What does it mean to support or oppose Atheism+? I took a stab at defining what Atheism+ is all about in The New Atheism+. And Dana Hunter has assembled a quick roundup of other articles on FtB about this movement up to then, but Greta Christina’s posts Why Atheism Plus Is Good for Atheism and Atheism Plus, and Some Thoughts on Divisiveness are both a must-read, while Jen McCreight has announced the launch of the new Atheism Plus Website which is still under construction but will certainly grow in content.
Here I will make it as simple as possible. I have added this new requirement on my booking page (and this is just my own personal speaking policy, I don’t expect anyone else to adopt it):
Note that I will not speak at events run by organizations that are unwilling to repudiate sexism, racism, and homophobia, or that do not endorse the values of reasonableness, compassion, and integrity. You do not have to make a public statement or policy on this. You don’t even have to specifically mention it. But I must feel comfortable that you are an organization that shares these values. And I will assume you are, unless I have reason not to. But if you consider my taking a stand on this to be divisive, don’t ask me to speak at your event (unless it is specifically to debate our moral differences in a reasonable manner). Otherwise I will work with any organization that approves of this value statement, even if it is not an atheist organization or is even an explicitly religious organization.
This goes for individuals as well as organizations, although that will simply be a matter of which company I would prefer to have wherever I happen to be, and not a condition of speaking anywhere (since it’s a free country and I fully expect assholes and douchebags will inevitably be anywhere). It will also be a condition of who I condemn or disown on my own time and in my own venues. In short, if you reject this value statement, you are simply my ideological enemy, and I will give you no quarter. I’ll respect your legal and human rights, because I believe in that. But don’t be shocked if I am not friendly.
This includes if you mock or make fun of Atheism+ or belittle it with stupid dumb-ass shit like calling it Stalinism. That makes you an asshole. Point blank. Plain and simple. We are simply not going to let the Atheism movement become like chat roulette (a point well made in How Not to Build Inclusive Communities).
The rest of this post deals with other, more specific confusions over just what Atheism+ is all about, and who we are chucking into the sewers and shaking the dust off our sandals at.
To be on our side, do you have to adopt every conclusion of every Atheism Plusser on every question of policy or morality? No. This has never been said (not even by me), so it is an irrational thing to conclude.
So what about the subordinate aims of Atheism+ I delineated? (Which I derived from other authors; they weren’t only from me.) In my post I sought to find the underlying core values that lead to them, and thus defined Atheism+ by those core organizing values.
Among those subordinate goals the only ones that follow without any reasonable doubt from embracing those three core values are the repudiation of sexism, racism, and homophobia–those being the most well-understood categories of reprehensible behavior and bigotry, or even just innocent but correctable ignorance. But we could include unrepentant transphobia and ableism and other forms of clearly irrational bigotry here, too.
The rest breaks down like this:
We care about social justice: This is also an inevitable consequence of compassion and reasonableness (and integrity, insofar as it entails being honest and treating others fairly). But you can agree that social justice is an important issue, and care about it, agreeing something needs to be done to bring about social justice wherever possible, without agreeing on just what policies will work at that. Plenty of reasonable disagreement and debate can remain.
For example, PZ Myers takes a more hardline stance against Libertarians and equates Atheism+ with explicitly progressive politics, but though I agree he is probably right (IMO, Libertarianism, on any full and proper analysis, doesn’t hold up as sound, and won’t work to solve most of the actual problems we face), I do not agree that it is any defining characteristic of Atheism+ (which is why, when I wrote an elaborate post about what Atheism+ was, this criterion was nowhere to be seen).
I know many Libertarians who are only Libertarians as an excuse to rationalize the fact that they are assholes and don’t give a shit about other people. But I also know many Libertarians who actually do care about social justice issues, and admit problems exist in that domain, and actually have passionate ideas about how to solve them. They might be wrong (sometimes they are even right), but the defining characteristic here is that they care and acknowledge that we should care, about solving those problems. And they will engage in reasonable and honest debate about how to solve them, without hypocrisy. They just have different ideas about what solutions will work.
Thus, those Libertarians are on board with the core values of Atheism+. They are with us–even though they disagree with PZ and I (often radically) on many matters of how to go about solving the problems of injustice and unfairness in society. So this is the defining feature: Do you give a shit about other people, or not? Do you believe something should be done about injustice and unfairness in society (and in talking reasonably about what should be done), or not? If not, then you are an asshole. And you are definitely thumbing-down Atheism+. We are done with you. You are not one of us. You can go start your own clubs and have your own conferences.
