David Silverman: The Relentless Ascent of Atheism

April 04, 2016

David Silverman, president of American Atheists, was recently seen on championing the importance of the atheist vote to American conservatives on the late night comedy show, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. Silverman attempted to persuade Republican believers and non-believers alike that that there was a dire need to keep God out of politics by promoting his cause at one of the most important conservative gatherings in politics: CPAC.

The author of Fighting God: An Atheist Manifesto for a Religious World, Silverman is a loud-and proud-activist for atheism and is passionate about making sure the non-religious are included in the conservative conversation. In a spirited conversation with host Josh Zepps, Silverman argues that the rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders heralds the end of religion’s grip on politics, and that if the Republican Party does not learn to appeal to atheist voters, they will inevitably be left behind.

This is point of inquiry for Monday, April 4th, 2016. 

I’m Josh Zepps, host of the podcast, We the People live a discussion show for planet Earth, and this is the podcast of the Center for Inquiry in early March. Conservatives held their big annual meeting, CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference. And one surprising attendee was the president of American Atheists, David Silverman. His visit was presented on TV on Samantha Bee’s new satirical comedy show, Full Frontal on TV s. And that made quite a stir, caused a few headlines. David’s new book is Fighting God An Atheist Manifesto for a Religious World. David, thanks for being on point of inquiry. 

Hey, Josh, thanks for having me on the show. 

You got it. So what sort of the proximate reason, I suppose, for having you on was the piece that you appeared in on Samantha Beys new show where you went to CPAC, the conservative conference, and tried to, I guess, see what the state of Athie ism in conservative circles is and see to what extent people are persuadable. Can you just tell us about that experience? 

Well, it’s more than that. We want to make Athie ism a part of the conservative movement. We want to make it an obvious present, part of the conservative movement. The big picture is that we want to separate conservatism from Christianity like it used to be back in the 60s and 70s. And most people don’t realize that the Republican Party used to be a party that had lots of atheists in it and lots of atheists used to vote Republican for with a clear conscience. And what we went to see PAC for was to it was their third time to go. It was our third trip to see PAC. But what we wanted to do. Over these three periods is to get the conservatives used to the fact that the atheists are there and already there and already there in large numbers, and that the atheists that are there in large numbers represent a small number, a small fraction of the atheists that they could have if they dumped all the religious rhetoric, if they dumped the, quote, social conservative part of the platform, which is absolutely not conservative at all. It’s big government. And and if you look at the things that that we as atheists are repelled against just in society, these are separation of church and state issues and they’re all coming from the Republican Party. I mean, it’s not just about prayer in schools and Moses in the textbooks. It’s also about gay rights and death with dignity and the gender pay gap. These are separation of religion and government issues. And we have to make those points to those who are pushing those issues under the guise of small government because they need to know that they’re pushing big government and that they’re losing votes by the tens of millions when they play that hypocritical. I want the small government, but I want the government in your life game. 

Well, in losing some votes, but aren’t they gaining others? I mean, every every political movement and every political party is a cobbled together group of different coalitions that have different emphases. And presumably their calculus in the GOP is that, yes, there may be some nonbelievers and atheists and secular types who we are losing by being committed to social conservatism. But there’s a far grandis wave of social conservatives across America who provide the base of our support and that we would alienate them if we weren’t a religious party. 

And certainly at some point somebody made those calculations and certainly at some point those decisions were made. And one of the things that we want to do is get people to reevaluate that decision because times change. And a good example is the American political process right now. I mean, if you look at the candidates that we have right now, just just take a step back and look at this. You’ve got on the Democratic side, you’ve got a candidate with the word nonreligious attached to his name for the first time. 

