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Aug 27 2012

Is this a fork in the road or just an added lane?

Ron Lindsay has some observations on atheism plus. Good stuff.

One question he asks in conclusion -

CFI has long been active in supporting LGBT equality, in supporting reproductive rights, in supporting equality for women, in opposing suppression of women and minorities, not just in the US but in other countries, in supporting public schools, in advocating for patient’s rights, including the right to assistance in dying, in fighting restrictions on the teaching of evolution, in opposing religious interference with health care policy, in promoting the use of science in shaping public policy, in safeguarding our rights to free speech, and in protecting the rights of the nonreligious. We focus on these issues because: 1. they are the issues where religious dogma and/or pseudoscience continue to have significant influence and, therefore, they’re the issues most closely related to our mission as a secular/skeptical organization; and 2. we have limited resources of money and staff time; we can’t do everything.

So do the advocates of A+ believe some or all of these issues are not worth spending time on? If so, why? What other issues will A+ be focused on? What are the connections between these other issues and atheism? Where will A+ find the resources to focus on these other issues?

Speaking for myself, no. I don’t think of atheism+ as diverging from CFI. On the contrary, I think of CFI as pretty much the same kind of thing.

I’ll just add a comment I made there. (As soon as I did, one “Dan” turned up to call me things, by way of illustrating the total non-existence of misogyny, or something. So I won’t be commenting there any more. That’s how this goes.)

So far, and speaking just for myself, I’ve been taking Atheist+ as an adjective more than a movement, which means among other things that I don’t have to worry about wasting resources or splitting into factions.

I think of it as a shorthand for saying “gnu atheist [i.e. explicit, vocal, assertive etc atheist] with extra added egalitarianism.”

It’s extra added, right now, because of this wave of cheery unabashed sexism. I feel a need for the + as a quick way to make the point that the atheism movement (and there is such a thing) shouldn’t include rude hostility to women. (Or any other groups, but that’s the thing: sexism seems to be exempt from the taboos on racism and the like.)

I did a follow-up comment to say I think of CFI as being on the same side of that issue.

Update: Rogi Riverstone provided an illustration on her Atheism+ Facebook page.

35 comments

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  1. 1
    Ace of Sevens

    Social justice is great. After all, who’s against social justice? It’s when one starts to fill in the details that disagreements arise.

    This is pretty much my issue. I would add that Glenn Beck and some of the atheist contrarian/libertarian types are against social justice. Someone on the Atheist Experience blog that social justice isa Christian thing and contrary to the ideals of Nietzsche and existentialism, which I find baffling. Most people, including ones who drag their feet on doing things about social justice, will say they are pro-equality and anti-sexism/homophobia, though.

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/axp/2012/08/26/a-haters-what-have-you-got-besides-reactionary-emotionalism/#comment-67610

  2. 2
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    Those questions still sound like someone who hasn’t listened yet, and is pulling things from thin air. This seems to be a problem everywhere across the good faith → jackass spectrum of reaction.

    Also, everyone seems to want to pin atheism plus to/as a permanently solidified platform, political party, organized movement, or non-profit org as if the identifier has been around for a hundred years. It’s just plain weird.

  3. 3
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    Well, social justice probably is contrary to the ideals of Nietzsche. He is the one who coined the term ubermensch,after all. I simply don’t see why I should care any more about his ideals than I do about those of Muhammed or Joseph Smith.

  4. 4
    Ophelia Benson

    F – ah no, that’s not fair. Ron cited a lot of specifics. He obviously is listening.

    And I don’t think it’s weird that people think it’s a program, because for at least some people it is, surely. For me it’s mostly just a descriptive, at least for now, but others see it as more.

    And Ron’s just taking part in that discussion, and that’s a good thing.

  5. 5
    Aratina Cage

    I think of it as a shorthand for saying “gnu atheist [i.e. explicit, vocal, assertive etc atheist] with extra added egalitarianism.”

