Adam Lee on the Anti-Social Justice Atheists

Adam Lee on the Anti-Social Justice Atheists February 18, 2019

Adam Lee has a very compelling article about the problems of so many prominent atheists rejecting the fights for social justice that most atheists are pretty strongly in favor of. It recounts many incidents and situations, like Sam Harris interviewing Charles Murray and the Mythcon garbage, and makes a strong case.

The atheist community would seem like unlikely soil for right-wing ideas to take root. Polls consistently show that the nonreligious are among the most progressive demographics in the United States. Taken as a whole, they’re peaceful: the most anti-war, the most anti-torture, the most anti-corporal-punishment.8 They’re far and away the most pro-choice.9 They’re strong supporters of LGBTQ rights and immigration.10 And of course, separation of church and state is a classic liberal issue.

Paradoxically, in spite of its liberal leanings, organized atheism has acquired a reputation as friendly to conservatives and, in recent years, the White nationalist Alt Right. As the above incidents show, the reputation isn’t unearned. Some of the most prominent and popular atheists have proven themselves openly hostile to feminism, racial diversity and social justice.

There’s no more blatant example of atheism’s potential for racism and anti-feminism than Richard Dawkins, the most renowned name in the modern atheist movement. Although he claims to be a “passionate feminist,” he appears to believe that he, and not women, should decide what does or doesn’t count as a feminist issue. That was the point of Dawkins’ infamous 2011 “Dear Muslima” letter, which argued that because women in Islamic theocracies suffer worse oppression, like genital mutilation, Western feminists should “stop whining” about comparatively minor issues like workplace sexual harassment (which Dawkins derisively characterized as “being inappropriately touched by the water cooler”) or creepy, aggressive come-ons…

In 2014, Sam Harris responded to a question about the underrepresentation of women in movement atheism by suggesting that the “critical posture” is “to some degree intrinsically male” and that atheism lacks an “estrogen vibe.” In other words, Harris was arguing, women avoided movement atheism because they lacked the critical chops to get it, rather than because of alienating incidents like Dawkins’ “Dear Muslima” letter or Harris’ own pronouncement that, “If I could wave a magic wand and get rid of either rape or religion, I would not hesitate to get rid of religion.”…

n addition to the “Horsemen”, there are lesser-known but still prominent atheists who’ve been friendly to Alt Right ideas. One is Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine, who’s asserted that the underrepresentation of women is because skepticism is “more of a guy thing.” When criticized for this, Shermer took it upon himself to speak for women and people of color and to say that they’re not worried about racism or sexism: “[W]omen & blacks don’t want prostrate pity of white males… Drop the race/sex obsession.”

There is much more. And all of this is not to say that some in the atheist community who push a strong social justice agenda have sometimes gone too far or been overly simplistic, in my view. But none of that justifies the outright rejection of social justice as an important battle that atheists and humanists must fight. We may disagree on how best to achieve that sometimes, of course, and I’d like to see many on my side be more charitable toward those who share the same goals but disagree on tactics and strategy. Sometimes we are too quick to dismiss someone out of hand over such disagreements and presume that they’re totally opposed to us when they’re not.

But we must also deal with the very real problem of atheist leaders who continually say and do things that are not just “problematic,” but downright vile. There are far too many who are cuddling up — at the very least — with the worst elements of our society. And the fact that hateful bigots like Sargon of Akkad and the Amazing Atheist have literally hundreds of thousands of followers should be a cause for serious concern. Those people need to be drummed out, marginalized and treated with scorn at every possible opportunity.

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