The Problem with Big Tent Atheism

I rarely comment here on the goings on in the atheist community. I’m torn, really. On the one hand, a big part of me wants to go to the conferences everyone talks about, and I do occasionally participate in events with local atheist groups. On the other hand, when I watch things like elevatorgate, or the brouhaha over whether sexual harassment policies are even necessary at conferences, well, it’s a bit of a turn off. The thing is, atheism doesn’t have a catechism or a statement of faith or a list of required positions on social issues. While this is only natural, it does have consequences, especially when it comes to forming any sort of cohesive atheist community or movement.

Think about it this way. Do we have “I don’t believe in fairies” clubs? No. We just…don’t believe in fairies. And that’s it. And if we did try having “I don’t believe in fairies” clubs, what would everyone even be united by anyway? What would they have in common? Common politics? Common beliefs about gender roles? Common positions on LGBTQ rights? No. Nothing. Nothing at all except their lack of belief in fairies.

Now of course, there is a bit of a difference when it comes to atheists living in the U.S. First, our culture is so predominantly religious, especially in certain areas of the country, that those who aren’t religious often feel the need for a sort of support group. And because of the Christian Right and the mixing of religion and politics by evangelicals and fundamentalists.

So back to the fairies thing. What if the majority of people in the country believed in fairies, and you were seen as strange and out of place if you didn’t? What if some (not all, just some) of the people who believed in fairies were trying to legislate based on that? In that case, there would be reason for local “I don’t believe in fairies” groups and national “I don’t believe in fairies” clubs.

But you know what? There still wouldn’t necessarily be anything uniting those who didn’t believe in fairies beyond their lack of belief in fairies – and their desire both to make not believing in fairies more acceptable to the country at large and to stop those who believe in fairies from legislating based on that.

And I think that’s a problem for those working so hard to create an “atheist community” or an “atheist movement.” As atheism has grown and gained more of a presence, shouldn’t be a surprise that these issues are coming up. Why? Well, if the lines defining the atheist community are drawn along the lack of belief in God, those within the community are a diverse lot that don’t actually all agree on, well, pretty much anything. And naturally, there are those who are racist, misogynist, classist, and/or homophobic in addition to those devoted to social justice issues. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that there is no social justice requirement to be an atheist – all that is required is that one not believe in God.

After everything unleashed by elevatorgate and sexual-harassment-policy-gate (what are we calling it?), to be perfectly honest, the idea of attending an atheist group or at an atheist conference where the only definition is a lack of belief in God makes me nervous. I would wonder if those around me really shared my values, values based not on the fact that I don’t believe in God but rather in the value I place on human beings. Having come out of a misogynist Christian culture, I don’t want to find myself part of a group that contains misogynists or homophobes. I rank my commitment to humanism and social justice higher than, well, basically anything else.

If someone shares my commitment to humanism and social justice, I throw my hat in with them. If not? I don’t. They’re not my allies. It doesn’t matter whether the believe in God, gods, or no God at all. They’re not my allies. And there is no way in heck I’ll find myself working with someone who opposes social justice issues like feminism. Just. Not. Happening.

When I first left the political right and stopped believing in God, I thought that everyone else in the atheist community shared my newfound humanist social justice values. I saw it as a safe space, a place peopled by allies. I threw in my lot unequivocally, and with excitement. I was naive, and I was wrong. Elevatorgate and everything since then has made that obvious.

Not all atheists are my allies, I know that now. In fact, lots of atheists “don’t get it” the same way the patriarchal Christians I grew up among “don’t get it.” Let me quote from Natalie Reed’s excellent post on this topic.

Any kind of Atheist Movement would by necessity be primarily composed of people who’ve chosen to prioritize atheism and secularism as a particularly important part of their lives and activism. At first how I assumed this went was people generally thinking “secularism is one of many important issues presently going on, and one that I happen to feel especially passionate about, so that’s where I’m going to be put a significant chunk of my energy and attention”. Cool. And I’m sure lots of atheists do have that as their approach. I’m fine with that, and think it’s important, because we do need a contingent of activists putting significant energy into maintaining political secularism and helping prevent the emergence of theocracy. But lately it seems to me that a much more significant percentage than I’d assumed are people thinking “atheism is the most important issue, so that’s the one I’m going to focus on”.

