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Posted by on Aug 25, 2012 in Atheism, Drama, Feminism, Freethought Blogs, Humor, LGBT Rights, Nonsense, Politics, Progressive Politics, Religion, Skepticism, Uncategorized | 39 comments

Hot Off The Presses: SB Responds to Atheism+

In response to the Atheism + movement let me propose an alternative. Let’s call it S+B (Skepticism Plus But) to represent our commitment to skepticism, social change, and freedom of inquiry. 

That means we are:

Skeptics plus we care about social justice, but we understand that these words can mean something a bit different to everyone.

Skeptics plus we support women’s rights, but we realize men are people too.

Skeptics plus we protest racism, but we hope to see a day when race will be as unimportant as eye color.

Skeptics plus we fight homophobia and transphobia, but we realize that groups dedicated solely to this battle do it much better than we do.

Skeptics plus we are humanists, but we don’t call people names or try to destroy their lives.

Skeptics plus we are atheists, but we support tolerance for religious people and religions that cause no social harm.

Skeptics plus we believe in separation of church and state, but, as always, we remain open to different opinions on all of these matters as long as they are voiced in the spirit of charity, freethought, and reason. We fear being blindsided by groupthink and welcome dissension in the ranks. Even if you disagree with us on some of our goals, you’re welcome to join us and choose which battles you, personally, want to fight. No matter what, we will not dehumanize you (online or off) or allow ourselves to think that we are better than you. Whatever else, we will not hate.

(I’d like to give more than partial credit to Jen McCreight, aka Blag Hag, for being the inspiration for this post. See her original idea here, on Freethought Blogs:


  • But if we don’t we don’t call people names or try to destroy their lives, how will we ever drive the hordes of hockey-watching beer-swilling bacon-eating misogynistic rape apologists out of our movement?

    • What misogyny! What privilege! Kidding, of course.

  • Randy

    I feel sad for humanists. None I know would have anything to do with the behavior we’ve seen recently. They are kind people.

    • Yes. Humanism was the response to the claims that atheists don’t really stand for anything. Personally, my foremost concern within atheism is separation of church and state. I can’t find a “but” for that one.

  • Gandolf

    I think i’m really liking it Maria . I’m not much for need of being any kind of groupie anymore , really .Who people are, matters more to me , than what group they happen to hang out with. My experience with religion helped cure me of that.

    But still what you say here seems pretty much all inclusive.

    • The above is meant to point out the problems with Atheism Plus more than anything else. I have no desire for splinter groups of any sort.

  • Jennifer Allen

    This is far, far better than what I’m getting over at FtB, but it still doesn’t answer the basic questions I’ve been asking to no avail over there.

    How does it help our basic cause of atheism/skepticism to add other, often divisive causes to it? (I think it does harm; it makes selling atheism/skepticism much more difficult.)

    Given that atheism/skepticism is not well regarded in our society, how does it help the various other causes to associate them with atheism/skepticism? (I think it does harm; it makes selling those other causes much more difficult.)

    Who decides what ‘social justice’ causes this movement will push? The leaders? Who are these leaders? How are they selected and de-selected?

    Perhaps a personal example will help make my first two questions/positions more clear. I’m a computer engineering manager, rather high up. I’m very much into women’s issues. I’m an atheist. I’m also a nudist and nudist activist..As my name implies, I’m female. Over the years, I’ve given around 20 speeches to female seniors and masters candidates sponsored by various women’s organizations like Women In Engineering.

    I do NOT begin my presentations by saying, “I’m an atheist, gods are baloney, and you too should reject god and religion. My topic today is ‘What should you women expect and how should you approach the big, bad job world out there.’ ” I’d immediately lose 75% of my audience. My atheism is irrelevant to, and would tangibly harm, what I’m trying to achieve that day.

    I also do NOT begin my presentations by saying, “I’m a nudist, I’m bare every moment I can be, and I urge you to get nekkid too. My topic today is ‘What should you women expect and how should you approach the big, bad job world out there.’ ” I’d immediately lose 85% of my audience. My nudism and nudist activism is irrelevant to, and would tangibly harm, what I’m trying to achieve that day.

    I think you’ll agree that I’m wise to not to mix atheism, nudism, and women’s issues, that doing so would be a huge mistake.

    Yet, it seems to me, this Atheism+/Skeptics+ craziness is making exactly the mistake that I avoid.

    Why can’t we let atheism be atheism, while encouraging INDIVIDUAL atheists to actively pursue whichever other causes they choose — without dragging atheism into it?

