An Open Plea to Advocates of Atheism Plus, Apologize and Then Start Over
Atheism Plus is described by its Wiki page like this:
Atheism+ designates spaces, persons, and groups dedicated to promoting social justice along with skepticism and critical thinking, and countering misogyny, racism, homophobia/biphobia/transphobia, ableism and other such bigotry inside and outside of the atheist community.
Atheism as such includes none of those ideas, being merely a lack of belief in gods; Atheism Plus is essentially an answer to the “now what” question that focuses on treating prejudice as woo.
Atheists PLUS we care about social justice,
Atheists PLUS we support women’s rights,
Atheists PLUS we protest racism,
Atheists PLUS we fight homophobia and transphobia,
Atheists PLUS we use critical thinking and skepticism.”
“It’s time for a new wave of atheism … that cares about how religion affects everyone and that applies skepticism to everything, including social issues like sexism, racism, politics, poverty, and crime.” Link
Now you should know that I agree with the ideals of Atheism Plus most emphatically. If this is Atheism Plus then it seems to be very helpful to the cause of atheism.
So why would anyone criticize it? After all, the way religion marginalizes and mistreats minorities is an excellent reason to reject religion. This is one of the main reasons I debunk Christianity, because of what it has done, and continues to do, to the marginalized minorities in our midst.
What’s the big deal? Plenty. Read more below:
The ideals of Atheism Plus have been expressed by the late Paul Kurtz, a giant of a man in our generation. They are reflected in the organization he started, The Center for Inquiry, and his writings. They have also been reflected in three Humanist Manifesto’s. So there is really nothing new here. People who think it’s new are ignorant.
For one thing there is the “Atheist Plus” label, which has an us/them feel to it, that is, you are either with us or you are against us with no apparent middle ground. Even Ed Brayton doesn’t like the label:
I’m very happy about the whole Atheism+ idea because I think anything that focuses our attention on issues of social justice is a good thing. But I’m not going to go around calling myself an atheist+, I’m just going to call myself an atheist. And no one is going to try to drum me out of the movement for choosing not to take such a label. I don’t really care about labels; I care about what people are actually doing. And if you’re fighting for social justice, we’re on the same team. But let’s bear in mind that there are lots of different teams under this broad umbrella, with a different focus and a different set of priorities. Let us each focus on the things we care most about. We’ll be more effective at them as a result. And let the broader movement benefit from our efforts. Link
The Lack of Evidence.
The fact that women do not attend atheist conferences as much as men is not necessarily evidence that women are being discriminated against. The fact that the bestselling new atheist authors were all men (i.e., the four horsemen) is not necessarily evidence that women authors or speakers at conventions are being discriminated against. After all, as bestselling authors people wanted to hear what they had to say. The fact that heterosexual men desire companionship and sex with women is not necessarily sexist or misogynistic either. These things should go without saying, but I say them anyway. We should emphasize the things that need emphasized in proportion to how important they are based on good solid evidence. Case in point is that I don’t know of a single leading atheist/author/blogger who doesn’t embrace the ideals of Atheism Plus. Almost all atheists agree with these stated ideals, and the ones who don’t should probably be ignored as the ignoramus bigots that they are. Atheists who disagree are probably nothing more than online trolls with no more influence than what we give them.
There is a McCarthy-like attitude where other atheists are accused of being sexist or misogynistic usually based on very little or no evidence, like “guilt by association,” and other such things. Some are being accused of these crimes just because they disagree with the same things I am mentioning in this post. Damion Reinhardt has satirized this with a list of “known” sexists.
There is at the present time quite a bit of immaturity among advocates of Atheism Plus as noted by Avant Garde, which includes verbal abuse, bullying, lying, hypocrisy, equating disagreement with misogyny, among other objections. So if I were to say just one thing to Atheism Plus advocates then it would be this: Grow up. If you want to appeal to more and more atheists then “don’t do that.”
The Unnecessary Divisiveness.
This brings me to the divisiveness of Atheism Plus. Sometimes we must divide from people we cannot associate with any longer. But since most all atheists already embrace these same ideals Atheism Plus is unnecessarily divisive. What many skeptical and atheist leaders disagree with is whether their organizations should focus on these ideals. Take for instance the democratic party in America which has been pragmatic in the last half of the last century by including all minority voices who disagree with the majority, even though some of these minority voices disagreed with the others in emphasis if not in substance. Why not do the same in the atheist community by including us all in our common goal? We need all voices. If not, and if we aim for “all or nothing” we’ll usually get what we want, nothing. That’s the extreme form of the problem we might face if we take a “my way or the highway” approach. Politics, is after all, all about compromises. And we’re talking about politics.
Other important Objections
A few other objections to Atheism Plus are argued by Notung, like how do we decide what does or does not count as social justice for atheists? We disagree on a lot of issues. Given that we do, then to require atheist organizations to focus on social justice requires mission drift, which would essentially minimize what they each do best and cause them to divide into smaller groups. There already are, for instance, movements that support these extra causes. Link.
The most scathing critiques to Atheism Plus I have found come from two writers here at SIN. Rebecca Bradley previously admired PZ Myers and Freethought Blogs, but upon a deeper investigation changed her mind, saying,
I went over to Pharyngula and at last began reading the comments. Went back and read up on Elevatorgate, paying attention this time. In the next few days, PZ more than answered my question, and in the negative… Those involved in this bizarre behavior included about half of the Freethought bloggers, their Skepchick buds, and a shifting population of faithful commenters. Their demons – the targets chosen for pelting in the stocks – were increasingly men and women who might otherwise be regarded as allies and even heroes, including prominent atheists and skeptics. The concentration of vitriol, the insularity, the attacks on newcomers, chimp-style grooming of insiders, demonization of dissidents, and shrill adherence to a tight-lipped, zero-tolerance creed of “social justice,” were all ways to bind a community. It was, moreover, a community based not on reason and the examination of ideas, but on the knee-jerk application of a peculiar bigotry – any of us who were deemed to fall short were offered no empathy and no quarter, and attempts at self-defense or even rational discourse just compounded our douchebaggery in their eyes. The phenomenon began to look more and more like either a mass case of borderline personality disorder, or a cult. In fact, the recent spinoff into Atheism+ looks like a cult with a mass case of borderline personality disorder. Link.
In a very hard hitting critique, The Prussian, who is a Ph.D. candidate at an important UK university, weighed in as well. After comparing the treatment Abbie Smith received by the proto-type Atheist Plussers and how Rebecca Watson was received, he wrote:
Miss Smith first fell into disrepute when P.Z. Myers started moaning that there were insufficient women in the skeptic scene. Abbie wrote that she was horrified by the idea that she had been asked to participate in the “scienceblogs” community because of her ovaries rather than her ideas. It will surprise no one that this is the opposite from the stance taken by Watson.
This little incident is the key. A person of accomplishment hates the idea of being judged by physical characteristics; a person of mediocrity craves it. It might wrongly be supposed that there is a contradiction between Watson’s vulgar self-promotion and her hysterical pseudo-feminism; in fact, they are the same. They are two ways of trading on her sex, since she fears above all being judged for her ideas and achievements. People like her crave an automatic acceptance based on physical characteristics, and desperately needs to be assured that any contempt is because of her sex rather than her mediocrity. Conversely, Smith, a fully fledged scientist, revolted at the idea of being reduced to her meat rather than her mind.
Now why is such a person as Watson venerated by the A+? The same principle applies; to a man of chronic insecurity, one living in fear of his own irredeemable pointlessness, a person, and above all a woman, of earned pride and real achievement is someone to be feared and hated, for her existence is a challenge and a threat. Conversely, a nonentity who has nothing to offer beyond the physical can be idolized safely. This is why in the FtB poll of the most important female atheist, Watson receives ten times the votes of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a statement of stark, staring insanity by all other lights.