    That is very much how I feel about it. Of course, Gnu Atheism was supposed to have been egalitarian from the start. How else is one going to claim the moral high ground against the religious with all their god-belief-based condemnation and cruelty toward minority groups (including women and children)? We were more moral because we grounded our beliefs on known/knowable facts, not on fiction, fabrications, and false hopes.

    Watching some of the more widely publicized gnus turn toward anything-goes-ism (where “freethought” becomes “free-for-all thought”) in solidarity with the slimepitters has been disheartening and sometimes gut-wrenching. I’m as tired of it as the rest, thus I understand the need for something more–for A+.

  6. 6
    Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    It’s extra added, right now, because of this wave of cheery unabashed sexism. I feel a need for the + as a quick way to make the point that the atheism movement (and there is such a thing) shouldn’t include rude hostility to women. (Or any other groups, but that’s the thing: sexism seems to be exempt from the taboos on racism and the like.)

    But that is accommodationism all over again, anecdotes that doesn’t exist or can’t be verified, because of some elusive and ill defined ingroup/outgroup behavior.

    Of course it would be naive to suggest that atheism hasn’t a problem with bigotry or misogyny as the rest of society, and it would be naive to think it would be less for atheists.

    Atheists tend to be more intelligent and educated, which means we have more resources to fool ourselves. A point taken from Feynman, that empiricism starts here.

    So do we want to do something about this generic behavior? Of course, and as all organized groups atheists should identify and go for problems.

    Is it part of atheism? Of course not, and so far it isn’t even part of skepticism – no data. I don’t want to hedge off people by implying that they haven’t experienced a problem that shouldn’t be, as I said above I expect it is a huge problem. But I fail to see the constructive in these discussions.

    [Disclaimer: I'm not yet organized, so it is presumptuous of me to comment on this. But what happens with atheism as a movement concerns me, and I want to help from where I sit.

    Is A+ helping? Supportive for those who experience misogyny surely, if I understand this brief introduction. But if that all it is, why label an initiative as an exclusive ingroup? That shuts out others, likely those who most need to be made aware of their misogyny.]

  7. 7
    Aratina Cage

    And as for Dan, he is just another sad, cruel point of data on how much it is necessary to make the egalitarian part of atheism explicit.

  8. 8
    Wonk

    I’ve had a few really, really lousy experiences with CFI Canada along these lines:

    Member: “As a woman, I felt very uncomfortable at a recent event.”
    CFI: “We take your concern very seriously. Did you know that we advocate the abolition of religious schools? In fact, here’s a long list of all of the public-policy work we do!”
    Member: “…thanks for that. What are you going to do about the sexism?”
    CFI: “We take your concern very seriously. Did you know that we advocate for trans rights? In fact, here’s a long list of all of the public-policy work we do!”
    Member: “Uh. Is there someone else I can talk to?”
    CFI: “We take your concerns very seriously. Did you know that…”

    Then they’ll organize a Special Speaker Series about “Why Don’t More Women Attend Secular Events?”. (The speaker will be male. It will be held in a pub. Childcare will not be provided.)

    I think a lot of the emphasis on All The Great Public Policy Work We Do is essentially weak apologetics. We aren’t complaining about your public policy work, we’re complaining about a movement-wide failure to address these problems within the movement.

    And, yeah: that, to me, is the +. We can do all of that great public-policy work while still making women and POC and transfolk and others feel included within the movement. That’s the plus.

  9. 9
    TauriqM

    I’m largely not in favour of Atheism+ as a movement, though I am behind all of its values (in a broad sense). And Ophelia’s point of it being an adjective is a great one. A concern I have is twofold:

    1. The Carrier Problem (which I hoped to see more response to from writers here at FtB, but I’m not anyone’s boss): the unnecessary antagonism of those who disagree or question specific parts of A+. “F” at #2 is an example of an uncharitable reading of what was a thoughtful post. Indeed, the basis of this is exactly about discussion and dialogue: we should all be worried when everyone says yes. Again, I only have a few examples, but Carrier’s is one. It is however possible to overlook this as always, since it is the internets. I just worry about “with us or against us” being used (at all!).

