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The Non-Religious Patriarchy: Why Losing Religion HAS NOT Meant Losing White Male Dominance (excerpt)

coverNow available through Wiley Online!

This is not my first academic publication, but it is my first journal article, so I am very excited!  Here’s an excerpt:

Beyond this, the atheist movement fails to address or analyze the problem in meaningful ways. Within the critiques of organized religion, there is “little analysis of the relationship between economic disenfranchisement, race, gender, and religiosity” meaning that such critiques inevitably are of “limited cultural relevance for people of color.”31 Likewise, such critiques often fail to engage with the reasons that religion can be a very useful thing to women and people of color, in a strictly utilitarian way, even while it oppresses them. The atheistic, science-and-objective truth above all point of view means that the experiences of those without the luxury of choice or who cannot place more importance on philosophy than taking care of their families are both not explored and treated as inferior. Religion is not simply about a belief system, and treating it as though it is, is only possible with a blindness to all of the social benefits it provides, even while acknowledging all of the injuries it creates as well. From the position of privilege many in the atheist movement occupy, the focus is always on what is false rather than on what helps one to survive. This is not to say that organized religion is a net good, or something not worth fighting against, but rather to say that ignoring the reality of how religion helps people means being unable to offer meaningful alternatives to it.

There is a pervasive belief that “objective” science holds all of the answers without an acknowledgement that most values and causes are supported by philosophy and personal worldviews as well.32 A white male scientist is naturally going to be interested in causes related to being a white male scientist and blind to or ignorant of causes not related to that. It is a systematic bias. As a movement founded primarily by white male scientists who felt ostracized, the atheist movement has a difficult time acknowledging that science has its problems both historically and as the sole foundation of a worldview and that being white confers special privileges, as does being male. Ironically, their deep commitment to skepticism often fails to include a skepticism aimed at their own worldview.

The movement “likes to talk about the European Enlightenment as if nothing bad could ever legitimately be said about it”33 despite the fact that the Enlightenment was responsible for scientific rationalization and implementation of terrible programs that exploited and hurt people of color and women. Historically, science has been responsible for: terrible programs of eugenics, claims of biological race, and sex differences that have sense been proven to be untrue, justification of slavery, scientific experiments on people of color, forced sterilization of women who committed the crimes of being poor, unmarried, or not white, forced imprisonment of women who were sexual or became involved with someone of a different race, and the list goes on. Science has been responsible for a great many crimes against humanity, and the majority of these crimes have been committed against those least able to defend themselves. There is a natural distrust from people who have faced generations of horror at the hands of scientists and science and the atheist movement’s focus on science above all, with no recognition of the problematic history, makes it difficult for many to trust it.

In addition to the fact that church offers so many benefits to women and people of color that the movement offers no alternative for, the atheist movement often fails to create a welcoming environment. Even without addressing the fact that the movement does not make an effort to emulate the community support of church, it also does not treat the issue of welcoming women and people of color as an important one.

31. Hutchinson, Moral Combat, 199

32. Pigliucci, Massimo, Denying Evolution: Creationism, Scientism, and the Nature of Science, 1st ed. (Sinauer Associates, 2002).

33. Edwords, “The Hidden Hues of Humanism.”

There is also a piece by annalise fonza: Black Women, Atheist Activism, and Human Rights: Why We Just Cannot Seem to Keep It to Ourselves!

In this sense, therefore, this article is constructive and written to assert that black women atheists should be at the table with women who struggle for reproductive rights and with those who fight for religious rights. In this essay, I discuss the ways in which black women such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ayanna Watson, Sikivu Hutchinson, Jamila Bey, Kim Veal, and Mandisa Thomas have risked social status and reputation to raise the awareness that they too struggle for human rights and in particular for the rights of women to choose not believe in a god or supernatural ideas. Indeed, my objective is to assert that black atheist women must be a part of these dialogues and debates on matters related to gender, religion, and human rights, especially at this point in history, when human and civil rights for females/women are threatened worldwide by governance that is informed by patriarchal masculinity that conveys the need to control the fate of the female body.

If you need more information or help accessing the article, feel free to contact me.

Comments

  1. athyco says

    The (shallow and condescending) opening of Ron Lindsay’s WiS2 talk ended with this:

    <Seems to me the roots of the suppression of women are much deeper [than religion], and that they have affected and may continue to affect the attitudes and conduct even of nonreligious individuals. I'll return to these points later.

    Yeah, right. Later. If only he had gone in the direction you have here.

    Congratulations on the first journal article!

  2. says

    Congratulations Ashley! May this be the first of many. The topic is certainly timely, and the points you mention in this excerpt are all important ones.

  3. CaitieCat says

    Congratulations, and very interesting articles, thank you, definitely marking them to read in full after work.

  4. biogeo says

    Congrats! It was an interesting read.

    By the way, it seems like the links you’ve posted are to access the articles through the University of South Carolina library’s proxy server; I had to modify the URL to read your article.