    • Yes, in reality I agree with this completely.

      • Gandolf

        I agree too

  • “Skeptics plus we are atheists, but we support tolerance for religious people and religions that cause no social harm.”

    So long as we make clear that tolerance and acceptance are not equivalent.

    Also I wonder what you mean by religions that cause no social harm. I am not aware of any religion that passes that high bar. Could you give an example of a religion that causes no social harm?

    • I think some liberal Christian denominations pass the test, more or less. Those who use the Bible as a fable rather than a textbook, and cherry pick the parts about being good to each other. Some forms of Buddhism past the test as well. Other than that, I think John does a good job of addressing this question.

  • Collin, Humanist liberal religions do less harm since they are more scientifically literate. I can think of the Unitarian Universalist Church for starters.

    • “Humanist liberal religions do less harm since they are more scientifically literate.”

      I agree that they are less harmful. I think I’m just quibbling over the absolute phrasing used of “NO social harm”. I don’t think any religion or social group meets that bill.

      • BlazeL

        No harm? Even science doesn’t fill that bill.

        • To the extent that nothing fits that bill, you’re probably right. But social groups are necessary and science is the best tool for acquiring knowledge that we have.

  • BlazeL

    For a couple of years now, I have been advised that atheism is simply lack of belief in God.

    As such, atheists can be liberals, conservatives, Objectivists, Communists, philanthropists, child moslestors, mass murderers or great doctors.

    And none of them would be acting inconsistently with atheism.

    Ayn Rand, PZ Myers, Lenin, Trotsky, Nietzsche, Sartre, whoever.

    All atheism PLUS emphazies is that atheism can’t stand on its own.

    The “movement’ is already forming denominations…its utterly hilarious. Bahahahaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • It can and it will. I have another post up about atheism and agnosticism, which are categories that have nothing to do with political causes.

    • phasespace


      You’re point is not nearly as insightful as you think it is. Your problem is that you are ascribing a certain kind of identity to those who profess atheism that is more in line with the way a theist makes their religious beliefs apart of their identity.

      Atheists don’t do that. My atheism doesn’t define who I am, what things that I deem are important to me or what I think makes a better society (accept with respect to belief in the supernatural beings). And yet, I do hold many such opinions, they just aren’t the result of my atheism. Religion tends to do all of those things to a much greater degree. Which means that atheists wind up being a much more diverse group on these issues.

      The current dust up within atheist/skeptic communities really isn’t close to any denominations forming, it is more akin to certain people making a concerted effort to enjoin certain social justice issues but doing so in such a way that it is alienating people who are actually on their side.

      • The problem is, nothing that Atheism+ is claiming has anything to do with atheism. With theism, there is a top-level, very basic position that deals with belief in some god. Below that is another level that defines what god one believes in, say a particular religion. Below that details more of what the person believes about said god or religious philosophy, say at the level of a denomination.

        In this though, humanism has nothing whatsoever to do with atheism. They are two entirely different philosophical domains. Atheism+humanism makes no sense, any more than Atheism+bacon makes sense.

        They are two different things, people need to treat them differently. You can be an atheist and a humanist, but not being a humanist doesn’t make you not an atheist.

        • Right. But it makes you a nonplussed non-plusser. If they want to have their splinter group, I think they should have it, and we shouldn’t interfere or give it any attention, beyond what’s already been expressed. Let them pursue their A+ goals in their own arenas and on their own time. I don’t think atheist or skeptical organizations should adopt any goals that aren’t associated with their original missions, especially since those missions have not (and will likely never be) accomplished. And I don’t think that they should concede to the demands of speakers who refuse to speak just because a non-plusser is speaking on the same panel or during the same conference.

        • phasespace

          The problem is, nothing that Atheism+ is claiming has anything to do with atheism.

          True. I didn’t mean to imply otherwise. Like I said, I think most of us more or less agree with their goals even though they aren’t explicitly “atheist,” but their behavior has become increasingly exclusionary, even of people who are mostly already on their side.

    • Gandolf

      BlazeL says …”The “movement’ is already forming denominations…its utterly hilarious. Bahahahaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ”

      Yeah atheism has been left with many humans carrying some remnants of a sort of “theist-type-attitude” still in tow . And you find it utterly hilarious. You sort of remind me a little of something about a school bully type, who seem to think suicide is something kinda funny.

  • I agree with this. I think that we as skeptics can certainly discuss issues such as homophobia, feminism etc… however, I am starting to think that these issues are becoming more central to the atheist community and the atheist activism community is losing its ground because of it. It is true that we should defend the rights of minorities, but I’m not sure that the atheist platform is the best place for it to be the primary focus. The atheist movement has become distracted with the drama, the side shows and everything else….