OK, that’s the thing. And then on the other side, on the Republican side, you’ve got the lead conservative who couldn’t name a single Bible verse. He couldn’t he didn’t know Genesis one. He didn’t know John three 16. And he called himself a Christian. Now, if we go back 20 years in America’s history and we have presidential candidates with one of them calling themselves nonreligious by name, another one can’t name a Bible verse, the religious right is freaking out. The religious right is throwing all their weight behind their candidates because their candidates are going to win with their help today. This is not happening today. What we’re seeing is Bernie Sanders is a non religious Jew, a.k.a. atheist, and nobody’s complaining. And what’s happening on the Republican side, Jerry Falwell junior just endorsed Donald Trump. They are endorsing the candidates who are going to win, not endorsing candidates to help them win. The religious right knows they’ve lost their power. They know it. And what we’re doing at CPAC is trying to raise awareness of the fact that we all know that the religious right has lost its power. And that makes it time to reevaluate that very equation of which you speak to say, OK, we are pushing away voters. Let’s look at those numbers again. Those conservatives are already voting for Trump. They don’t care as much as we thought they cared about their religious affiliation. Oh, and by the way, atheists are growing in every state faster than everyone else. And religion is shrinking. So it’s time to reevaluate those numbers. It’s time to look at the fact that you can win more elections if you stop pushing away the atheists. That’s what we went to. So, yes, there’s always that equation there. But we’re there to try and reset that equation and reevaluate that equation and restate the fact that, you know, in the 1970s and maybe even in the early 80s, atheists were so tiny as far as the name is concerned. But now we’re huge and we’re growing. In fact, we’re growing faster than everyone else in all 50 states. So it’s time to start listening to the atheists. And that’s why we went to CPAC three years ago, two years ago and this year. And I’ll tell you something, Josh, the change that we have seen over the past three years has been huge, really, really huge. And it’s kind of beautiful to behold, because when we were first went in there, people were shocked that we were there. People were expecting that we would be accosted by throngs and throngs of Jesus freaks. People were expecting that we would be in danger. And now we are a part of the system. We’re a part of you. 

What do you make of the evangelical cohabitation with Donald Trump? Because, as you say, he was clearly not well versed in his Bible verses. He he gave a speech to Liberty University where he kept talking about two Corinthians. Not many habits that it said it’s pronounced a second Corinthians. Obviously, he recently made comments about abortion, which made it clear that he was not familiar with the evangelical orthodoxy about about abortion policy, which is to not punish the woman legally, but only to punish the abortion provider and so on. And yet evangelicals are obviously able to hold their nose. And it’s almost as if as long as he kisses the ring, the Jesus ring, as long as he goes through the correct motions, that’s good enough. That don’t actually care about deeply felt beliefs as long as they as long as the person goes through the motions of believing in what they believe. So I wonder whether or not you’re right in assuming that the moment is right for conservatives to embrace vocal, outspoken Athie ism, or whether it’s simply that they don’t actually give a shit about what they claim to give a shit about that. What they actually care about is the aping of their positions, which, in other words, they might be pragmatic, but they’re certainly not going to throw in their lot with someone who is overtly anti Christian. 

Well, we’re not talking about overt anti Christianity. OK, we’re talking about not throwing away the atheists. That’s the big difference here. We’re not talking about, hey, we love atheists. We’re talking about not saying you need to be a believer in order to be a good person. I’m talking about not pushing the atheist away. And the reason that I think I’m right is because these evangelicals who are clamoring toward Trump have been doing it this whole time, even before he started all of his religious crap. So they were already on his side. He’s doing it. Yes. He wants to get those few those those remaining stragglers. He’s trying to cannibalize Ted Cruz. But he was in the lead by far, long before he got religious, long before he started to go through those motions. And the evangelicals were with him anyways, long before you started to go through those motions. Why? Because the evangelicals don’t care as much as we think they care. They don’t think as much as we think. They think as far as needing an evangelical Christian leader. They used to. But the numbers don’t show it. The numbers don’t show it. What the numbers show is that, by and large, Christians and non Christians were flocking to Donald Trump for reasons other than religion. And we can get into what those reasons are. But really, that’s not important. The important part is that they were flocking to him. He was way in the lead when he said to Corinthians that I don’t know any Bible verses. He was way in the lead in those. And they helped him. Or at least it didn’t hurt. He’s doing this now. He’s jumping around now through hoops to get the Ted Cruz votes. But he didn’t do it to get the lead. He had the lead by far without it. That’s the thing. That’s the thing that we need to pay attention to. We are actually already winning this race. We are we as atheists are already winning this battle because the evangelical Christians are just voting conservative. They’re not voting Christian anymore. And they’re shrinking. And we are not again. And I want to make sure that I stress this. We’re not talking about embracing an atheist cause we’re talking about not taking and embracing Christian cause. We’re talking about taking a fiscal conservative view, not a social conservative view. We’re talking about small business, strong government, small government, strong military. You know, all those other conservative values that they have that are not anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti death with dignity, anti civil rights, anti pay equality. They don’t have to have those. And we can see that light at the end of the tunnel because the Christians were already voting for Trump and nobody’s caring about Donald, about Bernie Sanders. They’re already losing their power. And so what I’m trying to get to you is that we’re talking about getting the conservatives to stop pushing away the atheists. That’s all. And I think the time is very right for that. And I think it’s perfect for it. And I think it’s happening. And what I’ve seen at CPAC is that we are becoming a part of this process and people are becoming very, very accepting of the fact that there are atheists and conservatism now. It’s part of the norm. We have shifted what we call the Overton Window. We have shifted it to include atheists back into conservative wing. Now, personally, I’m not a conservative, but, my goodness, there are a lot of conservative atheists out there. And if the Republican Party wants to win, they need to stop shoving us away. And I think that’s the message that we got out at CPAC. And I think I think it really rang true. I think people really are clinging to it. 