Or, worse, when considered in light of the demographics that comprise the movement, “atheism is the only real civil rights issue, because I’m not personally affected by, and haven’t personally seen, any others, so they must either not exist or not really matter. DAWKINS RULES!”

The creepy thought that the reason a lot of outspoken, committed, passionate atheists are choosing this as their arena is because they’re too selfish, too entitled, or too sheltered, to allow any other issues to really matter to them. That they choose this ONE civil rights issue to dedicate themselves to, because it’s the ONLY legitimate civil rights issue that actually effects them, secure in their absence of ovaries, melanin, exogenous hormones, medical devices/supports, welfare checks, track scars and rainbow flags.

The sad thing is…she’s right.

I have thought before about the fact that being an atheist is the only way a straight white middle class cis men can face discrimination. I mean, think about it: outside of not believing in God, they have every ounce of privilege there is. I had thought that that would make them feel more sympathetic toward groups with less privilege who face other forms of discrimination, and I’m sure that for many it does. But as elevatorgate, etc., revealed, there are plenty for whom this is not the case.

The thing is, straight white middle class cis atheist men do not face the same sort of discrimination that I, as a woman, or Natalie, as a trans woman, do. Sure, there are chaplains in legislatures and “In God We Trust” is on our money and people are less likely to vote for atheists than for any other group, but do straight white middle class cis atheist men have to deal with the personal reality that de facto discrimination based on gender in hiring and promotion decisions remains extremely real (here’s an example), or that there is no requirement for paid maternity leave in this country? Do they have to face a reality where they are not legally protected from discrimination in the workplace and in housing, or where they are not allowed the legal privileges that come with marriage, all of which affects LGBTQ individuals on a daily basis? No. They don’t.

The reality is that while many straight white middle class cis atheist men are extremely sympathetic to social justice issues and prioritize things like feminism and LGBTQ rights, plenty of others aren’t and don’t. Shortly after reading Natalie’s article, I read the Friendly Atheist’s take on it, in which he discusses how many female atheist activists are experiencing “burn out” because of all the misogyny and such that has come out of elevatorgate, and the second comment on the post caught me in the gut – and proved Natalie’s point exactly:

I don’t engage is this pedantry and nonsense, so I’m not worried about burning out. We have a common enemy out there and it seems like the blogs do nothing but attack other atheists most of the time. It’s kind of silly and creates massive fights as people feel the need to defend themselves once they’re pot committed.

I concentrate on what actually matters: separation of church and state, civil rights for non-theists, and true freedom of religion, which means freedom from religion as well. There is enough stupidity out there in theocracy land to fuel my activism for eons.

Arguing against misogyny in the atheist community is “pedantry and nonsense” while the separation of church and state is “what really matters?” You see what I mean? This is what Natalie was talking about. The straight cis atheist man who left this comment likely sees fighting for the civil rights of non-theists as “what actually matters” because, well, this is the only form of discrimination he personally faces. Because of his privilege he doesn’t face what I or Natalie face, and he therefore doesn’t see issues like feminism or LGBTQ rights as important or something that “really matters.”

All it takes to be an atheist is not believing in God. There’s no social justice or humanist requirement. The reality is that as long as the lines of the atheist community are drawn simply based on not believing in God, there will be atheists who oppose humanist and social justice issues and atheists who “don’t get it” when it comes to women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and on and on. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, really. But as someone who was burned and burned badly by patriarchy, it’s maddening. I thought that I’d gotten away from the misogynist and homophobic crap when I left religion. The last place I want to see it crop up is somewhere I had originally (back in my naive days) thought was a safe place – the atheist community.

Thinking about all of this has only reaffirmed something I really already knew: I am a humanist first and an atheist second. While I can know that other atheists share my opposition to the mixing of religion and politics, I can’t be sure they share my humanism or my support for social justice issues like feminism. And personally? I care a bit more about my access to reproductive healthcare and about creating a world where Natalie Reed doesn’t have to worry about employment and housing discrimination, and worse, than I do about whether there’s a manger scene in front of my town’s courthouse this Christmas.