This veneration of the physical over the mental could only appear in a movement that was bankrupt on mental terms (no person of self-esteem wants to be praised for bodily structure!). Link.
The Prussian further blasts “Pontiff PZ Myers,” arguing he is a coward, liar, arrogant blowhard, bully and fool, since he is the source of this unnecessary divisiveness among atheists:
Long before “Atheism +” was even a figment in its advocates’ minibrains, I learned to recognise and hate Myers for what he is. If there is anyone who is emblematic of this corruption, it is he.
While I personally do not think PZ Myers or Rebbeca Watson are enemies of mine in any way and consider them instead allies and friends in our common fight against religion and social injustice, I do think Myers is a hypocrite when it comes to women’s issues, especially with regard to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whom he numbers as one of the top five worst atheists. The Prussian reminds us that
the only reason Myers blog is as well known as it is, is the patronage of Richard Dawkins. Naturally, the instant Dawkins got fed up with Watson’s self-pity, Myers dropped him with nary a second thought, and joined in the defamation with no hesitation.
Now remember Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s background: victim of FGM, escapes one of the most anti-woman societies on earth, works her way from cleaner to MP on a platform of defending women’s rights, and has to live her entire life under threat of death for taking up that cause. While Myers is perfectly happy to slap his paws to the keyboard over the offer of coffee to Watson, he is willing to go along with the defamation of a woman of that quality. Link
In his last post on this The Prussian thinks this all matters because,
Justice is not something to be esteemed lightly. When I read the treatment dealt to Miss Smith or my colleague or Ed Rybicki, when I read the smearing of Sam Harris, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Richard Dawkins by people who contribute nothing, I feel my muscles lock, my teeth grind, and bile scorch the back of my throat. In other words, I get angry, very angry indeed.
I am also sickened. My revolt against Christianity was in no small part because I disliked the idea that simply attending prayer twice a day, or once a week, was a substitute for actual achievement. Somehow the A+ crowd have reached a lower level: they prefer intentions to actual achievement. Take a look at their statement of purpose. They are pro-women’s rights. So they help organize funds for the local battered women’s shelter? Help support RAWA? No, instead they… well, you know this.
This involves a visit to a place the A+ers may have heard of, known as “the Real World”. In that distant realm, religious fanaticism has returned in a terrifying form. All across Europe we’re seeing the rehabilitation of the sort of parties we thought we got rid of at Nuremberg. Further east, the Russian Orthodox Church is the clerical arm of the Putin autocracy (and there is a significant amount of the opposition to Putin that thinks him just too liberal and bleeding heart), and in India we’ve seen Hindu fascism that may yet give us a nuclear war. Overshadowing all of these is the terrible menace of jihad, tens of millions strong, a movement that has notched up three genocides in my lifetime alone, which may soon have nuclear weapons. In this background, advocates of Reason will have a stiff fight to have any voice whatsoever.
Yet the Myers tendency is determined to make this impossible. Put yourself in the shoes of a student who listens to Myers rousing call for solidarity, and in consequence decides to stand up to Islamic intimidation. And when she is arrested, accused of racism, and threatened with expulsion by her University, she looks to him for solidarity and finds him not merely failing to provide it, but actively piling on – what view will she likely have of organised atheism?
He concludes by saying:
If any atheist movement is to survive and change, in reality, the minds of many, it has to demonstrate that it is in fact willing to take on the worst menaces. I’m sorry to remind people, but we stand outnumbered a thousand to one. The only thing we have going for us is the ability to appeal to human reason and cause people to change their minds. They will not do so if they see atheists as nothing more than a crowd of spoiled, self-pitying, self-important deadheads. Link.
We wish advocates of Atheism Plus well only in so far as they go back to the drawing board and think it through much better. I’m sure they’re already doing this, and that’s good news. It isn’t a bad thing for them to apologize and start over. I think that’s what they should do if they want more credibility, but then I’m not them.