I Get Mail – On Conflict in Atheism

“What do I Think About the Conflict in Atheism?” Asked an email.

Well? It is a disease of change. It is bad but these were issues that have always been there. I am a british indian atheist but I am currently living in India as an expat out here. I was pretty much blogging in quiet at this point last year. When I heard that people wanted more diversity, I was pretty surprised by the backlash against a simple idea. 

Diversity is important to us. I started blogging because there were no role models in atheism for people like myself. I also kind of started blogging as a way to unwind and de-stress. So it actually amused me when I see some of my hate mail. The TAM one in particular is high on my list because there is a genuine group of people who seem to be rubbing their hands with glee that I am somehow excluded from TAM this year because it would bankrupt me and make me go “out of business” as it were.

A little piece of information for you. I make around £1 from the blog a day… There have been some days where I have made a whopping £4 from the blog but generally I make around £1. Yes! Shake your fists at my mighty earning potential…

This is not big money anywhere in the world. Considering the amount of effort that goes into making a blog post? I also have other stuff I do during the day. To wish me bankruptcy is a tad “evil”.

And the second thing you should know is that Indians are rather poorly represented in Atheism/Skepticism. The chance that I would have been at TAM in any role is very very low because people often “forget” about us. We aren’t represented heavily in atheism. We do wish we were though.

Which is why our community should be more inclusive to people of colour, GLBT and women. Atheism is like pretty much any society dominated by a majority and our majority is “White, Male and Judeo-Christian”. We can toss in “American” to that list too. There are precious few voices outside the majority. When you start yelling about who represents what, you end up drowning out voices who legitimately want to be heard and who really should be listened to.

There are naysayers on this. My mere association with Freethought Blogs has made me a target for criticism and even active attempts to reduce traffic. I have watched really tragic stories on things like Female Genital Mutilation or the Indian Rapes get buried by anti-FTB despite the content being things that we can fight for and make a positive change in the world. I have seen derailment and indeed people simply poisoning the well for the sake of it. I don’t mind the naysayers as much as others do, I am more puzzled than irate. Because they have forgotten one thing.

I am IMHO a diversity hire. I represent a group of atheists who aren’t heavily represented in atheism. If I said Ambedkar or Periyar would you recognise the names? I came from a tiny blog. I got a hundred hits a WEEK and I don’t really mind going back to that. However I also know that I am at this moment representing one of the few ex-hindu western atheists out there. You may not think we have “problems” but we do. We face down immense sexism. We face down arranged marriages. We face down pseudo-science, caste and alternative medicine. But here is the thing. You will NEVER hear about our struggles without doing things like this. You won’t hear about how lonely it is or how we have to face down Hindu/Muslim antipathy.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to be more inclusive. The “Geek” community is fighting the same fight that we are and we do share a lot of members with them. Our community is enriched and improved by inclusiveness. What surprised me was the backlash against this notion of inclusiveness. There were people who believed that atheists should just be about atheism and mainly about Judeo-Christian Atheism. That we should not use our perspective for anything else apart from Atheism (which is amusing since atheists have no problem in using their skepticism for a god to discuss pseudo-science). That we shouldn’t or don’t have to improve our culture so that more atheists can be vocal. That we shouldn’t use our atheism to be productive. That we shouldn’t have responsibility of speech alongside freedom of speech? 

This is a rather big shock to me considering what I do and why I do it. I understand not taking part but to actively condemn a group suggesting more diversity is better is “shocking”.

If I had a female atheist from India wanting to be heard and she found out that there were people in our movement who were blaming women in a country infamous for it’s misogynistic stance for a horrific rape; would she join? What if she found out about the kind of harassment female bloggers have been subject to? That she can never be vocal about the things she finds interesting or horrid because the naysayers can just harass her into oblivion. In this case A Voice for Men gave a voice to a Indian Rape Apologist. I barely gave a voice to a woman who wasn’t even allowed to talk to her father in law except through her son. Where is the fairness in that?