Now, having said all this, there are those in the atheist community who appear to be working to draw the lines slightly differently. They seem to want an atheist community where the lines are based on a lack of belief in God but also on a commitment to social justice, especially when it comes to issues of race, sex, sexual identity, and class. The groups I know of offhand who appear to be working on this goal most tirelessly are the bloggers at FreeThought Blogs and Skepchick. And I’m glad of that. I would feel completely comfortable joining a group or attending a conference that was united not simply by a lack of belief in God but also by a commitment to humanist values and social justice issues. I do have to wonder, though. Is such a group simply “an atheist group,” or is it something more, something that perhaps needs a new label with a definitive definition that includes humanism and social justice issues? Because that I could get behind equivocally.

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.

  • http://tellmewhytheworldisweird.blogspot.com/ perfectnumber628

    It seems to me that feminism is about listening to each other, respecting people from all different backgrounds, having compassion, working for equality and justice, especially for groups that have been oppressed. And that fits really well with what Jesus said about loving others. I am a Christian and a feminist.

    And just like you’re concerned about misogyny and privilege within the atheist community, I’m concerned about the sexism, spiritual abuse, screwed-up messages about purity, etc that come from the Christian community. That stuff is not okay and needs to be challenged. Maybe we have that in common. :)

  • picklefactory

    Well said. There’s been a lot of churn and chaos and I find myself wondering what will happen to the FtBers, but I can’t help but think they’re on the right track.

    • Paula G V aka Yukimi

      Yep, I also think the FtBers are on the right track and their blogs and the ones here on Patheos (FA, LJF, PtL and P&OB) are the only ones I follow.

      I completely agree with this article but I think I find more likely to find civil issues allies in atheist (except you end up in a place like the slimepit I guess XPP) or LBTQ friendly places.

      • Noelle

        So many letters! What do they all mean?

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

        Let’s see:

        FA – Friendly Atheist
        LJF – Love, Joy, Feminism
        PtL – Permission to Live
        P&OB – The Phoenix and the Olive Branch

      • Noelle

        Thanks!

      • Noelle

        Oh, and then may I suggest UF (unreasonable faith). It is also on Patheos and vorjack is quite the thoughtful historian. Always worth a read.

  • Darklion37

    You’re right, as a white middle class hetero (and as I learned today) cis male I don’t face discrimination as often as you do. In fact there are only two occasions that I feel like I don’t really belong. The first is when I am in a discussion with religious people. The second is when somebody starts talking about how I have privilege. Congratulations on making me feel like crap about things that define me. I realize that your comments weren’t directed to me specifically. Probably not at all because I agree with you on pretty much everything you said. The thing is I really can’t do anything about it. I can’t change something I dont have control over. I can’t stand up and lead these sub movements. For every person who comments and makes your blood boil there is at least one that disagrees. We need leaders. Leaders from the feminist movement to organize talks about how atheism and feminism can work together. We need folks from the lgbt movement to stand up and show us how we can help. We dont know the ebbs and flows of a movement that doesnt directly affect us. I just found out another classification that i fall under while reading natalie’s post. We need someone that follows these other movements to lead us. The atheist movement is diverse, and you’ll get people that will disagree, but it’s also large enough that you can afford to not pay attention to them.

    • Noelle

      If it helps, I don’t know what a cis man is either.

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

        It’s short for cisgendered, which is the opposite of transgendered. Don’t worry, I hadn’t heard the term until about six months ago either. Basically, someone is cisgendered if they identify as the same gender as that of the body they were born in – I was born female and am biologically a woman, and I also identify as female, so that makes me a cis woman. Natalie, in contrast, was born biologically male but identifies as female, making her a trans woman. Make sense?

      • machintelligence

        In case you are wondering about the origin of the terms: they come from organic chemistry.
        Cis refers to being on the same side and trans on the opposite side of the molecule.
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cis%E2%80%93trans_isomerism

      • Noelle

        Chem was one of my majors many years ago, so cis was familiar. But I’d never seen it applied to people before.

      • machintelligence

        I think it is also a play on words. If a trans sexual person has transitioned from one sex to the other then the opposite (cis) is someone who has not. Language is truly an evolving thing.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      The thing is I really can’t do anything about it. I can’t change something I dont have control over.

