I’m sure you or someone you know has seen or posted Michael Luciano’s Atheists Don’t Owe Your Social Justice Agenda a Damn Thing piece on The Daily Banter. It’s a short piece using the conference I attended this weekend, Moving Social Justice, to claim that expecting atheists to care about such outlandish things as equality diversity is “silly” because the dictionary definition of an atheist is someone who believes in no god(s). Also implicit in the title is the idea that those of us who care deeply about social justice are not “atheists” even though many of us say we are.
Well, okay, then. Michael Luciano thinks that I’m not atheist since this is “my social justice agenda”, not that of atheists. If that’s true, then atheists like Michael Luciano have no right to bring up Cosmos (i.e. Neil deGrasse Tyson and Carl Sagan), Christian right-wing sexism, the normalization of atheism, religious sex scandals, and Islam’s perceived flaws in their promotion of their purely-atheist agenda.
This applies to both the older and newer version of the groundbreaking scientific show. Neil deGrasse Tyson has repeatedly gone on record saying that he considers himself an agnostic. So did Carl Sagan. Despite being claimed by atheists, neither Sagan nor Tyson are atheists. Atheists ought to not bring Cosmos up as if it validates their views. Nor should they criticize Cosmos when it falls short of their expectations, since a show that both originated with and is continued by agnostics doesn’t owe atheists a damn thing.
Christian Right-Wing Sexism
Atheists just love to bring up how horribly sexist those awful Christians are. Unfortunately, caring about sexism and misogyny is a social issue, so using them to attack Christian views is inappropriate for atheists who think that social justice is silly. There is nothing in the definition of atheism that says you shouldn’t be sexist.
I, along with many others, have been tweeting using the #NormalizeAtheism tag. Michael Luciano thought #NormalizeAtheism was important enough to write about and even included one of my tweets in his piece. To urge the normalization of atheism is to ask society to treat atheists as human beings equal in humanity to theists, which is far outside the realm of believing in no gods.
Christianity’s Myriad Religious Sex Scandals
Atheists love to skewer Catholics and other theists over traditional religious views on sex-related issues. Though it’s an easy target in the case of Catholicism (nay to same-sex non-platonic relationships but yea to child sexual abuse? the criticism writes itself), issues like LGBT rights and child abuse are social ones not covered in the main definition of atheism. Who’s to say that an atheist can’t be a child molester? What in the definition of atheism precludes the promotion of child abuse? Maek you think.
Islam’s Perceived Flaws
Criticizing Islam based on Muhammad’s marriage to a child, anti-woman sentiments, and proscription of apostasy on pain of death is to use social issues to promote atheism. Pure, true atheists would do well to refrain from such criticisms and instead focus solely on the fact that there is no god. Social arguments are not relevant to believing in no gods.
A perfunctory glance over Michael Luciano’s writings on The Daily Banter shows a list rife with examples of all five of these things that aren’t contained within a strictly dictionary, denotative definition of atheism. The same is true of the heroes that Luciano and r/atheism revere: Dawkins, who talks about rape and other social issues all the time these days; Hitchens, who regularly used social arguments to skewer religion; and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whose foundation is for helping women fight gender-based rights violations, just to name a few. I look forward to Micheal Luciano’s criticism of the social justice concerns of nearly all atheists, including the famous ones he reveres.
53 thoughts on “Top Five Arguments the Atheist Agenda Doesn’t Have the Right to Use”
I pointed that every single atheist shown in the photo he had on the post was involved in a form of Social Justice (even the agnostic).
Indeed, that’s true.
This is an excellent piece, Heina. A winnar is you.
A thing of beauty! Consider this bookmarked.
Well said, Heina!
The moment anybody stops merely not-believing-in-gods purely inside the privacy of their own thoughts and starts, say advocating for proper science teaching in schools, an end to bishops in the House of Lords and compulsory RE, or the separation of church and state in the USA, they’ve gone way beyond the bounds of dictionary-atheism anyway. They’ve adopted a social reform agenda. So why should they get away with pretending that only their social reform agenda is allowed on the table?
