We are not an atheist community

Rebecca Watson has recently blogged about the outrageous abuse and misogyny directed at a 15 year old atheist on Reddit saying it makes her hate atheists.

But this shouldn’t surprise any of us. After all just because someone’s an atheist doesn’t necessarily mean they are pro-equality, anti-war, socialist, secularist, and so on.

I mean how many times have we been betrayed by the Left, feminists, progressives, humanists or atheists siding with Islamists, sharia law, the veil – you name it – for a variety of reasons (some of which even seem rational and moral on the surface).

Just because someone’s a woman doesn’t mean she will side with welfare mothers and oppose stoning. And just because someone’s an ex-Muslim doesn’t mean they are automatically secularists or rationalists. In the same way that being male or having religious beliefs doesn’t automatically mean that one is anti-woman.

I’ve spent a large part of my life opposing this sort of ‘community’ based on race or nationality or gender or belief, which is largely thanks to multi-culturalism and moral or cultural relativism. What it has done is box people into ‘communities’ often out of no choice of their own and at the individual’s expense. It holds the dominant culture as the community’s culture and norm. And it exerts unbelievable pressure on those like Rebecca Watson who dissent and refuse to conform.

Of course, ‘communities’ are not necessarily bad things. We all want to belong but communities can’t be built on one characteristic or belief as we each have innumerable characteristics and beliefs that define us. And when we only focus on atheism or ex-Muslim or Muslim or … we miss the class, political and social dimensions that are most crucial in determining our allies and our enemies.

(Via other bloggers on freethoughtblogs)


  1. says

    I think Watson is guilty of judging all atheists by the actions of internet jerks. She tends to over generalize from a few examples.that isn’t to excuse the nonsense that occurred on Reddit,

  2. kraut says

    “I think Watson is guilty of judging all atheists by the actions of internet jerks.”

    Too bad that those internet jerks are so vocal they seem to drown out the non jerks.

    I always was against an “atheist” community that is bound by nothing but the absence of believe in a supernatural being, but where a sizable minority still can accept all manner and kind of woo, from homeopathy to the magic of crystals.
    There is a difference between atheists and skeptical rational atheists.
    And I do not want to be associtated in any way with atheists that are misogynists, prone to engaging in woo and basically anti science like the whole antivax crowd and the various New agers believing in all kinds of shite.

  3. says

    Well… I have to be honest. There are times I feel like Rebecca and it’s one of the many reasons I prefer calling myself a humanist, rather than just plain atheist. However, I would not side with Islamists, Fundamngelical Xians, that gunny sack, anti-women crap, or Sharia anything. Shoot! The Assembly of God has the Xian version of Sharia Banking and that makes me sick. It’s just one more way for the religious of any religious group to exert power over the people. I’m a humanist, but I’m also a mother, an animal lover, a Star Trek junkie, a feminist, who has “no gods and no masters” (originally said by Margaret Sanger), with many other characteristics, but yet by no means perfect and don’t profess to be perfect either.

  4. says

    I’ve spent a large part of my life opposing this sort of ‘community’ based on race or nationality or gender or belief, which is largely thanks to multi-culturalism and moral or cultural relativism. What it has done is box people into ‘communities’ often out of no choice of their own and at the individual’s expense.

    Hm. I see what you’re getting at, but I’m not sure if the notion of community can survive this sort of deconstruction. No community is ever going to agree about everything, but communities can define both their standards and the levels of difference/tolerance that determine acceptance in the community.


    I mean how many times have we been betrayed by

    You’re doing it right here. “We” can only be “betrayed by” people if “we” are a community.

    Communities are simply a sociological reality.

  5. -b. says

    “[…] it exerts unbelievable pressure on those like Rebecca Watson who dissent and refuse to conform.”

    Personally, I consider myself an atheist and a secular/humanist and I’ve been following this “community” for some time now. I’ve never posted a comment before, I’ve never written a blog, and although I’m quite open with people about my lack of belief and my staunch advocacy of the separation of church and state I’m generally a shy person, internet-wise. But when I read the above quoted statement in your post I nearly cried with happiness.
    There are a lot of labels that get applied and self-applied among those who are active within the “movement”/”community”/”forum”/(what-you-will) that many people refer to as the “New Atheism”. I hear these labels all the time: “Atheist”, “Anti-Theist”, “Skeptic”, “Secular-Humanist”, “Feminist”, e.t.c. There are many lines of thought which lead people to this… open public dialogue (if you can’t tell I’m having a very hard time quantifying exactly what THIS is). Most of us will agree that skepticism tends to lead to atheism for example. Feminism can lead one to secularism in a similar fashion. But the one label that I haven’t heard applied or self-applied is “Non-Conformist”. I’m not a scientist, I’m an artist. I’m certainly not anti-science whatsoever, I actually find it quite inspiring. But in my case it wasn’t skepticism that led me to adopt the position of atheism. When I survey all the various religious practices and social norms that people in this forum criticize what jumps out at me first and foremost isn’t their inhumanity, their credulousness, their lack of reasoned evidence for their claims (though I do notice those as well). What hits me first is the sheer herd-mentality of it all. In many cases it’s little more than cowardice. People willing to accept what a large group seems to agree on, and willing to join in the effort to intimidate anyone who might dissent, leaving many unwilling to stand up and object on the basis of being shouted down (or worse, sometimes far worse) by the crowd that surrounds them.
    I have a tremendous amount of respect for Rebecca Watson on the grounds that she has no qualms with ruffling the feathers of anyone (whether they consider themselves to be within this “community” or not). She relentlessly asserts her opinion in the face of any supposed “authorities” who would prefer her to stay silent. We have many vocal “skeptics” who are doing great work, saying great things, inspiring a great number of people. But Watson is something more than that, something even less common. She is a Non-Conformist. I think it’s time we started recognizing the importance of those among us who are brave enough to disagree with the prevalent opinions of the crowd, especially when they aren’t doing so merely in the service of some other crowd or congregation. They truly earn the title of FREEthinker. Thank you so much for pointing out this quality. I feel far less alone now.

