Recently I have been catching up on my commute-time podcasts. Both The Thinking Atheist and The Non-Prophets talked with representatives of the National Atheist Party.
The NAP was founded last year as a reaction to the increasing theocratic rhetoric that is infesting American politics. In all honesty I can understand the sentiment. However while the goal is laudable I think the approach is flawed. The problem is that atheism offers no insight into how one approaches anything else in the political sphere. Both podcasts nailed this point but The Thinking Atheist really brought it to a head by asking what the NAP would say to a libertarian atheist look in on the NAP from the outside.
The NAP’s platform can be essentially boiled down to “Democrats without God.” It is not surprising given that they arrived at that platform by a majority consensus of current members. Meanwhile they claim to say that they would approach policy from a scientific stance. IE, instead of doing what feels right, doing what is proven to give the desired results. The problem is that the method of obtaining the platform and the stated method of creating policy are at odds. The platform is created by a plurality of what the members feel is right vs. what is actually right.
Now, to their credit, when asked what they would say to an atheist libertarian they said they wanted inclusion into the process. That such a person should join the NAP to have their voice be heard. That if their ideas differ from the party’s platform they should lobby to get the platform changed but be willing to accept the consensus of the party members. Well, being such an atheist libertarian I see two problems with this.
First, a scientific approach would not be formed on consensus. Science doesn’t give a damn about consensus, all that matters are whether the results are repeatable. If the consensus is that a certain action is correct and it is proven wrong, then the consensus is wrong and should be discarded, period.
Second, why would I want to make my voice heard in the NAP versus the Libertarian Party? As a member of the Libertarian Party the sole major point of contention I might have is my atheism. Even then it is fairly trivial as we have a basis of resolution in the form of the first amendment to the constitution. However, as a member of the NAP the only point of unity is my atheism. I would be striving to alter every plank of their platform.
It is this second point which is why I think the NAP is the wrong approach to the problem of under representation of atheists in American politics. It cannot, nor ever will, address all atheists. Our views outside of the god issue are diverse. Our concerns in government, as a group, begin and end pretty much on church/state separation issues. By creating a political party they are diluting their potential clout by alienating a good portion of people who do not agree with all of the non-religious rhetoric.
What should be put forth is a political organization which solely concerns itself with church/state separation issues. Not a party as a party has to concern itself with everything which falls under the purview of politics. Something which would lobby on church./state issues, provide information on candidates which are strong on church/state separation.
Of course we already have organizations like that. Organizations like American Atheists and the Freedom From Religion Foundation. I have no doubt that members of these organizations are politically in line with the current membership base of the NAP. Even so I can support them because when it comes to other policy matters they are largely non-committal.