The naysayers have claimed that what they do is not harassment but parody. That it is an expression of free speech. I suggest they go read about all the kids who have killed themselves because they too were subject to such “parody”. It’s bullying. It’s simple as that.

What’s there to discuss? On the one side you have people arguing for an atheist movement that should be more inclusive and on the other you have people fighting for it to be the old monolith. And we have all seen the harassment aimed at people like Stephanie Zvan who has been called a variety of things from the usual bitch and slut to silly spellings of her name (Black Zvan?). To outright posts of NSFW pictures mocking her. A horse is horse and a dog is a dog, that was bullying.And you want me to tell my readers that there are no problems in Atheism? I may not agree with Atheism Plus but I do agree something like it should exist for the SOLE reason that the backlash has proven categorically that atheism has a sexism problem and that we need to genuinely fix it. It also has a problem with being more inclusive to non-white people and this is blatantly evident when you look at the open demographics.

Because at the moment all that’s coming from the argument is “We aren’t sexist! Take that back you horrible cunts!”.

So what are the major points of contention?

Firstly? There are no sides to this argument. This is not Jets vs. Sharks. We disagree with each other a lot. In fact I have criticised Atheism+ despite being in favour of many of the same goals (our conflict is methodology and academics). My criticism has been vocal but I have informed people about my stance then proceeded to carry on my with my life rather than focus my entire atheist existence into a campaign of harassment.

Secondly. Consider what their goals are. One group wants atheism to be more accessible to minorities. The other effectively wishes to carry on in a system that doesn’t do enough to be accessible to anything outside the status quo.

It honestly is idiotic as hell. I don’t work as a blogger. This is a hobby to me rather than my life. It still irks me that people are willing to actually stop any income I receive from writing. It irked me even more to notice that there were people who tried to do the same to people who were reliant on their blogs for their income.

Free Speech is great, but how you use it is an insight into the kind of society you wish to build. You can use it to bring down tyrants and you can use it to do things like spread transphobic hate (witnessed from the anti-stance). You can use it to defame and harass and you can use it to deny things that are patently sensible.I ran into the entity known as the Slymepit in one specific article. A Voice for Men ran an article from an Indian MRA. The best case scenario was that the man who wrote it was highly delusional. The worst case scenario is that he was a rape apologist which is no surprise since India post the Delhi Rape/Murder played host to an ever increasing dialogue of such. What surprised me was the level of support AVfM had from the Slymepit. For all the vaunted “free speech” championed by people who say that we are the ones ruining atheism not one of them seemed to be vocal against their own members who were sponsoring rape apologists with nary a word.

A resolution?

How can we compromise our stance? We cannot have only “half equality”. We cannot sweep the fact that we have an issue with equality under the carpet. And there is little compromise when it comes to trying to bring equal opportunity to a movement.It’s simple.

Just look at the backlash against having rules at conventions. I haven’t been to an atheist convention, but I have been to medical and geek ones. Both have rules. They have concrete things that are explicitly stated in order to quickly and efficiently deal with conflicts so that ALL may enjoy the gathering.Yet we don’t? Why? We don’t believe in any gods. Does being atheist suddenly exclude you from harassment both against people we don’t like and or sexual harassment? Night Clubs Have Rules Against This… The actual meat markets we go to dance and hit one each other have fucking harassment rules. If you keep doing things that are disruptive you get kicked out. Yet we as atheists think these rules ruin our fun?

What stances do you THINK we should compromise? That women should be equal and the lack of female voices in high positions is not acceptable? That we shouldn’t discriminate against LGBT and Queer (Sorry I am not an expert in the various terms used which is pretty much indicative that we need more of them to be vocal amongst us) people and encourage them to have a voice? That we should be more welcoming to people who aren’t “white” as we are underrepresented in mainstream atheism? That we should use our atheism to stand behind social causes that we believe in? That we should use the skepticism that comes hand in hand with atheism to look at social issues affecting us to come up with solutions? That we should learn about other cultures so as to  be more understanding with their atheists or realise the problems they face? That these problems may be different from ours? Which of these issues do you wish for us to compromise on?

