Chris Hall has a great article at Alternet about the growing diversity within atheism, both in terms of demographics and in terms of where we focus our attention. I really love some of the quotes in the article from my friends, especially Greta Christina and Jamila Bey.
More and more, the strongest atheist voices are talking about nonbelief less as an end in itself, but as part of a larger conversation about social justice. It could hardly be any other way: atheism is growing not only in numbers, but in diversity. When Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens were at their most prominent, a frequent (and credible) criticism was that the faces of atheism were all white, male and affluent. To make the same claim now is to deliberately ignore some of the most vital atheist and skeptic voices that have emerged in the last 10 years.
Greta Christina, the author of Coming Out Atheist describes the changes in organized atheism: “[T]he movement has become much more diverse — not just in the obvious ways of gender, race, and so on, but simply in terms of how many viewpoints are coming to the table. The sheer number of people who are seen in some way as leaders… has gone up significantly…. And the increasing diversity in gender, race, class, and so on are important. We have a long way to go in this regard, but we’re doing much, much better than we were. And that’s showing up in our leadership. It’s absurd to see Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris as representing all organized atheism — it always was a little absurd, but it’s seriously absurd now.”…
Jamila Bey, the communications director of the Secular Student Alliance, summed up the concerns of many in a recent interview: “There are people who say, ‘Why are we talking about racism? We would rather argue that Chupacabra are fake.’ And fine, that is their right. On the other hand, I don’t get to divorce my critical thinking from my blackness, from my femaleness, from my position as a mother. So when I see the only affordable child care in my community being offered at churches, that’s an issue for me that makes me say ‘Wait a minute, there’s a problem here. Why am I not being afforded the opportunity for my child not to be indoctrinated just so my kid has somewhere to play and meet other children?’ I can’t divorce my whole life from my skepticism and for anybody who says, well , talking about female issues or talking about issues that impact black people, oh, that’s taking away from skepticism, I go, well that’s really easy for you to say. This is my life. I can’t divorce the issues. You can choose to not care about them or whatever, but don’t tell me I’m diminishing skepticism because I’m talking about the reality of what my life is.”
As I’ve said many times, there are lots and lots of things that an individual that is part of this movement can spend their time and energy on — science and religion, separation of church and state, counter-apologetics, building secular communities, debunking myths and much more. But the idea that social justice is not one of the things we ought to be focusing on so we avoid the dreaded “mission drift” is utter nonsense. If your goal is to minimize and reverse the cultural damage that religion does, you cannot ignore the massive influence that religion has on breeding bigotry, discrimination, inequality and injustice.
That doesn’t mean it has to be everyone’s primary focus, of course. If your expertise is in counter-apologetics or evolution and creationism, by all means put your time and energy into those things. Those are valuable and necessary aspects of the movement. But you don’t have to criticize or dismiss those who focus on other aspects in order to do it.