Two Atheist Movements — And the One I Want to Be Part Of

There’s this thing I’ve been noticing.

lane split road sign.svg
It seems that increasingly, we have two atheist movements. I’m seeing national atheist organizations, local atheist communities, individual atheist organizers and activists and voices and participants, increasingly sorting ourselves into two different movements.

There are the ones who care about social justice; the ones who want to make organized atheism more welcoming to a wider variety of people; the ones who want their atheist communities to do a better job replacing the very real services that many marginalized people get from their religions; the ones who want their atheist communities to work in alliance and solidarity with other social change movements. (Or, to be more accurate — the ones who care enough to take real action.)

And there are the ones who don’t care, who aren’t interested in connecting their atheism to social justice — or don’t care enough to take significant action. They’re the ones who would be perfectly happy to have more women or black people or other marginalized folks at their events, but don’t care about it enough to examine why their events aren’t diverse, to listen to criticism about it, to accept some responsibility for it, or to change what they do. In some cases, they’re the ones who don’t want to connect their atheist activism with social justice — and don’t want anyone else to do it, either, to the point where they’re actively working to poison any efforts in that direction.*

Yes, this is an oversimplification, as almost any analysis saying “you can sort all X’s into two categories” will be. There’s non-trivial slippage between the two movements, and there are people and organizations (such as the atheist support organizations) who, for legitimate reasons, are trying to keep a hand in both. It might be more accurate to say that there are at least two atheist movements. But there are definitely these two: the ones who care about social justice, and the ones who don’t, or who don’t care all that much.

And I want to put my time and energy into building the first one.

A-Foot-in-the-Mouth-Poems-to-Speak-Sing-and-Shout book cover
There’s this pattern I’ve been seeing a lot lately. One of the Assholes of Atheism puts their foot in their mouth, says or does something spectacularly horrible about race or gender, or tone-polices other atheists speaking out about this stuff. (Example; example; example; example; example; example; example; example; example; example — just a few of many.) When criticized about it, they double down. It turns into a firestorm that eats the Internet. And people on social media come out of the woodwork saying, “I’m an atheist/ agnostic/ skeptic/ non-believer — but I don’t want anything to do with this movement! It has nothing to do with me, and it doesn’t look like it wants anything to do with me, and every time someone pushes for it to have something to do with me, it turns into a firestorm that eats the Internet. Fuck that noise.” If they were already involved in the movement, they say, “Okay, that was the last straw, I’m outta here”; if they weren’t already involved in the movement, they say, “Wow, I had no idea about this crap! I’m outta here.”

I want to help build a movement for these people. And I want to help make that movement more visible, so more of these people know it exists.

To be very clear: I am most emphatically NOT saying, “Let’s stop wasting our time on these arguments about social justice, let’s just get to work making it happen.” When we see racist/ sexist/ etc. shit in organized atheism, I think it’s reasonable and right to push back if we feel so inspired. The pushback can be effective: it can change the minds of individuals, and the policies of organizations. And it sends up a flare to the people being left out: “Over here! There’s a different atheist movement over here! Yes, we agree, that one can really suck! You might like this one better! Check it out!”

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t get into these arguments, or that I’m going to stop getting into them. I’m saying that I want my arguments to be in the service of building that first movement. And I’m not saying I will never ever ever work with any person or any organization that I see as primarily rooted in the other movement. I almost certainly will, at least sometimes. (At least, I will if they’re in the “We just don’t care that much” category: if they’re in the “We don’t care, and we don’t want anyone else to care, and we’re working tirelessly to poison the efforts of people who do care and make their lives a misery” category, obviously I’ll have nothing to do with them.) I’m saying that my primary focus, and my primary committment, will be to help build the atheist movement I care about: the one that cares about the people I care about, and that’s translating that care into action.

grand canyon Wbell-devils-anvil-az via U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
Yes, yes, I know. Deep Rifts. It’s so sad that the community has so much infighting and is so divided. Can’t we all just get along? Wouldn’t we be stronger if we all just got along? I keeping thinking of something Alex Gabriel once wrote: “I’m not sorry atheists are divided. I’m sorry we need to be.”

Like Alex, I wish the rifts weren’t necessary. But I think they are. As I’ve said before: The big tent is a myth. The choice isn’t between a divided community and a big tent where everyone is included and gets along great. The choice is between a divided community, and a community that serves only a limited number of atheists — ironically, the ones who probably need it the least. The choice is between an openly divided community, and a de facto divided community — a community that divides out women and African-Americans and trans people and working-class people and other marginalized folks, unintentionally but unmistakably, after their first or second atheist event when someone said something racist or sexist and nobody spoke up, or sometimes before they ever got involved, the first time they read some jackass thing Richard Dawkins said and decided, “Ewwww, never mind, that movement’s not for me.” The choice is between a community that’s constantly infighting, deeply divided over whether to prioritize social justice — and a single, united community that doesn’t prioritize social justice, and leaves the people harmed by social injustice out in the cold.

