Atheism+, schisms, and the wrong way to criticise.

I don’t know how many of you know anything about Atheism+, but if you read this post you probably know why it exists. To know first hand, go to the site here. But the gist of it is captured in the manifesto below.

“We are…

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.”

And so far, it’s generated massive support, built it’s own website, and already has a project combatting ablism in the community – A+ Scribe, where significant videos in the community are transcribed for the hard-of-hearing. First comment, by “miller”:

“Sweet! Transcriptions are one of those “universal design” things–they work for people with or without disabilities. Sort of like how those curb ramps at crosswalks are good for everyone. I’m not hard of hearing, but I would still use transcriptions.”

In short, it’s been successful and productive; two of the things that all movements should look to be. And yet the first reporting I see of it, in any kind of press, is in the UK, and it’s this:

Now, disclosure: some bits of the article are OK. Some bits – the “useful but unsavoury body parts” line – were quite funny. Some bits – the unfortunate fact that this may constitute a “schism” – are also true.* The rest of the article? Wrong.

I want to call this guy a few nasty names, but I won’t, because that would prove him right. And especially as the formation of Atheism+ is, in part, to remove the part of the equation that pours poisonous spam-based bile on everyone else from the equation, yelling at him doesn’t seem like a positive move.

But, to be clear, everything about the way he wrote this article is the wrong approach.

First off, the way he phrases it, he never makes it clear that the difference in opinion spreads from disagreement over political opinion – not over religious ones. We’re all still atheists! As such, a bunch of people get the wrong impression, and you get comments like these:

bromleyboy – “If atheists cannot agree among themselves, why should any of us take them seriously?

I’m not going to rise to that – beyond linking it to appropriate tropes – I’m going to instead say that some of this inanity could have been avoided with an article that spent more time portraying facts and less time making Monty Python jokes.

In fact, the author makes a lot of jokes at the movement’s expense. And frankly, I think that’s a bit cheap. It’s not good enough to stand on the sidelines and snipe about “how these atheists love each other” without discussing whether you have a stake in who is right or wrong. At no point does the writer say what they believe about religion, or women’s rights, or privilege, etc. So even if they have a fair point on any of those matters, the article just comes off as juvenile and snide.

When it comes to these issues, you have to actually do something, and couching your terms in ways to make it seem like civil rights are all subjective issues and someone else’s problem (“your progressive politics”, “Ameican Atheism”**) doesn’t change that fact. It’s completely detrimental to any progress at all, in fact.

Meanwhile, Atheism+, for all that I hate the factioning, is doing something, being proactive about issues. That’s what I’ve always seen atheism, plus or minus, to mean, and that’s what it always should mean – not just being, and remaining unchanged. Fix this world, this movement, this instant!

* * *

[For those who may or may not get my alignment in this… *sigh* schism: I agree with Atheism+. Wholeheartedly.]

[Honestly, I don’t even see that anything’s changed. I sure haven’t.]

*What does that change? Christianity’s had more schism’s than I’ve had hot dinners – that hasn’t changed how true it is (i.e. “not at all”).

* I think this is the first time I’ve thought it might actually be valid to refer to one’s nationality as “the internet”, because I have more in common with “american atheists” than with the feeble “everyone’s a little bit agnostic” feeling I get in the UK.


Posted on September 3, 2012, in Atheism & Skepticism and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Christianity has 38,000 denominations. That number is higher than vajazzles sold in Essex in all of August.

  2. dopamine_receptor

    The problem I have with the US Atheism+ crowd is that I don’t know what a “douchebag” or “douchery” is. I haven’t seen any of them define this uniquely US slur ever, even though they use the term liberally( e.g. Mr. Carrier), because they all assume that everyone is familiar with their US high school slang. Generalised insults have no place in a discussion, only in a slanging match. The feeling I get in the UK is that most young people are post-religious. Being an atheist in the UK is just not a big deal like it is in the US.

  3. “Meanwhile, Atheism+, for all that I hate the factioning, is doing something, being proactive about issues. That’s what I’ve always seen atheism, plus or minus, to mean, and that’s what it always should mean – not just being, and remaining unchanged. Fix this world, this movement, this instant!”

    Then you were simply wrong about what atheism actually is. I don’t object to you as an athiest wanting to be proactive but to link that to being atheism just doesn’t follow. Was a non-proactive atheist doing it wrong?

    The major issue I have with Atheism+ is the attitude they display. Rather than have me try to explain it, you would better understand what I mean by having a go yourself. Just go on over to FtB the home of Atheism+ and express scepticism (one the values they like apparently) about something like the say the importance of privilage. A very difficult yo employ idea as every human being is going to be a conflicted mass of more or less privilage in relation to any other human being. You will likely be torn a new one, condecended to, told to “check your privilage”, you will be strawmanned, accused of misogyny, etc. In short, any dissent from the part line, even if the party line will get you villified and ostracised. As an atheist who is intested in issues of social justice, I find the Atheism+ instigaters to be a horrible bunch of people. I think the article was, if anything, very nice to them.

    • Ignoring that I don’t and didn’t define atheism as being proactive (merely that “I” view it as having a social component) – I’ve always found that defining atheism as being purely non-belief, while accurate, detaches it from the things which lead people to non-belief. Are people who disapprove of tory policies but who continue to vote conservative doing it wrong?

      With respect to FtB; yeah, I’ve been there. I’ve also seen some of their responses to scepticism about privilege. The people at FtB can respond scathingly – that doesn’t mean they’re wrong, or even that they’re wrong to respond so harshly.

      Is your point that they are not being sceptical enough about these things? You could find any number of posts on that site and by contributors looking, sceptically, into whether or not privilege exists and is a problem. (They have found, overwhelmingly, that it exists, and it is a problem.)

      Or is it that, once they feel that they have come to a conclusion, they don’t tend to be very forgiving of people who assert things counter to that conclusion without addressing their original argument? Yeah, they do rip those people a new one. Partly because they aren’t helping the discussion, and are in general regressive trolls. Have you seen how many trolls they get?

      Or is it your point that privilege doesn’t matter? I’m having real trouble understanding what it is in particular you don’t like about them. Especially enough to call them “horrible people”.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: