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I’m pretty sure the ACA has been an Atheism+ organization for years

I was in a very slow line for Master Pancake (an Austin comedy group) the night Jen McCreight posted her brainstorm about a movement called Atheism+.  And it was spot on — despite the fact that I was standing in a crowded space, I had to keep reading and pointing out excerpts to my wife.

I noticed I haven’t been blogging much, and I feel extra guilty that I haven’t contributed anything to the current inter-blog discussion about what a good idea Atheism+ is.  Ultimately I don’t really have a lot to say.  For as long as I can remember being involved with the Atheist Community of Austin there have been discussions about how to keep events from being overwhelmingly populated by white guys like me.  We’ve spoken many times about how atheism doesn’t necessarily extend philosophically to anything other than “not believing in any Gods”; how technically Raelians are atheists; and you can be an atheist and still believe in all sorts of supernatural woo as long as it’s not God.  That’s all still true.

Technicalities aside though, we’ve also been bold about taking on issues that are outside the minimal scope of atheism, and worked to present a strong front of core values from our community.  The ACA has had a booth at the Austin Gay Pride festival for several years running, and put out press releases denouncing politicians banning equal marriage rights.  We’ve had many on-air discussions with concerned atheists from minority groups.  We’ve spoken for women’s rights to choose, and defended that position despite the fact that anti-abortion atheists exist.  Our TV show has a fairly diverse cast, and we’ve been producing Godless Bitches for a year and a half now — a show hosted by prominent female voices and promoting outreach on behalf of atheist feminists.  More recently, the ACA board began drafting a formal anti-harassment policy for members as soon as the issue started gaining discussion where conventions were concerned.

Our group strives for a diverse, welcoming environment.  There’s an argument that comes up a lot where tolerance is concerned, but should not be taken seriously by anyone: that you can’t be truly tolerant unless you tolerate intolerance.  Or alternatively, if you identify and condemn bigotry, you are being bigoted against the bigots.

Hopefully people get the point through my rambling, but this is a roundabout way of saying that I think “Atheism+” is a welcome new label for an old concept, it’s something that many groups have already been striving for before Jen bothered to give it a new name, and I’m all for spreading this particular meme.

For more excellent posts on the subject, please see:

Comments

  1. The twelfth vote says

    Russell, I think you’re very right. You and the ACA have been living A+ for a long, long time. I don’t think that the wider community gives you all enough credit for that. People have been far too focused upon pushing back against theists, and less concerned about inclusiveness or social action.

    That being said, I’m very happy that this sea change in the wider movement is under way.

  2. Rieux says

    Yeah, no quarrel with the title assertion—but I think Jen, or at least a meaningful fraction of those of us who have responded positively to her idea, aren’t just talking about ACA and similar groups adopting inclusive policies. Jen advocated a wave, an effort to push the entire atheist community and movement to adopt the kinds of mores about social justice and intersectionality that you and she and countless others have referenced.

    Perhaps this isn’t a broad consensus conception of A+ (I’m not sure), but I think there’s more to it than just adopting harassment policies, promoting diversity, and the like—it’s the assertion that open misogyny, transphobia, belligerent invocations of privilege, etc., are contrary to the ethical standards of our community and movement; we who are part of that community and movement should expect that none of us will traffic in that ugliness. Any nonbeliever in gods who, say, launches death or rape threats in response to “Guys, don’t do that” is an embarrassment to our community and should not be welcome in the atheist movement.

  3. ibbica says

    You’re right, of course, in that those people and organizations don’t get enough recognition for the work they do. And if nothing else, the “A+” discussion (even if the meme/branding never gets off the ground) should serve to draw people’s attention to the fact that there *are* plenty of atheists and atheist organizations who aren’t *only* concerned with anti-theism.

    If nothing else, it’s a nice shorthand for recognizing that some atheist people and organizations actually do go above and beyond the requirements for ‘dictionary atheism’.

  4. Wowbagger, Antipodean Dervish says

    If it takes the forming of a subgroup to demonstrate that there are problems enough within the atheist community to make a significant chunk of its more prolific and high-profile bloggers want to disassociate themselves from the greater movement then so be it.

    I guess it’s possible that people outside of the two extreme ends of the spectrum aren’t actually aware there is a problem, and this will be borne out by more and more people saying ‘But I’m an atheist and I’m pro-social justice and I have been all along’. Which I suspect wouldn’t be a bad thing in the long run.