I don’t want to leave those people out in the cold. I want to help build a movement for them, and with them. It would be nice if it could all be the same movement — it sure would be a lot more efficient — but that doesn’t seem to be an option, and I’m not going to beat my head against that wall any more.

I’m remembering a few years ago, when Jen McCreight was sick of this bullshit, and called for a new wave of organized atheism — a wave that was explicitly committed to social justice. I don’t know how much of this “two movements” thing I’m observing is a result of that call to action, and how much was happening anyway or would have happened anyway. And I’m not — repeat, NOT — calling the social justice branch of the movement Atheism Plus: partly for clarity’s sake (that term is being used by a very specific online community), mostly because the term has been poisoned by people who use it as a mocking insult. I don’t actually feel a compelling need to call this movement anything at all. I’m not issuing a call to action (although if you hear it as one, that’s awesome). I’m making an observation. I’m describing a pattern that I’m noticing. And I’m saying what I want to do about it.

When we see the Assholes of Atheism be particularly assholic, it can be very demoralizing. And if other people’s response is to say “Fuck that noise, I’m outta here,” I’m not going to argue too strenuously. Everyone gets to decide for themselves which communities they want to be part of, and which movements they want to work with, and how much of what kind of bullshit they’re willing to deal with.

woman with watering can Antos_Frolka_Junge_Gärtnerin
I’m saying: When I see the Assholes of Atheism be particularly assholic, it doesn’t make me want to leave the atheist movement. It inspires me to work harder, to grow the movement I want to see.

And if that movement has to be over here, largely separate from the mainstream — so be it.

* With a few exceptions, I’m not going to say who I think is in which group. Among other reasons: Experience has taught me that saying “Such-and-such person/ group is pro-social-justice” is enough to get them targeted with hatred and harassment.

Note: If your response to this is, “But — mission drift!”, please read the following pieces, and make your comments there. I am not interested in hosting a debate about mission drift in this post.

Does Social Justice Activism Mean Mission Drift for Atheism and Skepticism?
Atheist Highway Cleanups, and Some Further Thoughts On “Mission Drift”
No, It’s Not Mission Drift — But It’s Too Controversial! More on Atheism and Social Justice
Issue Organizations Versus Community Groups — At Last, A Legitimate Question About Atheism, Social Justice, and “Mission Drift”
“It’s Hard”: The Crux (Apparently) of the Atheism, Social Justice, and “Mission Drift” Question

Grand Canyon/ Wbell Devils Anvil AZ image via U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, via Wikimedia Common

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Two Atheist Movements — And the One I Want to Be Part Of

47 thoughts on “Two Atheist Movements — And the One I Want to Be Part Of

  1. 1

    Hear hear. I’d like all communities I’m part of – wait, what am I saying? I want the whole world to be welcoming to everybody regardless of race, gender, class, identity or anything. So let’s build the atheist community for everybody.

  2. 3

    And my axe!

    Ok, now that I’ve got that horrible cliche out of the way, count me in. Big rifts, making waves, rocking the boat… they can call it what they want, but better that than just floating passively along in a lake full of sewage.

  3. 5

    So…some believe “faith” is enough while others believe “faith” and good works is the right way? I hope the irony of this isn’t lost on us as a movement.

  4. 6

    It is remarkable how some people react to even the idea of linking atheism with social justice issues. No one is telling them they have to work on social issues, yet they feel the need to block others from doing so.

  5. 7

    And how amusing that some of the same people who resist the idea of “social justice” and insist that we should just focus on the fact hat we don’t believe in God (that’s ALL atheism means damnit!1!!1) will run out and organize protests over alleged discrimination against their joke church:

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2015/04/15/why-are-atheists-protesting-outside-a-wells-fargo-bank-in-las-vegas-later-today/

    Surprise surprise! Look who’s in the thick of it:

    “This is how discrimination works,” said Johnny Monsarrat, Alliance Director of the Secular Policy Institute.

    But don’t talk about women’s or GLBTQ rights (unless they’re throwing someone off a building)…

  6. 8

    Greta: Just wanted to say that it is so, so very good to see you back and posting. I’ve been missing this sort of long-form argument (it’s not that it doesn’t exist, but you’re consistently awesome at it).