    • For me, personally, the atheism movement is primarily about the separation of church and state, and intervening when religious extremists engage in abusive or dangerous behavior. I have many other causes that I support, like LGBTQ rights, for example, but they simply don’t fit under the atheism (or skepticism) umbrella. They’re tangential, even if they are causes most of us believe in. I don’t believe in Feminism as it is practiced by the Skepchicks and FTBers. It’s full of double standards — “It’s bad if it happens to me, but not to you.” The hell with that kind of thinking and enough of the hate. It doesn’t help anyone (other than the pockets of the people manufacturing these nontroversies).

  • Kem

    Loved this.

    While I like the A+ idea as a way to encourage people who shed their god beliefs or never had them to begin with to think about the kind of community they want to be a part of and re-examine the ideals of humanism, I’m not at all on board with laying out political planks and assuming that all good atheists want to walk them. It’s not what the Flying Spaghetti Monster would want for us.

    I’ve embraced the A+ logo, because I think it does go a long way towards answering that oh-so-obnoxious “but if you don’t believe in anything, why spend so much time and energy talking about it” question. I reserve the right to define it as I choose (which lines up pretty much with the humanist idea of “Don’t be a Dick”), and if anyone has a problem with that, I’ll be happy to engage them in reasonable debate. I may pose as an Objectivist feminist just to fuck with them out of annoyance, but I’ll still be happy to talk about why I feel it has more to do with not being a dick then it does with the affordable health care act, etc…

    @Jennifer Allen

    Really, really good post.

    “Why can’t we let atheism be atheism, while encouraging INDIVIDUAL atheists to actively pursue whichever other causes they choose — without dragging atheism into it?”

    The short answer is because it’s boring to write about the same thing over and over again, and the “drama” has caused some real feelings of annoyance and disgust that they want to blog about.

    The slightly longer answer is that there’s a real problem here that should be talked openly about. The gamer community has these kinds of debates, too. It’s healthy. Single guys who never picked up on the nuances of how to communicate with single women they are attracted to learn from it; single women who never picked up on the nuances of how to communicate with single guys they are attracted to learn from it. Ditto for cis/trans LGBT and one-sided attraction when the other party isn’t interested permutations as well. Win win for the socially awkward.

    My slightly more reflective answer: I think this is in direct response to one of Hemant Mahta’s more rousing bits at the Reason Rally, where he called on everyone to make sure (assuming it doesn’t jeopardize our safety or economic situation) that none of our friends or family members make the mistake of thinking to themselves “I don’t know any atheists”. While it’s certainly not appropriate to cross causes when asked to speak on one particular subject, when you’re at the hotel bar afterwards and the topic of God comes up? It’s appropriate, although it should be handled delicately.

    That handled delicately thing is how I choose to see the A+ movement. Just, you know, be excellent to one another. And party on. Or something. But above all, don’t be a dick.

    • I like the logo and the goals, but not the divisiveness and drama it’s already causing. Also, when we talk about feminism, we have to realize that there are as many different types as there are feminists; in that way, it’s not unlike religion. I’m a dictionary feminist. I believe in equal opportunity and equal rights. I also support affirmative action in many situation because it is desirable to have equality (or at least proportionality) of representation, but not to the point that we have those who are unqualified performing work that is dangerous to themselves or to others. Moreover, I don’t want equality and proportionality to get in the way of individual choice. And I quite enjoy being a woman and some of the perks that come with it. Further, I’m a mixed economy socialist, so I believe the best place to start is economic equality for everyone when it comes to the bare necessities of life (housing, food, education, clothing, healthcare). Obviously, I’m pro-choice, anti-discrimination, and so on. But the A+ feminists have already disowned me for my misogynistic beliefs.

      Most importantly, I don’t hate people just because they disagree with my (non)religious, political, and social goals. I think I want what’s best for everyone, but I could easily be wrong.

      • Clare45

        I completely agree with your position Maria, and am happy you are blogging here. I would also like to add that I believe there is more to Atheist + than is being stated by the proponents. There seems to be a hidden agenda to use this “splinter group” to make intentional divisions within the atheist community, by throwing out all the “privileged old white males” (think Dawkins and Harris) and taking the power and glory for themselves. Some of them have previously admitted in their blogs that they think that their 3rd wave version of feminism is a more important issue than atheism. My guess is they will crash and burn soon after leaving the starting gate (sorry about the mixed metaphor!) We “regular” atheists have more support than they realise.