There is no “atheist agenda” with regard to social issues. To say so demonstrates that you do not understand what an atheist is. If atheists have an agenda, it is not believing in any god. Anything else is added on top of a person’s atheism and is a separate issue.
I was being sarcastic in response to the original post. I am well aware, thank you.
Yes, this! As I posted here, unless you shut up about your opinions on what a just society should be, you’re a SJW, moreso the louder you shout.
And unless you’re some odd kind of atheist (S.E.Cupp anyone?) who thinks nonbelievers should be discriminated against, you’re a frikkin’ SJW – by saying you are an atheist, you’re implying “treat me like anyone else!”
Nice article, solid takedown!
I think I caught a typo here. It should say “Christians” or “religious believers” rather than “atheists” again, right?
That should be “theists”. Thanks for catching that.
Good post. What I’ve never understood is this: What’s wrong with a sub-group within a demographic group (whether atheists, religious people, science fiction and fantasy fans, whatever) getting together with others within that same demographic group to work together towards some goals that they share? I’ve even seen commenters on a Harry Potter fan website get upset when a post about same-sex marriage was included. (It’s not even something this website does all the time. They only did it because it was written by someone at the Harry Potter Alliance, and therefore relevant to their website.) People get upset and say it’s irrelevant. But why is that so surprising? Atheists/religious people/Harry Potter fans care about stuff other than atheism/Christianity/Harry Potter. When people get upset about people in their group getting involved in social justice, to me, it sounds more like they don’t really care about social justice issues that don’t affect them—not that they actually care about “mission drift”.
Can I look forward to the post about how NARAL and NAACP should be advocating for atheist interests?
That’s not their focus. What is atheism’s focus? As shown by the examples of Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and Hirsi Ali, it is social issues.
If we don’t advocate for social issues caused by millennia of religious domination and acceptance which enabled certain ideas to be entrenched in our society….
Then we would have ABSOLUTELY no criticisms of religion apart from “I don’t think god exists”. To believe in a god would not be a bad thing. We would never be able to point out the harm religion causes because that would be a social issue that is beyond our purview.
So no pro-choice, no GLBT issues, no political secularism, no women’s rights, no issues of education… the list goes on and on.
None of the people in the picture on that post by the author would be famous if not for their social justice views. They are ALL social justice warriors. What? You think Richard Dawkins is actively rescuing women from Female Genital Mutilation? No. He’s just talking about it and raising awareness. He hasn’t been involved in research for ages and he is more likely to spend his time campaigning for better education in sciences and against creeping religious law.
All these are pretty much the same damn thing as what “we” are alleged to do. The only difference is that people ignore it when he says silly things or does harmful things while we simply have stuff made up about us by the troll brigade.
One thing I always hate is when someone brings up sexism or racism within the community, and somebody else tries to dismiss it by asking if it’s any worse than racism and sexism outside the community. How is that a defense? So then what makes atheism a positive thing? You can totally feel intellectually superior, but still have all the societal effects of the dominant religion of your culture! Congrats!
both advocate on the same issues as atheists where these issues are relevant to their primary focus (come on, how did you manage to miss the separation-of-church-and-state issue at the forefront of NARAL advocacy? The one where they’re trying to keep religion out of abortion & contraceptive law?)
Atheists have shown that their issues are various social issues (education, LGBT rights, anti-sexism, equality, etc are, as Heina just pointed out, a mainstay issue in atheist advocacy), so now suddenly claiming otherwise would be like NARAL suddenly dropping reproductive justice advocacy because it might benefit non-women.
side note: that dude doesn’t fucking own the term “New Atheist”, and it’s not “New Atheists” that are being criticized. PZ’s a “New Atheist”, many other FTBers are, I am. The problem is not “New Atheists”; the problem is white dudebros, regardless of whether they’re accommodationist or new atheist.
I don’t think Michael thinks your are not an atheist. He just thinks that your concern for social justice is atheism plus something else (feminism, humanism, etc.). Is there any reason to think atheists should automatically care about social justice? No, one can be an atheist and hold the political views of George Will.