  7. 9

    I have no quarrel with those whose only issue is atheism, but I have a big problem with those who try to tell me that I’m doing it wrong because I’m trying to actually help people.

  8. 10

    For me, being pro-social justice is just plain pragmatic. Atheists are a marginalized group in many parts of the world, including where I live. There are other marginalized groups who can empathize with us, and I can empathize with them. We face many of the same problems and oppressive tactics, so we can compare notes and learn from each other. Acting to protect the rights of one marginalized group sets precedents for protecting other marginalized groups, including atheists. If we condone a rationale for discrimination against one group, our oppressors will adapt that rationale for use against us, point out our hypocrisy to claim the moral high ground, and dismiss our rhetoric as insincere political gaming.

    Being pro-social justice also encourages more enthusiastic participation from atheists who happen to fit into one or more of the groups we stand with, rather than alienate them. If there’s ever going to be a big tent atheism, social justice is going to be the more effective approach than telling people to strive for some rarefied Platonic eidolon of atheism which implies shedding all the “distracting” attributes of being human.

  9. 12

    I had a certain Asshole of Atheism explain to me once how “Atheism+” was “lunacy,” while praising AA’s attempt at outreach at CPAC. This person is himself a gay man, and I can only imagine the degree of unresolved cognitive dissonance at work that allows him to dismiss as lunatics fellow atheists outspokenly supportive of LGBT equality, while endorsing the idea of common cause with a gang of right-wing theocratic Christians who book the likes of Phil Robertson and Sarah Palin as public speakers.

  10. 13

    ok so cards on the table, I’m an atheist from the UK, which is something I share with Dawkins. So what should my atheism be about?

    We have an established Church and bishops voting in our legislature but fact is there are only a small number and they rarely make a difference. Then there’s the money that my BBC licence fee goes to making religious programmes , but fairs fair I’ve watched to the end of many an interesting documentary on the art of renaissance Italy or Tudor politics, only to find that it was produced by the Religious Affairs Unit and realized it had mentioned the church a few times.
    Faith schools are definitely a thing and i’ll fire off an email whenever the BHA reminds me, and then there’s the fact that atheists cant get married in specific atheist ceremonies but must settle for secular ceremonies in local government offices.

    Its not a huge amount to get wound up about, certainly nothing that would make me go out and buy the next Dawkins or Harris book in order to feel part of a movement.

    but the thing is, what I do see occasionally is stories of young girls having their clitorises cut off, or children having the witchcraft tortured out of them and it makes me extremely angry. I then recognise that this behaviour is part of the same system that drives young men (children really) to travel abroad to die for a myth. I recognise that all religions are controlled by their own cultures “rich old white men” who will allow evil and injustice to flourish in order to protect their status, religions are the patriarchy and the patriarchy protects religions.

    This is why I’m a social justice atheist.

    just as an aside, i’d never believed in a deity but had gone along with the “church of England” when asked flow. However, I had started to identify as an atheist about 15 years ago,and I’d started to do some reading around what atheism was from my privileged UK position.
    I came across an article about an American atheist group being attacked by Christians. When the police were called to intervene they joined in with the beat down.
    This made me really angry so I kept reading and researching which led to signing and contributing and buying and commenting. I suppose my whole online atheist existence started with anger at injustice and Dawkins has had a fair few quid out of me because of it.

  11. 14

    So…some believe “faith” is enough while others believe “faith” and good works is the right way? I hope the irony of this isn’t lost on us as a movement.

    That was not the only line of distinction she was drawing between the two groups she described. I know you’re likening that to a religious schism, which reads like an old canard that’s been inadvisably used by both sides from time to time. But even if it is the equivalent of a religious schism, who cares? There have been religious schisms based on hair-splitting disagreements about mythology, which were shitty reasons to fight. But there have been religious schisms based on profound moral issues, and if this situation is directly analogous to that, fucking so be it.

  12. 15

    Some part of me feels that dismissing the branching of our movement feels like a mistake. I wasn’t just failing to be clever. I was serious that we ponder the long-term implications of the inevitable fracturing of our movement. As atheism continues to grown, it is inevitable that it splinters under its own weight. I was thinking ahead to the next fracturing in the movement which will be around which causes are most urgent. Gender, sexual, racial, political or financial issues? Some issue my white/male/hetero mind hasn’t thought of? I know some house cleaning is going to be necessary, but what is to stop us from breaking down into so many specific groups that we just fight each other for the stage? Is the fracturing a good thing or not? I have no answers for any of this, mind you. I just came to realize my full-blown atheism a few years ago and felt the ground crumbling under my feet as soon as I landed. If we spend all this time arguing over what it means to be an atheist instead of acting what it means to be atheist (“There are no gods, therefore _____”), what’s the point of atheism?