      My husband points this out too. He’s straight, white, cis, and male, and was raised in an upper middle class family. Short of Mitt Romney style wealth, he’s as privileged as you get. And as he points out, he didn’t ask for that, and he can’t change it either.

      I don’t have a problem with someone being privileged – heck, I’m pretty privileged myself! – the problem is when people with privilege don’t realize/acknowledge that others face challenges they themselves will never have to worry about. I mean, I will never face the challenges Natalie faces, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still be an ally to the LGBTQ cause. It’s the same with race issues – I’m white, I can’t ever experience firsthand the challenges that go along with being, say, black or Hispanic, but I can acknowledge that those challenges exist and be willing to lend whatever help I can to work together with people of color in leveling the challenges they face.

      I think a lot of it has to do with listening. I may not understand firsthand what Natalie or racial minorities face, but I can listen to them and try to understand, and support them even when I don’t completely understand, rather than simply dismissing their concerns. You see what I’m saying? You shouldn’t have to apologize for your privilege, I agree – you didn’t ask for it or do anything to get it – but you should, as it sounds like you do, be aware that you have it and be ready to listen to and aid, as needed, those who don’t. Does that make sense?

      • Darklion37

        Yes I agree, mostly. My post was hurried a bit so it is kind of jumpy. We don’t need to just listen, we need a conversation. I can listen to people talk about feminism and agree with what they say, but when they start talking about “white men” and the problems they cause it becomes personal. I would like to be a ally, but I end up feeling marginalized and blamed. Most of the time I feel like its not on purpose, but it still bites. Lack of communication comes from both sides.

        Also I would like to help, and I’m sure that more people than just me do, but like I said, I don’t know what Is important or current in a movement that I don’t directly pay attention to, and it shouldn’t be totally on me to find out. I hang out on r/atheism a bit, weekly there is a discussion about why we support gay rights. Right now it’s just normal anonymous people talking about it, and they’re easy to forget, I feel like we should get headlining LBGT and humanist/atheist names to talk about why equal rights is a part of the movement. Do the same for feminism, and race, and any others. Greta Christina wrote how she feels more at home in the humanist movement than the gay movement. We get those discussions circulating in both groups and the recognition of allies and an increase in joint efforts is sure to follow.

      • http://raisinghellions.wordpress.com/ blotzphoto

        @Darklion, SurlyAmy at Skepchick is running a great series that is a bit like what you are asking for.
        http://goo.gl/FyZUk

      • http://raisinghellions.wordpress.com/ blotzphoto

        Wonderful piece Libby Anne. What really gets under my skin here is that people like (the douchebag you quoted from Friendly Atheist who in my opinion does not deserve the mantle of anonymity that you have been magnanimous enough to grant him) are advocating for a cramped and lifeless Atheist Movement that has no hope of growing a secular society because it advocates a tremendously misanthropic point of view. An atheist movement worth it’s salt is not advocating for “Atheism”, or douchenozzles laundry list of things that “actually matter”, an effective atheist movement is advocating for ATHEISTS. Y’kow, precious and irreplaceable PEOPLE.

        And whats more, actual atheist and secularist organizations like American Atheists, FFRF, Foundation Beyond belief, the Secular Student Alliance, The Clergy Project. They do SOOOOO much more than the cramped, lifeless and most importantly POINTLESS movement that our friendly douchefaucet commenter would have us support.
        If we are pushing people like Natalie Reed away because we are to pig ignorant privileged to freaking listen to her because we don’t have time for “this pedantry and nonsense”, then we don’t deserve to have a movement.

      • Morilore

        The concept of privilege isn’t “you were born lucky so you are awful and you should feel shame,” it’s “you were born lucky so be sure to keep that in mind when dealing with issues that affect people who weren’t.”

    • Steve

      @machintelligence
      It’s really far older. Two Roman provinces during the Republic were called Gallia Cisalpina (Gaul on this side of the alps, i.e. in Italy) and Gallia Transalpina (Gaul across the alps)

      • machintelligence

        You are right, of course, but I would bet that there are more people familiar with organic chemistry than Roman history. :-)

      • Christine

        Saying it’s from Roman history is no more accurate than saying it’s from organic chemistry. It’s from Latin. The Romans and organic chemistry both just happen to have a language in common.