    2. The problem of mobilisation into a new “groups” when groups, like CFI and the IHEU, who already have these values are fighting for causes that, I think, everyone here supports: women’s rights, gay rights, etc. I would hope that time and effort goes into these constantly struggling (I think) organisations – money, time, person-wise since we aren’t talking about powerful religious groups – instead of re-inventing the wheel.

    Note that 2. isn’t an argument that A+ is or isn’t humanism. As Ron Lindsay indicates, I couldn’t care less what people call themselves in this instance (I for example don’t do labels): what matters is what they stand for, how they justify it, and what they plan to do about it. It’s great to see this passion, but let’s hope it reignites fires that are dying elsewhere which has enough kindle of its own, instead of trying to chop down a whole new forest.

    And that ‘Dan’ person was completely out of line.

  10. 10
    'Tis Himself

    I’ve just posted the following at CFI:

    I have no major problems with Ron’s OP. But having read several of the comments, I now know why I’m going to support Atheism+.

    Rebecca Watson is a liar because no man would ever try to pick up a woman at 4am in an elevator? Pull the other one, it’s got bells on. Saying “guys don’t do that” is worthy of receiving rape and death threats for over a year? I thought CFI form[um]s were places where reasonable people behaved in a reasonable manner. I see now I was wrong.

  11. 11
    Improbable Joe, bearer of the Official SpokesGuitar

    I’m largely not in favour of Atheism+ as a movement, though I am behind all of its values (in a broad sense).

    I’m really sorry, but that sounds outrageously dumb to me. If you’re willing to reject the values because you reject the label, you’re evil. If you go out of your way to reject the label while embracing what it stands for, you’re being silly.

  12. 12
    callistacat

    Ophelia, you female bloggers only get sexist comments because you assume people are misogynists.

  13. 13
    TauriqM

    @Improbable Joe:
    >> “If you’re willing to reject the values because you reject the label, you’re evil..”

    I’m not sure who is doing this?

    >>If you go out of your way to reject the label while embracing what it stands for, you’re being silly.”>

    I don’t have any labels, so why should I use A+ as one? And I’m not sure what you mean by “go out of you way”?

  14. 14
    Ophelia Benson

    Wonk – ah, that’s CFI Canada – which is different from local Canadian branches, and completely different from the US one.

    CFI Canada is…um, er, ah…not famous for being brilliant on this subject. I think it might be trying to improve that, but it wasn’t great in the past.

    But the US CFI is a different kettle of fish.

  15. 15
    TauriqM

    @ Callistacat #12

    That’s quite a statement.

    Firstly, there are demonstrative instances of sexism online (Anita Sarkeesian, Rebecca Watson’s rape threats, etc.). I would include links to my own few writings on it to demonstrate, but seeing as Google is everyone’s friend, it shouldn’t be too hard to find real instances.

    Secondly, is the comment sexist because it is sexist or because “you female bloggers … assume people are misogynists?” People are misogynsts – unless there are other entities that are? Do you mean that female bloggers assume that “everyone” is a misogynist? Or “too many” people?

    Third, which female bloggers – all of them?

    Fourth, I would think if they assumed someone was a misogynists they’d make misogynist claims, not sexist ones? But I get sometimes for brevity’s sake we mean simply unnecessary and disgusting attacks on women for their sex.

  16. 16
    Ophelia Benson

    Joe, it seems to me Tauriq implied that he does favor the label, as opposed to making it a movement.

  17. 17
    Improbable Joe, bearer of the Official SpokesGuitar

    I don’t have any labels, so why should I use A+ as one? And I’m not sure what you mean by “go out of you way”?

    Well… do you use a label? No?

    Do you also announce your lack of labels by calling out the labels you’re not using? Because that’s my point. Why do you feel compelled to tell us here “I’m not A+” if you don’t have any labels?

  18. 18
    TauriqM

    >> “Well… do you use a label? No?”

    Human person, etc. Not for things that are important usually.

    >> Do you also announce your lack of labels by calling out the labels you’re not using?