  13. 16

    Seems to me that what is occurring here is the atheist movement has grown large enough to split into a liberal camp and a libertine camp. The two are not the same.

    Back in the mid 80s there was a faction of the UK Tory party called the Monday Club which had by that time become the home for the libertine authoritarian wing of the party. The Monday Clubbers were not libertarians, they believed in a social order with themselves at the top making the rules that applied to everyone else. They saw absolutely no contradiction between believing that there should be laws prohibiting homosexuality while engaging in gay orgies with children taken from local care homes. The investigation into their activities is the reason police recently raided the houses of Leon Brittan and several other former MPs.

    The folk from the Slyme Pit seem to me to have many of the characteristics of the Monday Club supporters; the contempt for ‘Social Justice Warriors’, the assumption that social rank is an indication of social worth, the complete lack of empathy for anyone who is disadvantaged relative to them.

    Take Dawkins and his ‘Dear Muslima’, it was the complete lack of empathy that disgusted reasonable people and energized members of the slyme pit. The piece was also transparently insincere: The only times Dawkins talks about the situation of women in Islam is when he is seeking to dismiss and diminish them.

    The difference between a liberal and a libertarian is that a liberal finds it very hard to define what freedom is because different people have different interests and these are frequently in conflict.

    A libertarian has no such difficulty because they define freedom to be exactly their set of personal preferences and nothing else. But they are at least consistent, they want low taxes and the right to smoke pot for themselves and low taxes and the right to smoke pot for everyone else. The fact that a single mother of three who can only find work at a Walmart wants a fair wage rather than low taxes isn’t a right they recognize because it isn’t a right they want.

    A libertine takes the position a step further. He wants freedom for himself and his friends alone. Rubbing the faces of what he considers the lower classes in the dirt is not hypocrisy, that is the whole point of the exercise.

  14. 17

    Once more, I quote one of our wisest:

    “William: “I’m sure we can all pull together, sir.”
    Vetinari: “Oh, I do hope not. Pulling together is the aim of despotism and tyranny. Free men pull in all kinds of directions.”
    Terry Pratchett.

    It is natural for humans to disagree about the focus and the fundamentals of any organization. Just look at the politics that goes on in any church–the more rigid the theology, the more vicious the in fighting.

    I think that the Deep Rifts are actually a sign of health in the atheist community. There are now enough of us that we need no longer cling to anyone who wears the “atheist” sign because we are surrounded by a hostile environment. Now we can take a look at just who we have been clinging to and in some cases, decide that they are not our cup of tea.

  15. 18

    It’s one thing to have atheists who don’t want their atheism contaminated by concern for others but prefer to have it just mean lack of belief in gods, the so-called dictionary atheists. While I think these atheists are very short-sighted, I’m willing for them to cluster in their little corner, muttering quotes from Bertrand Russell and Madalyn Murray O’Hair to each other and otherwise being inconsequential.

    However there’s another group of atheists who not only don’t want their atheism involved in social justice but don’t want anyone else’s atheism involved in icky things like feminism and anti-bigotry. The problem with these atheists is they won’t keep on their own side of the Great Rift (Pat. Pending) but keep invading our side. They’re trolling us in an effort to make us shut up. They’re not bashful about their hatred of “Social Justice Warriors.” Jay Smooth has a video where he discusses this kind of troll.

  16. 19

    I don’t have any particular problem with atheists who want to join groups that are only focused on secularism, critical thinking, science education, etc. Those are legitimate issues that are worth fighting all on their own. I don’t have a problem with atheists who just want to be their own thing and just don’t want to be bothered by religion. I really just don’t understand the ones who actively stand against social justice activism, simply because atheists are doing it. I mean, what’s the fucking point?

  17. 20

    I’m done with movements. There are certain atheists and feminists and ‘social justice warriors’ whose opinions I am going to pay attention to, but only until/unless they don’t turn out to be shitheads. I’ll give everyone a chance. Maybe two. But probably one. I’m not going to hang labels on myself anymore. If someone learns enough of my views and decides I’m a feminist, that’s on them. If someone wants to call me an atheist or an anti-theist, or whatever – I’m going to make them only interact with my beliefs on the basis of my beliefs, not some label – and certainly not some movement. Because if I identify as part of a movement, someone might mistake me for agreeing with other members of that movement. Can’t have that.

