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Posted by on Jan 13, 2013 in Atheism, Skepticism | 16 comments

What’s The Point Of An Atheist/Skeptic Movement?

Given the recent online infighting and constant squabbling about anti-scientific feminist woo, thousands of aimless and harassing blog posts devoted to these topics, and the very real and dangerous attempts at destroying fellow atheists’ careers or permanently branding them with the stamp of misogyny — often for doing nothing more than being reasonably skeptical of truth claims — let me provide some real reasons for an atheist/skeptic movement. Because I’m a lazy cat, and because this is Sunday, I’m going to resort to my favorite list form.

1.  True secularism: America is still not a fully secular state. From our currency to our presidential speeches, religion plays a major role. Churches are still granted automatic 501(c)(3) status. Even some of our traditional American institutions, such as the Boy Scouts (historically a Christian organization), have benefited significantly from government assistance;

2.  Discrimination against atheists: Although the laws that prohibit atheists from running for office have been stricken by SCOTUS circa 1963, there are still too few open atheists in politics. And in the south, if you admit to being an atheist, chances are fairly high that you won’t get a job. And that’s if you’re lucky.

3.  Hellfire: Keeping children from being exposed to the often-traumatic and emotionally scarring doctrine of hellfire.

4.  Science-advocacy: The solutions to the problems that man has created through the misuse of machinery built with the help of science, can only be cured with scientifically-minded solutions. Moreover science teaches us about the world we live in, helps us survive life-threatening diseases, and flies us to the moon. In sum, science is useful, fascinating, and good.

5.  Superstition: Debunking superstition and helping people make decisions based on what’s true.

6.  Charlatanry:  Exposing charlatans who sell lies in exchange for the hard-earned money of their victims.

7.  Critical and INDEPENDENT thinking: This is required in all aspects of our lives, and the best ways to learn it is by recognizing our own biases, the biases of others, and by honestly considering the merits of opinions that differ from our own.

8.  Knowledge: Superstition and theistic god beliefs prevent us from discovering the world around us, but once those beliefs are shed, what you see is more beautiful than anything you could have possibly imagined.

9.   Protection against cult-like behavior, ideology, and dogma. I’ll let you think about this one on your own.

10. Attempting to create a better world: By eradicating true misogyny, homophobia, racism, bigotry, caste systems, slavery (including corporate slavery) and the atrocities still perpetuated by religious belief.

  • Good summary. The only one I’d add is to combat the general perception that
    religion is necessarily a ‘good thing.’ As far as the infighting goes, the internet
    seems to amplify little squabbles into huge rows.
    (How many degrees do you have?)

    • bluharmony

      Five. Though I think Russell Blackford has more and better ones. 🙂

  • Misogyny, homophobia, racism, bigotry, caste systems, slavery (including corporate slavery) and other atrocities are still perpetuated by some religious beliefs and practices but any or all of those things are or can be perpetuated/practiced by non-religious people too. I don’t think it’s appropriate to include those things in an “Atheist/Skeptic Movement” unless the so-called movement is renamed. A person can be an atheist and/or a skeptic and not care about any of that other stuff or could be guilty of any or all of that other stuff. Those things should be stopped and condemned by religious and non-religious people.

    When it comes to “Critical and INDEPENDENT thinking” I have to wonder just how much of that there can be in a “Movement”, and the behavior of some of the A-plusers really makes me wonder.

    “True secularism: America is still not a fully secular state.”

    That’s putting it mildly. 🙂

    “Protection against cult-like behavior, ideology, and dogma.”

    From what I’ve seen, the “Atheist/Skeptic Movement” needs protection from itself, or at least from the control freaks who have pretty much ruined it.

    And it’s not that I’m against people getting together to work toward a worthwhile goal but all the ‘movement’ and ‘community’ talk gets on my nerves.

    “Knowledge: Superstition and theistic god beliefs prevent us from discovering the world around us, but once those beliefs are shed, what you see is more beautiful than anything you could have possibly imagined.”

    I’ll agree with that except that the word may should come before the word see. Just because someone is an atheist doesn’t mean that they will see the beauty of the world. To really see the beauty and reality of the world (nature) takes a lot more than being an atheist, although I do think that shedding superstition and theistic beliefs is a real good idea whether it helps a person see the beauty of nature or not.

    • Vic

      Concerning your first paragraph, I agree that it does not fit the atheist label, but what about the skeptic label?

      Skepticism does not only lead to the refusal of claims after evaluation of the evidence, it also leads to the acceptance of positive claims, which influences one’s views on society and individuals.

      I could be wrong, but I think a skeptic worth his salt would have a hard time to back misogyny, homphobia, racism etc. empirically and rationally.

      At least, the arguments against discrimination and segregation I heard so far are more convincing to me than those in favor, although I am surely biased due to my emotional stance on these issues.

      • The trouble with labels is that they often mean different things to different people. Everyone is skeptical of something, but not everything. Everyone has an opinion about what is right or wrong and most people (no matter how they label themselves) are very adept at holding inconsistent or downright contradictory values/beliefs. Of course I’m perfect and would never do such a thing. 😉

        I don’t disagree with anything you said but I think there’s more to it. I don’t think that being skeptical automatically means that a person consciously analyzes everything (or maybe anything) empirically and rationally. Some skepticism seems to be instinctive rather than learned and is more subconscious than conscious. It’s sometimes more a feeling than a conscious analysis although it may be a feeling because of previous experience/knowledge and analysis. Consciously applying skepticism to all things in life would be very unlikely for most or all people. We could probably all think of something that we have at least some blind ‘faith’ in or aren’t very skeptical about. Some biases, or at least what some people would call biases, also seem to be instinctive but that of course is endlessly debatable.