One can, but then one also cannot put ppl like Neil DeGrasse Tyson in the picture of one’s article as if he were an atheist. Which is the fucking point of this post.
Or, one can admit that atheism as a movement has always been about more than just private disbelief.
“Criticizing Islam based on Muhammad’s marriage to a child, anti-woman sentiments, and proscription of apostasy on pain of death is to use social issues to promote atheism. Pure, true atheists would do well to refrain from such criticisms and instead focus solely on the fact that there is no god. Social arguments are not relevant to believing in no gods.”
You are correct in suggesting that social justice arguments may help convince a person to abandon a belief in God. But it does not logically follow that all atheists should naturally support social justice. The reason that such arguments are often quite helpful is that theists generally assume that their God is fair and just. It is not impossible that a God could endorse child rape (a psychopath God could do just that) but it is impossible for a benevolent and just God to condone child rape. So the argument is helpful because it delineates the contradiction in theist’s position and the theist may struggle with dissonance when confronted with examples of her God behaving unjustly.
only by definitions of “benevolent” and “just” that lie outside the purview of dictionary atheism. To accept that child rape is neither just nor benevolent, you have to accept humanist ethics, ideas about the importance of consent, etc. first.
So if atheism isn’t about humanism, ethics, feminism, human rights, etc. then atheism can’t say whether child rape is unjust or not, and as such those are not actually arguments against religion.
11. Jadehawk says “Or, one can admit that atheism as a movement has always been about more than just private disbelief.”
I don’t dispute that. But that movement is not atheism alone. It is atheism plus something else.
the point is that there is no atheist movement that isn’t also a movement about related social issues. There has never been an atheist movement only about disbelief, and in fact such a movement would be impossible. You can’t make a movement out of your personal disbelief alone. Pretty much every single topic the atheist movement has ever dealt with has been under the social justice umbrella, whether the atheist dudebros want to admit this or not.Without that, the “movement” would be just 5 dudes sitting in a bar, going “hur dur, theists are stoopid” to each other: no educational activism, no activism for the rights and equality of atheists, no separation of church and state, no nothing.
Again, I don’t disagree. But atheist movements are not atheism. They are atheism plus something else.
When theists accuse atheists of being “just like a new religion” we don’t like it. How do we respond? Religion is a belief system, atheism is not a belief. It is the absence of belief. Yes, let’s be clear about that. If we define atheism to include things other than absence of belief in god(s), it does indeed start to look like a belief system.
so what you’re saying is, you’re off topic and have no idea what this conversation is about?
there has never been an atheism movement that didn’t include “things other than the absence of belief in god(s).” Science education is a thing that’s not meredisbelief; separation of church and state is a thing that’s not mere disbelief; the human rights of atheists is are things that are not mere disbelief; etc.
There has never been an atheist movement that wasn’t atheism plus social issues. There has never been a movement atheism that didn’t already include things beyond mere dictionary atheism. There is no “start to look”; it’s always been that way, for as long as atheism has been a movement.
Claims to the contrary are denial, nothing more. The genuine disagreement is about which social issues should be part of the atheism movement; it’s never been about NO social issues being part of the atheist movement. Education, curch-state separation, and the immorality of religious ethics frameworks has ALWAYS been part of it.
Of course it’s atheism “plus something else”. That’s what we’ve been saying all along.
Let me try a different angle. The atheist movement has splintered into different factions. Do these factions disagree about the existence of god(s)? Or, do they differ about other issues?
they differ about which social issues should be part of the atheism movement. There are no movement atheists that champion nothing other than standing around saying “I disbelieve in god”; because that’s not a movement.
“Of course it’s atheism “plus something else”. That’s what we’ve been saying all along.”
Then be clear about that and use a label (Atheism Plus, for example) that makes that clear. I disagree that everyone has been so clear about this all along. Indeed, you have just stated the view of the author who is being criticized in the original post. Go read the comments to PZ Meyer’s recent post on this topic and it becomes apparent that this is not so clear to everyone.
