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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The Atheist Grinches who Stole Christmas

The first thing I thought on reading this was, “they hate us for our freedoms”. This is a fundamental misapprehension of what atheists are trying to accomplish by keeping certain religions from establishing themselves as the “official” religions of a particular part of government, installing Christian iconography in public places and thus pushing out all other religions’ believers (or, yes, non-believers like ourselves).

There ought to be plenty of atheists visibly excited about the secular aspects of the holidays that Pat MUST know he’s talking out his ass here. Right? I mean, think of how horrified he is any time people put priority on the tree and the gifts and the feast and spending time with family, rather than on Baby Jesus. I mean, think of what percentage of those people must have been atheist.
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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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It’s happening everywhere

No, not “to everyone”. Everywhere. io9 talks about three of our communities – skepticism/atheism, sci-fi fandom, and computer hacker culture.

But it’s also happening in comics, in video games, in the movie industry. In every area where a woman tries to improve their lot, or to break those rigid gender roles by entering areas that are otherwise traditionally populated by men, she faces exponentially more abuse and vitriol than men in those areas.

In every aspect of our society, there is a hidden war on women.
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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.

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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?

Google Hangout about Atheism Plus

Just finished this Google+ hangout with Alex Gabriel, Ophelia Benson, Stephanie Zvan and Debbie Goddard about Atheism Plus, labels, goals, divisiveness, et cetera. Enjoy!

Update: Transcription is now available, thanks to the good folks at A+Scribe. I also talk a bit more about the “drumming out” meme here.

What’s in a name? Quite a lot, actually.

Every time someone writes something relatively controversial, what interests me the most is the pushback. The Atheism+ name, attached to our current third wave of movement atheism as defined by Jen McCreight and her commenters who crowdsourced the name, has invited certain specific lines of pushback that are every bit as interesting as the third-wave idea itself. Since my usual modus is to find and examine the side-concerns that otherwise are being raised but never adequately dissected and deconstructed, this post.

This new Atheism Plus (A+, Atheism+) movement is something I’ve been thinking about for a while. We’ve all actually been thinking and writing about this for a while around these parts, without ever having given it a name. We’ve long known that the greater atheist and skeptic communities have been fighting amongst themselves and have been developing Deep Rifts over whether or not there’s any room to deal with topics other than challenging creationists and theists, and we’ve all fought against the idea that there’s simply no reason to bring social justice causes into the mix when we’re already having trouble combining skepticism and atheism in a meaningful way. And the conclusion I keep coming to, since at least my essay called Mission Creep, is that we need to deepen the rifts between those of us who care about social justice and those of us who think feminism, anti-racism, anti-homophobia and other social justice causes have no place in the atheist movement — oftentimes because these people have a vested interest in those other sentiments and think they’re fouling up our common ground.

A number of others have already tackled whether atheism+ is just humanism, and I think the case has been made adequately that the factions are allied and overlapping but not identical. What I’d like to tackle specifically is the charge that this is merely a rebranding effort, and thus doomed to fail.
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A new atheism

The Rifts are Deepening, it would seem.

Jen McCreight laments that she had no idea exactly how prevalent the misogyny, privilege, irrationality, and Boys Club mentality all are in the atheist and skeptic movements before she got involved. Honestly, me neither.

I was exactly what a Boy’s Club wanted. I was a young, not-hideous woman who passionately supported their cause. I made them look diverse without them having to address their minority-repelling privilege. They liked that I joked about sex and boobs not because it was empowering for me, but because they saw it as a pass to oggle and objectify. But the Boy’s Club rescinds its invitation once they realize you’re a rabble-rousing feminist. I was welcome at TAM when I was talking about a boob joke, but now I’m persona non grata for caring about sexual harassment. I used to receive numerous comments about how hot and attractive I was, but when I politely asked for people to keep the discussion professional, the comments morphed into how I was an ugly cunt. I was once considered an up-and-coming student leader, but now I’m accused of destroying the movement.

So what’s to be done of this?
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A song by Josh about the skeptical sexism wars

Josh of the Many Spokesgay-Related Titles has written us all a song that I think merits re-blogging. Because reasons! Also, because it is way better than those other songs featured at prominent skeptical conventions that have to elide half of Elevatorgate, and all the fallout and trolling thereafter, just to get a laugh.

Josh’s song is a ballad to the poor oppressed Dood, who’s really getting short shrift as we fight across the blogosphere about the degree to which bitches are shit. Sing it to the tune of Total Eclipse of the Heart. If I could sing, I’d totally do a Youtube video of this.
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