    Problem is, they haven’t been the ones speaking out. It’s only been those vocally opposed to change responding to the (now) A+ers, which may have skewed the perception. And I can’t say I blame any of the people involved in A+ for not wanting to be considered allies of those who’ve been treated so horribly.

  5. SPACKlick says

    It’s good to see this A+ movememnet getting up and running, being about inclusiveness and social support. For the few years I’ve known about the ACA I’ve always held it as a model for skeptical or atheist groups I’m involved with on this side of the Atlantic.

    The group shoul dbe inclusive, should encourage social values and commonality. The ACA was an example I always pointed to when I gave my “Seperating the baby from the bathwater: The downside to the death of the church” talks.

    A+ Seems to be driving more towards that, and while it’s not hte last wave of the skeptic/atheism movement, it’s the right direction.

  6. Kazim says

    Right, Rieux — what I meant by the title was not to take credit for A+ or say that we can rest on our laurels because we’re already doing what we need to. I’m saying that it’s a good thing to raise more awareness in the broader atheism community. People sometimes email to ask what we think of issues related to this, and sometimes they assume incorrectly that we’ll stand with the people who are outraged at the “impositions” on their “free speech” by feminists. I want to make it clear that I’m with the feminists.

    Totally with you that people should speak out more against death and rape threats and unequal treatment of minorities.

  7. Besomyka says

    This post has reminded me that I should be more active in the movement here in Austin.

    For me, it’s been about more applying skepticism more broadly, not just to supernatural claims. That has lead my to atheism, feminism, and to more wholly embrace the causes of the LGBT* community.

    Not just to say that, generally, everyone should be treated equally well, but to reconcile my own internal biases and those ideals. Skepticism provides the tools for that change within myself.

    That’s what I see in the A+ label, and why I personally will be supporting the broadening and inclusiveness that it is pushing for. And also why I should get off my ass and help out, articulacy when we have a great organization here in town.

  8. says

    “we’ve been producing Godless Bitches for a year and a half now”

    Really?!?

    I’ve been listening since the beginning and it seems like I just added it. I guess when it is high quality the time just flies by.

  9. F says

    A lot of people were A+ before Jen decided to come up with a useful distinction to cover it.

    I hope you aren’t suggesting that people who identify with it and say “Yeah, that’s me/us, that’s what we/I believe/do, count me/us in,” aren’t just some bandwagon hipster atheists who think they are latching onto the new cool thing to look cool. That would exclude everyone but Jen.

  10. says

    Yep, the ACA has always been a diverse group, and part of that diversity has included a humane approach to most social issues in the news. That’s good for our movement.

  11. MAtheist says

    Right on, Russell, I think that is one of the things that drew me to the TV show in the first place. There is so much more than the dictionary definition of atheism.

    “I don’t believe in a god.”

    “Neither do I.”

    “OK, bye, thanks for tuning in. See you all next week.”

    I like the A+ logo as well, maybe now I’ll be brave enough for a little tattoo. I can always pawn it off as my blood type if I meet any hostiles.

  12. NH says

    I expect “Atheism+” to have about as little success as “Brights” and for the same reasons. The ideals and intentions behind it may be good, but the term itself is kind of silly, and worse it has an air of arrogance to it. Besides… doesn’t “secular humanist” already pretty much cover the same thing? I don’t see why we need this term.

  13. NH says

    So it was covered by:

    1) Saying we shouldn’t argue about labels.
    (which doesn’t really address the issue)
    2) Claiming that “Humanist” lacks the impact of “Atheist”.
    (this is an argument for using “atheist”, but says nothing of the “plus” part)
    3) The term “Humanism” isn’t as clear of a term as “Atheism”.
    (Really? How this is a serious argument when adding the “plus” completely destroys that clarity?)
    4) “If every atheist who’s sick of sexism and misogyny in the atheist movement picked up their stakes and moved to humanism, it wouldn’t make these problems magically disappear”.
    (and If every atheist who’s sick of sexism and misogyny moved to Atheism+, that wouldn’t make the problems magically disappear either.)
    5) “Atheism+ is a hybrid of New Atheism and Humanism”.
    (Ok… so call it Atheist Humanism. or maybe… Secular Humanist.)
    6) Humanism isn’t anti-religion enough.
    (Another reason for using the term “Atheism” that ignores the stupidity of the “plus” part)
    7 Atheism+ or A+ is a simple, efficient way to describe the position.
    (It’s not so simple and efficient when you have to explain to people what the hell the “plus” means. This also doesn’t address how it is or isn’t different from secular humanism.)