Heina, Ophelia and PZ all have recent threads on this topic. It is not clear in any of their posts that when they refer to atheism they mean “atheism plus something else”. The impression I get it that they seem to think the “plus something else” is automatically intrinsic to atheism.
it is intrinsic to the atheist MOVEMENT, yes. an atheist movement that’s just about disbelief and absolutely nothing else has never existed and can’t exist.
the “view” of the author in the original post is that there is such a thing as an atheist movement that isn’t concerned with social issues.
He’s wrong. There isn’t. There never has been. All that we’re disagreeing on is WHICH social issues the atheist movement should focus on. But, I repeat, an atheist movement that isn’t concerned with social issues beyond mere disbelief has never existed and is in fact impossible.
IOW, sure, you can have atheism without anything else. you can NOT have an atheism movement without being an atheism plus something else.
Folie Deuce @15:
Why should only one group have to adopt a different label? One group is arguing that their particular set of values on social issues are the default, and hence they can call themselves “atheists”. That’s rubbish. Either we are all atheists, or we are all atheist+something.
There’s also the fact that when we did exactly what Folie Deuce asks, we were accused of trying to claim ourselves as the only true atheists. We explicitly said we were “atheism plus something else“, precisely as FD wants, and we were hounded for it. Jen was practically harassed off the internet for the idea.
The problem here isn’t what we call ourselves or how we explain things. The problem is that certain people just don’t want things to change. They like being in the privileged group and they don’t care about equality and fairness.
This. Atheism as a concept is pure and simple. However, atheist people always, always have other views in addition to atheism. Since a movement is composed of people, it will, to some degree, always include ideas in addition to the founding purpose.
Whether those additional ideas are a concern for social justice, or “bitches ain’t shit” may vary, but they’re always there.
Frankly, Folie Deuce, you strike me as someone who has just joined the discussion five minutes ago. If that’s the case, I suggest you take some time to get familiar with the several years worth of backstory to this.
it’s not even that people will bring their own things TO the atheism movement. it’s that there’s no movement without the extra stuff. with exclusively disbelief on your agenda, there’s nothing to move and noplace to try to move towards. Disbelief just is. To even have goals towards which to move, and a reason to want to reach these goals, you need more than mere disbelief. Because nothing follows from mere disbelief, not even that such disbelief is a good thing.
To argue for dictionary atheism (i.e. against an atheism that includes social issues) is to argue against movement atheism, including New Atheism.
Indeed. Even very basic ideas, such as secularism or freedom of speech, do not necessarily follow from atheism. The moment you want to do anything, you’re going beyond dictionary atheism and into the realm of actual human beings.
They’re mostly talking about the harms caused by religion. I understand putting all of that, along with your interests, under the header of social justice for classification purposes. However, it doesn’t follow that they should also share your interests simply for having causes that also fall under that umbrella. It really, really doesn’t follow that other atheists should also share your interests.
Try to take another look at the analogy you dismissed out of hand earlier: NAACP and NARAL can be put under the header of “social justice” along with defending the rights of non-believers. However, no one is asking them to help defend non-believers in Saudi Arabia, or help keep Christian pseudo-science out of American schools.
Why should they care about the harms allegedly caused by religion? That’s a social concern that’s not in the definition of atheism.
My point is that when people like Luciano say “atheists don’t have to care about social justice”, they’re referring to social justice causes in which they personally have no interest, not all of them. The ones they care about become “atheist” to them but not the ones about which they are not personally invested. It’s rank hypocrisy.
nonsense. A)they dismiss plenty of social issues that are actually caused by religion, restriction of abortion access being the most notable example; and B)plenty of the traditional SJ concerns of the atheist movement are not caused by religion, especially where the atheist movement shades into the general skepticism movement.
Aside from that, this distinction is not one drawn by Luciano. Dude makes a much more general claim, insisting that SJ issues aren’t part of atheism at all. which is patently untrue.
defending non-believers in Saudi Arabia and keeping Chjristian pseudoscience out of schools are social justice issues. The atheism movement can and should be put under the social justice umbrella as well.
