There comes a time in every blog's life when it must stop and ask itself the big questions -- what am I? Why am I here? What purpose do I serve, other than to occupy bits of bandwidth and server space, and for what good reason would anyone keep coming back to read me on a regular basis?
Almost since its inception, In Lehmann's Terms has been unable to answer those questions. In part, this is because it is a blog, not a sentient creature, and thus incapable of animate thought or speech, no matter how far its creator tried to stretch out this tortured metaphor. But in larger part, it is because that same creator, yours truly, never really had any good answers to those questions to begin with.
For years, I resisted the call to start blogging, because I considered the whole enterprise....well, kind of goofy. Eventually, on a lark, I decided to give it a whirl. But while it's been fun at times and, yeah, there are a small handful of posts I've made that I don't consider to be complete crap, I can't say I've ever been completely sold on what I was doing. That is, when I bothered to do it at all.
The problem, you see, is that this has always been a blog without a purpose, and that's never sat particularly well with me. I'd intended originally for this to be a space to blow off some steam. My day job is comprised entirely of reporting straight news, so having an outlet to bloviate my own opinions once in a while seemed like a welcome opportunity.
But opinions....about what? Does the Web really need yet one more libertarian screwball, tossing off the same old hoary cliches on all the same old topics? Spend just a few minutes cruising the libertarian blogosphere -- and especially the giant echo chamber that is the D.C.-centered libertarian blogosphere -- and the answer comes back a categorical NO FUCKIN' WAY!
So, what then? Pop culture? I don't consume nearly as much of it as I used to, and dwelling on the subject mostly leaves me feeling old and out of touch. Philosophy? Still fun for the occasional mental wank session, but I'd end up boring even myself. Economics? It's already a crowded field, and I don't have nearly enough technical training to do the subject justice or compete with the big boys. Business? Finance? Insurance? Only in that last area can I say I have a true comparative advantage, and it's the one subject that prudence dictates I just the shut the hell up about.
Which doesn't leave much. Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David may have been able to get away with doing a show "about nothing," but a blog about nothing is a pretty gruesome thing.
It seems Professor Bainbridge had been thinking along these same lines recently. As he put it:
With the blogging "market" increasingly crowded, the model of an eclectic, general interest blog is a less viable one. Perhaps more importantly, I'm just getting tired of the punditry style of blogging. I'm not enjoying writing that style as much; for that matter, I'm not enjoying reading other punditry blogs very much these days.
The Prof is now currently in the process of remaking his blog to focus much more exclusively on business law and economics. And after much deliberation, I've finally decided upon a specific focus that I would like to pursue as well, one that engages my mind and inflames my passions, but which has little to do with my politics and nothing at all to do with my day job.
So let me welcome you to the newly relaunched In Lehmann's Terms, a site devoted to the cause...of secularism, devoted to celebrating progress made toward a more secular culture, and to defending the social status of the non-religious in American culture.
I know what you might be thinking, but let me stop you right there. Whether you believe it or not, I promise that the decision to steer the site in this direction was made several weeks before Wired magazine's publication of Gary Wolf's article on The New Atheists -- Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett. Nonetheless, if theirs is a movement that helps to push this debate forward, then I proudly declare myself a fellow traveler, if not quite an enlisted soldier in the Army of (Not)God.
The New Atheists' represent a strident brand of atheism toward which I maintain a certain degree of ambivalence. Don't get me wrong. I don't have any fuzzy-bunny feelings toward believers. I don't particularly care if it's "mean" to call their beliefs "delusions." It doesn't make it any less true. But the problem I see with the Dawkins-Harris strategy is that all it does is amp up the volume on the same program they've been trying for years. At its heart, it's still consumed with the idea that one can use reason to persuade the irrational, a conceit just as deluded as anything the fundies themselves could come up with.
The reason Dawkins and Dennett and their ilk always return to pick from this same fruitless branch is that they are academics. Moreover, they're conservative academics, and thus accustomed to a certain type of polemical discourse. They think if they dominate the debate and win all the points, the other side will have no choice but to see the light.
For men so smart, this is a profoundly stupid approach. This war will not be won in a classroom. In fact, it will not be won at all, if the goal is to "convert" the other side. My goals are much more modest. I don't demand that any current believer change his mind about his or her own beliefs. I just, frankly, don't give a toss. What I do demand is that I, and the other nonbelievers, be given the same damned respect that any other citizen could count on as a matter of course. Maybe Dawkins and Co. just can't see it, but to me it's plain as day -- the issues that face atheists and agnostics and other nonbelievers today are the issues of prejudice and civil rights.
Let's face some facts, gentlemen. We are a minority, both in America and in most countries around the world. We are, furthermore, a minority that has been, and continues to be, profoundly marginalized. We live in the midst of a majority that is hostile, both to us personally, and to our beliefs, generally. Make no mistake about it -- we are hated. And not only does our culture offer no sanction against those who express that hatred publicly -- such contempt is encouraged, often by our very own elected leaders.
If you doubt the claim, or think it an exaggeration, consider this: Depending on whose statistics you use, there are between five to 10 times the number of atheists in America that there are Jews in America. And yet, despite that numerical advantage, and despite eons of anti-Semitism, six years ago, a clear plurality of Americans voted to elect an Orthodox Jew to the second-highest office in the land.
Can you think of one place -- one city, one county, one hamlet -- where an admitted atheist would stand a chance to be elected dog catcher? I can't.
Now, when I say this is a civil rights issue, I don't mean that it is primarily a civil liberties issue. I disagree with a great many of the currents in the American political scene, and find many of those currents are hostile to the nonbelieving minority. But that's only a tiny piece of the problem, and often -- particularly in the hands of groups like the ACLU -- it can be used to distract from the broader issues.
As I read the First Amendment, it says the federal government can't establish a state religion or prosecute people for their religious beliefs. I can be simultaneously grateful for the doctrine of separation of church and state while also recognizing that it appears nowhere in the Constitution. And the greater point is -- it need not appear in our Constitution. We should endorse it as a rule of thumb because it's simply good public policy.
But first, we need a seat at the table, the table of our own culture. Just as the homosexuals have been doing for 30 years, we need to come out of the closet. We need to stand up to anti-atheist bigotry. We need to make our voices heard. We need to highlight positive atheist role models and support atheist youth groups and establish atheist charities and atheist civic organizations.
Let's not forget that, in the end, the ultimate triumph of the original civil rights movement was not the Supreme Court decisions or the Civil Rights Act or even the end of Jim Crow. It was in a whole group of Americans standing up, en masse, and changing the culture -- changing it simply by insisting that their voices be counted. Some of those voices were just as strident, in their own way, as Dawkins and Harris are today, and I don't begrudge them that at all. It took all of those voices to create the conversation.
Ours is one that has only just begun.
The only chain that a man can stand
is the chain of hand in hand.
Keep your eyes on the prize
and hold on.