Where exactly do you see compromise? Which issue are we supposed to throw under a bus to bring peace to this conflict here? Who do we sacrifice to bring peace? Who do you want martyred and scapegoated?


  1. says

    One thing I don’t hear a lot of people saying is, “the ‘deep rifts’ in atheism made me believe in god again.”


    As long as that isn’t happening, then we’re just arguing about methods, which is hardly deep rifts. It’s more like a disagreement about which winning strategy is best. That’s an important disagreement, but it’s not the most important aspect of the situation.

  2. Shari says

    from how long Rebecca Watson has received rape threats, for example (I’m mainly a reader of Almost Diamonds, and find thought provoking articles and blogs via her site, and I have lost track of how many other female skeptics are getting sexually harassed, cyberstalked, death threats, and other inexcusable types of harrassment), I am guessing that behavior towards women and minorities constitutes a deep rift indeed.

    Disagreeing about which winning strategy…
    “Hey, lets be inclusive of minorities and support equality in rights and in treatment for our members.”
    “It’s totally ok to sexually threaten, harass, stalk and send death threats. Anonymously, so we have no consequences”

    Anyone who thinks there is no deep rift in the skeptical community doesn’t value all members the same. And that’s a community that is not going to protect all of it’s members.

  3. Shari says

    should clarify – I read Stephanie Zvan’s Almost Diamonds, which is how I first heard about Rebecca Watson, and watched these rifts develop.

  4. says

    To me its simple. I try to avoid being on the side for anyone who makes excuses for pain and death. They make excuses for the pain of another because they are too lazy to learn to use different words.

    They are children. I give at least one try to reason and if they display no honest attempt at conversation I get out my rhetorical scalpels.

  5. says

    I remember being pretty excited when you joined FtB. I’ve only just recently delurked, but at the time I was still glad to see some proof that other ex-Hindu Indian atheists actually… you know, existed. The fact that people would put so much effort into depriving you of £1 a day seems both vindictive and pointless. In general, using your own free speech to bully someone else into giving up theirs seems like both a waste of time and a gross misunderstanding of the concept..

  6. says

    Yup, well said, Avicenna. How is atheism supposed to grow if it’s not seen as useful to all people? How is it supposed to be seen as useful to all people if atheism tolerates sexist harassment from those who consider themselves a part of the movement? If women and people of color feel like they have to be mentally prepared to face the same kind of harassment Stephanie has faced just in order to be publicly affiliated with the movement, then clearly a non-zero number of them will decide that it’s not worth the trouble, and the movement is the poorer for it. I’m glad you’re part of FTB now, and I have begun blogging again myself (in anticipation of going to the American Atheists’ convention in Austin).

  7. says

    The other side-effect of having voices like yours involved in ‘the movement’ is that the voices of the “everything’s just peachy” status quo become more and more marginalized as people within ‘the movement’ increasingly appreciate how non-peachy things are for people outside ‘the movement’. ‘The movement’ doesn’t necessarily serve all groups equally, but if you’re not one of those groups you’re not going to see it.

    I’m proud to have you here, Avi. And I’m glad you wrote this.

  8. says

    The question I always have is “What is an atheist movement for?” Because for me, the version of a movement that the anti-diversity crowd are fighting for isn’t anything worth fighting for in the first place.

    Wow, yeah… you got that cross off of school grounds, but if you don’t care about the overall education, mental and physical health, economic situation, or anything else about those students, what good is your movement? You’re awesome at condemning the way religious groups treat women, but if you don’t care about the treatment of women as anything but a weapon against theists then you’re worthless to me. If you want “In God We Trust” off the money, but don’t care that the money is going to war profiteers and is being diverted away from necessary social safety net programs, then nobody needs you for anything. Let’s put up an anti-Christmas billboard! Wooo! Because that’s really improving people’s lives?

    And if your atheist movement isn’t for everyone, and is really just upper-class college educated white men from America and western Europe and those people who are willing to only discuss issues relevant to that group, then as far as I’m concerned your atheist movement isn’t for anyone.