  18. 21

    [email protected] – Given the most public face of atheism, I totally dig that. On the other hand, Amanda Marcotte had some less than flattering words for those who eschew labels (on a recent article, having a bit of trouble finding it), and I found that pretty convincing as well. Still feeling out my activism, no idea what I’ll be representing by the time I’m done.

    On the big project of making progressive atheism known to the broader public, there is a bit of cause for hope and more to cause despair. On the hopey side, regressives are demolishing religion right now, driving progressive-minded youths toward secularism. That’s people who could help build this thing.

    On the despair side, being progressive and atheist at the same time is a position full of nuance, that resists being boiled down to cheap slogans and easily digested sound bytes. The media doesn’t want to hand us the mic because we’re not going to piss people off, and that’s how they make their dollars. It’s all Bill Maher and Dawkypants all the time. No one can hear us.

    Regressive atheists also have a full head of steam. Their mindset is like opium to a certain class of self-absorbed hyper privileged white guy, sucking them in as quickly as they reach their teens, milking their egos like Mensa certificates. We aren’t running out of those dudes anytime soon.

  19. 22

    Al Dente:

    While I think these atheists are very short-sighted, I’m willing for them to cluster in their little corner, muttering quotes from Bertrand Russell and Madalyn Murray O’Hair to each other and otherwise being inconsequential.

    If I see them quoting Bertrand Russell, I am going to laugh, because Bertrand Russell frequently argued that atheists should support the rights of poor people, women, and (sometimes) people of color.

  20. 23

    Great American [email protected]#21
    On the other hand, Amanda Marcotte had some less than flattering words for those who eschew labels

    I’m a supporter of Amanda Marcotte and I love her podcast, though it’s usually good for raising my blood pressure whenever a new episode comes out.

    The approach I am taking is to disengage from “movement” dynamics and stay focused on individuals and issues. That allows me to dodge things like the recent christianist attempt to frame attempts to take away their ability to discriminate as “discrimination” – If we say “We are against discrimination” we have to engage that quagmire. I simply stick on a detail level: I think Amanda Marcotte is awesome; I think Richard Dawkins is an ass; I think discrimination against LGBTQ is wrong; I think “discrimination” against christians’ ‘right to discriminate’ is a sham.

    I’ll label myself, but the labels will be precise and neat: “I am in favor of slashing the US military budget (press button for reasons)” and that will keep me able to shrug off others’ attempts to label me: “no, I am not a ‘leftist’ my opinions are more complex than a simple 2-party line.”

  21. 24

    I’m OK with some shorthand. Few people are in perfect alignment with a given ideology, but in the US I’m comfortable being called leftist or liberal. Shying away from that, for me, would be like when Andrew Eldritch swears up and down that he is not a goth.

  22. 25

    Damn these time zones, most of the responses I could think of (and several that I did not come to think of) have already been made. To wit:

    brucegee1962 @2 and freemage @8 commented about missing you and how good it is to see you back. So true. Virtual *hugs* if they are welcome!

    themadtapper @3 and Bronze Dog @10 — I agree with you both. And Phillip Hallam-Baker @16 made a good analysis about liberal — libertarian — libertine, thank you!

    And then there’s GAS @14, spot on: “there have been religious schisms based on profound moral issues, and if this situation is directly analogous to that, fucking so be it.”

    Moreover, I agree with you, Greta, that empathy or lack thereof for people who are different from oneself is an enormously important and telling difference. That is what I have observed most often “divisiveness” to boil down to among atheists, since I registered at the late and long mourned RichardDawkins.net forum (the original one) in 2007. Every single person who has used some variant of “Be more like me or you’re not deserving of X” or “I’ve got mine so fuck you” argument(s) has proven themself an Atheist Asshat, given time (sometimes disgustingly little time has been required).

    Someone offered their axe already. If I may then offer these eglantine seedlings, to be planted on our verge of the Deep Rift. Because various types of shields and hinders are just as useful and needed as actual weapons. And once eglantine has its roots well in the soil, it is practically indestructible.

  23. 26

    Personally, I have chosen the word/umbrella of “humanist” rather than “atheist.” Atheism just does not make for any kind of movement. It is more of a philosophical/logical position. Atheism just says that I don’t believe that god exists, nothing else necessarily follows from that, it is just an observation about the universe.

    On the other hand, humanism is a movement, having declared the value and equality of all humans and building from there to determine the kinds of actions that should be taken to ensure that this basic premise is followed.

    That there is no god does not point in any particular direction, in the same way that the absence of ghosts says nothing about what we should or should not do next.