        • There is definitely an agenda at play here and I think we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg. Honestly, I think you’re going to start seeing quotas, they’ve already shown they want 50% of the people attending skeptical conferences to be women, even if 50% of the potential attendees aren’t female. It’s like saying “half of all attendees at this quilting convention have to be men!” Sorry, quilting is a heavily female-biased hobby, 50% of the people who are interested in quilting aren’t men and it’s absurd to try to force the issue. I have no doubt that they’ll start accusing any conference that doesn’t work hard to get 50% female attendance of being misogynistic, followed by any conference that doesn’t achieve 22% black attendance, or 5-10% gay attendance, etc.

          I have no doubt that’s coming down the pike at some point and if you disagree with arbitrary quotas, you’ll be a misogynist, racist homophobe.

        • Yes, I agree, especially since most of them have positions of power and privilege withing the community.

  • Kem

    Yeah. The thing is, I have pretty much no interest whatsoever in using an A+ logo to identify myself at conferences. I think it’s a catchy brand that manages to draw some attention from people who don’t know much about atheists other than what they see on the news. Which, for the most part, isn’t great pr for us. It’s a way to say that we are interested in building family friendly communities that help each other and contribute to society as a whole. It’s my hope that this is what gets picked up and carried forward.. I somehow doubt the internal dirty laundry is likely to be of much interest to people who aren’t really following very specific blogs. And if they are? Well, they’re already a part of the community and can form their own opinions.

    I don’t much care if I’ve taken the best of what I see in this idea and this logo and reassigned my own definition to it while ignoring the rest of it. It’s all very 3rd wave of me, you know.

    On the feminism stuff, yeah. Agreed in full. Yes, I’m a feminist, but part of what third wave feminism is all about is that I get to choose how I present myself as a woman and I don’t have to conform to anyone’s preconceived notions of how I am supposed to present myself as a feminist. And if someone tries to herd this cat in any particular direction that I don’t want to go by calling me a misogynist, they’re liable to get hissed at and ignored. I only get so many hours to spend my time before I die, and being annoyed by people on the internet is something I lost patience for a long time ago.

  • Vic

    Coming over from FTB, I thank you so much for this blog post.

    The in-fighting of the community over there is tiresome even for (mostly) bystanders and lurkers.

    And to be labeled ‘misogynist’ or ‘rape-enabler’ for holding egalitarian views and identifying life-long as a ‘gender equalist’, if such a term is allowed to be used, can be sometimes a little disheartening – and it doesn’t get better when you hear about how other people got harrassed in real life or threatened with legal action when expressing their opinions which seemed not to be in line with the recent activism wave.

    While this behaviour is expressed by only a small minority, it seems to be tolerated or supported by a large crowd of well-meaning followers (and I really mean well-meaning, not in a sarcastic way, for many fo the issues raised are worth raising. But I do not need to elaborate that.). There also seems to be a lot of quick-shooting and pre-judging (on both sides), which, combined with the quickness of information flow of the internet, led to an unusal number of misunderstandings, which likely deepened the trenches dug around certain camps.

    • Thank you for joining us and for your comment. Dissenting views are welcome here, and no abuse is a rule (even more so on my personal blog).

  • Dustin

    So if I don’t align myself with atheism+ I’m still allowed to be an atheist right? Just not a cool one?


    • Copyleft

      In the words of some of the FTB bloggers and posters, you’re still an atheist… you’re just ‘bad at atheism,’ becuase if you were doing it right you’d be equally committed to humanism, liberalism, feminism, environmentalism, fuzzy-puppyism, etc. etc.

      And even if you ARE committed to those things, by not aligning with them explicitly you’re still the enemy. Bad atheist! No biscuit!

      • Then I’m really, really bad in not believing in god. Even though I don’t believe in god.

      • I’m fine with being “bad at atheism”, but they’re “bad at logic”.

  • BramKaandorp

    Great post.

    I wonder if, in say 15 years, at some atheist meeting the following exchange of words might occur:

    Attendee #1: So, are you part of A+?
    Attendee #2: No, I am non-denominational.

    Seriously though, I can see this becoming a non-theistic religion.

    I’d hate to give too little credit to people, but still… scary stuff.

    Then again, what with the whole herding cats thing, maybe not.

    • I tend to agree. But I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt in the sincerity of their overreaching and exclusive goals. Because I agree with those, I just don’t think this is the way to achieve them.

  • Wonderful! That’s a platform I can support readily.