    So sure it’s been covered, but NONE of them covered it well.
    A couple of those articles don’t even address how Atheism+ is different from Humanism. And not one of them address it’s similarity to SECULAR humanism. One of the people even mentioned that “Atheist Humanism” would be a better term. I’d agree. I’d say it’s a much better term because it avoids the elitism that the “plus” brings with it. It really sounds like most of these people are grasping as straws to find some reason why to hold on to their new “hip” term.

  14. says

    1) Saying we shouldn’t argue about labels.
    (which doesn’t really address the issue)

    Granted – I didn’t read that one in depth. My point was the topic has been covered extensively.

    2) Claiming that “Humanist” lacks the impact of “Atheist”.
    (this is an argument for using “atheist”, but says nothing of the “plus” part)

    Which directly addresses my point. Now you know something about what Atheist+ isn’t humanism, even if they should overlap quite a bit.

    The whole post is about what the “plus” is about: “an “atheism plus” wave that explicitly focuses, not just on atheism, but on the intersections between atheism and racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and other social justice issues — externally in what issues we take on, and internally in how we deal with our own stuff

    3) The term “Humanism” isn’t as clear of a term as “Atheism”.
    (Really? How this is a serious argument when adding the “plus” completely destroys that clarity?)

    This isn’t complicated. “Humanism” isn’t well understood. “Atheist” is fairly well understood, even despite some misconceptions. “Atheist+” means “Regular atheist, plus more”. That seems pretty clear to me.

    4) “If every atheist who’s sick of sexism and misogyny in the atheist movement picked up their stakes and moved to humanism, it wouldn’t make these problems magically disappear”.
    (and If every atheist who’s sick of sexism and misogyny moved to Atheism+, that wouldn’t make the problems magically disappear either.)

    Did you even read what the author wrote? Greta’s point was that humanism doesn’t pull off diversity/inclusiveness very well in practice, so simply becoming humanists wouldn’t solve anything, whereas taking an explicit stand with “Atheist+” is a better approach. Why start with a mess when you can start fresh?

    Nice cherry picking.

    5) “Atheism+ is a hybrid of New Atheism and Humanism”.
    (Ok… so call it Atheist Humanism. or maybe… Secular Humanist.)

    We’ve decided otherwise. As I discussed in #3, A+ is more distinctive and clear and memorable, and starting from scratch (which is a bonus).

    If you don’t like the label, don’t use it. We’d never get anything done if we waited for consensus. Many of us like it, and whether you like it or not is not particularly relevant.

    Opinions on naming things are a dime a dozen.

    6) Humanism isn’t anti-religion enough.
    (Another reason for using the term “Atheism” that ignores the stupidity of the “plus” part)

    You’re missing the point entirely. It is using the “atheism” term… plus more. It’s actually very apt. It’s just that “atheism” includes significant sexism, which is the purpose of differentiating from it.

    7 Atheism+ or A+ is a simple, efficient way to describe the position.
    (It’s not so simple and efficient when you have to explain to people what the hell the “plus” means. This also doesn’t address how it is or isn’t different from secular humanism.)

    And humanism isn’t simple/efficient to describe either. That doesn’t render the term useless or bad.

    You’re also missing the point that the term is simple. “Atheist” is already well understood”, and all one needs to do is add a “+” to that. It’s easy to remember and stands out, as opposed to “secular atheist humanist”.

    So sure it’s been covered, but NONE of them covered it well.

    Of course not – it’s still being hashed out. My original point is that your question about how it’s different from humanism has already been covered extensively, if you had been bothered to actually read anything. Your opinion about the clarity on the ongoing discussions isn’t relevant to that point.

    A couple of those articles don’t even address how Atheism+ is different from Humanism.

    And this is relevant to … what? I did a search and linked a bunch of articles discussing it – though I didn’t check that all of them covered it extensively.

