3 Keys to Progress the Secular Community Needs in 2016
As 2015 draws to a close, social media is once again showered with New Year resolutions and the internet's flooded with articles sharing resolution ideas or how-to guides on achieving “new year, new me” goals.
In my tiny pocket of the blogosphere, I figured I’d put this tradition to good use and offer up advice on ways the secular community could catalyze an atmosphere for genuine social progress.
Please note I'm using “secular community” to refer to atheist and secular humanist groups, non-profit organizations, associated activists and public figures. Though we’re a subculture that share certain beliefs and desires contrary to widely accepted views, we don’t exist in a vacuum. Nonbelievers are greatly influenced by cultural attitudes and behaviors that make up the national ethos. Because of this, we retain intellectual vices that uphold social stigmas and prejudices.
We comply with or actively participate in the continuation of social inequalities even when we don’t notice it. That’s how the mighty and insidious dynamic of privilege works.
As a child, I loved playing games like Super Mario Brothers, Gyromite, and Mike Tyson’s Punch Out. I used to imagine myself as a character in these very basic, simulated worlds. However, because these virtual spaces were limited, so too was the extent of my imagination. Similarly, when we allow ourselves to be restricted by narrow or partial ideas in the real world, it drags down the way we think and feel about human activity from the fourth dimension to more simplistic, two dimensional ideation.
Humans are complex creatures, full of nuance and layered with multiple identities. In her groundbreaking work titled Sister Outsider, Audre Lorde said “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”
Any group assembled around single-issue agendas are doomed to be exclusionary. I get that there are some missions and establishments meant to be niche, only focusing on select issues. But when the collective mimics the routine of centering on very similar subjects, we get what’s known as the mainstream. And when the established feedback loop normalizes discussions driven by the concerns of majority group representation (straight white men), there are those of us from *othered communities that are left wanting.
We can’t continue saying we’re about human progress when we regularly neglect issues that adversely affect human rights and social parity on an everyday basis.
Social inequality is ubiquitous and has always been a part of human recorded history. That doesn’t mean we just accept it. That doesn’t mean we can’t do anything about it. Yes, religious hegemony plays a role in human suffering and stagnancy. The thing is, even if all the religious beliefs that cause such grief and conflict in the world were to cease existing, we’d still be left with multiple streams of adversity that significantly affect the quality of daily life.
So then, to counter popular attitudes and activities that lack inclusivity and broader scope, I’ve composed three suggestions that may help us grow as a community in 2016.
1. Kindle Compassion
We’re all familiar with the golden rule. It’s a life philosophy built around compassion. Think of what has, would, or does give you emotional, psychological, or physical pain, then refuse to inflict that evil on others. Or, as Confucius said, “Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.”
Our idea and practice of compassion ought to mimic the Chinese philosopher Mozi’s injunction of jian’ai, which means “impartial concern.” This concern for the welfare of others makes no distinction between self and other, or associate and stranger. It’s also described as “universal love.” The conscious decision to allow compassion to reign allows you to dethrone yourself from the center of your world and place another there. When we speak of compassion, this is what it should mean for those truly concerned with the welfare of others.
The problem is this non-restrictive idea of compassion isn’t what we generally see. Our imagination of compassion is hollowed and often bends to cultural status quoism. This renders our conception of compassion tainted by selfishness and warped by the way privilege engenders detachment from discrimination and oppression not directly experienced.
We must strive for a four-dimensional species of compassion that compensates for socialized biases we take for granted.
Humans tend to be unconsciously tribalistic and self-interested. Atheists are no different. The key to bypassing this aspect of our nature is self-awareness. Appreciate the fact that your views are compromised and our environment nurtures an imbalanced social hierarchy.
For those that want to do and be more, acknowledging these things leads to a heightened level of curiosity and concern for the struggle of others. And from there we must grow and develop this consideration for others. Compassion must be built up like a muscle or we risk its significance being blunted by apathy and prejudicial, tribal preferences.