You mentioned Bernie Sanders and how original he is in being a major mainstream candidate for the presidency and not wearing God on his on his sleeve. Yeah, this is obviously just not a partizan. You know, politicians of all stripes from both sides of the aisle have to genuflect before the the idea of them being on the side of the creator of the universe who listens to our prayers. Do you think that Bernie represents some kind of a fundamental shift? Because he’s so eclectic and enigmatic and in so many ways, he’s such a sort of oddball candidate that I wonder whether he represents anything more than Bernie Quar Bernie. 

Well, I’ll tell you what he represents to me. I mean, I’ve been in this. I’ve been in this movement now for 20 years and for my entire life or for my entire time in this movement, people have said to me, do you think we’ll ever have an atheist president? And according to 538 or right now, we’ve got a 20 percent chance of getting an atheist president this term. He doesn’t use that word, does he? No, I thought I don’t care if he uses that word. I wanted to use the word, but he’s clearly an atheist and a non-religious Jew. This is a person who doesn’t believe in a god. And this is a person who is shifting that window, who’s making it more normal. If you think about Mitt Romney, the first time he ran, he was a Mormon. He was a crazy Mormon. Outside the norm, he was a Mormon. He’ll never win until he ran the next time as the front runner. Now, look at this guy. He’s not. He’s not even French. He’s not even French. And he’s done really by name, by word. I think he represents a shift in the idea that we are such a bigoted nation that will never have an atheist president. I think he’s validation. I think he’s proof of concept that an atheist politician can go all the way today. He’s proof of concept. 

So part of the part of the question here, I guess, is PR like publicity? How do we manage to make it okay for people who may not be religiously dogmatic lunatics, but but also who are broadly sympathetic to secularism and create a safe space for them to not feel like they’re suddenly becoming paganistic atheist devil worshipers? If they side with our cause and part of the media critique of your piece on Samantha Bees was here comes this firebrand atheist who is so extreme that he’s only going to alienate these people and make it more difficult for them to feel like they’re they’re on his side. What what do you say to that critique? 

