One More Word on Atheism+

A commenter just said the following on yesterday’s post:

“Libby Ann, you don’t really sound like you’re into atheism+, from what you’ve been posting. That’s fine. I’m not really into it either, because identifying as an atheist is not even the slightest bit important to my sense of self. But do you have to keep complaining about how they’re going about it? It seems to me it does fill a niche that isn’t being met – humanists who also want to be proud about and active for specifically atheist causes. People who label themselves humanist generally aren’t focused on atheism, they’re focused on the social justice. A+ people want to do both, and they want a label they can wear that announces that quickly.”

So I want to take a moment to clarify my position to avoid misunderstanding. And I want to thank Jen for making some clarifications yesterday evening – I really found that helpful.

1) I understand the need to get away from misogynists and homophobes within the atheist movement.

In many ways, Atheism+ is an acknowledgement of the dictionary definition of the word “atheist.” I wrote earlier that given that the only thing all atheists have in common is their disbelief in a god or gods, it’s no surprise that atheists disagree on lots and lots of things. This can naturally be quite taxing for those who want to be involved with other atheists in either local groups or at national conferences or in the online community! And when those disagreements are over important things like feminism or LGBTQ rights, well, it’s really no wonder this has become an issue.

While I have generally tried to get away from this problem by stating that I am a Humanist atheist, and that the atheists I see as my allies are those who share my Humanist values, Atheism+ is simply another response to the problem of dictionary atheism.

2) I understand that some atheists don’t feel comfortable with the label “Humanist,” and that Atheism+ is an attempt to offer another option. 

Humanism, by definition, includes both atheism and skepticism and a devotion to both the good of humanity and the importance of human reason. This is from wikipedia:

The philosophy or life stance secular humanism (alternatively known by adherents as Humanism, specifically with a capital H to distinguish it from other forms of humanism) embraces human reasonethicssocial justicephilosophical naturalism, while specifically rejecting religious dogmasupernaturalism,pseudoscience or superstition as the basis of morality and decision-making.

And here’s another article clarifying just what Humanism is and isn’t. This is why I wrote a post stating that I saw little difference between Humanism and Atheism+. Jen of Blag Hag wrote in response that she wants a way to combine Humanism and atheism and skepticism. Thing is, Humanism by definition already includes both atheism and skepticism. This is why I was confused as to the need for a new label.

But after reading posts on this by Ashley Miller and Greta Christina, I began to understand something. For many atheists the term “Humanism” has connotations of “selling out” to the religious or no longer seeing religious beliefs as something that should be opposed. They want to do what Humanism proposes to do – support social justice causes – but they don’t want to use the label “Humanism.” Whether or not this connotation is correct does not change that it exists. I also realized that Humanism’s well deserved reputation of being willing to cooperate with religious individuals who share certain values in working towards common goals was objectionable to many atheists.

Furthermore, many atheists see their social justice values as flowing out of their atheism, and they want their atheism to remain front and center as they work to forward their values and goals. It is true that atheism is simply not believing in God, but they see their belief in things like equality as the natural consequence of their lack of belief in God. The Atheism+ label offers a way to say this loud and clear, and that’s appealing to many.

3) I’m glad so many atheists are getting excited about social justice. 

Really glad. I think this is a great development! And I’m excited!

4) I’m personally going to continue using the label “Humanist.” 

I personally feel that the Humanist label fits me pretty well. I don’t downplay my atheism or cater to religious beliefs, but I also see fighting for social justice as more important than atheist activism and I don’t have a problem working with likeminded religious individuals toward common goals. As I’ve said before:

If feminism flows from atheism, why are there Christian feminists? If sexism flows from religion, why are there sexist atheists? Religion is the product of humans. It’s not some force that magically generates sexism. Religion is sexist because humans are sexist. It’s not the other way around. And there are religious traditions that aren’t sexist. Religion is as good or as bad as the humans that create and follow it.

I like that Humanism puts social justice front and center and that Humanism has a reputation of being willing to cooperate with religious individuals who share certain common values. For this reason, I personally think “Humanism” defines my position better than “Atheism+.”

5) I’m glad Atheism+ will be open to cooperation with all who share common values and goals, regardless of labels or smaller points of disagreement. 

When you start something with a new label, it’s easy to become exclusive. It’s easy to say “you’re either in this club, or you’re not.” Thing is, there are going to be atheists who share the same social justice values but, for whatever reason, don’t want to personally adopt the “Atheism+” label. Some atheists, like myself, are perfectly happy with the label Humanist. Some atheists don’t feel the need to make social justice activism a part of their atheism. After reading Richard Carrier’s rather polemical post, I harbored some concern that those at the center of the development of Atheism+ might say “either declare for us and adopt our label, or we won’t work with you.” And even beyond that, it’s also important to leave room for discussion or disagreement – not on big issues like “should women be equal” but rather on questions like “what should equality look like” and “how do we get there?” That was part of what I was trying to get at in yesterday’s post.

Yesterday evening Jen put up a post that calmed a lot of my concern:

1. Atheism+ is just secular humanism! Just call it what it is!

I think there are some nuanced differences. …

But really, I don’t give a diddly what label you want. Atheist, atheist+, humanist, pastafarian, Supreme Crusher of God-Belief. Whatever. I care more about getting stuff done, and I see the humanists as our natural allies. …

2. Why does everyone have to agree with your particular dogma?

No one has to agree with me, and I don’t want dogma. I want to be able to discuss social justice issues from the context of atheism and skepticism. Discuss, not dictate. Right now we can’t even do that without being threatened, trolled, and derailed. I don’t necessarily agree with all of the views of people who support A+.

This clarification is what I wanted to see, and I am very glad of it. Jen is absolutely right that before we can even have a discussion we need a safe space. While those who share common goals will disagree on how to realize those goals, the discussion about how to do this cannot productively take place in a room full of people who don’t share those common goals.

7. But you’re hurting the atheist movement by causing a schism!

Is the Secular Student Alliance causing a schism because it focuses on students? Are any of the many atheist organizations causing schisms because they all have slightly different missions? Why can’t we have our own group too? Would there be such vitriol in response to someone starting an Atheist Knitting Club? “BUT ATHEISM DOES NOT DE FACTO LEAD TO KNITTING!” So what? Let us have our space to talk about issues that interest us. You don’t have to participate.

8. Why do you hate atheists who just want to talk about atheism?

I don’t. I think discussing reasons why God doesn’t exist, flaws in theological arguments, stigma against atheists, religious privilege, violations of the separation of church and state, and all those related things matter. A lot. They were incredibly important for me when I was just starting to call myself an atheist, especially in a conservative, religious state like Indiana. I think groups should keep on doing that! I am just personally ready to expand my list of topics.

Honestly? With these clarifications, I can wholeheartedly endorse the project of Atheism+. I won’t be using that label myself, because I think Humanism describes fits me better, but I’m more than willing to work with Atheism+ers in whatever endeavors they may put together. I’m glad to know that Atheism+ is in many ways a starting point for discussions about how to achieve common goals, and I look forward to participating in those discussions.

I think Atheism+ has a potential to serve as an excellent way for those atheists who see their social justice concerns as flowing out of their atheism and who see fighting religion as centrally important but also want to get actively involved in social justice issues and to find a group of like-minded individuals. I’m glad that there’s room for cooperation between those with similar goals across a range of labels. I especially appreciate Jen’s comment that we need room for conversations to take place. You won’t get very far discussing the best way to reach feminist goals in a room full of misogynists.

And that’s the last I plan to say about Atheism+, because I’m eager to get back to the subjects I regularly blog about. Look for some more posts on the end times coming up, among others!

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.