The piece, written by Michael Luciano and entitled “Atheists Don’t Owe Your Social Justice Agenda a Damn Thing,” basically argues that social justice is something you do with your liberal hat on and not your atheist hat. He points out that all the word “atheist” means is that you don’t believe in gods and not necessarily that you support “liberal politics.”
It seems apparent to me, first of all, that atheism is a social justice issue. Heina points out in their post “Top Five Arguments the Atheist Agenda Doesn’t Have the Right to Use” that many things the atheist movement tries to fight for are social issues. A lot of atheist activism focuses on equal representation in and by the government and normalizing atheism, the goals of which are to eliminate the ways atheists are harmed as a minority. Seems pretty social justicey to moi.
“Dictionary atheism” is the argument that the word “atheist” has a specific definition which doesn’t imply anything other than not believing in gods. I think PZ accurately describes my feelings on the subject. The sentiment is that we should expect more from atheists because they should be able to use critical thinking to abandon bad ideas of all types, including misogyny and racism. It’s pretty clear at this point that being an atheist doesn’t automatically cause you to shed all of the terrible ideas that have been impressed on you your entire life.
Probably the best argument I’ve seen for dictionary atheism was from a post by Jasper on WWJTD. His post helped me finally string together my disparate thoughts about the whole debacle.
At the core of the issue is that “what it means to be a _____“, and “being a ____ implies _____” are highly subjective. We may come to a consensus on a more intuitive level. Maybe something just has to be true most of the time, as well as being more immediately associated, before we’ll include it as an aspect.
If they’re arguing that being an atheist means more than X-Attribute, but instead includes Attributes Y and Z, wouldn’t contradicting Y and Z mean that one isn’t an atheist?
My atheism is a conclusion to my world view, not the start of it. My atheism certainly isn’t a world view in itself. I’d say that Humanism, critical thinking and skepticism would lead a person to abandoning religious-based discrimination. Atheism didn’t lead me to any of these things. These things lead me to atheism.
Now we get to my point here, which is trying to communicate things more directly than other people generally do. I agree that, as a label, the word “atheist” means nothing except you don’t believe in gods. The definition of the word can’t really be argued until our language changes significantly. I don’t think people are generally trying to argue that the literal definition of the word should be changed, or that even the connotation of the term should necessarily change.
The “we expect more of atheists” outlook comes from a hope of finding a community in which nobody needlessly hates each other for fundamental attributes. Say you’re an atheist woman who lives in a sexist society and whose family is religiously misogynistic. If you stumble on a community of people who prize rational thinking, evidence, and reason above all else, the last thing you’d expect to find is more misogyny, since it’s so blatantly nonsensical and often religiously motivated. It would be seriously disappointing to see atheists who oppose negative religious influences parroting sexist views rooted in the women-as-property culture presented in so many holy books.
Aaaaand it’s even shittier when there’s an active harassment campaign directed at certain people in the movement, many of whom are prominent women.
So, yeah. It’s really just a desire to have a safe space with critical thinkers.
The other issue is that atheism by itself isn’t necessarily enough to rally around and start fighting for. The main thing we have in common is that we don’t believe in gods, which is a good thing in my book. But what do we do with that? This stuff Jasper points out is basically the focus of mainstream “dictionary” atheist activism:
We don’t have unicorn-believers passing laws trying to teach Unicornism in schools, or using taxpayer money to proselytize. They’re not passing laws restricting non-believers from holding public office. Unicorn believers aren’t getting special exemptions from following the laws of everyone else. You can fill in the rest.
However, there mere single fact of not believing in a god is sufficient to be fired (or passed-over for employment/promotions), to be banned from public office (unconstitutionally or not), or even imprisoned/executed. It’s sufficient to be disowned by friends/family, etc.
These issues do affect peoples’ lives in tangible ways, and should be striven against. Being fired for being an atheist or being barred from public office for being an atheist are definitely serious issues.
Having said that, it could be argued that issues like tax exemption, prayers at public meetings, are somewhat lofty and academic compared to the relative severity of racism, cissexism, heterosexism, and misogyny (among others). Not only that, but these other societal issues can be a barrier to people being active in the atheist movement–or even available to our types of outreach. For example, many conventions are prohibitively expensive or difficult to travel to. People of color, trans folk, women and LGB individuals are all economically disadvantaged and more likely to be barred from participation due to financial difficulties. The “white male problem” atheism has is the resistance to letting the conversation become about things that don’t affect the white men making the objections.
If atheists are coming together as a group to do activism, why stop at just normalizing atheism and protesting Ten Commandments statues on government land? If we know we only have one life, why not devote our resources to actively making life better for other people–including all those atheists who otherwise might not even know we existed as a movement? This is part of why the Humanist facet started developing, but the thing is that the entire atheist community could stand up in support of equality in all its forms.
We would be making atheists look good to the broader culture while actively improving life for people, and we would end up bringing more atheists into the fold. Seems like a net gain all around. I’m not saying we should stop fighting for atheist equality. I’m saying we, as a community with resources and a skeptical outlook, can broaden our scope to address issues that affect us all, here, in our one life.
Oppressed peoples have to support each other in order to overthrow the system which oppresses us. We can be allies supporting each others’ causes, or we can stubbornly insist that only one cause is important enough to give our attention to. It’s okay to be a single-issue person, goodness knows there are only so many spoons. However, it’s not okay to disparage people who address more than one facet of oppression, and especially not okay to try to force them out of your community or threaten their safety.
Atheism really needs to get its shit together. Gawwwd.