I don’t think I’m alienating anybody. I think what I’m doing is making people realize that we exist. And sometimes you need to make noise in order to make that point. People get uncomfortable when the norm is challenged. People get uncomfortable when the noise level raises above a certain level. But you have to raise the noise level above a certain level and you have to challenge the norm in order to create change. And, you know, it may put some people off, but I am bringing to the table so many more people, so many more people who don’t know what we’re doing or why we’re there. So much more is coming. You know, the Samantha Bee, you know, that was a tongue in cheek article. They were. They were they were they had to poke fun at both sides. They called me irritable. And you know what? I don’t care about that. I do care about the fact that people are seeing it and they’re hearing us and they’re knowing that we’re there. I mean, if I was afraid of alienating people or raising the volume or doing something like that, I wouldn’t have gone to see PAC in the first place. We wouldn’t have made substantial progress that we’ve made. Progress is made by causing people to get uncomfortable. Progress is made by raising the volume level a little bit. And when you do that, people will say, oh, those people, those people who are causing progress, those bra burners, those athletes chaps, those firebrands, they’re bad. They’re making us all look bad because they’re causing change. No, no, not we’re causing good, positive change. And sometimes you got to skin your knees when you do that. But then you’ve got to stand up and dust yourself off and say, OK, this change is a positive change, a change that we need to have done. And Darren, we have to have people who are doing this kind of thing. If the change is positive and the message is good, everything is on the table. Nobody’s hurting anybody. Nobody’s causing any violence or promoting any violence. But if we’re talking about making people a little uncomfortable. Well, that’s kind of the objective because that’s how change is made. 

One of the things that when he is a lot when you talk to conservatives about religion is that this is a nation that was founded on Judeo-Christian principles, that the founding fathers were fundamentally seeking religious liberty and that they were Christians and so on. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of historical understanding about the founding fathers relationship to Christianity that day ism, the history of of secularism in the United States. Is this a mission as much about modern philosophy and politics as it is about the history of America? Because I feel like there’s a lot of education that needs to be done. 

While the education system in America is very poor and it’s being manipulated by guess who, the religious right to take money from the education system, put it into religion. And what we’re seeing is a culture of ignorance, a culture of respect for ignorance, a culture of I heard it. I saw it on the Internet. Therefore, it’s true. My preacher said it. Therefore, it’s true. A culture where critical thought. Is a negative thing where education is considered elitist. This is going to be one of the major problems in this country moving forward, that we are being satisfied with ignorance, that we are shunning and shaming. Smart, educated people, and it’s going to be a major problem with us. And so as a result of that poor education, we don’t even know our own country and we don’t even know how to check our own facts because we don’t know how to research. So people say, you know, we’re a Christian nation. And what does that even mean? Well, what that means is I’m justified in having special rights over you. That’s what it means. The we are a Christian nation argument only surfaces in the wake of, hey, that’s unfair. This is not fair. It’s not equal for you to do this. And I can’t do that. Well, we’re a Christian nation where a Christian nation is followed by an understood subtext of we’re a Christian nation, comma. So I am more equal than you. That’s what it means. We’re a Christian nation is a defense for inequality. 

And that’s what it needs to be called out as they but that they obviously don’t see it as inequality. Right. I mean, there’s this case that’s in that’s facing the Supreme Court at the moment about whether or not the Little Sisters of the poor should be obliged to apply for an exemption under Obamacare to permit their employees from obtaining contraception as part of an additional health care health insurance addendum to the health insurance that they offer. It’s all quite convoluted, but they perceive this as an infringement on their rights of religious liberty. Just as the the hypothetical baker who is asked to bake a wedding cake for a gay wedding sees it as an infringement on their their religious liberty to be forced to do so when that contravenes their deeply held religious belief. It always has to be phrased that way, deeply held, religious or sincerely held. 

What exactly is a deeply held religious belief? Let’s think about that for a second. A deeply held religious belief is a conviction that your God agrees with you. Everybody out there, everybody who believes in a God, believes in a God that agrees with them. So in reality, you know, taking just a step back, God is just a tool. Religion is just a tool to justify your own opinions. Closely held religious beliefs don’t exist. They are really personal beliefs that you’re shielding with religion. And that’s all it is. You have a closely held religious belief that God is pro-choice. Somebody else has a closely held religious belief that God is pro-life. All we all have all closely held religious beliefs. And all that is, is personal opinion shielded by an invisible man in the sky. So let’s look at the Little Sisters. Let’s look at Hobby Lobby. Let’s look at these people. What are they saying? My closely held religious beliefs get in the way of your civil rights. My opinion is more important than your constitutional rights. That is the problem with granting any sort of religious exemption any time the with the. 