We care about women’s rights: This is also an inevitable consequence of compassion and reasonableness (and integrity, insofar as it entails, again, being honest and treating others fairly). But you can agree that securing and defending women’s rights is an important issue, and care about it, agreeing something needs to be done about it, without agreeing on just what policies will work or what issues really need addressing or can be addressed. Although we well know by now that denying there are any problems to address is really just code for “I don’t care about women,” so we’re not going to be fooled by that one. But other than bullshit like that, again, plenty of reasonable disagreement and debate can exist over the particulars.
Feminism is not identical with female supremacism or misandry; to the contrary, mainstream feminism repudiates female supremacism or misandry (and honestly, I shouldn’t even have to say that). Feminism sine qua non is simply the belief that “women should be treated as fairly as men” and that people should be treated as the individuals that they are (so that their own personal exceptional nature can be seen and acknowledged) and that unwarranted assumptions should not be made about them based on gender stereotypes (see Why I Am a Feminist — Richard Carrier and my subsequent discussion). Which is entirely compatible with also fighting against stereotypes, discrimination, and bigotry against men, wherever we find that, too.
Where exactly the problems are and how to solve them are debatable. But this is the defining feature: Do you care about the mistreatment of women, or not? If not, then you are an asshole. And you are definitely thumbing-down Atheism+. We are done with you. You are not one of us. You can go start your own clubs and have your own conferences.
We care about diversity: It’s painfully ironic to hear people rejecting a concern for diversity by calling it divisive. (Really. Think about that one for a minute.) But just in case you are unclear on the point, diversity is essential for obvious reasons: to exclude races and genders from our movement (even through inadvertent or unconscious biases) is intrinsically sexist and racist. Moreover, inclusion of diversity makes our movement stronger, larger, and more influential, and makes its knowledgebase broader and better crowd-sourced. In short, you cannot defeat religion’s hold on society and the electorate if you aren’t even talking to half of it (much less addressing its concerns). But creating diversity requires thinking and talking about how to do that, and then doing something to make it happen.
This does not mean you, personally, have to go knocking on doors in ethnic neighborhoods or start attending local NOW meetings. But it does mean you should be on board with atheist groups and organizations taking an increased diversity seriously, talking about it, and even doing something about it, with at least your vocal or monetary support–even if you still want to debate or be selective as to what methods are used to do that, which is entirely fine. The bottom line is: Do you think this is a good idea in general, or are you against it? If you are against it, then you are an asshole. And you are definitely thumbing-down Atheism+. We are done with you. You are not one of us. You can go start your own clubs and have your own conferences.
We care about applying skeptical, evidence-based reasoning to everything, not just god stuff, or UFOs, or [insert special interest here]: I will assume I don’t need to explain why a commitment to reasonableness and integrity (as well as compassion) entails we should all be on board with “critical thinking and skepticism,” so I won’t insult your intelligence by making any further defense of that. Likewise the matter of wanting better education in logical reasoning and critical thinking in all domains in schools. The question here is whether atheists, atheist groups, and atheist organizations should talk more about how their reasoning and critical thinking apply to social, moral and political questions, and questions in the arts, in parenting or friendship, or any other domain.
It is obviously and stubbornly unreasonable to think the answer is no. This does not mean, however, that you personally should give up focusing most of your attention on the god stuff or UFO stuff or homeopathy or whatever drives your interest and your passion and lines up best with your skillset and resources. Likewise this does not mean we can’t have organizations or events of tight focus. What it does mean is simply this: Do you agree it is a good idea for the atheist community in general to focus skeptical, evidence-based reasoning on everything we can, and not just on narrow domains of inquiry and assertion to the total exclusion of all else–or do you think we should not ever, in any venue, apply skeptical, evidence-based reasoning to other matters? If you are in the latter camp, you might not be an asshole, but you are certainly committed to being irrational. And we’ll tell you so.
For more on the values of Atheism+ and how the aims of Atheism+ follow from them, see Michael Nugent’s Draft Manifesto for Ethical Atheism and its preceding article Why Atheist and Skeptic Groups Should be Inclusive, Caring and Supportive, which are quite excellent (yet were both composed before the Atheism+ label was coined and promoted–similarly, people like Greta Christina have been talking about starting a Third Wave of Atheism well before this, which means Atheism+ is simply the gelling together of what has already been brewing for over a year).
