Adam Lee of Daylight Atheism has a column in The Guardian arguing that atheists should move beyond merely arguing about the existence of God and should put more of a focus on social justice issues like gay rights and feminism. I agree with him, of course, with one minor quibble.
It’s time for atheists to move past theoretical questions about the existence of God and onto more practical pursuits – like how to fight for justice.
The atheist community is quickly coming up against the limits of debating whether God is real. The New Atheist movement made a splash in the early 2000s with its brash assertion that the existence of God was a hypothesis that can be examined, debated and critically analyzed like any other, and rejected if the evidence is found wanting. Its critiques, targeting both the feverish imaginings of fundamentalism and the stale platitudes of conventional piety, were as cleansing and welcome as a cool breeze in a stuffy room.
But while that stance can be the beginning of a philosophy, it can’t be the end. It raises the question: once you no longer believe the claims of religion, what do you believe?…
As the atheist community becomes larger and more diverse, attracting a broader range of people from different backgrounds, this is a natural direction for our activism to take. It’s also a step that both atheists and people who care about social justice should applaud, because our alliance makes both causes stronger. Our opposition is largely the same: the socially conservative faction, bolstered by religion.
That’s why the more that the atheist community moves beyond purely philosophical debates to embrace the practical pursuit of justice, the more we can establish a reputation for ourselves as a force for good in the world.
I certainly agree that we should focus more on social justice issues; much of this blog’s space and much of my own efforts over the last decade or so has been devoted to exactly that. But I don’t think that means others in the movement should do so if that is not what animates them. Counter-apologetics,as much as it tends to bore me to death, is important and those who specialize in it and are passionate about it should continue to work in that area. Those who specialize in the creation/evolution debate should continue to focus their efforts on that, and likewise for those who focus on separation of church and state, or on building secular communities and so forth.
This is a very big and broad movement and there are lots of aspects that one can focus on and specialize in. And I think people should focus on those aspects that they feel passionately about. Not everyone has to push for social justice as I do. But I would hope they would at least not stand in the way of those of us who do. That’s where the problem comes in, with those who are actively fighting to prevent others in the movement from making social justice issues a priority.