      • machintelligence

        OK. I’ll grant you that, but how many people study Latin today? I had one year of it in high school, but I don’t think it is currently offered. The only users of Latin as a language are the clergy and botanical taxonomists (at one time their international congress was conducted in Latin — I don’t know if it still is.)
        As a fun aside, most people know that the Christian fish is derived from the world’s first acronym. The first letters of the Greek words for Jesus Christ God’s Son Savior spell fish in Greek. What do the letters DARWIN stand for? (no W in Latin so use U twice) From Dan Dennett
        http://ase.tufts.edu/cogstud/incbios/dennettd/daruuin3.mov

      • Paula G V aka Yukimi

        Actually, in Spain everybody who goes for Humanity careers have two mandatory Latin year-long courses in highschools (and at least one greek one). In Medicine is pretty used too.

      • machintelligence

        Wow. I’m impressed. I actually took one semester of classical Greek in high school as well (the Latin teacher had a PhD in classical languages) but then discovered biology and sort of lost interest. In the USA few study ancient languages, except in college.

      • Christine

        I know enough Latin and Greek to be able to speak English well. I’ll buy your argument, however, given the ability of a lot of my peers to speak their mother tongue.

    • Rosa

      You totally can do some things.

      1) you can not sexually harass anyone. I bet you’re already doing that. Congratulations, you’re lowering the average level of sexual harassment in any group you’re in!

      2) you can listen to people who are experiencing discrimination from any voluntary group you’re in, without brushing them off or telling them they are secondary or unimportant.

      3) you can think about how you feel and not make it the other person’s fault, or demand to be at the center of every discussion/consideration. We pretty much all feel overwhelmed and tired in the face of massive structural inequalities we can’t change all at once or on our own. How is it Libby Anne’s fault you feel that way? Whether she talks about it or not, you’ve got a lot of privilege you never asked for. If you don’t enjoy having it, work to dismantle the system.

    • http://cfiottawa.com Eamon Knight

      Somewhere I read this analogy: Having privilege is like having big feet — no one hates you for having big feet; we’d just like you to be careful not to step on other people’s toes.
      (…which tickles my odd sense of humour with the irony of being a white, Anglophone, middle-class, straight cis-male who takes size 7 shoes)

  • Erp

    This is also not new. The abolitionist movement were fine with women abolitionists as long as they knew their places but the men for the most part ignored them when women asked for a voice and a vote (Frederick Douglass was a notable exception), same with various civil rights movements, same in various religious movements (oftentimes the movements had major early women figures but they were pushed to the sidelines later, see Quakers though they did less pushing than most). We as feminists and humanists may share more with some religious progressives than with some of our fellow atheists.

    • jemand

      There was also the recent example of the demonstrations in Egypt. When they were trying to overthrow Mubarak, powerful groups of men were happy to have female help– as soon as it was over, they were expected to go back in the house. And the recently elected government doesn’t seem very promising on this either….. So, use women to bolster support, to work to gain a new goal, but don’t invite them to the party after.

  • http://www.scienceandreligion.com iain

    What a beautiful essay! I seldom read posts all the way through because you often detect the arc and thrust long before the end, like an episode of Hanna Montana. Once you grasp the signs, it seems futile to trudge through all the detail.

    I posted it on my twitter feed too. Reading this was like looking inside my own mind; and it’s the kind of thing I wish I had the methodical mental process to write. The only difference is I’m not an atheist. But now that seems the least important difference of all. Keep writing..

  • http://www.scienceandreligion.com iain

    I also thought of trying to start a “Citizens of Earth” movement; people united by the fact that we’re here on the same planet, in the same time and space, all facing more or less the same problems – which are all incredible coincidences! Anyone could join but with the strict condition that they must live on Earth 90% of the time

  • Allie

    I wholeheartedly agree with you. I also would join that cause if there was one.

  • Jason Dick

    I think your position is largely the essence of today’s secular humanism. Though granted, I’m mostly just going by the Wikipedia article on the subject here.

