Andrew Tripp and I have been having an email conversation about a piece he recently wrote, titled Papercuts: Transmisogyny, Western Atheists, and the Meaning of Oppression. We both thought the conversation might be of interest to other people, so we’ve decided to take it public. For the record: There are some things Andrew says in this piece (and has said in our subsequent conversation) that I don’t agree with, and some of it I disagree with fairly strongly. But I have tremendous respect for him, and in particular for his hard work, integrity, and commitment to his ideals, and am basing this conversation on that foundation.
Hi, Andrew. Greta here. I was reading your Papercuts piece, and was totally with you… up until this.
American atheists are not oppressed. We are not the Other. We are not dehumanized as a matter of course. We aren’t fetishized objects for audiences to drool over. Our agency and identities are not lampooned and erased because of our atheism. We have blogs read by millions. Heads of our nonprofits get on the mainstream media regularly. Those organizations, for the most part, have good-sized budgets, ranking in the millions of dollars. We’ve got some issues to overcome before we have a truly equal footing in society, yeah. But pretending like getting “In God We Trust” off the money won’t do a damned thing to change the world. We have to use our positions to tackle real oppression, or we’ll never live in a truly free society. In the grand scheme of things, we as Western atheists have some minor, papercut level inconveniences. To pretend that papercut is a gaping head wound is patently absurd, and we need to stop it.
I think you may be coming from a position of privilege here that you’re not seeing. You live in Chicago, and being an atheist in Chicago (or rather, being a white atheist in a more liberal enclave) is not that bad. Being an atheist in the Bible Belt is another thing entirely. Being an out atheist in the Bible Belt means risking your job, your safety, your property, your community, custody of your kids. Look at what happened to Damon Fowler. That was no papercut. That was systematic oppression, from every part of the society around him. And atheist activism isn’t just about nativity scenes and getting In God We Trust off the money. I do think those things matter… but that’s not just what it’s about. And I don’t understand why an atheist activist would be so dismissive and trivializing of the real oppression many atheists in this country do face.
The problem with the Maria Maltseva piece you linked to isn’t that it points out the seriousness of anti-atheist bigotry. The problem (well, one of the problems) is its basis in Maltseva’s raging anti-feminism. We can acknowledge the reality and importance of sexism, transphobia, and other forms of bigotry and oppression — and indeed, talk about the places where those bigotries and oppressions intersect with religion — without being dismissive and trivializing of bigotry and oppression against atheists.
I really liked the piece other than that. Hope you’re doing well: take care, and I’ll talk with you soon.
(I’ll post links to Andrew’s replies as he posts them.)