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#FtBCON: Atheism Is Not Enough panel

As proven by the deep rifts that exist within movement atheism, a common acknowledgement that there is no god is often not enough ground on which to build a coherent, lasting community. Social justice movements often encounter tipping points where they either take into account the natural allies that are other movements, or they fail. Debbie Goddard, Desiree Schell, James Croft, Kimberley Veal, Kim Rippere and Yemisi Ilesanmi all joined me to discuss atheism and social justice, and how atheism shouldn’t be the endpoint of a journey into freethought, but the beginning.

This was a two hour panel. It will be a beast to transcribe. I will pitch in when I can, if someone sets up a transcription project for this.

Comments

  1. Anti Kultist says

    I think the premise for this hangout is very misguided. Reality is full of highly successful special interest groups that don’t have any plans to broaden their agenda. From environmentalism to gay rights you see a common theme: Full focus on marginal issues that are agreed upon by everyone involved and no discussion about all kinds of other unrelated issues that are unrelated. You simply don’t strengthen or enlarge a movement by adopting the causes of other unrelated movements. Rather, you reduce your potential footprint to the intersection of the two movements, which can at most be as large as the smallest one, and it can also shrink to nothing if there happens to be no overlap.

    This is why you don’t see the WWF staking out positions on abortion, gay rights, immigration, tax policy etc(except insofar as they are actually related to environmentalism). They have found a solid niche that’s large enough to make an impact and they argue from that. There’s simply no need for the members to agree about all sorts of other issues and it would be a huge mistake to insist on trying to make all members march in line on every issue. That can only alienate people and shrink the movement. Have you ever heard of someone making statements like “I’m black and I think the work the WWF are doing is great, but they don’t have a stated policy on affirmative action in my neighborhood, so I won’t join them”? Of course not. Most people understand what a special interest group is and don’t expect them to have views on every issue.

    What you are talking about here really is forming a political party and you are talking about starting from the negative base of not believing in gods, which has zero implications on any view about anything in reality. Atheism is no natural starting point for anything except intellectual opposition to religious worldviews and very general views about the structure of reality. This is just not feasible. Moreover, your goal “social justice” is not an objectively measurable goal as there are contradictory aspects of it. “Freedom from” and “freedom to” is one example of a conflict where it’s clear that both views contain important aspects of what freedom should entail, but you can be sure that it’s completely impossible to get people to agree on what’s a “just” tradeoff. Many people will even insist that the extremes of anarchy and the all encompassing mother state are the best solutions. There can’t really be said to be a right answer here either and most “social justice” warriors simply have their own idiosyncratic opinions that usually demand that other groups not be allowed to flourish as best they can, but rather be forced to move away with a threat of violence from the government. This doesn’t make “social justice” activism invalid, but calling it “justice” as if your views are somehow inherently the correct solution is dishonest marketing.

    You can see this manifesting in vague rhetoric like insisting that we need to work for “Women not getting harassed on the street”. The speaker obviously has no clue what he means by this, because if you take a walk on one of the main streets of New York in broad daylight you will not find anything of the sort. This is simply not one of the great issues of our time. At the end of the day it might boil down to some women failing to ignore youths whistling at them from cars once or twice a year, or failing to just take it as a complement and move on with their lives. He also seems to think it’s obvious that his view of problems are the correct view and that it’s obvious that everyone who cared about the things he does would side with his movement. This is not at all obvious when considering one of the major topics of the feminist movement, rape. Where alternative causal models of the phenomena may make cooperation with feminists at combating it impossible due to the tight integration the feminist account of rape has with their views on the sexes and how these views are key to everything feminists believe about everything.

    This is not even a problem. What thinking people should do is evaluate which models are capable of producing real results/improvements, which models are falsifiable and not merely ideologies etc and make their choices after doing that. Instead, debate is typically silenced and people are branded Evil if they present alternate models.

