It turns out there’s another atheism I don’t like. (If you’re missing a context here, consult the last post on this blog, about atheist activists who deserve more press than Richard Dawkins.) I wrote last Halloween about why I need this community, how focusing exclusively on the Dawkbros makes life harder for progressives who depend on an atheist movement. There’s only one school of atheist thought I hate more than the angry white male one, and I hate it far more: it’s the approach that slams organised atheism but shows no interest in making it work. I’m taking about faitheists.
Around this time year, when Chapel Hill antitheist Craig Stephen Hicks shot his three Muslim neighbours dead, a slew of posts appeared in part of the atheist blogosphere, claiming their authors had been proven right: new atheism was irretrievably terrible, antireligious movements unsalvageable. The triple murder of Deah Barakat and Yusor and Razan Abu-Salha had everything to do with our community—chillingly, Hicks and I had a number of mutual Facebook friends, and I’ve written plenty about his kind of politics—but it didn’t prove anything about religion being good or bad.
Since today’s atheist movement took off, its ideas have directly brought about human deaths exactly once. Every day, religious ideas kill thousands of people. (Fasting. Denial of medicine. Genital cutting. Suicide. Sectarian violence. Execution.) That doesn’t alter the problem of racism in atheism, or mean Hicks isn’t our reponsibility—but it does highlight the double standard of those who blamed antitheism itself for the shootings. When movement atheism has problems, they are invariably inherent; religions’ problems are all extrinsic, with no import on the value of faith.
More regularly than I’d like, I get mistaken for someone hostile to the atheist movement, a Chris Stedman or CJ Werleman. When I roll my own eyes at the Dawkbros, it’s because I need a godless community—because my atheist movement is about helping survivors of spiritual abuse, giving apostates safe places, fighting the exploitation of children; about secular mental health support, civil rights work and social provision. I take on infighting because it’s necessary, because I’m invested in building the environment without which I and others can’t manage.
The people who used Chapel Hill as one more excuse to tear atheism down? I’ve never seen them doing that work. When I look at any of them, I don’t see people building a better movement—or to build anything. I never see them highlighting the parts of our community that deserve praise, or holding religion’s feet to the fire. I see beneficiaries of exceptionalism, pandering to anti-atheist sentiment, signing book deals with religious presses, appearing on Fox News, chewing the fat with believers about how vile the nasty, movement atheists are while letting religion off every hook.
I don’t know what the faitheists are here for. It’s hard enough building an antitheism that isn’t terrible without being erased—hard enough fighting the Dawkbros, making the case for an atheist movement progressives respect, without having one’s work pissed on—but I don’t know what their investment is in criticising a movement they treat as irredeemable; don’t know why they bother at all, except to cash cheques with the religious. Atheism matters to some of us, and our criticism is constructive. If others have nothing to contribute, I wish they’d just fuck off.
* * *