In June, I wrote a piece for AlterNet, titled 8 Awesome Atheist Leaders Who Aren’t Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris. The gist: When a media outlet decides that atheism is important, they all too often turn to Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris. Then, when Dawkins or Harris puts their foot in their mouth about race or gender — again — the reporter cries out, “Atheism needs better leadership! Why doesn’t atheism have better leaders?” Atheism does have better leaders — so I profiled eight of them, to bring just a small fragment of the range and variety of atheist leadership to more people’s attention.
At the end of that piece, I wrote, “And these eight are the tip of the iceberg… I could write a new profile of a different atheist leader every week, and still be at it ten years from now.”
So I decided: Why not do that?
I don’t know if I’ll do it for ten years. But for at least a while, once a week I’ll be profiling and interviewing a different leader in organized atheism.
GC: Tell me about a specific project or projects your organization is working on.
AJ: Black Non-Believers of Dallas is sending a child to Camp Quest this year through our sponsorship. We had more than normal cries of “reverse discrimination” this year, so we may start raising money a little earlier for next year where we’d like to sponsor more children nationally.
Secular Avenue is always fundraising to help survivors. The more money we take in, the bigger the impact on lives. Secularavenue.org
Personally, I’m very excited about the Secular Social Justice Conference in January, the Black Nonbelievers Anniversary celebration in 2016 and Apostacon this year in Sept, which will be held in Dallas. I’m excited to be speaking at each.
Where would you like to see organized atheism go in the next 10 to 20 years?
Honestly, I’d like to see so much progress in secularism in the next 20 years that the organized atheism movement becomes obsolete.
It might be a little Utopian, but the idea of generalized godlessness or normalized agnosticism, minus any theocratic undertones or allusions to doctrine, would be awesome! I’d like to see Atheism so mainstream that we’ve replaced the term “Atheist Leaders” with “leaders who just happen to be Atheist.” All without controversy.
That would at least signal some muting of the booming religious right and maybe even indicate an abridgment of their encroaching religious agendas. As a humanist, I find that there are so many other things to focus on including civil liberties, general inequalities, education, health, wealth disparities, various forms of privilege, and all the bad “isms” and bigotry. God’s just not that important. Unfortunately, many of those aforementioned “isms” still center on what his followers believe he demands.
In contrast, growing global religiosity in places like Africa (where unchecked superstitious beliefs, witchcraft, and homophobia run rampant) will demand attention from the worldwide atheist and secular humanist communities.
However, I fear, as we’ve seen with our response to American #BlackLivesMattering, that ideas such as #AllBlackLivesMattering or #AfricanLivesMattering will culminate into a self-aggrandizing show of telethon sponsorships, denial of the role played by certain racial actors in creating the problem, or passive acceptance that those #BlackLivesOverThereDon’tMatterEither.
What do you think are the main challenges facing organized atheism now?
Atheists are human too and many of them refuse to accept that. There is some narcissism that comes with organized atheism. We “know better” when it comes to god. That’s almost a universal affirmation. Unfortunately, being presumably right about one thing does not make us necessarily right about everything. That’s fallacious. We are prone to many of the aforementioned “isms,” but instead of justifying them “because god” we’ve shifted to shielding ourselves from our own criticism.
This is particularly the case when addressing race.
Every few years people want to classify atheism as a mental illness. Of course I disagree with this assessment, however if we were to plot it on an axis like an illness, I’d guess that Atheism would have an extremely high co-morbidity rate with colorblindness.
There also tends to be lack of acknowledgement of the intersectionality of issues where organized atheism could have impact, but my arguments are besieged by claims of scope creep, flat out denial, or ally paralysis. On issues such as the flag, police brutality and/or murder, false incarceration issues, etc., you’ll find less than prominent ministers shouting from the rooftops – but nothing from their more prominent godless peers.
Figuratively speaking, imagine the message if the president of a national atheist organization known for running brash anti-theistic billboards in December, were to show up on the ground to protest the treatment of “humans beings” as “black people” at the hands of the police.
I do, but less so today than I once did when I joined the “new atheist” movement. I’m an atheist that happens to be black, or a person of color, but everyone sees black first (colorblind or not). When I came out as an atheist, I was very out. I still have the in your face T-shirts.
However, I’ve shifted over the years to adopt more of a Humanist label. I don’t shy away from the term “Atheist,” but my humanity is tested daily and my humanism compels me to do more than “not believe in gods.”
In addition, it can become an operose task to embrace a movement that although growing in diversity, isn’t at its core inclusive. Actively addressing what’s wrong with the world, rather than meandering through life self-satiating on the fruits of knowledge, drives me. My atheism is somewhere between byproduct and fountainhead of my humanism – and I try my best to not let it become a wedge distancing me from other humans that need help.