    If by “calling out” you mean engaging in critically, then yes. And not labels, but ideas and arguments. Can you define “calling out”?

    >> Why do you feel compelled to tell us here “I’m not A+” if you don’t have any labels?

    Just as we engage with any idea or argument, even when we ourselves do not belong to it. I’m not sure that I did make purely autobiographical claims, but focused on the substance of the post and Lindsay’s.

  19. 19
    TauriqM

    Ophelia

    Indeed, if you wish to call yourself an A+, that’s fine with me. Just as I’m fine with people calling themselves atheists, etc. That’s their business, not mine. I just don’t do it for myself for any labels.

  20. 20
    Ophelia Benson

    Also, I’ve known Tauriq for years, and he’s a good guy, not trolling, etc. Feathers down. :- )

    Tauriq I think callistacat was being sarcastic. Pretty sure.

  21. 21
    Improbable Joe, bearer of the Official SpokesGuitar

    Ophelia,

    Tauriq can be your friend, a good person, and still wrong on this issue. Heck, watch this:

    Tauriq, I’ll accept the endorsement. I believe you’re a good person and not at all a troll. I still think you’re wrong, without attaching anything excessively negative to you while disagreeing with your stance. Mostly, I just think that if you’re not on board with this thing, whatever this things is, if you agree with its goals you can keep your criticism to yourself and let it play out as it will.

    I mean, I wasn’t on board with the “Bright” thing so I didn’t add myself to it. I didn’t actively speak out against it, and I would have been happy if it had worked because I supported the goals even though I didn’t 100% support the method.

  22. 22
    TauriqM

    My sincerest apologies, callistacat. Well done for fooling me. Great Poe.

    Ophelia – Thanks for the kind words. Means alot :)

    I don’t mind being criticised in case I did come off as being too autobiographical. Wasn’t my intention. Bad writer!

  23. 23
    TauriqM

    @Joe

    Agreed: as much as I’d love my automatic friendship with Ophelia to make me the smartest person – though I’d prefer handsomest – in the world, I’m still human.

    I hear you about the Brights and that’s a good starting point for our disagreement. I was the same as you: supportive of its broad goals but found most of it – as Hitchens said – cringeworthy. I’m not entirely sure what your objection is, however, in this sphere: is it that I should just not speak out, since this is distracting from the overral point? Is it that – as I’ve also asserted to others – if you don’t care about something you ought not to speak up?

    >> I just think that if you’re not on board with this thing, whatever this things [sic] is, if you agree with its goals you can keep your criticism to yourself and let it play out as it will.

    But I do care. That’s why I’m speaking out: if the goals which this movement supports could be better supported through, for example, giving time/money/etc. to existing organisations, then I will make that argument. Then it’s not doing “what it will”. As I indicate, I’m supportive of the goals and, according to my assessment, there is a danger that as a movement it could be, minimally, detract from more efficient means of achieving those goals.

    And if anyone has a legitimate criticism, which is made using reason, evidence, etc., they should almost never keep it to themselves. As John Stuart Mill pointed out, three groups lose from such actions: the person who is silenced (for obvious reasons), the person who is silenced (because they can’t check how strong their ideas really are) and the world at large (because we could be keeping a better idea from entering the world). I’m not saying I have the best ideas, but I’m pointing out why reasonable criticism must almost always be heard.

    I didn’t “keep quiet” because I disagreed with The Brights: I kept quiet because there wasn’t a focus on making in-roads in areas I cared about, such as social justice issues.

  24. 24
    NateHevens, resident SOOPER-GENIUS... apparently...

    There is something I want bring up here, as discussed by some on the CFI post…

    I finally got around to reading Richard Carrier’s stuff on this and… um… he seems very determined to make Atheism+ his little clique. Y’all already know that I support A+ and consider myself an atheist+.

    But Richard’s writing on it is worrying me, especially since a lot of people seem to think that he speaks for A+ over Jen or you Ophelia, or Greta. His language is rather exclusionary, where y’all have been exactly the opposite. I fear Richard may be turning a lot of people off, unfortunately.

