Adam Lee of Daylight Atheism has an excellent essay at Salon.com about atheism and the things that frequently divides what is referred to as the “movement.” He begins with a discussion of Atheism+ and I think he describes the goal of it better than anyone else I’ve seen:
The animating idea behind Atheism+ is that atheism isn’t a stopping point, but a beginning. We’re atheists not because we want to gather and engage in collective back-slapping, not because we want to chortle at the foolishness of benighted believers, but because we care about creating a world that’s more just, more peaceful, more enlightened, and we see organized religion as standing in the way of this goal. We consider politically engaged atheism an effective way to demolish this obstacle, to refute the beliefs that have so often throughout human history been used to excuse cruelty, inequality, ignorance, oppression and violence. (Full disclaimer: I identify as a member of A+ and as a proponent of social justice.)
What’s more, we refuse to believe that skepticism and critical thinking can be usefully applied only to claims about the supernatural. We believe that it’s equally valuable to apply them to real-world power structures that perpetuate inequality and injustice. Thus, the goals of Atheism Plus: We are atheists and skeptics, plus we defend women’s rights and reproductive choice, plus we fight against sexism and racism, plus we oppose homophobia and transphobia, plus we call for equality of opportunity and economic fairness, and so on.
Yes, that. Exactly that. He also points out that Atheism+ is not creating divisions, it is responding to them:
The truth is that the atheist movement is already divided, and has been for a while: Surveys show that there’s a significant imbalance of men over women. Some of this may be due to outside cultural factors, but some of it is surely owing to the experiences that many women have spoken out about: belittling language and condescension, unwanted sexual advances, outright harassment, and sometimes violent abuse and threats when they speak up about the other things that make them feel unwelcome.
When this kind of behavior goes unchecked, it’s no surprise that many women will choose not to participate in the atheist movement.
Yep. And we need to fix that. We may not always agree on how to fix it, but we need to get to work on it. I spoke at a conference this weekend where there were 65 people in the audience and only about 10 of them were women, which Sheila Kennedy, who was also speaking, immediately noticed. This is not in any way a criticism of the group that put on the conference, which is a terrific organization. But it’s indicative of a much broader reality in atheist and secular groups (the group I’m on the board of, CFI-Michigan, has a much more balanced membership, but I don’t really know why that is).
A few months ago, PZ put up a post with a taxonomy of the different kinds of atheists. He nailed me as an example of a “political atheist,” one who is focused not on debates over the existence of god (which frankly bore me to tears) but on working for separation of church and state and for greater justice, freedom and equality. The list was by no means comprehensive and lots of people are in more than one group, but it was still a pretty good breakdown.
Eddie Tabash was also speaking at the CFI of Northeast Ohio conference last weekend and he is a mix. He loves to debate the existence of God, but he’s also very active in fighting for separation of church and state and for the equal rights of atheists. Other people focus primarily on scientific issues, or on philosophical questions. And here’s the thing: All of them are important and effective in different circumstances.
I’m very happy about the whole Atheism+ idea because I think anything that focuses our attention on issues of social justice is a good thing. But I’m not going to go around calling myself an atheist+, I’m just going to call myself an atheist. And no one is going to try to drum me out of the movement for choosing not to take such a label. I don’t really care about labels; I care about what people are actually doing. And if you’re fighting for social justice, we’re on the same team. But let’s bear in mind that there are lots of different teams under this broad umbrella, with a different focus and a different set of priorities. Let us each focus on the things we care most about. We’ll be more effective at them as a result. And let the broader movement benefit from our efforts.