    The other nice thing about humanism as a label is that it does not exclude a huge chunk of humanity. There are many (especially at the liberal end of the spectrum) theists who would gladly join hands with humanists to achieve some of the goals you care about, Greta, and they have. After all (most) theists would agree with the idea that all human beings are inherently valuable and equal.

  24. 27

    Wisconsin Humanist @26

    My objection to humanism is that it’s not atheist. Humanism is a good movement and I support most of its objectives but I cannot call myself a humanist because I don’t believe in gods (note the plural) and many humanists are theists who intertwine their humanism with theism. Plus there’s people like the Harvard Humanists who just want to establish non-theist churches complete with rituals, temples and clergy. I don’t have any use for that kind of humanist.

  25. 29

    What Marcus said @20.

    Also, I think we should be prepared to work with anyone open and willing to fight regressive politics, misogyny, sexism and racism in our society, whether they believe in sky fairies or not. To me the label “atheist” has become entirely irrelevant when judging someone’s potential to make this planet better. Because most of them don’t.

    “I’m an atheist”. So fucking what.

  26. 30

    Personally, I have chosen the word/umbrella of “humanist” rather than “atheist.” Atheism just does not make for any kind of movement. It is more of a philosophical/logical position. Atheism just says that I don’t believe that god exists, nothing else necessarily follows from that, it is just an observation about the universe.

    On the other hand, humanism is a movement, having declared the value and equality of all humans and building from there to determine the kinds of actions that should be taken to ensure that this basic premise is followed.

    Wisconsin Humanist @ #26: You probably mean well, and I admit that I’m a little cranky right now. But I am really, really, REALLY tired of humanists coming into these conversations with, “Why not just call yourself a humanist?” — and telling self-described atheists what atheism “really” means. For me, and for many other atheists, atheism does mean more than just “there are no gods” — it means, among other things, a set of conclusions and values inspired and implied by that conclusion, and the thought processes and values that led to that conclusion. If you want to call that humanism, that’s fine with me — but there are many good reasons that self-described atheists call themselves that. (I’m writing a new piece on nomenclature and the importance of self-definition, and I’ll get into some of those reasons there.) Please respect that.

    Also, I have encountered plenty of self-defined humanists, and humanist groups, who have been total assholes on social justice.

  27. 31

    Atheism just does not make for any kind of movement. It is more of a philosophical/logical position. Atheism just says that I don’t believe that god exists, nothing else necessarily follows from that, it is just an observation about the universe.

    No no no no no! Everything follows from it, you can not be racist, sexist, misogynist as an atheist, if you read the fucking religious holy books and concluded that they were written by males not gods. However this is not what is happening, and most atheists today are smug wankers who are about as rational or skeptical as Ted Cruz.

  28. 32

    Thank you, that’s a really good point. I wish I had a better way of referring to the sort of atheism atheism plus wanted to be, but that’s what I want to do.

    It also occurs to me that although many movements can be too fractured (the judean people’s front problem), movements reach a natural size where they will and should have subdivisions — “theism” has LOTS. Maybe it’s healthy to start reaching that point where you can have a movement with more things in common than “no belief in god” and it’s viable (even though the reasons for distancing ourselves from asshole atheism are sad).

  29. 33

    Either there’s a third category you aren’t mentioning, or you’re being too generous here. I don’t think you can explain the whole dynamic by saying “some people want to work for social justice, some people aren’t interested”. It’s pretty clear that the more vocal of the people who don’t want to work for social justice aren’t merely uninterested in it, they actively want to undermine it. If they merely didn’t care, then there wouldn’t be — just as an example — the obsession with trying to discredit Rebecca Watson or PZ Myers.

  30. 34

    The Vicar

    I’d argue that your third group is merely a subset of the second group. That is, the group that isn’t interested in social justice (and largely benefits from maintaining the status quo) contains a sub-grouping of people who are actively (and loudly) opposed to social justice.

  31. 35

    @WMDKitty — Survivor, #34:

    My point is that the OP basically divides movement atheists into two groups; the ones who don’t care and the ones who care and are “pro”. The ones who care and are “anti” aren’t mentioned, and they’re the real problem.

  32. 37

    Great American [email protected]#21

    The media doesn’t want to hand us the mic because we’re not going to piss people off, and that’s how they make their dollars.

    Really? Rebecca Watson has never pissed anyone off? If you aren’t prepared to piss people off from time to time you aren’t doing it right.

    Dawkins is a known quantity who can be depended on to deliver exactly the line the producer wants for their story. A couple of weeks ago I got a call from the national press asking me about ‘digital certificates’. Since I was Principal Scientist at VeriSign for a dozen years when we set up the WebPKI, it is a topic I know quite a bit about.

