“We ruined each other by being together. We destroyed each other’s dreams.”
― Kate Chisman
I’ve been hearing, time and again, that discussions on social justice are breaking up the atheist “community.” Most recently, fellow Patheos blogger David Smalley of Dogma Debate wrote a blog post saying that the disagreements we keep having are killing the atheist movement, but he’s hardly the first one to say this. Different people have been protesting this for years.
The people saying that aren’t wrong about the breaking up part. When I railed against the racist comments of “The Amazing Atheist” TJ Kirk, I was helping create a rift. Kirk is a bigger name with a lot more viewers, but I noticed that the people who defended Kirk were REALLY for Kirk. And I also noticed that a lot of bloggers had my back. Same thing when I attacked YouTuber Sargon of Akkad (and, by extension apparently, YouTuber Atheism-Is-Unstoppable). Of course, the irony is not lost on me that I was accused of causing the rift because I was attacking attack videos…but still, that’s kinda behind the point. There’s a rift being created across the Western atheist community.
This rift hasn’t diminished. It’s deepening into a wider and wider chasm.
How did it get this way? After all, isn’t atheism JUST about the lack of belief in God or gods?
Well, yes. But not like the (in)famous blogger Thunderfoot put it, which I suspect is what most anti-SJWs (SJW stands for Social Justice Warrior, a derogatory term for social justice advocates) mean when they make this point.
Thunderfoot’s argument, made in some of the most popular atheist videos on YouTube, is that atheism USED to just be about a lack of belief in God or gods, and then feminism started attaching itself onto atheism like a parasite, poisoning it with political correctness, oversensitivity, and witch hunts for misogyny — all items that had nothing to do with atheism and that, at least to Thunderfoot and those who agree with him, seemed engineered to hijack a vibrant atheistic movement.
This story has created a large category of purists who try to “protect” atheism from feminists, people intent on fighting racism, people trying to protect the disabled — basically anyone who threatens to, in their view, use marginalized people to control individuals in the atheism movement.
On the other side, the side I’m on, this looks like a completely different scenario. For most of us, the Thunderfoot “purist” atheists, aka “anti-SJWs,” aren’t just trying to protect atheism from being hijacked by social justice warriors. They are fighting against people’s identities as women, as members of a minority race, as disabled individuals. And because these identities, and preserving the rights for these identities, is even more important to us than a lack of belief in God or gods, we have to defend ourselves. To us, it’s not as if you are just separating atheism from those concerns — it’s looking increasingly as if you have hijacked atheism to attack those concerns.
So you guys are angry because you think we’re using our fight for social justice to take over the atheist movement, and we are angry because we think you’re trying to use the atheist movement to end our fight for social justice.
We’re really starting to hate each other, which leads to us attacking each other more, which leads to the atheist movement becoming less and less about attacking religion, and more and more about whether you’re a social justice advocate or an anti-SJW in the atheist arena.
We’re not showing any signs of agreeing with each other. Keeping us in the same atheist movement is going to continue this tug of war.
Let’s be clear. Neither side is silencing the other. Anti-SJW atheists are doing just fine on the Internet and in the atheist movement they’ve created on YouTube — a vibrant, very influential community. And SJW atheists are doing just fine on their blogs and conferences. We, for the most part (with some notable exceptions) have our different spaces, our different arenas, and although there are skirmishes, no group has the power to invalidate the other. This isn’t like Atheism+, where there was the illusion that we could somehow “excommunicate” someone from the atheist movement by denying them access to conferences or kicking them off a blogging platform. Both sides have robust support, power, and influence.
And that’s OK. Really. I mean, anti-SJWs aren’t going to stop attacking social justice advocates any time soon. And social justice advocates are not going to be comfortable in a movement that is constantly attacking their attempts to protect the most valuable part of who they are. We’re not going to be able to fit in the same atheist movement. And if we’re going to be dead honest, unless we get to that Utopia where everyone agrees with where we stand, we don’t want to.
I’m not saying we have to stop fighting, although no one is obligated to fight. Sure, we can have debates in corners between willing parties. But let’s not be like that miserable couple with serious, irreconcilable differences who tries desperately to paint a happy face on for the public although their relationship is tearing at the seams. The time has come to be honest, and I honestly think that we would have a better relationship if we admitted our irreconcilable differences, acknowledged that we have fundamentally different goals and ways of doing things, and carried on in the trajectories of our lives that most fulfilled our goals.
This is a good thing in another way, as well. It shows that the fact that we’re atheists is starting not to make us outcasts as much. Yes, atheists are 3.1% of the population, but let’s put that in perspective. That 2014 percentage (likely higher now) is double the 1.6% it was in 2007 years ago and it means there are now more atheists in the United States than there are Mormons, Orthodox Christians, and Jehovah’s Witnesses — combined. And when you group atheists with agnostics, there are more of us than there are Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Unitarians, New Agers, Jehovah’s Witnesses, those in Native American Religions, and those who follow the Jewish religion — combined. A higher figure of 9% of people say they don’t believe in God, which is equivalent to nearly half of all Catholics living in the United States.
With that increasing size comes diverse opinions. And with the lowering stigma associated with being an atheist in the United States, due largely to many of the world’s foremost experts being atheists, comes a greater concern for other parts of individuals’ identities.
That’s good news. It’s a sign that atheists are winning, because if atheists ever finally “win” — which, for many of us, means that no one believes in God — we’re not going to care we’re atheists, because there will be no belief in God to oppose.
I mean…we know we’ve won the culture war, guys, to the extent that other things become more important than lack of belief in God. The goal of the atheist movement, so far as I see it, is to eventually not exist. It’s not to make the movement MORE important, but to make it LESS important. We’ll win when God and, as a result, atheism becomes less important, and we move on to other things.
And this break will allow us to develop on different trajectories, to seek support where we most have things in common, and to pursue change without being somehow tied down to a too-narrow or too-broad definition of what an atheist movement is supposed to be. I really think it’s best for all concerned. We have come to a point where we can afford this development, and instead of delaying the inevitable, maybe it’s time to just let it happen.
Because I don’t know about you, but I only get one life here on this earth, and I feel like constantly trying to sew together a “movement” that has such a deep chasm in it is a waste of time. I could grow. I could flourish. I could really do some positive things in the world. But instead I have to constantly play defense against attacks on my position as a human being here in the world, and it keeps me from moving forward — and every time I try, it’s not about me moving forward, it’s about me somehow destroying the atheist community to everyone on the other side. And if you’ll allow me to wave a white flag for a moment, I get the sense that you anti-SJWs on the other side are just as exhausted with this as I am. This battle based on anxiety over keeping the atheist “movement” together is trying, it seems, to force us to care less about very real parts of our lives. It seems like a sense of outdated obligation forces so many of us to focus on a bridge that we can never build that our infights for a nonexistent unity are not forwarding atheism, so much as they’re killing our dreams.
And so…I think the best thing to do is to go our separate ways instead of pretending that that’s not inevitable. Embrace it, and live the fullest, most fulfilling life you can with it, because you’re only going to get just the one…
There’s more to say on this, but I just wanted to lay out the nuts and bolts. I’m sure more of this discussion and discussion on social justice advocacy will come out in future blog posts. But that’s the gist of what I feel a need to say now.
Thanks for reading.
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