The way it’s discussed, at times, you’d think atheism is about being against social justice. I’ve had really weird conversations with people on how feminism ruined atheism, for example. But this is confusing, as feminism doesn’t end belief in God or gods. That disbelief in God or gods is usually still there.
I mean, if you insist that atheism is ONLY about a lack of belief in God or gods, how can feminism ruin atheism? Does feminism get people to believe in God?
The only way feminism and other social justice concerns can “ruin” atheism is if they get people to believe in God. Otherwise, atheism is not being ruined. We are merely wrestling over its implications.
If atheism is truly about a lack of belief in God or gods, that’s all it is.
It isn’t naturally against something else, and that includes social justice.
One of the common rebuttals here is that social justice is like an impurity inserted into atheism. But these rebuttals seem to define “impurity” in fairly selective terms. Look at this logically and fairly:
If feminism is off limits, so is any discussion on MRAs.
If defending blacks from discrimination is off-limits, so is representing the concerns regarding prejudice that is exhibited towards white people.
And yet, several seem to act as if “purity” in atheism merely means trying to protect positions that embody the opposite of things that are somehow “impure.” Those concerned with keeping social justice issues out of atheism — especially those who are atheists — often don’t seem merely concerned with keeping those social justice issues out, but are also focused on bringing or keeping the polar opposite of these views in.
Very few people who call themselves atheists (at least, in my experience) seem to equally censor individuals on both sides of the equation. The tendency, at least in many atheist circles, is to use the idea of atheism’s purity to silence social justice advocates, while at the same time protecting or cultivating the growth of opposite ideas.
Let’s also be clear that if you say that atheism does not necessarily have to involve empathy, it’s a bit inconsistent if you say there is any necessity for it to involve “reason,” especially, any “reason” that is beyond what is necessary to reject belief in God or gods.
Thus, atheists who argue about the importance of a link between being rational (or using the scientific method) and being an atheist AND say that atheism can’t have anything to do with promoting empathy because of ideas about atheism’s “purity” are really violating their own principles.
If atheism is really about the absolute purity of a lack of belief in God or gods and nothing else, then the promotion of rationality and scientific investigation are also outside of the bounds of atheism.
If you remove a focus on empathy from the arena of atheism because it’s “just about a lack of belief in God or gods,” you can’t then go on and talk about how reason and scientific observation is important for atheists. That’s extraneous, too. In other words, if we are going to talk about the purity of atheism, there simply isn’t much to talk about.
But there’s another way to view atheism that is much more helpful. In my mind, atheism is not the end of a conversation. It’s the beginning. Atheism is an arena for discussion on how to best proceed in the world once we remove God from the equation.
If we argue that atheism has to be kept “pure” then we have nothing to talk about. Not just for the feminists, but also for the MRAs. But if we see atheism as an arena of discourse that deletes gods and ONLY gods from the outset, and then carries on discourse from there, we have space for a vibrant discussion of ideas.
And many of the positions on many sides in this arena of discourse can best be understood, I would argue, through our individual stories and ways of thinking about the world. I think that one major advantage of a more humanistic viewpoint in this arena of discussion is that it allows for more interhuman connection and understanding as we figure out how to construct communities that are not bound by religious hierarchies, moral frameworks, or structures.
At any rate, my desire for a wide-ranging discourse is, in part, why I claim to be an atheist, oftentimes, over and above being a humanist (although I am largely a humanist, as well). I want to be involved in this arena of discourse, and it’s a bit hard for me to pigeonhole myself into the stricter definition of “humanist,” although my own personal position often coincides with humanist positions.
But my view of atheism as an arena of discourse is also why I don’t think my humanistic leanings as an atheist are reason to push me out of the arena of atheist discourse. Atheism, as an ARENA of discourse instead of an END of discourse, is the place to have many of the important conversations about the principles that we, as a God-free society, should embrace.
It’s not just about keeping religion out — it’s also an arena of discussion for what we are going to construct in religion’s absence.
And I think that this is a necessary conversation that needs the label “atheist” over it because we live in such a religious society. Perhaps eventually the atheist “bubble” will expand so that these are just things we talk about, and the label of “atheist” over the arena of conversation will eventually be no longer necessary. But right now, in this primarily religious society, this label for a conversation that only around 3% of the U.S. population engages in, at the moment, is important.
I also think it’s important to point out here that “atheist” does not mean “anti-religious” — I’m just proposing that it is an arena of conversation regarding what we should do now that we have deleted God and gods from the equation. My own position has shifted from being extremely antitheistic to being a little more tolerant of religious individuals, due to my thinking that happiness and empathy is much more important than I thought it was, once, and can come from (usually fairly liberal) religious spaces — sometimes more than certain more prejudiced alt-right atheist spaces. The arena of atheist discourse, in my mind, allows for such shifts.
So that’s what I’d like to argue. Atheism is not the end of discourse — it’s not concerned, at the very start, with keeping social justice advocates (for example) out with an a priori, hypocritical barrier of a definition. It’s an arena for a vibrant discourse on a wide array of topics — an arena whose title, “atheism,” is relevant for a world in which a very small minority of individuals actually realizes that it is living a god-free universe.
Hope that distinction makes sense for all the people who constantly ask me why my atheistic blog covers such a wide array of subjects. It’s my exploration of a world without God and gods, but one that includes you, obviously. It was nice, at least for this blog post, to explore a bit of this world with you.
Or, in other words, thank you for reading.
PS: I have a Patreon, in case you want to help me keep writing.