    Are you saying that the ones that did cover it don’t exist because two of the links didn’t? Because that’s the only way this sentence would have any relevancy.

    Those were the links I found on the first page of search results.

    Instead of actually becoming informed about the ongoing discussions (many of the links I pulled were in this post), you decided to bellow your uninformed opinions for everyone to hear.

    And not one of them address it’s similarity to SECULAR humanism.

    No one’s brought it up, besides you, that I’m aware. But off the bat, I would say it had the same problems as regular humanism – that it doesn’t have an atheist focus.

    One of the people even mentioned that “Atheist Humanism” would be a better term. I’d agree.

    And many of us would disagree. I’ve yet to hear a coherent cogent reason what’s wrong with it, but rather an opinion that it doesn’t work, but somehow longer phrases and strings of words is an improvement, somehow.

    I’d say it’s a much better term because it avoids the elitism that the “plus” brings with it.

    Many would make the same argument for the term “atheist”. We don’t care about those opinions either.

    If making a distinction between sexism-friendly atheism and non-sexism-friendly atheism makes us elitist. So be it.

    My problem with “brights” or “pearls” is that those terms run away from the “atheist” label. “Atheist+” embraces it, while augmenting it in a memorable way.

    It really sounds like most of these people are grasping as straws to find some reason why to hold on to their new “hip” term.

    It’s your prerogative to think that, of course.

  15. NH says

    A couple of those articles don’t even address how Atheism+ is different from Humanism.

    “And this is relevant to … what? I did a search and linked a bunch of articles discussing it – though I didn’t check that all of them covered it extensively.

    Are you saying that the ones that did cover it don’t exist because two of the links didn’t? Because that’s the only way this sentence would have any relevancy.”

    It’s relevant because your reply seemed to be saying “shut up, this issue is already been dealt with” And throwing out a bunch of links that do not effectively deal with it, especially when some of them don’t even deal with it at all, is kind of like trying to employ the gish gallop. It’s a dishonest tactic that shouldn’t be used. And listing a bunch of weak arguments does not give you a strong argument.

    Regardless of what you might think, Atheism+ simply isn’t going to be clear to most people outside the group. Maybe Atheism+ are those that not only lack belief in a god, but actively believe there are no gods. Atheists are sometimes accused of being baby eaters, so maybe atheism+ are those that eat children as well. Nothing about the name tells you what the “plus” means.

    If making a distinction between sexism-friendly atheism and non-sexism-friendly atheism makes us elitist. So be it.

    That’s essentially a straw man. You assume that all those that don’t use the “+” are sexism-friendly. And I guarantee you that isn’t the case.

    -

    There is one way I could get behind Atheism+, and that’s not as a movement, but as a seal of approval. Like the pamphlets for a conference may have an “A+ approved” logo. Meaning that they work to make it a inclusive event free from bigotry and such. As a seal of approval, it doesn’t matter if not everyone knows what it means. But as the name of a movement, it’s imperative that the name impart understanding of what the movement is about, and simply adding a “plus” does not do that.

  16. John Phillips, FCD says

    NH said

    ….That’s essentially a straw man. You assume that all those that don’t use the “+” are sexism-friendly. And I guarantee you that isn’t the case.

    No, we don’t assume that those not using it will be sexism friendly, the problem is that we can’t know and have no way of initially knowing. But one thing we do know after the last year or so, is that atheism on ‘its own’ has elements that are very ‘sexism-friendly’. After all, why do you think we are were we now are, if not for the problems manifesting? Thus, for those interested or concerned about such issues, the + signifies the opposite of sexism friendly. Some will also likely use it and see it as you suggest, i.e. as a ‘safe’ branding for events and organisations for those wanting a place free of sexism along with promoting other social justice values.

    Also, secular humanism isn’t the same as A+, as I know quite a few theists who class themselves as secular humanists while being quite devout Xians. I.e. render unto Caesar and all that. In fact, two of my very closest friends fall in that category. Admittedly, this is the UK, where even many genuinely devout Xians, like my friends, are, by US standards, incredibly liberal.

  17. NH says

    No, we don’t assume that those not using it will be sexism friendly, the problem is that we can’t know and have no way of initially knowing.
    Read the context.