  2. says

    The “invalid premise” was actually well argued from a number of our panelists as perfectly parsimonious harmonious with reality, so I’m not sure how much of the panel you actually watched. I think you’re knee-jerking at the idea that the atheist movement might actually HAVE to concern itself with other movements’ issues and take stances on stuff outside the “core mission” that amounts to being rude to Ray Comfort. And I’m not sure why you’d knee-jerk in that way.

  3. consciousness razor says

    What you are talking about here really is forming a political party and you are talking about starting from the negative base of not believing in gods, which has zero implications on any view about anything in reality.

    No support of any kind for this claim. Forgive me if I don’t just take it on faith.

    I figure atheists are human beings. We’re not some kind of disembodied entity which just goes around not believing in stuff. We’re human beings in a society. In particular, we’re in religiously-privileged societies in which it’s generally taken as a given that religions (or some other mysterious, unnamed source) have some special relationship to values and serving basic social functions, so they don’t even stop to consider whether there are legitimate non-religious alternatives. A lot of people simply assume atheists or naturalists have no way to account for things like values, or that we just want to be sinners and that’s why we’re rejecting the specific values of religious traditions. It couldn’t be that religions aren’t the only valid option, they want to say; we must just get rid of it altogether and leave behind a vacuum. Well, that’s fucking wrong. We can refute it with some theoretical arguments few will pay attention to, but we can also show how wrong it is by actually doing shit to try to make the world a better place.

    Maybe as an atheist you don’t give a fuck about gay rights or racism or poverty or whatever. Too bad for you. You certainly don’t have any room to claim people in the atheist movement don’t or shouldn’t have values (how could the latter even be coherent?), or that we shouldn’t be concerned about our place in the world at large in all its messy details, because you don’t own the fucking atheist movement. It can’t just be about debunking creationism. It can’t just be about saying how great science is. (Take a narrow “single-issue” movement you mentioned: do you think the World Wildlife Fund is going to be good and successful, if it’s pushing bigotry and other crackpottery along with environmentalism? What a fucking joke.) This is about being whole people, who can have meaningful lives, who really do have responsibilities to other people no matter what movement they think they belong in. If that’s somehow a problem for you, I don’t know what else to say but “good riddance.”

  4. says

    “Parsimonious?” Jebus but I’m not firing on all cylinders. Ever get a word stuck in your vocabulary in the wrong place even though you should know better? I know it means frugal, and there’s no way in hell I’d suggest these panelists were frugal with the truth. In fact, they were dropping mad truth yo. This video has a monopoly on truth.

    Like Consciousness Razor said, if you think the scope of atheism is to be rude to creationists then you let all sorts of other crankery get swept into atheism. Right now there’s a whole contingent of libertarians and douchebros who think atheism IS theirs, and they are thus including more into the scope of atheism than the dictionary definition. Does that mean THEY’RE a political movement?

    I absolutely believe that every one of these fights is political whether it’s labelled as such or not. If you check out my talk on Mission Creep, you’ll see why.

    We already have a splintered, fragmented community, with each splinter fighting for the core. Some of those splinters are absolutely convinced that they ARE the core, the “true atheist movement”, without any evidence to prove it, though. You don’t want to fight those fights? Fine. Why don’t you take your splinter of atheism and pretend like it’s the whole thing and the absolute outer boundaries of what you should and should not do to be a decent human being. Just, stop tarring the rest of us with your shitty morality.

  5. smhll says

    I’m threadrupt.

    I just wanted to echo one of Debbie Goddard’s points about how little atheism has to offer a parent who is focused on the everyday survival issues of her family.

    I think one good (and non-controversial?) way that atheists and secularists can “do good” in the world (in a way that tends to broaden the movement) is to put some resources into improving impoverished schools in their city or county or state or country, or even abroad. Shitty schools are an important human issue, an important human rights issue. I think gross-inequalities in education access are a problem that our movement can commit to caring about. It’s morally right and economically practical.

    I’m unemployed, so I can’t just write a check. Maybe a topic for a future Google hangout could be about Making a Difference in Your Community?

    Or, maybe, instead of me (a traditionally outspoken person) suggesting session topics, we should all try very hard to let the most under-represented people choose topics that they think have been under-discussed and under-represented so far.

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