It’s hard to fathom how anyone would be in disagreement with Nugent after having read all through both articles with any sincerity. But in any event, as long as you are sticking to the core three values of reasonableness, compassion, and integrity, and the baseline repudiation of sexism, racism, and homophobia, then reasonable debate and disagreement on any particulars is not a rejection of Atheism+.
Does Atheism+ mean us vs. everyone? No. Even though in my article I explained we would work with and get along with many outside groups just fine (we simply wouldn’t hold our tongue and not call out any irrationalities there may be in other movements or belief systems), and even though I concluded by identifying the core values dividing us from other atheists as simply our commitment to reasonableness, compassion, and integrity (and nothing more), many have irrationally ignored those points and assumed I was pitting Atheism+ against the whole world, and saying GTFO to everyone not an atheist or…whatever (it’s hard to say what really, since these irrational people almost never actually said what they were objecting to when declaring themselves against Atheism+).
So I improved that living document by inserting an irrationality vaccine: a rewrite of the concluding paragraph, thus (additions in bold)…
In the meantime, are you an atheist? Do you identify as an atheist? Then I call upon you to pick sides within our movement (not in comments here, but publicly, via Facebook or other social media): are you with us, or with them; are you now a part of the Atheism+ movement, or do you at least cheer and approve it’s values and aims (since you don’t have to label yourself), or are you going to stick with Atheism Less and its sexism and cruelty and irrationality? Then at least we’ll know who to work with. And who to avoid.
Of course, even the original statement should have been clear enough, since who would side with sexism and cruelty and irrationality? Lots of people, apparently. Many atheists declared themselves for Atheism Less in the comments. Then acted all surprised when I treated them like those who side with sexism and cruelty and irrationality. You reap what you sow, people.
But in any case, the revised conclusion makes even more clear that I am talking about marginalizing a group of people within the atheist movement (I am thus not talking about chucking non-atheists into the sewers–plenty of non-atheists are fully on board with the actual values of Atheism+) and that I am not talking about defining whether you are “in” or “out” by adopting any label (what you call yourself doesn’t matter), but by whether you thumbs-up or thumbs-down the values of Atheism+ (which even a conscientious Christian or Muslim could do).
Anyone who does not call themselves a member of Atheism+ but thumbs up what it stands for is a friend of Atheism+. Those people are with us. Everyone else (who doesn’t cheer or approve of what we stand for) is against us.
Is Atheism+ at odds with Humanism? No. Humanists can be in the Atheist+ movement or even outside of it and still cheer it on. We are only at odds with those who condemn Atheism+ and its values.
The question of whether Atheism+ is just another name for Humanism has been answered in adequate detail by Jen McCreight (Why Atheism+ and not Humanism?), Greta Christina (Is “Atheism Plus” Just Secular Humanism? and Humanism Is Great — But It’s Not Atheism Plus), Daniel Fincke (“Atheism+” =/= “Humanism”. Sign Me Up For “Atheism+”), Jason Thibeault (What’s in a Name? Quite a Lot, Actually), and Ashley Miller (The Difference between “Atheism+” and Humanism). A relevant point is additionally made by Stephanie Zvan (Standing on Our Own).
I would only add that atheism has become an important word to rally behind. Humanism has long been a hiding word, a way to avoid using the word “atheist.” That isn’t the case for everyone who calls themselves a humanist. But it is often the case. And intended or not, it still buys into and reinforces the stigma attached to the word “atheist,” and thus is inadvertently complicit in supporting bigotry against atheists and atheism. That is not anyone’s intention, of course. But it’s the effect. (Martin Wagner even gives a recent example.)
One of the things that makes the New Atheism movement new is that it was quickly and strongly tied to a reclaiming of atheism as an identity, which in fact made atheism a social movement in the first place, rather than just something that existed here and there. Atheism has been a bad word, a way to insult or marginalize people as “morally corrupt” or as “commies,” a word that could trigger a socially accepted pattern of ill treatment and discrimination, even violence or threats. It still does. It’s still acceptable for public officials to call us “evil little things.” And now we’re standing up against that, as a community.
In order to end this bigotry, we have to own the word and take back control of what it means. And that requires being out about it, declaring ourselves atheists. We have to force people to realize how many atheists there really are among them, and how diverse we are and how not evil we are but in fact how neighborly we are and how passionate we are for moral causes. That will never happen if we tacitly buy into the assumption that atheism is evil by avoiding use of the word. If people hear about humanists doing good things, most will simply not realize that that is code for “atheists doing good things,” and will simply go on hating and slandering and mistreating anyone who admits to being an actual atheist.