  5. hopeleith says

    really enjoyed the article, congratulations. one fooled-by-spellcheck error: 3 lines after footnote 33 you have “sense” instead of “since”.

  6. freemage says

    I admit I have to suppress a twitch when I see phrases like, “Science has been responsible for a great many crimes against humanity…”. I know it’s a conversational conceit, but the personification of the process bugs me. I certainly agree that the scientific community has been responsible for these things, and that individual scientists have been downright monstrous. But I also maintain that these are cases of getting the actual science itself wrong (in cases where bogus, biased research has been used to justify oppression) or a matter of a neutral tool being mal-used* by someone to horrible effect, ala Tuskegee. I definitely can’t blame anyone for being suspicious of the community because of those occasions. But blaming ‘science’ itself instead of the people and institutions (which have much to answer for and correct) seems to me much like deriding ‘chemicals’ over ‘natural’ products.

    Indeed, my real concern is that it might even be counter-productive, since attributing that maltreatment to ‘science’ makes it seem like the study and practice of science is inherently hostile to oppressed groups–which in turn helps drive members of those groups from pursuing STEM professions and lay-learning about the subjects so that they can actually catch it when the establishment science communities start going astray.

    *: I prefer ‘mal-used’ over ‘misused’ in that case, because it’s NOT just an error in these circumstances. There is active ill-will, or at least reckless and toxic neglect, and if I’m gonna make a critique on a relatively minor rhetorical point, I damn well need to emphasize that the behavior itself is in no way acceptable.

  7. nathanaelnerode says

    “Religion is not simply about a belief system, and treating it as though it is, is only possible with a blindness to all of the social benefits it provides, even while acknowledging all of the injuries it creates as well. ”

    FWIW, this is why I always say that I am fine with *religion*, which I consider to be a community with set of shared rituals and practices — but that I am extremely hostile to *faith*, which is the antithesis of free thought.

    This confuses the heck out of ecumenical Christians. I’ve been trying to find a way to explain it to them. If you figure out how, I’d love to know.

    I suppose you had your reasons for the way you wrote the later part of the article, but:
    “Historically, science has been responsible for:”
    I can’t really agree with any of these, because every last one of these things existed before the Enlightenment, with different excuses. People will use whatever’s available to rationalize whatever they’re doing, and pseudoscience has been convenient as a rationalization, ever since scientific methods turned out to be effective.

    I think perhaps one way to put the issue is: scientists aren’t “science”. Scientists and “scientific institutions” can lie and be wrong too. If you haven’t done at least some direct research in the area yourself, you have no scientific reason to believe “scientists”; if you trust scientists despite this, you trust them only for a nonscientific reason.

    I’d love to offer all creationists a free three-semester biology survey course. By the end they’d all be overwhelmed by the evidence, just as the creationist biology researchers were in the 19th century, and most of them would understand that evolution and common descent and natural selection are all real, proven things. But without going through the vast panoply of species, as I did, why should anyone believe it?

    “science has its problems both historically and as the sole foundation of a worldview”
    I think there is point one could dig into deeper on the “worldview” issue. The scientific approach is always and forever the best approach to figuring out what’s going on… But it’s *far too much work* to do all the time, and as a result 90% of our beliefs will not be informed by direct personal experiment or observation.

    This is before you get into the problem of values (scientific research says doing X will probably result in human extinction — but do I think that’s a good or a bad thing?)

    “and that being white confers special privileges, as does being male.”
    While this is accurate if you’re using the technical terminology of “privilege”, this is a seriously problematic terminology and I’ve started trying to find alternatives.

    Why? Because many of those “special privileges” are actually rights which everyone should have, which are being denied to the non-white or to the non-male. Thinking of them as “privileges” leads to the deranged mentality of an Attorney General Eric Holder who sees nothing wrong with stop-and-frisk as long as it happens to white people too. We’re trying to raise the standard for human rights, not lower it, and the use of the word “privilege” can be seriously unhelpful to that cause.

    Anyway, thanks for an interesting and thought-provoking article!

Trackbacks

  1. […] “Beyond this, the atheist movement fails to address or analyze the problem in meaningful ways. Within the critiques of organized religion, there is “little analysis of the relationship between economic disenfranchisement, race, gender, and religiosity” meaning that such critiques inevitably are of “limited cultural relevance for people of color.”31 Likewise, such critiques often fail to engage with the reasons that religion can be a very useful thing to women and people of color, in a strictly utilitarian way, even while it oppresses them. The atheistic, science-and-objective truth above all point of view means that the experiences of those without the luxury of choice or who cannot place more importance on philosophy than taking care of their families are both not explored and treated as inferior. Religion is not simply about a belief system, and treating it as though it is, is only possible with a blindness to all of the social benefits it provides, even while acknowledging all of the injuries it creates as well. From the position of privilege many in the atheist movement occupy, the focus is always on what is false rather than on what helps one to survive. This is not to say that organized religion is a net good, or something not worth fighting against, but rather to say that ignoring the reality of how religion helps people means being unable to offer meaningful alternatives to it.” More […]

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