"There Is No LGBTQ Movement"

Someone passed along this post from Steve Ahlquist (yes, Jessica’s uncle), titled, “There is no atheist movement: The American Atheists and CPAC“. The premise of the post is that:

  1. Atheists have no shared values, as demonstrated by American Atheists attempt to pay $3,000 to table at Conservative Political Action Conference;therefore,
  2. There is no atheist movement, because movements have shared values.

The person who shared it with me felt that I would appreciate this argument as akin to the “How can we call ourselves a movement if we welcome behavior that pushes out more people than it invites in?” arguments that we’ve had about movement atheism. (For the record, I think that’s still a movement, just one that’s hobbling itself badly.) As it turns out, I disagree. Ahlquist’s argument only works as long as he leaves out key information. With that information included, his argument instead becomes a framework for understanding American Atheists’ decision.

As he puts it here:

Spending money is a moral decision, informed by our values.

So when American Atheists decides to give $3000 to CPAC, money that supports groups actively attempting to undermine the human rights of atheists, Humanists, LGBTQ persons and women, that is also a moral decision, derived from closely held values.

The story at the center of this issue is not that CPAC refused the money and disallowed the attendance of AA, its that the AA wanted to be a part of CPAC at all. This is the reason that I say there is no real atheist/Humanist/skeptic movement. Instead there are many individuals and groups of people united by their common disbelief in a supernatural God. That’s not a movement, it’s an arbitrary collection.

The interesting part of this argument is that Ahlquist doesn’t explicitly lay out American Atheists’ values as reflected by this purchase (not gift), either here or anywhere else in his post. The closest he comes is noting that they are not a specifically conservative group. However, in doing that, he links to their “Aims and Purposes” page, which has a fairly strong statement of values.

American Atheists, Inc. is a nonprofit, nonpolitical, educational organization dedicated to the complete and absolute separation of state and church, accepting the explanation of Thomas Jefferson that the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was meant to create a “wall of separation” between state and church.

That is American Atheists first listed, and thus, by Ahlquist’s reasoning, most important value and the value they feel is most threatened. In the preface to their FAQ about their CPAC participation, they translate that value into their reasoning for attending.

American Atheists is a non-partisan organization. We advocate for all atheists, regardless of their political beliefs. But more to the point, we want to raise the question about the close ties between conservatism and religion. We want to bring the message to CPAC that there are millions of conservatives out there who are turned off and alienated by the conservative movement’s close ties to dogmatic religious beliefs.

There’s a good bit more of that in the FAQ itself. It’s worth reading, even if you feel American Atheists attempts at CPAC were as doomed as that of the Log Cabin Republicans, the gay and lesbian group fighting for inclusion among conservatives. Either way, the attempt to gain a voice at CPAC is in line with their mission.

Ahlquist, by the way, doesn’t consider a comparison between the two groups, or their records of being kept out of CPAC, to be valid. His reason? They have different values leading them to CPAC.

The LCR, on their website, say, “We believe in limited government, strong national defense, free markets, low taxes, personal responsibility, and individual liberty.” In a sense, these beliefs are baseline, lowest common denominator conservative values. It’s what conservatives are left with when religious social values are boiled away. Most conservatives in the United States believe that to be a conservative one must believe at least in these things. The Log Cabin Republicans consider themselves conservatives, so that’s why they wish to crash CPAC’s party, but why do the American Atheists want in? Do they extol similar values on their website?

They do not. At least, not on their website.

However, not only does American Atheists find a reason consistent with their main value for attending, but they explicitly identify a portion of their constituency that their attendance will serve.

There are conservative atheists?

Yes! In fact 14% of atheists in America, and 22% of of non-religious Americans, self-identify as conservatives, and 19% of conservatives told Pew Forum that religion has “little importance” or is “not at all important” in their lives. A similar fraction, 22%, seldom or never pray, and 24% of conservatives seldom or never attend religious services.

That constituency doesn’t have to be 100% of their membership to make their attendance valid any more than their constituency has to all be in one state or court district before they challenge a Ten Commandments monument in a state house or court. American Atheists doesn’t have to be 100% conservative to represent conservatives who share their values. Visible representation of and advocacy for a mistreated minority doesn’t become invalid if the organization doing it also does other advocacy work.