        When it comes to being against misogyny, homophobia, racism, etc., I think that it takes more than being skeptical. It takes unselfishness and compassion (i.e. an emotional stance), which can be learned but it requires that a person is capable of learning those things (or already has them) and some people don’t seem to be ‘wired’ accordingly. Even a cursory look at humans shows that peoples’ thoughts/values/beliefs/selfishness/compassion/biases/skepticism/emotional stances, etc. are highly variable and are sometimes subject to change on a moments notice for no apparent reason. Getting everyone on the same page all of the time ain’t gonna happen.

        Something that I think needs more attention is the definition and usage of labels. For instance, misogyny is defined as hatred of women and it is virtually always applied to men. Men are often accused of being misogynistic for behaviors that have nothing to do with hatred of women, and women aren’t immune from hating women (sometimes including themselves). Some behaviors/attitudes of some men that some women would label as misogynistic would be considered a turn on to other women. For example, what is said about ‘nice guys’ finishing last with women is often true. Many women are attracted to ‘bad boys’ who may not actually ‘hate’ women but would quickly be labeled as misogynists by some women.

        Skepticism, like misogyny and other labels usually needs a qualifier (or two or three….) added to be more specific. Philosophical skepticism, empirical skepticism, radical skepticism, selective skepticism, selective-radical-philosophical skepticism, and skepticism with a side order of compassion are examples but even adding qualifiers doesn’t necessarily clarify what or how someone thinks or behaves. Labels are often tossed around in discussions/arguments without adequate clarification and that is one of the reasons that misunderstandings are common. Often a fight breaks out over the misinterpretation, incorrect or variable definition, and/or misapplication of labels.

        It’s kind of amazing that with all the words and labels that are available that it’s still often difficult to interpret or apply labels and to communicate accurately. When I look over what I typed above I can’t help but wonder if I could and should have said it differently and how it will be interpreted.

        • Vic

          Good post on a tedious topic.

          Sometimes I wonder if the (in)fighting over labels takes up too much of our time, but then again, humans gonna be human and I’m not excempt. 😉

    • bluharmony

      Sure they can exist without religion, in fact, I’m sure they existed before religion in the way we know it today. But religion often serves to perpetuate these things, and that’s what I was getting at. Also, there’s no rational, reason-based argument for maintaining these practices.

  • MosesZD

    Protection against cult-like behavior, ideology, and dogma. I’ll let you think about this one on your own.

    It happens in every political movement. People who crave power and play ‘the end justifies the means’ card will always infiltrate, over-throw and destroy any political movement for their own personal benefit while seeking to shape the movement to conform with their beliefs.

    If the proles are lucky, the winner of the internal power struggle will be mostly benign with just a few losers who become marginalized. At worst, you get pogroms, witch hunts and a destruction of the movement from internal bickering.

    This is now the second, or maybe third, go-around in the atheist community. And, as a critical observer of events, I can’t help but notice is there only a small group of recurring individuals with in these troubles. And of them, most are followers of just a few… zealots.
    I’ve noticed many of the ‘gnus’ from the ‘gnu atheist’ have sat this one out. For example, Jerry Coyne (one of the gnu’s) stays a million miles away from this ‘true atheists are feminists’ bullshit. But there are plenty of others, as well.

    • MosesZD

      Not quite complete. No time to finish. So, be nice. 🙂

      • bluharmony

        Aren’t I almost always?

        • MosesZD

          Yes. I was only speaking the general, not the specific. 🙂 If I’m going to be hung, I want to be hung for a position, not a possible mis-reading because I couldn’t really finish my post and express myself clearly.

    • bluharmony

      Very wise decision on his part.

  • takeitback

    Get the fuck out of here with this ten commandments of atheism bullshit. You are the one who needs to get skeptical. Your cognitive dissonance is showing.

    • bluharmony

      Commandments of atheism? If you could read, you’d notice that I wasn’t only taking about atheism, but skepticism, too. And I wasn’t talking about rules, but posible goals. Atheism means there’s no god, and that’s it. Sorry, but I can’t help you with your lack of reading comprehension; however, I can suggest that you follow your own advice. This blog doesn’t belong to you, and you need to go away. Thanks.

  • Blind Labyrinth

    “and the very real and dangerous attempts at destroying fellow atheists’ careers or permanently branding them with the stamp of misogyny — often for doing nothing more than being reasonably skeptical of truth claims ….”

    Is it okay with you if we occasionally brand some actual misogynists with the stamp of misogyny? For example, why does Benjamin Radford, who was *found guilty by the Center for Inquiry* for harassing Karen Stollznow still have a job at CFI? There is no serious contention to the claim that Radford harassed Stollznow for four years— even Blake Smith, who would have everything to gain by backing Radford, instead backs Stollznow. So, why does Radford still have a job? Does the branding of Radford as a misogynist and the questioning of his current career trajectory pass muster with you as being appropriate, or are you one of those “skeptics” who kind of sort of just never believes *any* of those loud, annoying women when they cry harassment (even in the face of a mountain of evidence)?

    • bluharmony

      I have not issue with Radford receiving the sanctions that he received, as well as the $40,000 independent investigation that preceded the discipline. If Karen is unhappy with the outcome, she has recourse in the courts. But generally speaking, I believe Karen’s story.

      Without knowing more, I don’t know what else I can say. That is to say, I need to see the findings of the IE before making further judgment.