It’s perfectly fine if for your own personal safety or comfort you want or need to avoid the a-word. Likewise if you aren’t even sure you are an atheist, or even aren’t an atheist (because maybe you’re a Deist or a Quaker or a Pagan or what have you). But it is not perfectly fine to condemn those of us who can and do come forward and declare ourselves atheists and organize behind that identity and seek to combat the lies and bigotry surrounding that word. That’s one reason Atheism+ is an essential label for some to use and can’t simply be replaced with Humanism in all cases, even when those words are defined in such a way (and indeed they can be defined in such a way) that the two groups are 100% identical in values and beliefs.
Finally, are Atheism Plussers all just a bunch of awful bully meanies who make people cry? No. We will speak with passion and harsh truth in defense of the good. We will denounce and marginalize or make fun of people who are enemies of the good. And we will also stick to our values and apologize for or right any of our wrongs. And we will engage each other in reasonable debate on many issues within the compass of our values. These things entail no contradiction.
For example, I made an argument about when and what sort of insults are appropriate in public discourse in The Art of the Insult and the Sin of the Slur, and Daniel Fincke wrote an indirect response in No Hate (responding to other people making unreasonable demands on him, but staking out a position contrary to mine). I agree with his reasoning when we are talking about actual reasoned discourse, and people making an earnest attempt at that. In that context insults are inappropriate, precisely because they violate what I called the fourth rule of moral insult. And he’s quite right that there is no sense in despising people we merely disagree with, much less treating them like we do.
But I disagree with him insofar he means to say that his moral conclusions hold even for people who mock reasoned discourse or make no good faith attempt at it. I also disagree if he means to say that his moral conclusions hold even for contexts in which there is no reasoned discourse. When atheists publicly joked about raping an atheist teenager on her own reddit thread, those guys are fuckwads and I have every moral right to say so. Publicly. And so on for anything else like that when appropriate. As a general rule, if you are going to be a douchebag, I’m going to call you a douchebag, and be happy when others do, too. There is nothing immoral about that. To the contrary, this is the only way most moral folk can stay sane.
Maybe that makes me the bad boy of atheism. So be it. But I don’t think I’m at all alone in this.
Are any of the following statements immoral? Or are they appropriate statements of moral outrage? You decide…
These Christian assholes who claim moral superiority to the rest of the world and especially to atheists get so upset when someone questions their religious beliefs in public that they freak out and threaten to kill them.
[Atheism+] really isn’t a movement about exclusion, but about recognizing the impact of the real nature of the universe on human affairs. And if you don’t agree with any of that — and this is the only ‘divisive’ part — then you’re an asshole. I suggest you form your own label, “Asshole Atheists” and own it, proudly.
I don’t want to have to clean misogynists and accommodationist fuckwads out of my comments section, then listen to them whine about how oppressed they are because I won’t let them shit on my carpet. I don’t want to spend time forwarding rape and death threats to the police. But I refuse to stay silent.
I can’t tell you how many humanists I’ve talked with who have been total douchebags about feminism: insisting that humanism is superior to and more important than feminism, that feminism is exclusionary and anti-male, that they “don’t see gender” and anyone who does is the real sexist, and that the best way to make sexism disappear is to ignore it and pretend it doesn’t exist
If your server gave you good service, regardless of other issues you might have with the restaurant, not tipping them or tipping them poorly is not screwing the restaurant. You are screwing them, and you’re a douchebag. Oh, and if you are one of those self-righteous, uber-Christians who leaves a folded tract that looks like a ten or twenty-dollar bill instead of actual legal tender, well…You’re A Double Douchebag…
[A] dummy with an Obama mask was hung from a gallows on the front lawn of a church. – Oh, it’s Pastor Terry Jones and the Dove World Outreach Center again. This douchebag is apparently starving for more attention now that his latest Koran burning has blown over in the media. What a dick.
There is a difference between wanting to maintain a particular style or tenor of discourse in a specific venue, and claiming that any people expressing moral outrage with applicable epithets are behaving immorally. They just aren’t. At most you can accuse them of being mean. But sometimes, in some contexts, being mean is the right thing to do.
And that is an example of a reasonable disagreement that makes no difference to whether you are sincerely on board with the values of Atheism+. Because siding with Atheism+ only requires that you are willing to repudiate sexism, racism, and homophobia (and other correlated bigotries), and endorse the values of reasonableness, compassion, and integrity. In my book, it is that, and that alone, that decides whether you are with us, or against us.