Over the last week or so, several people have asked me to comment on Atheism(+). I don’t always know if they’re trying to find out what it is, or if they just want to know how I feel about it. Today someone sent me a message which made that very clear. He(?) described himself as a rational skeptic and a liberal progressive who supports policies to minimize abusive behavior in conventions and so on, just like me. He also expressed some concerns which I had [until recently] myself:
“My core goal, the pure reason I identify as an atheist, is promotion of critical thinking skills. The atheist movement has been a home for that and so I have moved in with delight. Relentless demand for the most accurate position possible on important topics drives me. The fact that critical thinking skills are so rare in our society makes me vocal.
Given my primary motivation I am quite concerned with the goals of atheism+. I understand that in any larger group there will be subsets created. I do not see their intent as being something similar to humanism, which is just that, a subset. I see them as being a hostile take over. Progressiveness (I am a progressive) re-branding the umbrella goals of our movement and removing those that disagree.”
Now I’m not the guy to ask about this. I don’t give it much thought. Several advocates of A+ have assured me that I don’t have to. I don’t have to adopt the label or change my stationary. I don’t have to do anything different than I have done since as long as I’ve been involved in this movement. So I haven’t really looked into Atheism+ very deeply, and I’m not even sure I get it myself. But based on the few brief queries I’ve had with some of the A+ proponents here at FtB, here is what I think it is:
Atheism(+) is NOT any ‘take-over’ of the atheist umbrella, nor is it an attempt to redefine what atheism means. Nor could it succeed in that even if that ever was the intent. It really is just a subset of atheists. In fact, it is subset of a subset, representing only a portion of the atheists who are also activists. It is the difference between atheism, (being unconvinced that any genuine deity actually exists) and a social movement within that group, who wish to associate that perspective with positive moral values -as identified, defined, and by atheists. I think we do a better job of that than religious proponents ever have.
Most atheists are apathetic, not activists at all. In fact most atheists don’t even know they are atheist, or won’t accept or admit that they are. Most atheists call themselves agnostics, because they think that ‘atheist’ means someone who doesn’t believe in anything, or who is determined to reject any possible aspect of metaphysics, someone who ‘knows’ there is no god. Of those atheists who figured out what the label really means, and how it applies to them, and who have stopped making excuses to get out of a shoe that fits, not all of them are skeptical critical thinkers. There are vast numbers of non-theists who still believe in supernatural spiritual healing, chiropractic homeopathic herbal acupuncture, transcendental psionic projection, alien reptilian government conspiracies, and the Loch Ness sasquatch from Area 54 of the Bermuda Triangle. Yes there are atheists who are afraid of vaccinations, genetically-modified foods, bad karma, and fluoride toothpaste.
Of those who are analytical empirical rationalists, not all of them are activists. Very few are. Being embroiled in controversy is a hard job, and it is particularly tough on people who don’t want to risk losing their families or careers. Of those who are unabashedly motivated political protesters, many are focused only on secularism, maintaining church-state separation to the exclusion of every other atheist interest. Others only actively advocate education, sometimes only in science, or in social studies, or public health issues exclusively. It’s rare to see anyone standing up for all of these things at once. However nearly all of those who do also oppose prejudice on the grounds of income, ethnicity, nationalism, and sexual orientation, and most of them promote egalitarian attitudes toward women as well.
Here is where I think a potential problem is perceived: The initial unveiling of this idea was badly phrased and poorly interpreted, but that’s not the only factor. Apart from that, until now all the big names in the “atheism movement” have been those promoting the philosophy of science, skepticism, and secular humanism, along with those who have swallowed so much scripture as to induce regurgitation. We haven’t had a branch of atheists specifically committed to the issues social justice, and that’s essentially what I think Atheism+ is. It’s like a new civil rights movement, but one completely stripped of religion. Then add atheist family values, which are more genuine than those of religion, in that ours exclude child abuse, misogyny, and sexual repression, and include non-conformists and non-traditional families. As such Atheism+ need be no more divisive than having a national atheist [political] party. I’m fairly certain everyone in the NAP is an atheist, but not all atheists belong to that party, nor will they ever have to. Atheism+ is essentially no different than progressive atheism, but we’re not going to revoke Penn & Teller’s A-pins just because they’re libertarians who like sexually explicit women. We’re not gonna boot Bill Maher out until he gets a flu shot, and we won’t disown Ayn Rand for being elitist either. As for Stalin, he doesn’t fit in any of the subsets previously discussed, and belongs in a whole ‘nuther category, far away from everyone I’ve so far mentioned here.
If you really doubt whether any telepathic djinn is magically manipulating every aspect of reality, then you’re an atheist. If on top of that, you find yourself openly opposing oppression by the religious right, then you’re an activist as well. And regardless whether you endorse science or secularism, if you find that you also embrace equality for humanity regardless of ancestry, attraction, or gender, then you’re atheist plus. At least that’s what I think anyway.