  25. 25
    TauriqM

    @ NateHevens

    Yes Carrier’s combativeness and derision was/is a problem for A+, I agree. And I don’t consider myself an A+ and don’t support it as a movement (see above). I do hope some of the FtBloggers supporting A+ will speak up more about it. His latest post and semi-FAQ reads as though it was written by somebody else! His replies to similar questions in the previous comment thread are not ones that anybody, from any movement, ought to support – let alone a movement (the broad one) that is premised on thinking critically and reasonably.

  26. 26
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    Hm. My post was not intended to attack Ron, who I would expect to find on the good faith end of the spectrum. However, many of these types of questions were answered before they were ever asked, have been answered at the asking, or really are questions that do not apply or don’t make much sense at this time. (To some of which I would give the answer mu – this is not even a thing.)

    I really don’t know how I can read the questions uncharitably. I assume they are in good faith, but not exactly good questions. They aren’t stupid questions, of which I see a lot and suspect are largely rhetorical, I just don’t think they are quite sensible.

    If I am, or come across as, unfair or uncharitable, then I apologize.

  27. 27
    Otrame

    Why do so many people seem to pay more attention to what Carrier has to say about A+? I mean as opposed to Jen or Greta or Ophelia? I should think that was obvious.

    He’s a man.

  28. 28
    callistacat

    @TauriqM ‏;)Just passing along some words of wisdom from another female atheist blogger, retweeted by that lovable scamp Richard Dawkins:

    Lucy Wainwright @Whoozley
    “I’m a woman & an atheist blogger, & never experienced sexist abuse from fellow atheists. Maybe because I don’t assume they’re misogynists?”

    So I guess you all brought the abuse on yrselves, ya twunts!
    (it’s totally ok to say ‘twunts’ [twat + cunt] because nobody has a problem with calling someone a ‘dick’).

  29. 29
    Ophelia Benson

    I replied to that Lucy Wainwright tweet yesterday, just for the hell of it.

  30. 30
    Amy Clare

    Pff to the Lucy Wainwright tweet. So this is how it goes is it? I didn’t realise:

    Woman: Guys, don’t do that.
    Man: You’re too ugly to be raped!
    Woman: That’s sexist abuse.
    Man: I can’t believe you assume I’m a misogynist!!!

    Say I did assume someone was a misogynist though with no prior evidence. Would be pretty out of order of me but let’s say. If the person then gave me sexist abuse wouldn’t that be kind of confirming my assumption?

    Cuz like, if someone called me a racist apropos of nothing, I wouldn’t like it, but I sure wouldn’t respond by giving that person racial abuse.

    Way to blame the victims for the harrassment and abuse they suffer eh. Retweeted by Richard Dawkins too. For shame.

  31. 31
    Ophelia Benson

    Yes – it’s embarrassing.

    I’m sure Richard is getting an earful about “feminism” from Paula Kirby, which is unfortunate, because her views on the subject are eccentric, but she presents them as if they’re obvious common sense.

    They’re not obvious common sense, unless you think Sarah Palin also represents obvious common sense.

  32. 32
    Paul

    Say I did assume someone was a misogynist though with no prior evidence. Would be pretty out of order of me but let’s say. If the person then gave me sexist abuse wouldn’t that be kind of confirming my assumption?

    No, because they’re not Platonic ideal of Misogynism. In their heart of hearts, they love women. They’re only acting that way because you’re making them. If you think they’re sexist, they’ll say sexist things ironically to shock you.

    It’s just meant to be ironic, don’t you get it?

  33. 33
    astro

    I don’t mind the A+ label. Either it’ll stick or it won’t, that’s the nature of memes. I see it as a temporary flash, but more importantly I see it as the official declaration of social issue atheism.

  34. 34
    pipenta

    A+ is short and snappy. I like it.

    It’s ever so much less cumbersome than calling it “What I thought the damn Atheist Movement was SUPPOSED TO BE IN THE FIRST PLACE!” which is kind of long for a bumper sticker, let alone a lapel pin.

  35. 35
    Ophelia Benson

    Zing!

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