For several months now, I’ve been watching the turmoil within the atheist/skeptic community with concern that’s graduating rapidly into alarm. I firmly believe that pursing social justice and supporting feminism, within or outside the atheist community, is important, worthy and necessary. Racists, harassers, sexists, and sexual predators cannot be allowed to dominate and control our message. However, there seems to be an unfortunate tendency to treat the atheist community as if it’s split in half, with the “good” atheists fully embracing all the claims made by once side while the “bad” atheists chose the other side and whether or not an individual is considered “good” or “bad” seems to depend on what side the evaluator is on. This perceived dichotomy is a problem because many people hold views that don’t clearly put them in one camp or the other (or they simply don’t want to be involved in the discussion) and it is these people that are choosing to disengage from the church/state separation fight rather than risk criticism or even outright attack or harassment from one side or the other.
Religionists of many different viewpoints are great at working together to steal our rights, despite significant differences in their philosophies. We, as an atheist/skeptic community, suck at it. If we continue to suck at it, they will win and we will lose. This isn’t a statement about whether or not I personally believe atheism/secularism is really a movement or not. It’s about the fact that whether or not we think we are a movement, the religionists trying to strip us of our civil rights certainly think we are and they are fighting against us as if we are a movement; therefore, it benefits us to act like a unified movement with regards to matters of church/state separation.
Until six months ago, when I created my first Twitter account, I had never heard of the terms #bravehero, slymepit, #FtBullies, chill girl, privilege, mansplaining, MRA, or elevatorgate, which seems unbelievable now, even to me. I also didn’t realize pre-Twitter that there was anything controversial about our convention policy on harassment prevention until I started seeing critical (and sometimes ridiculously inane) tweets about the policy under our convention hashtag during the last AACON. Also prior to Twitter, I was only vaguely aware of the A Plus side of the movement and thought it had something to do with atheists/secularists who were choosing to also work for social justice issues, which seemed like a worthy endeavor but not necessarily something I wanted to be directly involved in. I held back from exploring it further, not because I don’t support social justice causes, but because besides volunteering to work on atheist civil rights causes as VP and board member of American Atheists (for which I draw no salary or financial benefits of any type), I still have a full time job and a family, and there simply wasn’t room for me to expand beyond my strict focus on civil rights. Therefore, I did not know, until six to eight months ago, that our community was tearing itself apart along social justice and ideological lines. I apparently was living under a metaphorical rock, and sometimes, when I look around on Twitter, Facebook, the blogs, and even in my own email box, I actually miss my former level of ignorance. Back then, it was easy to see us as a diverse but reasonably unified community working together for a common goal, and that was a nice place to be, even if it wasn’t real. Since then I have read hundreds of blog posts, have lurked in the A Plus forum, and have even visited the Slymepit and now, it appears to me that we are on the way towards losing ground to the religionists because we divided so strictly along ideological signs that we can’t work together on the issues we all have in common.
For the record, I want to make something very clear. In my opinion, people who sexually assault, harass, or express racist ideology rightly earn whatever negative consequences come upon them. There is nothing I believe and nothing I have said here that can remotely justify any accusations that do not consider such people abhorrent. And while I’m personally not sure yet whether public shaming is an appropriate substitute for the legal system when responding to allegations of criminal sexual misconduct, my 20 years of experience as a criminal investigator for the US Army tells me that false reports are extremely rare and because I know from experience that victims are often treated unfairly by the legal system, I certainly understand why some victims are left with few viable options.
Anyway, my point to all this is that there clearly are no easy solutions to the problems that are dividing us but we must figure out how to at least work together on what we have in common or we will lose everything we have fought for to the religionists. I’m not suggesting that any individual necessarily needs to be respectful to any other individual who they think believes and/or does despicable things but I am saying that if we don’t somehow manage present a united front on atheist/secular civil rights, the religionists will win. A men’s rights advocate and a feminist are going to loathe everything the other stands for, but that doesn’t mean they can’t both pick up a sign, drive to the Texas state capitol, and publicly demand that science text books actually include science. But because we can’t seem to do that, right now, the religionists are winning and we as a community are doing half their work for them.
I say let’s not let them.