Handcuffing Humanism

Handcuffing Humanism July 12, 2016
Image credit: Victor.
Image credit: V1ctor.

The mind whirls in incomprehension at the death and racial strife last week. Grief blends with anger at the senseless bloodshed. But the mind instinctively grasps for sense, building narratives out of the maelstrom.

For me, this confusion of emotions mixes with my feelings about the recent conflict between an inexplicably popular YouTube atheist who calls himself the Amazing Atheist, aka TJ Kirk, and my fellow Patheos blogger Martin Hughes, at barrierbreaker. Yet this post isn’t really about TAA, but the clueless attitudes he represents.

Kirk has an angry, anti-feminist, MRA fan base–oh, those poor, persecuted men who now only have most of the power. But recently he’s been casting a wider net with his juvenile rants. Given his audience, he was right to assume that they would also look approvingly at a swaggering dismissal of black culture as a “victim cult.”

But as I said, this isn’t really about TAA. It’s about the kind of white privilege his recent video screeds represent. More broadly, this post is about the hard facts about the continuing inequities to which Kirk and his ilk are willfully blind. And also about the anti-humanist bent of his brand of Fuck Diversity™ atheism.

Betcha’ can’t beat up just one out-group!

Do you think TJ and his meanness minions watched Diamond Reynolds’ wrenching Facebook video of the aftermath of her boyfriend Philandro Castille’s shooting by a police officer? Philandro, Diamond, and Diamond’s four-year-old daughter had just come from the grocery store when they were pulled over for a broken tail light (hich Diamond says was not in fact broken).

In the video, as Diamond’s boyfriend lies slumped in his seat bleeding to death, she explains with preternatural calm what had occurred moments before. Philandro was simply trying to comply with the officer’s commands. He explained what he was about to do as he reached for his ID, but was shot anyway. Here is what the New York Times had to say about it.

And the calmness is a message in itself.

“I told him not to reach for it,” the officer shouts.

“You told him to get his ID, sir,” she says.

She says “sir” repeatedly — “You shot four bullets into him, sir” — as if to counter any questions about her tone, as if to say, you can comply, you can say all the things you’re supposed to say, and still this happens.

The Governor of Minnesota himself admitted that this probably wouldn’t have happened if Philandro had been white. I don’t want this to be about me, but I couldn’t help flashing back to the time my boyfriend Keith and I were also stopped for a broken tail light. I did not watch him bleed to death. Keith drove away with a ticket.

I first watched the Diamond Reynolds video in a NY Times video compilation of the spate of videotaped police shooting. I let it run until I began to feel numb from the never-ending stream of senseless death.

I doubt TJ Kirk would even bother, but I can’t help wondering if he could watch that video and still brand black culture as a victim cult. Could he watch, unmoved, as Diamond Reynolds’ adorable daughter–who witnessed the horror–comforts her mother as she sits crying, handcuffed, in the back of a police cruiser with her.

It’s okay, Mommy. I’m here with you.

Would TAA tell her that she’s part of a victim cult?

And how will Diamond ever convince her daughter that monsters aren’t real?

To me, humanism is the atheist’s version of theology. It says: There is no god to put things right, so we have to look after our fellow human beings. Empathy is the essence of humanism and humanism should be at the heart of atheism. Humanism is the answer to the perennial theist’s challenge, “What do you believe in?”

But to some, atheism means that they are free agents to do as they please. Fuck everyone else. In other words, exactly as theists always allege.

How can we argue against those who insist that atheists can have no moral center without God when popular atheists like the Amazing Atheist seem hellbent (so to speak) on proving their contention?

And how can we heal racial divisions if we can’t see past our own privileged lives–or even acknowledge that they are privileged in the first place? If we can’t empathize with people who live different lives?

Thanks, TJ Kirk, for giving our movement’s enemies an Amazing Atheist poster child.

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