Michael Luciano has an article in the Daily Banter entitled Atheists Don’t Owe Your Social Justice Agenda a Damn Thing. Both the title and the article are a perfect example of rather flamboyantly missing the point — several of them, actually. He begins with the usual “atheism just means a lack of belief in god” argument, which is really quite irrelevant.
There’s a weird trend that’s been slinking its way through the social justice community, whereby so-called New Atheists are being denounced for supposedly failing to embrace liberal causes such as diversity and equality. Apparently, atheism has a “race problem,” or maybe it should be called a “white male problem.” Whichever the case, it appears atheism also has a “shocking woman problem.”…
Did I sleep through some radical redefining of the word ‘atheist’? It’s always been my understanding that an ‘atheist’ is someone who simply lacks belief in deities. That’s it. Somehow, though, it’s suddenly incumbent on atheists to take up certain social and political causes, and that’s just silly.
No it isn’t. You didn’t sleep through anything, you’re just perceiving the situation on a personal level rather than a group level. Does any individual atheist have some obligation to fight for social justice as an intrinsic result of their atheism? No. It’s true that an atheist is one who doesn’t believe in a god or gods and that doesn’t require them to believe any particular other idea at all or to be an activist for any idea.
But we aren’t talking about atheism as a particular person’s belief but about an atheist movement, a collection of organizations and groups who are quite up front about their desire to change our society for the better by reversing some of the cultural, political and legal damage inflicted by those who have used their religious beliefs to justify bad public policy. And on that level, social justice issues are clearly implicated.
It should be entirely obvious that one of the damaging effects of religious belief is the denial of equal rights to women, to gay people and even to racial minorities. In all three cases, discriminatory policies are justified by the religious beliefs that atheist activists fight against. We cannot be effective in countering the negative effect of religion-based public policy (or more broadly, cultural norms and non-political societal structures) if we don’t take up those fights for equality.
So yes, I think there is a natural and logical link between atheist activism (as opposed to an individual atheist, who may not be an activist at all) and social justice activism. The fact that there are some conservative atheists who don’t share the desire to reverse those discriminatory structures in society only means that they’re wrong.