Atheism is not enough (pt. 3)

(Continued from part 2)

The Excluded Middle

Tectonic rift at Thingvellir, Iceland. (CC, click for source)

There are certain behaviours and certain tropes that I find myself hard-pressed to defend or accept in people I call friends and allies, and I will call them out on these behaviours in hopes of either swaying them to my position, or of exposing the irrationalities behind our differences. I have attempted to teach myself to look for and to compensate for the Halo Effect, where you unintentionally give extra leeway to someone who’s done something else you agree with. That doesn’t mean being especially harsh with them — it means being consistent with your values and where your lines are drawn.

And yet I am, to borrow a phrase from JT Eberhard, more than willing to employ toilet paper in a divisive manner. We divide ourselves from the religious and call ourselves atheists instead of theists or “agnostic” in order to play nice with theists. I am willing to cleave whole communities in twain to divide from people whose core values are so diametrically opposed to my own. I have heard their arguments and found them wanting — and in the same way that we divide ourselves from the religious, with whom the fundamental difference is our belief in deities, I will divide from the people with whom I have irreconcileable political differences.

Lucky for me, the people on the other sides of these divides are more than happy to oblige. Even if they do blame us disproportionately for the division.
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Atheism is not enough (pt. 2)

(Continued from part 1)

Irreconcilable differences

Tectonic rift at Thingvellir, Iceland. (CC, click for source)

If atheism WAS enough to bind us, if it was a sufficient foundation for our communities, there would be no great rift. There would be no polarization, no in-fighting. There would be no great sorting. People wouldn’t be so willing to throw down the gauntlet over simple advice like “guys, don’t do that”, taking a commonplace anecdote as a personal insult and escalating beyond all reason. There would be no screeds about “feminazis”, there would be no recriminations and accusations leveled without evidence about who’s responsible for downturns in conference attendance. There would be no need to hold people’s feet to the fire over breaches of moral precepts if mere atheism was enough to sustain and build a movement.

But atheism itself implies, as the angrier atheists so vehemently insist, absolutely nothing else about a person outside of their lack of belief in a deity. Nothing, that is, except the consequences of that belief with regard to morality.
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Atheism is not enough (pt 1)

(a three part blog series)

Tectonic rift at Thingvellir, Iceland. (CC, click for source)

Building a Community with Insufficient Data

I keep chewing this thought over in my head, this one nagging meme that got planted there by way of innumerable trolls during innumerable battles in my tenure on the blogosphere. It’s been percolating in my brainpan at least since the inception of the label “Atheism Plus” and the community that coalesced around it. Longer than that, in fact. Playing over and over, like a drum beat.

That thought is, atheism is not enough.

It is good, important, even vital to become an atheist; to free yourself from the intellectual and in some cases physical impediments that religion imposes. But that should be the beginning of a journey into freethinking, not the end of it. Without a god or gods, you have no moral lawgiver, so you have to build your own morality.

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Matt, I really think you owe them an apology.

Hi Matt. Long time fan, first time writer. Never called into your show, given your rule about preferring theists because they’re more interesting call fodder; and the corollary rule about not acting like a Poe.

I’ve listened to a great number of episodes of The Atheist Experience, and while I don’t have the full scope of the four hundred odd shows you’ve put on, I’ve certainly come to understand your frustration when you receive the same questions over and over again. When you hear the third caller on the same show bring up the ontological argument or TAG or Pascal’s Wager, I feel every ounce of your cringe and I fully agree with every time you hang up on a person who simply will not engage in the points honestly.

It’s gotten to the point where some folks have nicknamed that sort of battle fatigue “Matt Dillahunty Syndrome”, where you need to stop repeat arguments dead in their tracks because they’re a waste of everyone’s resources, and your own are worn thin from past battles. This isn’t a new phrase made unique for this occasion — it is one I’ve seen in the wild for at least a year, and a recognition of the psychological damage that long-term trolling can actually take.
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Holding clay feet to witch-burning fires

One of the more ridiculous memes that’s gained a disproportionate amount of traction in the freethought community is that of “witch hunts”. It’s the idea that there’s some roving band of bloggers and commenters hunting for the least appearance of deviation from the One True Path and punishing with extreme prejudice without evidence or empathy. It’s that if you dare speak up, you’ll be unfairly tarred and silenced and black-bagged and murdered and possibly eaten.

This band is invariably called “FTB”, “FTBullies”, “FTB and Skepchick”, or some mutation of the network’s name that includes the word “from” or “feminist”. Lately the smear also applies to atheism plus — mostly because that label, in being inclusive of outgroups, makes an outgroup of bigots and misogynists. Doesn’t matter if the people involved are actually from either network — it’s enough to use our site name as a shibboleth, to associate it with this opposition-to-the-haters as though that’s somehow a bad thing.

What’s actually going on here, though, is significantly different.
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Congratulations to Team Douchebag on their first major victory

It’s war once there’s casualties, right?

Jen McCreight and her commenters dubbed the necessity for a third wave of atheism — a wave that actually gives a shit about people who are getting forced out of the movement by a cloud of vile hatred just because they’re not cis males — as “atheism plus”. A forum is built and a thousand members join within a week. Organizations form to shore up some social justice movement intersections with the atheist community. We built something good. Something energizing. Something that portends a great swamp-draining. A way for movement atheism to heal itself.

