Our movement isn’t special–but it can be

Steven here…
For the past couple of years the skeptic/atheist community has dealt with something of a kerfuffle dealing with sexism and harassment policies. Like most of you, I’ve watched as that debate went on from a mild comment about how people conduct themselves at conferences to the advent of Atheism+. But while all of that was happening in our community, I was also watching something similar happen in another community. One that I’m not a part of.

One of my best friends is Christie Koehler. We’ve been buddies since we both transplanted to Portland, Oregon around the same time. Last year she got a job with Mozilla as a web product engineer and shortly after she took the job, she noticed a problem. This post bashing marriage equality appeared on Planet Mozilla, a feed aggregator for Mozilla for the Mozilla community–mostly tech stuff. Christie is also married to a woman. This would be a little like if you went into work one day to see a memo condemning you posted in the breakroom.

There was backlash about the presence of bigotry on this feed, and the response from Mozilla was rather meek refusal to implement any kind of community standards. Other Mozilla employees have since tried to bully into silence Christie and have even left death threats on her blog.

It’s also been happening in the gamer community as well. Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency decided she wanted to talk about sexism in video games. The response was death threats and the development of a video game where you beat Sarkeesian, which has thankfully been removed from Newgrounds.

I bring this up because while we’re not special in being burdened with these problems, I feel like we can become the leaders in the fight to change this. The difference between the atheist movement and the tech and gaming communities is that despite all the backlash people had about Atheism+ and the declarations of dictionary atheism, this movement has already been focused on social justice for a long time. We fight against the misogynists trying to remove women’s rights and promote the “quiverful” ideology. We fight against the oppression of LBGTQ people by politicians and pastors alike. And yes, despite our animosity toward religion, we do fight for the rights of people in minority religions when we champion the separation of church and state.

Not only should we fight for social justice, we have the skills and the motivation to be the most effective movement out there doing it. If we aren’t trying to better the world around us when we fight irrationality, then all we’re doing is trying to win a game of trivia.

I would suggest going forward that secularists learn more about the history of other social justice movements. Learning how the equal rights movement got to where it is today can help you understand concepts that you might be having trouble with. I have seen many a skeptic have trouble with the concept of privilege, for example.

There is a secondary benefit to learning about these issues–it helps us see how other movements have gone from being marginalized and despised to being a mainstream cause that people can rally behind, one that steers the political course of nations. This obviously doesn’t apply to every movement, but racism has few vocal proponents these days, even if there are still tons of racists.

If we can dedicate ourselves to learning why the Kalam Cosmological argument sucks, the multitude of reasons for opposing frauds masquerading as psychics, or the legal history of church/state separation we should be able to learn about the history of social justice and why it matters now. For a clever crowd like us, that shouldn’t be difficult.

I write a lot of jokes. Some of them are in this book.
I also host the podcast of the Skepchick events team, Some Assembly Required, and cohost the WWJTD Podcast.
You can also follow me on Facebook or that bird thing.

About geekysteven
  • http://skepticink.com/backgroundprobability D4M10N

    What resources would you suggest for learning about social justice?

  • invivoMark

    I see a couple of good reasons to support feminism and other social justice issues as an atheist movement.

    The first is practical: it is no secret that women’s equality is strongly correlated with other factors, such as education and economic success. These factors, in turn, correlate with godlessness. It is not very difficult to make a case that feminism will, at least in the long run, strongly support atheism It is in our interests to support feminism, even if we do not personally believe in their messages or methods.

    The second is related to values. We don’t believe in an arbitrary order in the universe dictated by a supernatural being. That means we are unique in the position that it is entirely up to us to take care of humanity. If we don’t, then being a human is going to suck, and that’s a bad thing. Atheists, more than anyone, ought to value highly the un-suck-ing of the human condition.

  • Amanda

    I read it years ago, but I think “Feminism is for Everybody” by bell hooks is a decent starting place to learn more about feminism and how that movement came about. For anyone who’s interested. Parts of it (there’s a chapter on Feminist Spirituality) are a bit dodgy, but from what I remember it’s generally good introduction.

  • http://considertheteacosy.wordpress.com Aoife

    “If we aren’t trying to better the world around us when we fight irrationality, then all we’re doing is trying to win a game of trivia”

    I want to tape this to my wall. And keyboard. Door. Facebook. Face. The lot.

  • Matti

    “If we aren’t trying to better the world around us when we fight irrationality, then all we’re doing is trying to win a game of trivia.”

    If you try to fight irrationality but then go on to accept feminist theory, with its just-so stories and catch-all concepts like the Patriarchy, as received wisdom you might as well have not fought at all; you’re just substituting one priesthood for another.

    • Stogoe

      We’re not accepting them as received wisdom, d00d. We accept them because of the mountains of evidence in their favor.

      Lern 2 skepticism.

    • Ibis3

      Hmm. This sounds familiar.

      If you try to fight irrationality but then go on to accept evolutionary theory, with its just-so stories and catch-all concepts like Natural Selection, as received wisdom you might as well have not fought at all; you’re just substituting one priesthood for another.

  • http://eggheaded.bannedatheists.us Joseph8th

    THIS –>

    …we’re not special in being burdened with these problems, I feel like we can become the leaders in the fight to change this. The difference between the atheist movement and the tech and gaming communities is that despite all the backlash people had about Atheism+ and the declarations of dictionary atheism, this movement has already been focused on social justice for a long time.

    This has been my own refrain pretty much since A+ took wing (as I argued here and here). In particular I am 100% with you, Steven, that, “Not only should we fight for social justice, we have the skills and the motivation to be the most effective movement out there doing it.” Well said.

    I share the sentiment, but think, too, we should start eyeballing the windows of public offices — too earlier to start measuring for drapes, but we can start guesstimating. I advocate a future expansion from the purely socio-political to include the electoral-political, as well. That means finding allies and forging coalitions to put ethical nonbelievers in public office to better represent not just the atheist crowd, but all those other demographics that find themselves the targets of right-wing fundie rage. Y’know, like women, racial minorities, and the LGBTQ community. In my 2nd link above I echo your sentiment about well-positioned to push back, but I think we need to take it to the polls in the near future: “As atheists, we are uniquely prepared to confront improper use of religious nonsense to oppress fellow citizens, but to do any confronting, we need first to be voted in.”

    I was perhaps a little obsessed with this topic, as I wrote a couple other posts about it. In “‘Nones on the Rise’: America Needs us More than Ever” particularly I make the case that:

    In short, it behooves us all to make strong the Wall of Separation, and there’s no sane reason we can’t work together to do it. Courageous people like Jessica Ahlquist come out of the atheist movement — people who aren’t afraid to call bullhshit on religious pandering. Who better to confront the Dominionists than people with the guts to fight religious privilege?

    As much as I strenuously assert our need to forge alliances with social justice movements, like invivoMark above I perceive two advantages of such coalitions — one is ethical and the other is political. We should support social justice because it’s the right thing to do. We should also support social justice because it’s a smart political move.


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