A new atheism

The Rifts are Deepening, it would seem.

Jen McCreight laments that she had no idea exactly how prevalent the misogyny, privilege, irrationality, and Boys Club mentality all are in the atheist and skeptic movements before she got involved. Honestly, me neither.

I was exactly what a Boy’s Club wanted. I was a young, not-hideous woman who passionately supported their cause. I made them look diverse without them having to address their minority-repelling privilege. They liked that I joked about sex and boobs not because it was empowering for me, but because they saw it as a pass to oggle and objectify. But the Boy’s Club rescinds its invitation once they realize you’re a rabble-rousing feminist. I was welcome at TAM when I was talking about a boob joke, but now I’m persona non grata for caring about sexual harassment. I used to receive numerous comments about how hot and attractive I was, but when I politely asked for people to keep the discussion professional, the comments morphed into how I was an ugly cunt. I was once considered an up-and-coming student leader, but now I’m accused of destroying the movement.

So what’s to be done of this?

We change the movement.

It’s time for a new wave of atheism, just like there were different waves of feminism. I’d argue that it’s already happened before. The “first wave” of atheism were the traditional philosophers, freethinkers, and academics. Then came the second wave of “New Atheists” like Dawkins and Hitchens, whose trademark was their unabashed public criticism of religion. Now it’s time for a third wave – a wave that isn’t just a bunch of “middle-class, white, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied men” patting themselves on the back for debunking homeopathy for the 983258th time or thinking up yet another great zinger to use against Young Earth Creationists. It’s time for a wave that cares about how religion affects everyone and that applies skepticism to everything, including social issues like sexism, racism, politics, poverty, and crime. We can criticize religion and irrational thinking just as unabashedly and just as publicly, but we need to stop exempting ourselves from that criticism.

I argue that we are already the third wave of atheist/skeptical freethought. Freethought Blogs and Skepchick both draw more than their share of ire just for challenging the status quo, for trying to bring skeptical and atheist modes of thinking to underclasses and repressed peoples everywhere.

And there’s some tiny truth to the argument that “both sides” have been insulting, callous to one another’s feelings, angry, unjustly judgmental. The scope and scale of this is not balanced, as some folks would have you believe, however. Any time someone is critical of a leader of the old wave of atheism, regardless of the evidence for or correctness of the criticism itself, we receive undue levels of vitriol and opprobrium, as Surly Amy has learned, for the mere crime of suggesting that we’re not taking harassment in our communities seriously enough.

When faced with such vitriol, I completely understand that people’s nerves are frayed, that the repressed underclasses are willing to call someone a misogynist for merely supporting and defending misogynist ideas, that people be called assholes for boorish, thuggish behaviour; that people be called shitbags for disingenuous claims of the moral high ground while simultaneously doing terrible things, and supporting and granting succour to those who would do terrible things. As long as these people can be demonstrated to have done these terrible, immoral things for no reason other than self-aggrandizement, protecting the status quo, or just out of cussed determination that these newcomers and upstarts never have their say in THEIR community, we will not grow.

So we’ve built our own community, and we eliminate these worst parts of the old regime as best as we can. And those who would not have this community, consider it a cancer on their own. They go tribal, they go scorched-earth. They do terrible things to good people like they have to Surly Amy and Natalie Reed and Rebecca Watson and Jen McCreight, sometimes politely, sometimes using the most terrible slurs and epithets imaginable.

So when good people within our own community are attacked, we fight back. And sometimes name-calling is used, being as it is one of the only ways a person can force another person to understand how morally reprehensible we find them to be. I understand that, viscerally, and accept it — because when have such revolutions ever been polite?

What we’ve built here is worth fighting for. With Jen’s post, however, we’re only just now giving it a name.

Atheism Plus? Atheist-Humanism? Third Wave atheism, which allies itself strongly with fourth-wave feminism, both of which comprehend the primacy of intersectinoality and pluralism?

I don’t know what name we have carved out for ourselves. All I know is that I’m not going anywhere, and I’ll do what I can to help hold the line.

A new atheism

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