Beyond that, even if American Atheists were a 100% conservative organization, that still wouldn’t change the fact that it’s a part of a vibrant U.S. atheist movement, albeit one that’s dealing with some real challenges. Separation of church and state, whether advocated for by liberals, progressives, conservatives, libertarians, or anarchists, remains a core shared value of the vast majority of atheist organizations. So does the building of atheists communities, virtual or on the ground, because it’s just as important that atheists don’t have to be excluded from social participation due to their lack of belief as it is that they have access to political participation.

These shared values are what create coherence for an atheist movement. Humanist and skeptical movements have a lot of overlap with atheist movements, but the atheist movement stands even without them and their values. Those are the beliefs we gather around. The fact that we disagree about many other things among ourselves doesn’t turn us into a non-movement any more than the LGBTQ movement (which has its own issues with equality) falls apart because the Log Cabin Republicans exist.

So try saying, “There’s no LGBTQ movement, just because there are major areas of disagreement within it.” Listen to how strange it sounds. Then realize that saying the same thing about the atheist movement sounds just as silly.

"There Is No LGBTQ Movement"
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11 thoughts on “"There Is No LGBTQ Movement"

  1. 3

    It could be argued, and most CPAC people HAVE essentially argued, that the Atheists want a table at the meeting in order to somehow subvert conservatism, not support it. If the Democratic Party could think of a way to have a table at CPAC, to spread some controversial different thinking, they might be interested as well. That wouldn’t mean that Democrats or Atheists are secretly wanting to be conservatives.
    We might not respect conservatives completely, but we should always keep in mind that there is a (small) possibility that they really believe what they say. And an even smaller but still not zero possibility that they are correct. At least when they say they don’t want AA there because they think AA does not support them.

  2. 6

    I’m having a hard time with the premise that “shared values” have to be all-inclusive, or largely so.

    For the past several decades I’ve been doing a good bit of volunteer work (emergency medic) and financially supporting social relief agencies (food banks etc.) Not all that surprisingly, quite a few of the other volunteers and the relief agencies are religious. Now that I’m retired and moving to NM, it’s no shock that the small-town relief efforts will be almost entirely organized through the churches.

    Works for me. I don’t have to buy their theology to give a hand to people who need medical care, or to take meals to shut-ins, or whatever. The Civil Rights movement of fifty years ago was rather famously led by religious leaders, but you didn’t have to be a Christian to be lynched. And I don’t see why the nonreligious have to agree on anything else in order to organize themselves around building a society that doesn’t privilege religion.

  3. 8

    Precisely. There’s conservatism, and then there’s reactionary theocracy. Before the Great Southern Realignment (aka the Southern Strategy) the Bible-thumpers in the USA were more or less divided between the parties and din’t really control either — they had influence in both, but as a result the insanity was also diluted.

    In the past few decades (starting approximately with Gingrich) they’ve been realizing their control over a unified Religious Right and are now purging the more or less rational. Put another way, the Grand Old Party has turned around into the Party Of God.

  4. 9

    Hershele Ostropoler

    It doesn’t have to be the side with facts. It would be better if all sides had facts

    It would be better, but there aren’t any conservative positions that are backed by facts.

  5. 10

    It would be better, but there aren’t any conservative positions that are backed by facts.

    That’s only true if you define “conservative” as the modern USA Republican party. If used in a more historical sense (or using the left-right divisions in the rest of the developed world), you might imagine the following scenario. Both sides having looked at the evidence and found that anthropogenic global warming is a critical issue, a reasonable liberal position might be that we should implement regulations to reduce CO2 emissions. A reasonable conservative position might be that it is better to charge a carbon tax and allow the markets to come to an optimum solution.

    In that scenario, I might actually side with the conservative position. And I would be glad for the two sides providing alternative proposals. But right now the “conservative” position is “LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU”

    So, anything that tends to push the GOP toward actual conservative policies and away from simply denying reality sounds good to me. And I think AA being at CPAC could have been a tiny nudge in that direction.

  6. 11

    If today’s Republican party committed to only endorse positions that are supported by truth, it would lead to a top-to-bottom rewrite of their platform, and a mass purge.

    I’m not seeing the downside here.

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