But, David, the weird thing is that all opinions are subject to a sense of equality. Apart from the religious opinions, I know that it’s weird and I share your frustration with it, but it happens to be enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. That that your sphere of religious belief is carved out as an area of particular protection that your other opinions don’t have. 

Everyone’s allowed to believe anything they want, but they’re not allowed to infringe on anyone else’s civil rights. And when we have civil rights, when we have laws. OK, if I have a belief or an opinion that I get to break that law, I don’t get to break that law. So let’s look at the baker. The baker wants to disobey the civil rights law. The Civil Rights Act exists for a reason. The inability to discriminate on the basis of homosexuality or sexual whatever is in the law. That’s the thing. Now, if somebody says my personal opinion is I get to break that law, the reasons that that law exists, don’t go away. Civil rights laws are there for a reason. Equality laws are therefore a reason. Speed limits are there for a reason. If you have a closely held religious belief that your God wants you to drive 90 in a 50 zone, you still got to drive 50 because the reason for that speed limit are still there and the reason for the civil rights laws are still there. Even if you would believe in a God that thinks you should break that law. You still have to obey the law. This is why religious beliefs should have no exemptions at all in the law. There should be none because religious beliefs are just me saying. Are just you saying I have an opinion. My God agrees with me. Therefore, my opinion is special. And that’s crap. That is the reason that we have so much problems in this country because we put religious beliefs above other beliefs. And that’s all they are. They’re just personal opinions and we somehow respect them more. And I don’t. And I think that we need to challenge that. And there we go back to people being uncomfortable. But yes, if it makes you uncomfortable that I call your closely held religious beliefs nothing more than personal. Pinions. It’ll make you uncomfortable, but it’s still true. And we need to hear that truth and we need to face the fact that closely held religious beliefs deserve no more respect than any other personal opinion. 

Of course, I agree with you ethically and pragmatically about the hypothetical of the baker and the gay wedding. But I would just to be a legal pedant. I would point out that LGBT people are not actually included among the classes of people in anti-discrimination law. So unless there is a state law and many states do have such a law, but many states also don’t. Right. Currently, no federal. It’s not a federal crime to discriminate against people for being LGBT. 

And I yield. I yield that point. I was just trying to make the point that laws exist for a reason. And whatever the reason for that law to exist, your closely held religious beliefs does not negate the reason for that law to exist. 

That’s what I’m it’s interesting that this whole question about whether or not religion is just an artifice that props up people’s preexisting opinions or whether or not people actually derive genuine claims about reality from their religious texts is an interesting one, because obviously a lot of moderate religious people don’t hew closely to their religious texts at all. They basically believe the same sorts of things that secular people do and then they cherry pick their religious texts for to support whatever they happen to believe. So in those cases, I would I would agree with you. But it also reminds me a little bit at the extremes of the kind of noises you hear from apologists of of Islamism who claim that that there is nothing toxic about in political interpretations of the Koran, for example, because bad people are always going to be bad people, terrorists always going to be terrorists. There’s no connection between theology and the way that people behave. This is the sort of UBA left wing argument that just sort of wants to wish away jihadism. And I wonder what you think about that is these just crazy people who are finding reasons in their texts for justifying behavior that they would otherwise do? Or is it is the Koran actually a problem? 

Well, the Koran is a problem because religion is a problem and the religion is a problem because it’s not as easy as either of those situations. Religion is a cycle, OK? People get indoctrinated for their religious beliefs. We’ve we’ve had religion now for I mean, even the younger. Even Islam is one is fifteen hundred years old. So people are raised in Islamic areas. They’re influenced by their surroundings. They read in the book they are given opinions. They are reading in the book. They they find their opinions. It’s all cafeteria, all religion. Is cafeteria the most extreme to the most mellow. All of it is cafeteria. It’s all individual. But that doesn’t mean there’s a chicken and egg that we can say, well, these are bad people. So they find bad things or these are religious people. So they find bad things in religion. It’s both. It’s a cycle. Bad people find bad things in religion and get renewed and get reinforcement. Good people find good things in their religion because they’re looking for it and they find reinforcement and there’s no easy way around it. There’s no well, religion is bad. All religion is bad because it’s a lie and a con and a scam. Even though good people who are good find justification for good things, it provides a place for people who are bad to find justification for bad things. So if we’re looking at where the bad begins, what is the big cost? I don’t know. But I do know that people use religion to foster bad things. They do it in mass and they use it in Islam a lot. 

