over being an atheist.

6. Skepticism & Critical Thinking in All Areas

Atheists in America tend to be critical of religion and skeptical of religious claims. Merely being skeptical of religion and religious beliefs isn't much to be proud of, however, if one is gullible and uncritical in other areas. Criticism of religion is only the beginning; skeptical criticism of other powerful institutions must follow. What good is being skeptical of what a priest says if you aren't skeptical of what a politician or advertiser says? If liberation atheology is going to contribute anything to society, it must be the power and value of skeptical, critical thinking — first in religious matters but also more broadly in all areas of life. Without this skepticism and critical thinking generally, liberation atheology is nothing.

7. Science and the Scientific Method

The development of the scientific method is the most significant advance of modernity. Science has helped us learn more about our world in the past couple of centuries than in all the millennia before, leading to numerous advancements in longevity, health, and quality of life. Liberation atheology must promote the use of more science, not less, both to ensure that religion cannot suppress it and because it will shrink the room available for religion to work. The more science we have, the less room there is for religion to offer magic as explanations. The less room there is for religion to inhabit, the less trouble it can cause. The cause of liberation is advanced by helping make religion obsolete in some of its traditional functions.

8. Reasoned, Thoughtful Morality

Most popular moral systems tend to be based on tradition, especially religious traditions which are themselves based on scripture and the dictates of religious authority figures. Moral codes based upon Bronze Age religious texts are not adequate to address the complex moral problems of today, so liberation atheology must focus on criticizing the foundations of religious morality. This is aided by promoting alternatives which replace ancient texts with reason, empathy, experience, and our understandings of ourselves based on scientific research. Atheists who do not privilege ancient religious texts are in a position to help push society towards more reasoned, thoughtful moral systems that can help us in the here and now.

9. Negative Secularism & Separation of Church & State

One of the most important political goals of liberation atheology must be separating church & state and having a secular government. Atheists might not agree completely on every single church/state case that comes along, but the principle that civil authority should be separated from religious authority, and that there are separate civil and religious spheres in life, is vital if people are going to be liberated from the shackles which religion has and would put on them. Everyone's liberty is enhanced when priests are denied political authority and politicians are denied religious authority, so negative secularism is the sine qua non of a free, legitimate political system.

10. Positive Secularism and Opposition to Religion

Some believe that merely separating religion and government is insufficient to achieve genuine liberation from the power of religion and thus more positive measures must be taken. Some fear that that would be illiberal and restrictive of personal liberty but others believe that active opposition to religion ultimately enhances personal liberty. It can be argued that government must actively promote freedom, not merely make room for it, and this means providing space where religion has no power at all, not just no official power. France is a model for this, for example prohibiting religious displays by public employees while on the job. This goes further than negative secularism because it eliminates religion as a factor entirely.

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