There was a recent article posted over on Salon where author Adam Lee argued that atheism, while enjoying unparalleled success and growth over the past several decades, has also suffered from some internal issues, or “growing pains” which need to be addressed.
The problem, in my opinion, is that people keep trying to classify atheism as some sort of movement. It’s not. Atheism is the lack of belief in god claims, that is all. There’s no point to it, no goal, no ultimate aim which atheism wants to accomplish and I think that it’s dangerous, in fact, to pretend that such ought to be true. While it is true that atheism, the position of disbelief in god claims, is indeed growing and doing so at a remarkable rate, I find it hard to see any pain which it might be suffering, with the possible exception of attacks by the religious who fear losing power and influence.
Now there have certainly been things done in the name of atheism, or things of an atheistic nature. People attend atheist conferences and conventions, people engage in debates, fight for church-state separation and the like, all of which, while not being atheism in and of themselves, are certainly activities that can surround atheism and I generally support such things so long as they are rational. Not all are. Going back to Jen McCreight’s “Boobquake” day, originally it was a day to make fun of the Muslim claim that immorality causes natural disasters. Showing off one’s breasts as a means of saying “see, the world didn’t end!” is rather innocuous and if was used to test the scientific accuracy of the religious claim (it turns out, there was less earthquake activity that day than the statistical average). Yet less than a year later, McCreight was making feminist claims about the nature of events like Boobquake, it seems utterly absurd that a woman who complains about being objectified as a sex object would put together a day where she and other women purposely set out to make themselves sex objects
So what is going on here? We return once again to Atheism+ as an example of the growing pains that atheism is suffering and the idea that, as Lee says “atheism isn’t a stopping point, but a beginning”. That entire concept is, in fact, in error, as I showed above and have posted in the past. Social justice, the main claimed component of Atheism+, really has nothing to do with atheism at all. Lee seems to think that Atheism+ is an idea that leapt, fully formed, into the atheist psyche when nothing could be further from the truth. It’s turning into a very divisive, us-vs.-them mentality where only people who are totally on-board with their neo-feminist ideals are respected and anyone who questions even the slightest irrationalities in their position are tossed to the wolves.
In fact, as I think people are starting to recognize from the recent Matt Dillahunty debacle, there is a fair difference between the stated goals of Atheism+ and the practical reality of Atheism+. On paper, they claim to be in favor of social justice, in reality, they are a bunch of insular neo-feminists who have holed up in their ivory towers and are, as the classic Monty Python image suggests, farting in the general direction of all comers. Those active in the Atheism+ forums and on Twitter and Facebook, by and large, are anti-social fanatics who have embraced neo-feministic ideals and view anyone who questions their goals or their behavior as misogynistic animals who are queuing up to rape them. I’ve posted at some length about how absurd the idea of Schrodinger’s Rapist is, but it’s hardly original to me, many have posted similar evaluations on the concept. I feel certain that if more people who currently support the concept of Atheism+ were to know how the group operates online, there would be less support for it in general terms.
And of course, Lee’s claim that “there are many prominent atheists who choose not to identify with A+ for various reasons, and there’s no chorus of demands that they be blackballed” is blatantly untrue. We simply have to look back at Matt Dillahunty as the most recent victim, where he tried to help the Atheism+ forums correct a clear problem, one that even they admit they had, and got not only blacklisted from the forums unless he crawls back on his hands and knees begging for forgiveness, but he’s been the constant target of attack and derision on the forums ever since. We can look at most prominent atheists who are not part of the Atheism+ machine and find that they too are openly attacked. Take Richard Dawkins, for example, who has been criticized for being a “privileged white heterosexual male” because he refused to embrace the Atheism+ ideals. Justin Vacula was forced to resign as co-director of the Secular Coalition of America’s Pennsylvania branch because he was a vocal opponent of the Atheism+ movement and they felt no problem lying blatantly to get their way. ThunderfOOt was summarily tossed off of FreeThoughtBlogs for daring to question the extremist feminist views. This is nothing unusual at all, only a fool, blinded by the rhetoric, would not see all the examples of censorship that have gone on in the very insular Atheism+ community.
Lee argues that there is a statistical imbalance of men over women in atheism and that much is true, but there is also a statistical imbalance of women over men in cross-stitch or soap opera viewers and I don’t see anyone among the Atheism+ crowd complaining that this imbalance needs to be rectified. It simply is a case that some activities appeal more to one gender than to another. For a long time, it’s been well known that some sciences are more male-dominated and some are more female-dominated, but the feminist response has not been to understand this dichotomy, to accept that men like some fields more than women and women like some fields more than men, but to try to force equality of outcome on the sciences, such that men and women reach their general population density in all things. This has been exactly what has been happening amongst the neo-feminists with regards to atheism as well. Instead of trying to find out why more women are not drawn to atheist activism, they insist on artificially inflating female numbers at atheist conferences and demanding quotas whether the people who choose to attend meet those criteria or not. They run charity auctions in order to raise money to put women on planes to atheist conventions and the second that anyone brings up the undeniable fact that this is, by definition, a sexist act, you get declared a misogynist.
No matter what Lee and his Atheism+ cohorts might think, social justice and feminism are not ideas whose time has come. Indeed, they’re ideas that have been with us for decades and have been working just fine under the title “secular humanism”. These things are nothing new. What is new, and problematic for many people, is the attempt to tie secular humanistic ideas to atheism when the two have nothing inherently to do with one another. I do not understand why the Atheism+ crowd can’t get it through your head that you can be an atheist and a secular humanist at the same time without having to combine the two. I’m an atheist and I like mint chocolate ice cream. Those things are separate and ought to remain so. I can’t just create Atheism+, the intersection of atheism and mint chocolate ice cream, it’s an absurd concept on it’s very face. Why, then, are people unable to see that trying to combine two things that are not inherently related makes no rational sense? Unlike Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, these are not two great tastes that taste great together, these are two worthwhile things that I will agree ought to be pursued, but pursued rationally without having to shoehorn them into the same ill-fitting shoe.
I happen to support many of the most rational wishes of social justice. I do not support radical feminism, which is an element that I feel has largely taken over the Atheism+ circlejerk. I support equality for everyone, something that Atheism+ absolutely does not support (try asking them if they support equality for men, but put on your asbestos underwear first). I think everyone ought to be equal. Men and women. Black and white. Gay and straight. Yes, even the religious and the irreligious. Equality isn’t something that you can achieve by only pursuing the issues of a single gender or a single race or a single sexual orientation. The idea that Atheism+ stands for equality for all can be easily disproven by simply looking at their forums, reading their tweets and browsing their blogs.
In retrospect, Lee is sort of right, atheism is suffering from growing pains. However, it isn’t from healthy growth and rational development, it’s like growing another finger coming out of your forehead. It’s ugly, it feels bad and it hurts and every time you try to do anything about it, it pokes you in the eye. It’s not that all fingers are bad but this one is malformed and needs to be surgically removed for the health and well-being of the whole. Social justice isn’t bad, it just doesn’t belong as a mutant appendage of atheism. Put it where it belongs, as a separate entity where anyone who wishes to join can do so, and I’ll support it as far as it deserves support. Otherwise, especially with it’s bad behavior, it’s just making us all look bad and I don’t want to have to wear a hat.