Wow, it’s weird how things come back out of the blue sometimes. As I was preparing to erase #AtheismPlus from my Twitter client, someone came by and tweeted “Hah! A friend explained #AtheismPlus to atheism best… They are what the Burned Furs were to furries.” You know, I had forgotten all about Burned Furs, mostly because they were pretty ineffective and quickly devolved into a bunch of screaming and insulting, but I can see some disturbing parallels between the furry fandom and modern-day atheism.
No, I was not a member, I was no more a joiner then than I am now, but I did know some of the people who started it and were most vocal in it. Those were also the people who most quickly left the movement when it all started to go wrong. However, as I see it, the Burned Furs were not analogous to Atheism+, it was the other way around.
Let me explain. I’ve talked about this here and there before but let me do it again for people not in the know. Way back in the late 80s, there was an offshoot of science fiction and fantasy fandom called anthropomorphism, or the “furries”. In the earliest days, they were people who simply took human characteristics and applied them to animals, or vice versa, as a means of telling stories in a different way. Furries are nothing evil, Bugs Bunny is a furry. Mickey Mouse is a furry. Wiley Coyote and the Road Runner are furries. Lots of people who were fans of this kind of entertainment started to think, what if we took these concepts which had been primarily for kids and started telling more adult stories with them. No, I don’t mean porn, I mean more intelligent, rational, intellectual stories. One of the earliest was Maus, where creator Art Spiegelman was able to tell stories about the Germans and the Jews in a way that he couldn’t have with human characters. By casting the Nazis as cats and the Jews as mice, he could examine emotionally-charged issues without the reader’s sentimentality getting in the way. That’s the way furry fandom was at the beginning. I’m not going to say that there wasn’t a sexual component, there is in just about every fandom but it was very understated. Even Star Trek fandom introduced us to “slash” fiction, where Kirk and Spock… well, you know. People at the beginning of furry fandom would draw pin-ups, not full-blown rape scenes. For a long time it went on this way, but good things just don’t last.
Over time, for a variety of reasons I’ve detailed before, people started to enter the fandom who were really not interested in the artwork or the anthropomorphics, they just wanted to get laid. They wanted to be free to engage in various kinks and perversions and furry fandom happened to be very accepting, it had been founded by a lot of open gays who wanted everyone to feel welcome. There was nothing wrong with that, of course, right up until the newcomers utterly took over the fandom and turned it into a beastial orgy. That was the point where a lot of people, including those who would start Burned Fur, and said “wait a minute, you’re all just making us look bad! Knock it off!” And thus, the war began, between the people on the pervert furry side who not only didn’t want to give up their sanctuary, they didn’t want to lose all the free and easy sex, and the people who had largely started the fandom, or had been involved from the beginning, and didn’t want to see something they had worked so hard to achieve destroyed. Unfortunately, lots of furs in the middle, who really didn’t understand the issues, stood on their “we accept everyone no matter what!” platform. In the end, the whole of the fandom was virtually destroyed, the premiere convention, with which I had worked since it’s inception, went out of business. Tons of people just walked away, refusing to be associated with the cesspool it had become.
So that brings us back to atheism. Atheism, from the beginning, has been about non-belief, it’s been about logic and reason, debating with theists and trying to get them to see reality through their God-colored glasses. It was never about social justice, just like furry fandom was never about fetish sex. Then you got some people who came along, and under the guise of being “open”, joined in. Now I’m sure they didn’t believe in gods, just like a lot of the first perverts who joined furry fandom actually liked furries, but as time went on, more and more radical feminists, to whom atheism was a secondary consideration came along, just like more and more perverts and fetishists who had no clue about anrthropomorphics joined in. By the end, it wasn’t about atheism or anthropomorphism, except tangentially, it was about something entirely different.
But then, people got concerned. They pointed out that what was in place now wasn’t what was in place before. They realized that something had happened to their group, something that just didn’t make any sense. They fought against it, at first rationally and then, unfortunately, irrationally. See, the Burned Fur did the same thing a lot of anti-Atheism+ people do. They started pointing and laughing and ridiculing and insulting. The result was the same, in both cases, the newcomers felt wholly justified in their beliefs, in fact, the more they were attacked, the more justified they were. The more attention they got, the more it validated their position. That made them stronger and spurred even more attention by the opposition. In the end, just as with furry fandom, I feel certain that organized atheism will implode because of this.
It’s sad that I see these dramatic parallels and can see the writing on the wall. It’s happened before. Everything has happened before. It’s up to us to recognize these similarities and learn from the past. Unfortunately, we don’t. We do the same thing over and over, we suffer the same catastrophic results and we act surprised.
We shouldn’t be surprised. We should just be aware.