  9. BOWD says

    You are making an excellent point about some really annoying folks. I have read PZ and Ed for quite a while, but one of the coolest things was when they opened up FTB and starting bringing in all sorts of new folks who I wouldn’t have known about if the “deep rift” folks had their way. I like the vareity of voices and perspectives that are different. Like Improbable Joe said in his comment above an “atheist movement” is by itself rather boring, there are plenty of other issues for us to be addressing. I just wish there was more going on here in Elvis-land.

  10. A Hermit says

    Thank you for this.

    I don’t comment here much because I’m just trying to absorb as much as I can, but I visit this blog almost every day;

    As a middle aged white North American man from a Protestant Christian background I find that I learn so much more by reading the thoughts of people who are not like me. People of different gender, people from different religious and cultural backgrounds can help to understand things about the world that I couldn’t possibly begin to appreciate on my own; that I might not even be aware of without hearing their voices.

  11. oursally says

    But conflict is the point! We are here because we disagree! Once you question the things other people hold holy, you follow by questioning everything else. You think, no, we are not going to live like our parents. This is a big thing to think, and re-booting society even at the level of one family is not easy. We don’t all have the same answers, and we change our minds and compromise constantly. That’s what sceptics do. That’s what fundies can’t do.

  12. Karen Locke says

    Keep on posting. I suspect I speak on behalf of many lurkers who have learned much from your posts. Because of my gender, I too often feel marginalized in the movement, and I admire the brave women who endure the endless stream of vilification because they insist on speaking out. When I disagree with you I’ll let you know, civilly, addressing your argument without calling you names. I suspect you’d do the same for me (though my guest-blog posts on En Tequila Es Verdad tend to be geologically oriented.)

    Thanks for being part of FTB.

  13. HM says

    Thank you. Having you on FTB makes me realize that I’m not alone even though we aren’t coming from the same religious tradition (I’m from a Sikh background). I also really, really appreciate the information that you’ve provided about India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, etc, as there’s a lot I don’t know and am learning from you. I’ll have to check out more Ambedkar’s writings and haven’t heard of Periyar, but will be on the lookout for more information.

    Is there anyone else you’d recommend checking out?

  14. EllenBeth Wachs says

    What surprised me was the level of support AVfM had from the Slymepit.

    Well, then it will come as an even greater surprise to you to find out the level of overlap in the members that cross post at both sites.

  15. Parse says

    I would disagree with your view that you were hired as a ‘diversity hire’, simply because of the connotations I have with that phrase. When I hear it used, it’s typically by a specific subset of straight white men to imply that somebody was hired exclusively because of some ‘minority’ checkbox (and is completely unqualified in every other aspect). You know the type; they’re the ones who say “I’m not a sexist, but [horribly sexist statement]” and “I’m not racist, but [horribly racist statement]”.

    Though in my eyes you were brought on board to provide a unique perspective, your writing is strong enough that you belong here. (Or, to put it another way, the ‘FTB Hivemind’ (using the phrase ironically) took the top 1% of blogs that matched their general goals, and invited diverse voices like yours from that elite set.)

  16. poseidon says

    My frustration with posts like this is that when things are put this way, it makes atheism sound very much like a religion. We’re talking about making atheism useful to people and spreading it… but is it not supposed to be just the simple lack of a belief? Certainly the atheist community could be more accepting, it clearly has issues with that. But is it becoming a sort of “Church” that we’re criticizing or not?

  17. Rohit says

    I am born and raised in India, and i am atheist , Let me put it this way since the day your born your told to believe in God and not to think other way, its difficult to convince to people of me being atheist, nevertheless i was never bothered by any one. My parents think this just phase, but i know its not because i had luxury to think about it, my parents never had time to think rather just believe in God that’s the only way to come out of poverty and or whatever problems they had.I don’t blame any person of being non – atheist. Its little bit difficult of being atheist in this country but i am proud that this country have openness to accept atheist since from very origins of civilizations and first prime minister of this country is also atheist.

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