  • http://exconvert.blogspot.com Kacy

    I think humanist atheists could join forces with others, such as humanist-agnostics, and humanist Christians who support secular policies. My husband identifies as a Humanist Catholic, meaning that he supports humanist values and appreciates his Catholic identity in as much as it supports these values. He’s the sort of person who has more in common with a thoughtful humanist-atheist than a conservative Catholic, but he is not comfortable in the atheist movement. I could see more advances on humanist issues, if we combined forces with the liberal religious sorts and the agnostics. “Big Tent Humanism” as opposed to “Big Tent Atheism.”

  • http://pslibrary.com/ MrPopularSentiment

    I agree, but only to an extent. My local atheist community is definitely about more than just not believing in God, we also share values – inclusiveness, feminism, support for LGBTQ, support for people of colour, love of science, and concern for the environment. And while we don’t have a criteria list for membership, the core members are pretty unified in these values and people who do not share them often don’t find what they are looking for in our events and leave.

    And just because this seems like the perfect opportunity for a plug (:P), we’re organizing a conference for this winter (http://eschaton2012.ca/). It’s more than just not believing in gods together, but rather it’s designed around a few of the community’s core interests – namely trying to understand religion, and expressing our love for science. And yes, we do have a harassment policy. As soon as “harassment policy gate” hit, we knew it was a train we definitely wanted to board. I do hope that you’d consider coming :)

    • http://raisinghellions.wordpress.com/ blotzphoto

      What is your “winter in Ottowa” policy? ;)

      • http://pslibrary.com MrPopularSentiment

        The conference is indoors. We’ll be limiting the amount of interaction with weather/climate as much as humanly/humanely possible ;)

    • Ibis3

      {apologies for the OT}
      I had considered volunteering (Ottawa is my hometown and I live about 3.5ish hours away), but decided to nix that idea and forget about attending after the twitter thing with Michael Payton. I was already rather concerned with the harassment policy, so that just made me about face. I’ve seen just now that you responded to me on Zinnia’s thread and I’m open to the possibility of changing my mind. I’ll send you an email as suggested.

      • http://pslibrary.com/ MrPopularSentiment

        I’m glad to hear it, Ibis. And yes, Payton has us all rather worried. But he has very little involvement with CFI-Ottawa and the conference.

  • Louise

    I comment as an outside observer. Couldn’t you really make your title “The problem with Big Tent “fill in the blank” ism? Isn’t this just human nature you are running into here. We like to group ourselves with others who think as we do, yet we have some groups that we align with better than others. People are bound to become disappointed and disheartened when there are conflicts among those that they thought they were on the same team with because they find out that their allies don’t put the same value on things that they personally value highly.
    Maybe it will always be this way? I like this quote from John Wesley “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”
    Work with the ones you can work with. I think there are some people who for whatever reason cannot work with anyone toward a common cause.

  • Robert Andrade

    I think that there can be many factions to the atheist movement. If women are upset and feeling uncomfortable at atheist events, perhaps there should be more of a female presence there. More groups of women who could stand together to get their voice heard. Maybe you could start one that promotes your values but also helps the atheist struggle as well.

    I also wanted to quickly mention that elevatorgate happened at a JREF event. Which by the way is helmed by several gay men. Just because some guy hit on Rebecca Watson in an ill advised way doesn’t mean that everyone there is out to rape and torture in the advance of man power. I think you may be misinformed just a little…

    • http://raisinghellions.wordpress.com/ blotzphoto

      No one has even remotely implied anything that ridiculous. That’s serious derailing. Stop it.

    • Ibis3

      Just because some guy hit on Rebecca Watson in an ill advised way doesn’t mean that everyone there is out to rape and torture in the advance of man power. I think you may be misinformed just a little…

      Maybe we’re being misinformed about evolution too because there are no crocoducks even though scientists claim that such transitional forms exist.

  • Gordon

    I really believe the bad people are a vocal minority and we need to let them know that. They are the ones doing it wrong, and if anyone shuld be leaving the atheist movement it should be them.

  • http://puddinsilovemylife.blogspot.com/ Tonya Richard

    Like you, I naively thought that atheist=humanist. I had never thought how this was the only way a straight, white man could experience discrimination. And how some would only be worried about themselves. Now I am at the point that I would actually work with progressive religious groups that are trying to make the world a better place in a real sense, than atheists who are worried only about the separation of church and state. I do think separation of church and state is very important, but peoples’ individual rights are much much more important to me. I left Christianity because of the complete lack of empathy for anyone different than them. Like you, above all else, I am a humanist.