  18. John Phillips, FCD says

    I do, and what initially appears as not sexism friendly, intentionally or not, can soon become the opposite, as can be seen often, surprisingly so to me, over the last year or so. The + addition should mean that those who don’t want to waste time in places, online or IRL, that may end up sexism-friendly, intentionally or otherwise, don’t have to. Thus those interested in the wider implications of A+ allied with social justice will then now where to ‘congregate’ and those not interested will still have the A ‘alone’ to ‘congregate’ under.

  19. NH says

    When I said “You assume that all those that don’t use the ‘+’ are sexism-friendly.” I was specifically responding to how it was being used to defend the elitism of the term Atheism+. And this air of arrogance in the term is absolutely a problem given the goals that this Atheism+ thing is trying to achieve. Claiming that the elitism doesn’t matter IS a straw-man in this case.

  20. SkepticJackal says

    Yeah, perish the thought, somebody may have a better understanding of what is a better conduct for an atheist or even any person. How dare somebody else be better that me! Even if I’m just an ignorant high school dropout and I’m discussing with a college professor, who’s that person to think he or she is better than me? If I want to kill all hobos, gays and lesbofeminazis because they pollute my city and they want to give them “equality” of some sort, who’s to say that they are better than me? I’m an atheist like them!

    (That was sarcasm, for the tone deaf in the public.)

    Well, it may just be the case.

    As a non-USian, I’m appalled at the eager dismissal of mere knowledge or most people seems to show. Or even to the possibility of other people just being better people than they are. Like the fact that someone else knows more or acts better than themselves it’s insulting and all people should tend to the lower common denominator and be drooling idiots to avoid offending somebodies’ ego.

    “Using ‘Atheist Plus’ may offend some people because you think you’re better than they are”. Well, I think my position is better and I’m trying to let the people know that I think so. WHO THE BLOODY FUCK CARES IF SOMEBODY GETS OFFENDED BY IT?!

  21. John Phillips, FCD says

    Whose talking about elitism, the + refers to the adding or including of social justice alongside our atheism, not that we are necessarily ‘better’. Though to be honest, if someone is not interested in social justice, then I don’t really care much about what else they think. If that makes me an elitist, so be it. People who don’t like what A+ means will find all kinds of excuses to knock it and denigrate it, screw them.

  22. says

    Some people seem unaware of our roots:

    Freethought & Elizabeth Cady Stanton

    Too extensive to quote from, but the Abolition of Slavery and Women’s Rights were clearly at the forefront of Freethought.

    And Elizabeth Cady Stanton is a name worth knowing, along with Ernestine Rose (was tickled to find this posted just today!)

    The Freethinker | The voice of atheism since 1881

    The Freethinker is an anti-Christian organ, and must therefore be chiefly aggressive. It will wage relentless war against Superstition in general, and against Christian Superstition in particular. It will do its best to employ the resources of Science, Scholarship, Philosophy and Ethics against the claims of the Bible as a Divine Revelation; and it will not scruple to employ for the same purpose any weapons of ridicule or sarcasm that may be borrowed from the armoury of Common Sense.

    The Freethinker also seeks:

    The disestablishment of the Church of England.
    The removal of all religious representation from the House of Lords.
    The ending of religious indoctrination and religious assemblies in State schools.
    The closure of all publicly-funded “faith-based” schools.
    The ending of the provision of prison, hospital and armed forces chaplains at public expense.

    How little some things have changed since 1881…

    But other things have changed for the better. Slavery is largely condemned, if not abolished throughout the world. Women do have considerably more rights now. Religion seems to have less sway in most modern countries (we have to remember that the US is very much an outlier).

  23. Lucky christian says

    I am an absolute fan of Atheism+.
    I love it. It lets my dreams come true. Feminist issues + atheist issues devides the community. And that is a good thing!
    Something I had never hoped to see in my lifetime ist that a lot of atheist now think that Richard Dawkins
    is not a hero anymore, he absolutely looses popularity. F.e. if you google his (pseudo) foundation for science and reason, he has lost about 3.000.000 (!) hits since last year. He will be forgotten soon. And I think the Atheist community will split….
    I must thank Rebecca Watson for something that no WLC ever could have achieved. Mixing feminist issues with atheist issues was a brilliant thing.
    This by the way is a proof that God exists.
    Good luck to you all and I am so so so sad about Mr Dawkins :)))))))))))))

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