What was supposed to be a slam dunk for nontheists has become a slap in the face after a petition on behalf of a jailed Indonesian atheist failed to attract even one-third of the signatures it needed to gain White House attention.
The petition was launched last month by The Center for Inquiry, a humanist organization, on We The People, a government website designed to bring grass roots efforts to the attention of the White House. Petitions must garner 25,000 signatures within 30 days in to secure a government response.
The petition called for the Obama Administration to pressure the Indonesian government to free Alexander Aan, who was arrested for the criminal offense of expressing his unbelief online. The petition garnered about 8,000 signatures when it expired Thursday (Aug 16).
That failure has left many atheists, humanists, skeptics and other nonbelievers scratching their heads. If, as they believe, their community has grown in numbers, strength and organization in the last decade, why didn’t more people sign the petition?
“It didn’t fail for lack of effort,” said Michael De Dora, CFI’s director of government affairs, the author of the petition and its first signatory. “So there is a sense of confusion right now internally about why this failed.”
The petition’s failure has exposed another paradox of the nontheist community. In recent years, it has made an organized effort to promote its members as compassionate, caring and concerned about justice. The unofficial motto “Good without God” has been used to rally support for charitable organizations, food banks and blood drives, services for the homeless and disaster relief efforts.
“It is one thing to talk about ‘Good without God’ and have panel discussions about secular ethics, but it is quite another to take all that and make it part of your moral fiber and make a habit of doing good,” De Dora said. “I think that is something the community still needs to work on.”