And on the other hand, some moderate Muslims, they don’t do that. That doesn’t mean Islam is good or bad. Islam is a religion. Religion is a lie. All lies. A bad religion is a scam and a con and a lie. And that’s why Islam and Christianity and Judaism all deserve to die. And we have an ethical obligation to help that. 

How do you relate to since you just mentioned Judaism to your Jewishness as an atheist? Because talking about people getting things from scriptures, I mean, I’m always a bit conflicted as a Jew myself about the the the way in which religious scripts are used by Israeli settlers and by the Likud and by hawks over there to make an increasingly religious aside in an increasingly intolerant society, in a society increasingly unwilling to compromise with our neighbors. Do you see that through a religious lens or is this all geopolitics? 

It’s all geopolitics. Basically, when I was writing Fighting God, I first started writing, fighting God. I set out to write a chapter on why Jewish Athie ism was a thing, why it was reasonable to be both Jewish and an atheist. And what happened was very, very interesting. I started writing the book when I was 46 years old. I’m forty nine now and I set out to write this chapter to defend Jewish Athie ism. And I failed. I failed. At 46 years old, I actually looked into what it meant to be a Jewish atheist. And what I found was it doesn’t exist, it can’t exist that all of the concepts of Jewish ethnicity, Jewish culture, Jewish race, all of. All of them, without exception, fall short when actually looked at and scrutinized. All of them. And what I’ve found, what I’ve realized is that, yes, I have those stereotypical, quote, Jewish features. But these features are not Jewish features. They’re Ashkenazic features. They’re Eastern European. Everything that we apply to Judaism, Jewish culture, Jewish mannerisms, Jewish food. If we look at other mannerisms and cultures in food, they’re all location based. You wouldn’t call chicken chow main Buddhist food. You call it Chinese food. 

You wouldn’t call falafel Muslim food. You call it Middle Eastern food. But when we’re talking about Judaism, Judaism takes the credit for all this stuff. And what that makes is a huge marketing effort. I care for Israel. Israel makes a tremendous amount of money off of the lie of Jewish race, of matrilineal descent, of somehow this ethnicity. This new definition of ethnicity that they apply only to Judaism so that Judaism will be able to take credit so that Israel can bloom, so that Israel can say, ha, your mother was Jewish and you completely disavow everything that Judaism stands for. But you’re a Jew by birth. You can never escape being a Jew and you can come here. And then when your kids get curious. Guess what? They’re Jewish by birth, too. So when they questioned their religion, they’ll come home to Judaism. It’s marketing, Josh. It’s all marketing. It’s all a lie. It’s all a scam. Judaism. If you look at the thing that is common among Jews, if you look at the commonalities, the Ethiopians, the Sephardim, the Ashkenazim. What do you see? There’s only one commonality, only one commonality that makes them all Jews. The Torah. That’s it. Religion. Judaism is religion and nothing more. And that’s exactly the opposite of everything that I was taught as a child. And when I say things like this to people who were raised Jewish, they say, oh, you’re a self hating Jew. Are you all right? And I said, Oh, but guess what? I’m right. And it makes them uncomfortable. What I say that I’m right. But it’s too bad because nobody can prove me wrong. There was one rabbi who e-mailed me and I will say this on. If you can find anything, anything common to all Jews, that’s not religion, I’ll yield the point. But Ethiopian Jews wouldn’t know a bagel if that bit them on the butt. But so far. So far. But I don’t I don’t look like me. They don’t know how to divide up all that Jewish stuff that we call Jewish isn’t Jewish at all. It’s Eastern European Judaism. The religion takes the credit and says you’re well. Right. 

Let let me push back on that, because I don’t think that people who make the case for a Jewish ethnicity would include Somali Jews in that ethnicity. Right. They would concede that there are two things going on. One is a religion. Then they’re not what they’re religiously Jews. But if because if you regard there as being two definitions of Jew, then you could have a religious Jew who’s not ethnically Jewish. But I won’t get. 