Then a whole antifeminist and anti-woman wing of the atheist movement rallies to show us why we can’t have nice things. They amp up the hatred, the vitriol, the vileness. They steal Jen’s resources and leave her drained and incapable of contributing, by making her clean up rivers of bullshit aimed at tarring her personhood, slut-shaming her, and threatening her job by taking the same bullshit to her employers. They make her dread contributing her writings to this movement. This movement which she loved. This movement in which she gathered fans of her writing as easily as some people breathe.
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Lawrence O’Donnell: Just imagine if this was Obama

This… was simply hilarious. It never fails to amuse me when people who bought into Ayn Rand’s policies and politics run for office on platforms that are anathema to most of their voter base, but that this voter base is so blinded by the promise of maybe eventually becoming one of the hyper-privileged that they ignore all those inconvenient facts and accept the backpedalling by people like Rand Paul Paul Ryan (d’oh!) uncritically, and can’t be whipped into the same kind of furore that they manage at the mere mention of the name of a Democratic candidate who shows the merest hint of being anything like their own heroes.

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

The whole thing kinda proves the tribalism at play, doesn’t it?

It’s funny though. Ayn Rand doesn’t represent humanism, despite her correct assessment that gods don’t exist and all morality must come from humans’ reason. I suspect it’s because she had a gross lack of empathy. It’s probably a big part of why there’s such a Great Rift in the atheist community now — there are people who just want atheism to deal with atheism, and that’s fine. But there are other people who are atheists who hate the idea of building a morality that involves egalitarianism or plurality, and they are the most vociferous pushers-back on ideas like atheism plus. When they say “atheism plus is like a religion”, they’re saying “you’re suggesting that some actions are moral or immoral, and religions do that too, and like Ayn Rand, I hate religions.”

Except we’re using reason to suss out the best positions that have the most egalitarian outcome. Shouldn’t a Randian libertarian be totally on board with that?

Atheism Plus is just like a religion

Over and over and over again, we’ve heard that the Atheism Plus is driving divisiveness, is tribalistic, and is just like a religion. I’m not really sure how to answer that last one, except to point out that if we didn’t have a point when we say “hey, we have an adoption problem, people are being turned off of atheism by all the douchebags that have entrenched themselves in it”, we wouldn’t be fomenting so much hate from those same self-identified douchebags, would we?
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Greta has some questions for you. So does Stephanie.

Ever notice that pushback against certain ideas always develops internal themes and memetics that need to be directly countered before we can move on to actually talking about the ideas themselves? Ever notice that pushback tends to cluster around irrational objections to otherwise unobjectionable suggestions or ideas? One of the pushbacks against those of us who primarily identify as atheists who also care about and talk about social justice, humanism and atheism in equal measure, who’ve declared an appropriate label for that nexus of issues “Atheism Plus”, is that we’re somehow “divisive of the movement”. Greta has a few questions for those of you repeating that meme. Well, really, they all boil down to one singular one if you think about it.

Why is Atheism Plus being seen a terrible threat to the cohesion of the movement… and yet a solid year of feminist women being subjected to actions and words that demean us, objectify us, inappropriately sexualize us, and literally threaten us and make us unsafe is not getting called “divisive”?

reddit screenshotA 15 year old girl posted a photo of herself holding a Carl Sagan book to r/atheism, and got a flood of rape jokes in return. Why was that not “divisive”?

A leader of a major skeptical organization speculated on the causes of low female attendance at his conference… and blamed it on women who were speaking out about sexual harassment. Why was that not “divisive”?

A widely respected and beloved atheist celebrity publicly called a woman he disagreed with a cunt. And when this was brought up and criticized in an atheist blog, the comments were flooded with people defending him, and defending his use of the word. Why was that not “divisive”?

As part of a dispute about feminism, an atheist blogger and local atheist organization leader publicly posted Surly Amy’s address, with photos of the building. Why was that not “divisive”?

A popular atheist videoblogger deliberately tried to trigger a rape victim, by posting graphic threats of rape. Why was that not “divisive”?

A thread was posted on an atheist forum posing the question, “Would it be immoral to rape a Skepchick? Not for sexual gratification or power or anything like that, just because they’re so annoying.” Why was that not “divisive”?

Stephanie also has some questions for followers of Christina Hoff Sommers’ strange libertarian conservative definitions of “feminism” (you can tell, because they call themselves “equity feminists”, who believe that everyone else in every feminist movement represents “gender feminism” – a.k.a. misandry). That question is a simple one: what’s your evidence?

Many of the people complaining most insistently about the formation of Atheist+ are also among the number who claim that they are feminists, just “equity feminists”. They claim to be the true advocates for social justice. They claim that the “gender feminists” at FtB, Skepchick, and elsewhere are the oppressive force in this argument. We, of course, disagree. But who is correct? Is there one form of feminism that is based more on real-world data? Is there one that leads to more freedom?

The false dichotomy of “equity feminists” (e.g., libertarians who don’t like trying to fix tilts to the playing field) vs “gender feminists” (e.g., the subset of radical feminists who hate men and want to subjugate them to the Gynocracy) is reductionist to the point of absurdity. Hey, isn’t there a fallacy for that?

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.
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