I think empathy, experience, and now their careers and positions in society are why they care about the harms caused by religion. I wouldn’t use the word “should”.
I can’t speak for Michael Luciano but my advice to Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Ayaan Hirsi Ali would be a paraphrasing, perhaps nicer, of “Atheists Don’t Owe Your Social Justice Agenda a Damn Thing”.
But they do social justice already. They obviously owe it something if they use its arguments to spread their ideas, which they do.
“But they do social justice already. They obviously owe it something if they use its arguments to spread their ideas, which they do.”
Maybe I’ve gotten lost in the pronouns (see also: Oscar Gamble), but it seems like you’re saying theres a set of words/phrases that you can’t use without taking an interest in everything else you can call social justice. If I’ve understood correctly, what is the appropriate homage that Dawkins, Harris, Ali have to show to continue to pursue their own interests? If otherwise, please clarify. To reduce clutter I have also included a response to another poster below:
“nonsense. A)they dismiss plenty of social issues that are actually caused by religion, restriction of abortion access being the most notable example;” I’m not familiar with Dawkins, Harris, or Ali taking such a stand… I’m not sure we’re talking about the same thing.
“B)plenty of the traditional SJ concerns of the atheist movement are not caused by religion” I guess I should ask what they are? and what is “the atheist movement”? My experiences in atheist groups have ranged from church/state seperation in the south to a much easier gig helping college kids publicly meet other atheists for the first time in Cambridge, Ma. I find it odd for you to appeal to what was “traditional” but I’m more interested in finding out what you are actually talking about.
“defending non-believers in Saudi Arabia and keeping Chjristian pseudoscience out of schools are social justice issues. The atheism movement can and should be put under the social justice umbrella as well.”
Yes, but you missed the point to a degree that seems like it took deliberate effort to do so. When have you ever asked another social justice group why it doesn’t defend the rights of non-believers? If I understand correctly, the argument is that organizations like American Atheists, Inc should focus on other social movements, but it should follow that you will also tell GLAAD to begin focusing on the rights of non-believers, and that the NAACP should take a crack at gay rights.
I think you’re missing which way this argument is going. Heina is responding to a person saying that social justice has no place in atheism. That’s the context of what’s being said here.
When the NAACP leadership says that they refuse to support atheists because their organization isn’t about fighting for people’s rights, then you’ll have a situation equivalent to what we’re talking about here.
“When the NAACP leadership says that they refuse to support atheists because their organization isn’t about fighting for people’s rights, then you’ll have a situation equivalent to what we’re talking about here.” They’re not going to respond to a prompt unless its given. In any case, I’m not aware of any atheist organization leadership saying they refuse to support blacks because their organization isn’t about fighting for people rights. That seems exactly like the kind of meaningless lip service that an atheist organization could easily produce.
“I think you’re missing which way this argument is going. Heina is responding to a person saying that social justice has no place in atheism. That’s the context of what’s being said here.” That’s a troubled paraphrasing of the article, at best.
He doesn’t say that atheists don’t or can’t engage in social justice. So giving examples of Harris, Ali, Dawkins disproves a point no one trying to make. He does allude to the contrary,
“that atheists are more likely to be liberal than conservative”
“This isn’t to say that many atheists don’t advocate for say, wealth redistribution”
He doesn’t say that atheists shouldn’t engage in social justice, either. He says the *exact opposite*: “Any time atheists get together to achieve the things Moving Social Justice wants to achieve is a good thing.”
What does he say? “Atheists Don’t Owe Your Social Justice Agenda a Damn Thing” which is restated less provocatively in the article: “there’s no inherent connection between not believing in god and liberal politics”
A point so banal and boring that everyone has taken it on themselves to paint whatever they want on Luciano’s bland tapestry.
[…] Heina’s got yer top 5 arguments you’re not allowed to use anymore. Here’s one: […]
Heina, this was excellent, thank you.
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His very title separates “atheist” from “social justice agenda”.
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