And then what’s another definition of Jew? 

Well, so let me let me get to that. I think it’s easy to be a little black and white about this, but let me try to think about this through the prism of people who care deeply about their religious identity, whether that’s Jewish or anyone else. Right. I was just in Abu Dhabi and prior to that, in India, both countries have deeply ingrained communities of religious faith, Muslim and Hindu, respectively. And what they would probably say if you asked them about it was it’s not about a holy book. It’s about a way of living. It’s about a sense of community. It’s about festivals. It’s about festivities. It’s about traditions. It’s about what we do when somebody dies. It’s about, you know, for Jews. It might be to say to I was in India through holy, which is their festival, where they will throw colorful flower at each other and spray water guns at each other. These are things that are sort of that are sort of timeless and give a shape to their lives. So I think part of the part of the challenge for us says, as atheists and secularists, is to find a way to encourage these people to be able to disentangle those traditions and that sense of belonging and that sense of home and that sense of transcendence and spirituality from the dogmas of their particular faiths. But I think to ignore those components and say it’s just about the text and nothing else is gonna is gonna give us an uphill battle to try to win people over, because those things are fundamental to their sense of who they are. 

No, I completely disagree. I think if we want to encourage people to disassociate from the religion, we can tell them that they can keep their cultural stuff, because that’s not about the religion. It’s about their location. If you look at those celebrations, those celebrations, they’re location specific. It’s not about their religion. It’s completely OK for them to keep doing one, those things that they enjoy. Just to understand that that’s not the religion. The religion is the lie that there’s a man in the Sky Islands, in this case, several, several men in the sky. And that’s the lie. That’s the con. The culture is not entwined with the religion. Religion just wants you to think that it is. If we want to help these people away from their religion, the best way to do it is to say you can keep your culture, you can keep doing all that stuff. I went to this group of humanist Jews, secular Jews, atheists in Arizona, and I told them they can still have their mock surprise. They can still dance the horror. They can have their culture. Their culture is real. 

It’s just not Jewish. That’s the important part. Why? Why? Why do we need to be semantic about that? 

Why can’t we just say they can be ethnically Jewish and they can they can feel that they’re part of a long tradition that values wisdom and learning and tradition and all these kinds of things. They want to do their Sayda. They want to do that. Do Passover and so on. But just be aware that that doesn’t mean that there’s a big man in the sky. I mean, I think I think we’re kind of basically agreeing about these being two different things. And then there’s just a tactical question about how much does one pander or not pander to the way in which religion is into woven into the fabric of these kind of cultural habits? 

Beautiful. I love that you use the word pandering because that’s exactly what it is. It is pandering. And what it does is it makes atheists look smaller and religion look bigger. It also primes the children who are being born into those parents for being indoctrinated into this religion later on. So you’re priming your children, you’re hurting your children, you’re telling a lie and you’re promoting a lie instead of the truth, which you know to be true. So when you say when you when again, back to these Jews, when you’re saying I’m not an atheist, I’m a Jew. You make Judaism the lie that you don’t agree with. Look bigger. You make a theism. The truth with which you do agree. Look smaller than you’re going to raise children who are going to call themselves Jews. And they will make Judaism look bigger. And they will probably you’ll probably be duped, like I was into sending your kids into some sort of a Jewish school so they can learn about the culture. Oh, and the religion, too. So you’re promoting the religion. You’re promoting the lie. You’re not telling the truth about your honest feelings. You call yourself a Jew even if you call yourself a secular Jew. Seventy percent of the country doesn’t know what that means. They’re going to assume you’re a theist. Judaism looks bigger and more powerful. Atheist looks smaller. One of the things that we have to realize in this country is that, again, in fighting God, I crunched numbers, I like numbers and I crunch numbers and I can defend the number. Twenty seven percent atheist in America right now. I can defend that. It’s aggressive. I know, but I can defend it. But that means if that number is correct, that 90 percent of the atheists in this country don’t call themselves atheists. 

