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Transcript for Google+ hangout on Atheism Plus

Some kind folks at A+ Scribe have transcribed the hangout we had recently on the topic of Atheism Plus, labeling, divisiveness, and looking forward.

It was a great discussion, and while I honestly thought I was talking everyone’s ears off, looking at this transcript makes me feel better about how much mic time each of us got. However, I need to clarify something here.

A key moment in the discussion seems to center around a misunderstanding by Debbie Goddard of what I was trying to say, fumbly as I am at public speaking. In reaction to Stephanie, I said:

Isn’t that where most of the people saying, oh, we’re just being divisive of the atheist community, isn’t that where they’re realising that certain people that identify only with the fact that they don’t believe in gods, and they think that they have found their community, that’s where they’re picking up that we don’t want their views in the community any more? And they see that as we don’t want them in the community any more. I think that’s false, I think that’s absolutely false, because we’d like to convince them that their bigotries, and their unevidenced, unsceptical views about certain things like, like societal norms, those need to go away too if you’re going to be a proper sceptic, atheist, etc.

I was trying to be very explicit about the fact that identifying myself as a social justice advocate and humanist as well as atheist, does not in fact entail excluding you from movement atheism for mere disagreement about those things. Of course, there’s limits — if you’re actively attacking blacks and women and gays and transfolk, I kinda DON’T want you in the movement, but I’d rather simply block you from my little “safe space” subset of the movement than try to convince everyone else that you’re nasty. I mean, if you’re one of those in the ‘miscreant’ circle, you’re pretty self-evidently nasty, and people are de facto tarred by association with you in most folks’ eyes. Excluding you from my part of the movement if you’re running around using sexist, racist or homophobic slurs with impunity is protecting my part of the community from your nastiness. By having a part of the movement that is free from those views, we are creating a safe space for people who would otherwise leave movement atheism because of the “scumbag problem”.

People repeatedly misinterpret this to mean “you can’t be in the atheist movement unless you also care about social justice and humanism”. This is patently false. You can be in movement atheism, you just do not represent my views on these other topics and I’d rather not associate with you — or have others associate me with you — for those terrible views you espouse. Just because you got the god question right doesn’t mean you’re right about anything else.

So when Debbie said the following:

Debbie Goddard:

At the Atheist Alliance International award, like the Richard Dawkins award for reason and something like that, um, a few years ago, and people really like that movie, they think it was excellent, they think it was awesome, I haven’t seen it, I can’t comment, but, is that someone we’d want to sort of drum out of the movement? That was sort of the language you used, Jason, which was why I think I gave the funny eyebrows. Because I think of course we should feel free to criticize anyone where we disagree, but the language of exclusion when it comes to the goals of the atheist movement, I’m a little more hesitant about.

Jason Thibeault:
The word drums, drumming out…

Debbie Goddard:
Well not like, drumming out, that’s a smaller number maybe.

Jason Thibeault:
Well that’s the thing, drumming out certainly isn’t my preferred language, because it’s not what I want to do at all. I would rather convert them to a more progressive, liberal ideal. I would rather they be, like, they can keep talking about atheism all they’d like, as long as they’re not suggested as representative of my views on humanism or social justice. The moment I get tarred with their worse views, their less progressive views, that’s the moment where I have to say “Woah, it only goes so far”, our intersection, this area of the movement and my area of the movement, we only intersect on atheism, I’m not a misogynist scumbag, or an anti-vaxxer, like Bill Maher.

Debbie Goddard:
Well this is actually where the term Atheist-plus is really useful, because you’re able to communicate to someone these other perspectives on social justice issues pretty easily, pretty simply, say “Yeah, I identify with Atheism-plus”, and then they know what you’re talking about, they know where you’re coming from, but if they disagree with one aspect of that, they’ll think, maybe, think, Alex used the word “shibboleth”, like maybe you want to exclude them from being part of the atheist movement, right?

Here’s the problem. Where I know not everyone is willing to convert from “bitches lie, amirite?” to “hey, maybe we should believe ordinary claims from women without demanding extraordinary evidence, just like we do with men” in one shot, I’d much prefer peel them away from their terrible views so they are stronger members of our community, so they do less damage to the inclusiveness of the movement, than to exclude them outright. But if they must keep spouting their horrible bigotries, I’d rather they do so as far away from my corner of the movement as possible.

If that’s divisive, if that’s exclusionary, I can’t see that as anything but good. Making the movement safe for women, for instance, de facto excludes anti-woman sentiment. Making our slice of the movement safe for women does the same. When people self-identify as atheist plus, they’re signalling that they’re trying to be good stewards of these spaces, and not sacrifice skepticism of societal norms, rigid gender roles, or bigotries that are largely dogmatic memes originating in religion to begin with just to get “big tent atheism” numbers — which largely don’t happen anyway, since you’re excluding vast demographics by pandering to the privileged.

Just because I happen to think that the Atheism Plus folks are better skeptics than “dictionary atheists” who would rather hold ridiculous pseudoscientific or unskeptical positions on other matters, doesn’t mean those other people aren’t still atheists. It just means that THEY don’t speak for ME.

Comments

  1. says

    “Just because you got the god question right doesn’t mean you’re right about anything else.”

    That line really resonates with me, thanks!

  2. Roger M says

    I’m with you for the most part. However, your conclusion in the following doesn’t hold water.
    “Just because I happen to think that the Atheism Plus folks are better skeptics than “dictionary atheists” who would rather hold ridiculous pseudoscientific or unskeptical positions on other matters, doesn’t mean those other people aren’t still atheists.”

    “dictionary atheists” who would rather hold ridiculous pseudoscientific or unskeptical positions on other matters..” Really?

  3. says

    Yes, really, Roger. Atheists who are antivaxxers or moon landing hoaxers or homeopaths or astrologers or antifeminists or privilege-defenders or any other ridiculous, incorrect or dogmatic nonsense do not represent me.

    Problem?

  4. Roger M says

    Well, since I haven’t invested much time regarding A+ yet, I guess I fall in the “dictionary atheist” category.
    So when I read what you write, I read that I do “hold ridiculous pseudoscientific or unskeptical positions on other matters”.
    This is not the case for me personally, and I kind of perceive your statement as offensive.
    However, I don’t think you meant it that way. But if this indeed is the idea shared by the A+ movement, I think I am getting skeptical to it. (pun intended)

  5. says

    So what you’re saying is, if you turn your head and squint just so, it sounds like I’m saying something different, and if I WAS saying that different thing, even though I just clarified that I’m not, then you take offense. And therefore you’re skeptical of our self-identifying our part of the movement.

    That’s very nice for you. I’m sure in your head that means your skepticism is better than mine, because you’re skeptical that I mean what I say I mean.

  6. Roger M says

    Wow, all I was trying to ask of you was to adjust your language a little to avoid falling in an “us/them” situation.
    “Us” as in the good A+ group, and “them” being the ““dictionary atheists” who would rather hold ridiculous pseudoscientific or unskeptical positions on other matters..”
    If you can’t see the messy logic you are defending, I don’t know what to say.

    I don’t care for your sarcasm either.

    I think I’m done here Jason. You did your best, I suppose.

  7. says

    Roger, Jason wrote, “…’dictionary atheists’ who would…”. That is the proper construction for identifying a subgroup. You’re acting as though he wrote, “…’dictionary atheists’, who would…”, talking about the tendency of an entire group.

    This is one of those times when proper comma usage and understanding is important.

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