    Then when he found out that when I was at MIT I had worked on the Clinton Whitehouse publications system that we built for them he suddenly lost all interest in what I might say. You see the story he wanted to write was about Hilary’s home email system and he really didn’t want to hear me give him a bunch of facts that would ruin the story he wanted to tell. Instead he called round a bunch of people whose quote was in essence ‘Hillary’s mail was completely insecure because she wasn’t using our product’.

    One of the reasons I joined Tim Berners-Lee to work on the Web at CERN in 1992 was precisely the fact that the media has had the power to decide who gets the mic. During the 1980s the Reagan administration was allowed to pick Andrea Dworkin and Catherine Mackinnon as the leaders of the feminist movement. and pretty soon after that they were telling Erica Jong she couldn’t call herself a feminist.

    The Web changes all that. It is precisely why we built it and precisely why the Clinton administration backed us backed us before they were even an administration and before NCSA launched Mosaic.

  33. 38

    @Greta 30

    I can’t get excited about the difference between atheism, humanism and agnosticism. I am really not very interested in the question of ‘whether God exists’ because I don’t think it is possible to define what the proposition means. By definition the only tools at my disposal to reason about a proposition are those of logic and it is blindingly obvious that any entity that meets the modern concept of God cannot possibly fit into any well defined etymological category.

    Like the question of what is 0/0, it isn’t a question I can make any sense of and I don’t think anyone else can. And I don’t think anyone can make any sense of the phenomena of consciousness either.

    It is when people move from the idea that there is some sort of God to the idea that they speak on behalf of it that I start to get annoyed. And even more so when we are told that bad things will happen to us if we don’t obey some completely arbitrary rules.

  34. 39

    My point is that the OP basically divides movement atheists into two groups; the ones who don’t care and the ones who care and are “pro”. The ones who care and are “anti” aren’t mentioned, and they’re the real problem.

    The Vicar (via Freethoughtblogs) @ #35: You may have overlooked this from the post:

    In some cases, they’re the ones who don’t want to connect their atheist activism with social justice — and don’t want anyone else to do it, either, to the point where they’re actively working to poison any efforts in that direction.

    Or this:

    And I’m not saying I will never ever ever work with any person or any organization that I see as primarily rooted in the other movement. I almost certainly will, at least sometimes. (At least, I will if they’re in the “We just don’t care that much” category: if they’re in the “We don’t care, and we don’t want anyone else to care, and we’re working tirelessly to poison the efforts of people who do care and make their lives a misery” category, obviously I’ll have nothing to do with them.)

    I’m calling the vile haters a subset of the “don’t care about social justice” category. But if you prefer to see them as a third category, I don’t have a strong objection.

    I have to disagree, though, with the idea that the vile haters are “the real problem.” They are certainly a real problem, but they’re not the only one. The “we don’t care” folks — the ones ignoring the fights over these issues, making false equivalencies, trying to stop people speaking out in the name of “unity,” trivializing the problems, wishing they had more women and POC in their groups but not being willing to look at why their groups are homogenous and insisting that because they’ve never personally seen sexist/ racist/ etc. problems in their groups therefore they don’t happen — they are a whole lot more numerous, and possibly even more influential. They are, among other things, the people whose false equivalencies and “can’t we all just get along” bullshit make the haters seem credible.

  35. 40

    @#39, Greta Christina:

    Well, you almost certainly are more in touch with movement atheists than I am, since I’m almost entirely online, so maybe when meeting people in person that comes out more? (Or maybe I just lead a sheltered online existence — that’s the problem with the Internet, or at least a problem with the Internet, it’s so easy to not be aware of something big and important because you found something small and — relatively speaking, at least — unimportant first.) I’d have to say, though, that I’m not seeing a lot of people who sincerely want to keep atheism a dictionary-definition movement out of apathy; the people who are out there causing problems always seem to be essentially reactionary, whether it’s Dawkins not even being able to maintain a consistent pretense of supporting equality for anyone who isn’t a white upper-middle-class cis male or the Slymepit making “joke” rape threats. Sure, some of them claim they’re doing it because they don’t want mission drift, but after a paragraph or a few minutes of talking (depending on medium) it’s always clear that that is merely a convenient excuse. The real goal is always the reactionary one.

  36. 41

    Greta @39

    I turn it around, I am a social justice warrior. That is what I am interested in. And I am willing to accept anyone who helps in the cause regardless of whether they believe in zero, one or more Gods.

    Some of my friends are new age/pagan. I see no reason at all to argue against their religious beliefs because they don’t have any impact on me or a negative impact on people who don’t have the ability to defend themselves.