And that means that all of these separation of church and state issues that I was telling you about before, all of them abortion, gay rights, death with dignity, the pay gap, all of it. It’s our fault. 

It’s our fault because we have been so divided and so diluted because we won’t call ourselves atheist, because we’ll call ourselves. Oh, I’m not. I’m not an atheist. I’m a secular Jew who and I’m a Christian who doesn’t believe in God. We call ourselves anything but the word that we need to use to get the power to make the world a better place. We have a responsibility to call ourselves atheists and we have a responsibility to call out those who don’t. 

And when you call yourself a member of that religion, when you’re not a member of that religion, you’re telling a lie. And I’m going to call you wanted to your face. 

Are you broadly optimistic, David, about the trajectory of Athie ism worldwide? On the one hand, we’ve got a great rise in secularism and Athie ism around the rich world. Not so much in the United States, although a bit here as well. But I mean, you’ve got you’ve got countries that are intensely secular and a religious, like my homeland of Australia, like a lot of Nordic countries like Germany. And on the other hand, if you’ve got a rise of fundamentalism and religious mayhem, not just in the Middle East, but in some of those European countries that are pushing back against that kind of a nasty side of Christianity worn on its sleeve in places like Hungary. How do you see these two forces competing? Are we going to win out? 

Well, yeah, we’re going to win out. And there’s a very good reason that we’re going to win out. There’s two things that are happening that are going to make religion completely lose in the long term. The number one thing is that we’re right, OK? If there’s if there’s a definition to the word right and correct Athie ism, is it? It’s not about our pride or hubris. We are factually correct. We are factually consistent with everything else. And we know in the world to be true. That makes us factually correct. That’s one thing when you’re factually correct. The best tool that you have is communication. The more communication, the better. When you’re factually correct, you want more and more communication. And that’s where the Internet comes in. That’s why we’re seeing the rise of Athie ism on a worldwide level, because people are communicating and talking and debating and checking each other. And that is why religion is shrinking so much in the young folks. Ageism is so on the rise in the young, and the younger you go, the more atheistic you are. Well, that’s exactly the same as the more you use the computer, the more you use the Internet. So when you look at the growth of Athie ism worldwide, I’m going to say that Athie ism will always grow where there is Internet connectivity, literacy plus Internet connectivity will yield Athie ism. And while I’m no expert on the international realm, I’ll give you a quick anecdote from America. Again, I started in Athie ism back in 1996 and I live in New Jersey. And one of the first things that I did as an activist was try and put together, help put together a convention here in New Jersey, an atheist convention in New Jersey. We tried and succeeded in finding a hotel which would allow us to come and rent the room at retail price. When you went into the hotel, they had a Monaca out front and they listed us as AAA. And when you called the hotel and asked if the atheists were there, they said no. This was 1996 in New Jersey. Fast forward to last year when we had our national convention in the city of Memphis, Tennessee. Big difference from New Jersey. The city of Memphis flew me out, picked me up in a limousine, gave me a tour of the city, took me to all the nicest hotels. The big hotel, the one that won us, put welcome American Atheists projected on their side wall. Everybody could see it. They had our logo up there. Big letters. Welcome, American Atheists. This is the change. And that was Memphis. The first one was New Jersey. So we are seeing a huge sea change right here in America. And again, going back to what the Republicans what the religious right would have done with our current Republican slate 20 years ago. We are seeing huge changes here in America. And if we continue on this path, I see no reason why we shouldn’t. As long as the Internet exists and as long as people can read atheist hymn is going to rise. Religion is going to fall. And I think there’s no reason that that shouldn’t happen. On a global level, though, I don’t see any reason why they can’t be extrapolated on that optimistic note. 

David Silverman, president of American Atheists, thanks so much for being a point of inquiry. 

Hey, thank you very much for having me on, Josh. Oh, and by the way, don’t forget, my book is on sale. It’s called Fighting God An Atheist Manifesto for a Religious World. And you can find it on Amazon and Barnes Noble. Wonderful. 

Josh Zepps

Josh Zepps

An Australian media personality, political satirist, actor, and TV show host. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. He was a founding host for HuffPost Live.