I have no illusions that there’s an endgame. These problems never go away. You have to educate every single generation about this and make sure it doesn’t creep back into our society. There’s no sense in which the job is ever done.
-- Tim Gill
Just for the record, Tim Gill is a software engineer and rights advocate, who has been an integral part of the thrust for LGBTQ equality. His influence spans from the 2003 Goodridge v Dept. of Public Health case to the triumph which was Obergefell v Hodges. This is a man who has put his own sweat and treasure, to the tune of several hundred million dollars into this fight, yet judging by the above quote, he is not at all resting on his laurels. Indeed, quite the contrary.
Considering the parallels which have been drawn multiple times between the gay rights movement and the drive for secularism in government, state / church separation and atheist rights, I have to wonder if we as atheists aren’t in the same boat. It is alleged that, 100 years ago, Robert Green Ingersoll and those with whom he worked thought that they had the battle won, that Christianity had been neutralized as a political force in the United States and that those who argued for religion-free government could relax. The past century and certainly the time since Ronald Reagan’s inauguration have made a lie of that thought, and with the advent of Donald Trump and his catering to the Christian right, gains we have made in the eight years under former President Obama threaten to be rolled back, along with gay rights protections, those for the environment, and too many other important issues.
Gill’s quote forces me to ask: is there an endemic element of … what? Stupidity, bigotry, a determined attitude of “I’m better than you are” in the human genome which will persist despite cultural and societal influence? Being an engineer and not a sociologist, I haven’t the expertise to offer an informed answer to that question. Nonetheless, the patterns we see in recent history make a strong suggestion that this may, in fact, be the case. While the cause of atheism may not be so far advanced as the gay rights movement has become, the continued resistance to issues such as crosses on public property, prayers in government meetings, and the teaching of religion-inspired pseudo-science in public classrooms, despite longstanding judicial sanctions, is indicative both of the Christian privilege which has been too often assumed in US society and their determination to maintain its entrenched position there. It is entirely possible that we are engaged in a nationwide game of Whack-A-Mole: remove one cross at one town hall and a plaque with the 10 Commandments shows up in another in a pattern which could go on endlessly.
The only hope which we might hold out against this state of affairs is the continuing growth of irreligiosity and the decline in numbers of those who believe. Those who at minimum have let religion slide by the boards, if not boldly come out as atheists, are now estimated to number at over 20% of US population, while the count of Christian Protestants dropped out of the majority three or four years ago. It is conceivable that their recent behavior is the equivalent of Cheyne-Stokes breathing, signaling the death throes of the Christian state. At some point or other, a paradigm shift may occur, where religious influence ceases to be the persistent problem we currently face and reason begins to assert itself as the more prevalent attitude in public life and conduct, whether that regards alternative sexuality rights or issues of faith versus fact.
It would be great to see that day come, but I can’t help noticing that Tim Gill continues to gird his loins, anticipating more fights against the LGBTQ community. Much as I hate to say it, for the moment, I think we need to do the same.