    Where I have a problem with religion is when we get to priests telling us that same sex marriage is wrong or the like because of their interpretation of a book that was written by someone whose lifestyle they would write off as a hippie if they were doing it today.

    What Dawkins and the slymepitters (name for a rock band?) seem to want is similar but they are arguing against the existence of God so they can dissolve the parts of the social contract they find inconvenient. They are social injustice warriors, looking to promote themselves to top predator having swept away all notion of ethics.

    I don’t need to prove God does not exist, all I want to do is to eliminate his claim to moral authority. And this is not difficult since every one of his inconsistent autobiographies exposes him as a narrow minded bigot with the moral compass of a toddler. I want to do that because it is obvious to me that modern society cannot live according to a social/ethical system developed to support and legitimize a social hierarchy. Dawkins and co seem to want to do the same so they can ask if rape is such a bad thing after all.

    The title Social Justice Warrior only sounds absurd if you can’t back it with achievements. We can, why not take it?

  37. 42

    Also, I think we should be prepared to work with anyone open and willing to fight regressive politics, misogyny, sexism and racism in our society, whether they believe in sky fairies or not. To me the label “atheist” has become entirely irrelevant when judging someone’s potential to make this planet better.

    I turn it around, I am a social justice warrior. That is what I am interested in. And I am willing to accept anyone who helps in the cause regardless of whether they believe in zero, one or more Gods.

    rorschach @ #29 & Phillip Hallam-Baker @ #4: If that’s how you want to work, I totally support you. Myself, I still want to work to build atheist community — because there are still atheists who need it. There are still atheists who lose emotional and practical support when they leave religion. I want them to have it — even if they aren’t straight, white, cis, financially comfortable, college-educated, able-bodied men, who are unwilling to examine the ways they sometimes perpetuate marginalization or to work to push back against it.

  38. 43

    Greta, social justice is a damn big project. We all have to pick a part of it to work on. Telling people that they don’t need to feel guilty because of some theological bullcrap invented by the priests for their own self-serving interests is an important and worthwhile cause.

    But looking at the arguments you make I note that you constantly make the consequentialist argument. You are doing this work because you think think it will make other people’s lives better. That is a social justice argument.

    Lets say for the sake of argument that it turns out that you and Dawkins are both wrong and God reveals that he does to exist and opens a page on facebook. What next? Well Dawkins is completely busted, nothing more to be said. But you Greta would be writing on God’s wall telling him where he is wrong and how he needs to drop the medieval patriarchal bullcrap and become a progressive.

    What I am getting at here is that I think your diagram might be wrong. Rather than atheism being one movement I suspect it was always the intersection between two opposed movements that both reject theism for slightly different reasons. And I think that as far as the likes of Dawkins, Harris and co are concerned you were always as much the enemy as the priests because their end goal is precisely the opposite of yours.

    If someone believes God exists then we don’t really have to explain why they would want to share their belief with others. But for folk who believe he does not exist, there has to be a reason. Especially when making the argument is likely to end up with getting your head sliced off by ISIS, burned at the stake by the Catholics or having your heart ripped out by an Inca priest. The two camps have very different reasons.

    The fact that they consider the term ‘Social Justice Warrior’ an insult is itself a pretty big tell for their true intentions and what they are really all about.

    Now, I accept that my case might be a little different. At the end of the day it is pretty difficult for anyone to make me feel small and insignificant when the only reason they can communicate with me is because of something I built. If I can wear the title as a badge of pride then nobody else should be ashamed of it. The fact they feel the need to demean the idea of social justice is evidence that we are winning and that they are really not as sure of their position as they think.

  39. 44

    I’m wondering if there really is a huge divide between two distinct camps, ore even two camps at all. Perhaps it’s just a perceived one played out in more celebrity-esque fashion among high-profile players? If you get down into the trenches of everyday mainstream freethinkers out and about making a difference on mundane, unobserved daily doings, I don’t think these divisions are so pronounced or even exist at all. Between outspoken and extensively published atheists in the public eye, perhaps they are. There really isn’t that much drama at our level, however great strides are still being made every day in little way never highlighted in any visible way.

  40. 45

    “There really isn’t that much drama at our level”

    Been here long?

    I have been on the net since the 80s and this is one of the most fractious communities I have encountered. There is a huge amount of factionalism and a lot of people whose ‘freethinking’ does not extend to allowing someone to express any view that makes them feel bad.

  41. 46

    Welcome.

    Welcome to a place many of us went a long time ago. You are needed here, and others will follow you.

    Do leave your shoes on the porch, though!

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