  • http://ripeningreason.com/ Bix

    @blotzphoto, that’s a really good point about advocating for atheists v. advocating for atheism. I’d always rather advocate for the well-being of actual humans. I don’t care about whether an individual believes in God, I care about abuses being perpetrated in the name of that God, and for the well-being of those who dissent from the majority religious opinion. I’m happy to talk about why I’m an atheist from a philosophical standpoint, but like everyone else here, I’d be far more likely to ally with believers who share my feminist and humanist values than with atheists who don’t.

    The amount of vitriol some of these bloggers receive is astounding. This is going to sound naive too, but honestly, why are some people so mean?

  • Michael Busch

    >>I have thought before about the fact that being an atheist is the only way a straight white middle class cis men can face discrimination. <<

    Well said, and largely true for current US culture. I say 'largely' because there are probably other ways to be discriminated against; and 'US culture' because – as you said – in places where being an atheist is the default, there isn't discrimination. But my main thought is that as forms of discrimination go, the discrimination against atheists is awfully weak, if only because you can't profile an atheist on sight. After Trayvon Martin was murdered, I heard stories from people about how their parents had told them to look deliberately nonthreatening to avoid being targeted because of the color of their skin. Through an accident of genetics, I _never_ had to deal with that particular fear. This sort of thing leaves me confused and angry – why are many of the advantages that we consider privilege not universal rights?

  • mkb

    Some other places you may want to look for allies — Secular Woman and within the ranks of religious humanism, Ethical Culture and some UUs.

  • smrnda

    Despite my belief that religion is, by and large, a bunch of destructive and harmful nonsense, I’ve never really been active in any sort of atheist or freethinker movements, except online blogs. Part of this might be that, for people in my social circle, religion is pretty much not something any of us were ever exposed to very strongly. I”m relatively educated and have lived in urban, liberal areas most of my life, so religion wasn’t something forced down my throat, just another thing that I dismissed at a young age and never found many people to be that into.

    On privilege, people with privilege don’t do anyone any good by sitting around and self-flagellating with remorse, but they can do a lot of good by acknowledging it and focusing on how other people, with less privileges live. The good thing you can do from a position of privilege is to just detail how you are privileged ,and what life would be like without it.

    I mean, I was pretty privileged in many ways, and I like to acknowledge it and explain how a great deal of what I have ‘accomplished’ in life is just the result of privileges, and not merit. I like people to think about their own lives that way – both the privileges they had, or how their live might have been different if they had more or less.

  • kisekileia

    Humanist atheists could always reclaim the term “secular humanist”. :P

  • http://nickiwaters.blogspot.com/ Nicki Waters

    Yes yes yes yes.

  • lucrezaborgia

    I honestly don’t understand the need to make atheism a movement or social group or what have you. My husband can be quite fanatical about it and it drives me nuts.

  • Robert Andrade

    Dear Ibis3 I don’t know where you are looking…but I have a crocoduck in my bath tub. ;)

  • Kevin Alexander

    Good post Libby!

    I have to laugh when, once again, someone insists that atheism is just another religion. As if it teaches anything.
    That would be as if the crowd watching the emperors procession could agree on the colour of the clothes that he wasn’t wearing.

    • machintelligence

      Atheism isn’t a religion. It is a personal relationship with reality.

  • machintelligence

    I would feel completely comfortable joining a group or attending a conference that was united not simply by a lack of belief in God but also by a commitment to humanist values and social justice issues. I do have to wonder, though. Is such a group simply “an atheist group,” or is it something more, something that perhaps needs a new label with a definitive definition that includes humanism and social justice issues? Because that I could get behind equivocally.

    This whole concept must be in the air right now. Jen over at Blag Hag on Free Thought Blogs has posted on the same topic, and the movement seems to be taking off. If the concept interests you, head on over and join the A+ third wave of atheism.
    http://freethoughtblogs.com/blaghag/2012/08/how-i-unwittingly-infiltrated-the-boys-club-why-its-time-for-a-new-wave-of-atheism/
    Be sure to read the follow up post as well.

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