  6. says

    I’ve spent a large part of my life opposing this sort of ‘community’ based on race or nationality or gender or belief, which is largely thanks to multi-culturalism and moral or cultural relativism.

    Communities are Benedict-Anderson “imagined” communities. This doesn’t make them false. They’re communities often in a reactive sense. Women share a biology. Doesn’t make us a community. Our shared marginalization does, though, give us a shared social position and reality. Our shared circumstances mean that we’re a forced community whether we like it or not. Same with atheists. In this reality, there can be betrayal.

    • I amafreeman says

      Sounds about right; like you know something about these things. Thanks for the sharing and a clarification.

      This is EXACTLY why I do not call myself ANYTHING – except for A free man, but I suppose now that puts certain requirements on me, certain “things” I must now do to PROVE I am a free man; now it is getting weird and complicated. I do not need to put myself in a “box”, others will gladly do that. About most things it is best to simply be quiet, and go about one’s daily life. Especially now, in this American culture.

  7. says

    Watson apparently said this kind of thing made her hate atheists. That seems a bit overboard considering that its misogynists that are the problem. And they can be found anywhere regretably. To those people who have told me that I should come down on the sexists as hard as I am coming down on Rachel. I don’t let that kind of thing pass on threads I’m on. I call people out on bullshit. I am in agreement with everyone here that misogyny isn’t to be tolerated.

    • Michael D. says

      All this damned stupid reactions to RW everytime she says something sensible makes me hate people.

      I think I can say that reading some of the crummy news that comes up makes me hate people. At the same time I love my familly friends and don’t really hate the random person next to me on the street. Just because I say something like I hate people doesn’t mean that I hate any one random person of group X.

      These things are situation and the meaning can change depending on the circumstance. Example hot/attractive vs hot/wearing 3 sweaters in the desert sun. I think the same thing applies here. Hate as in deep down bigotry and hate some of these people are really getting to me today.

      I’m personally tired of nit picking dictionary people with such thin skin. Makes me hate people… oh there I’ve gone and done it again….

  8. Mark says

    I think this is very insightful! This Reddit group lumps all Atheists together. People complain that “not all atheists are misogynists”… but then why are they sharing a Reddit group with the misogynists?

    We wouldn’t let people who joked about raping a 15 year old into our homes — so why would we share an online community with them? A shared disdain for religion isn’t enough of a basis for a community.

  9. says

    What Adam Lee said.

    And I think Rebecca Watson did the right thing by pointing this out.

    On the point about communities:

    One of the things that’s always bothered me about certain religious communities is the way religious leaders will appoint themselves as the spokespeople and then give their “official” opinion whenever a viewpoint is needed from the perspective of that particular faith. To make matters worse, you’re considered part of that community by parents from the time you’re born, and some parents don’t think their kids have any choice in the matter.

    It’s for this reason I think it’s important to let people make their own decisions about what community/communities they want to be a part of, rather than assuming which one they are a part of at birth. So, I do think atheists who have other things in common with each other can form a community, though bringing all atheists into one community would be impossible (and a bad idea even if it was possible).

  10. janine says

    …who has “no gods and no masters” (originally said by Margaret Sanger)…

    Wrong, mrianabrinson. Anarchists and some socialists have been using that phrase since the mid nineteenth century. And if I remember correctly, it was a French socialist who coined it.

    (And in case you are wondering, I will not treat you at all kindly. You earned my contempt.)

  11. says

    You know, sometimes I think some people like to single out certain people, for whatever reason, and give the hell, right or wrong, just because they can and they get a sense of enjoyment and a feeling of power out of such things. The only thing that matters is building themselves up and while tearing others down, just so they have a sense of power, real or not. I would hate to see what these individuals were like when they were religious, if they ever were, that is. They were probably some of the most rabid religious people and the pendulum has to swing from one extreme to the other, before it swings to center, if it ever does.

  12. Graham Martin-Royle says

    Sometimes I agree with RW, sometimes I don’t agree with her (and I’m certain that that fact does not cause her to have any sleepless nights). In this instance I think she is correct. We aren’t really much of a community, (let’s face it, the only thing that we can truly say we have in common is our disbelief in gods) but as a community we should try to make every one feel welcome.

    I was thinking earlier that when I first started out on the internet, it was easier. There were no videos, no photo’s, it was all text and you debated the contents of what was being said. What people looked like didn’t matter, what mattered was the argument being put forward. Then I took off my rose coloured specs and remembered what it was really like, Photo’s or not, the type of slime that have been posting about raping a 15yr old were about back then. The comments were as bad, the insults, the threats, etc. were just as bad.

    Videos and photos just give these people more ammunition, more of something to aim at. I don’t think this is just an atheist community problem, nor is it just an internet problem. These vermin are out there, they will come out of their holes to infest the public spaces whatever we do. The internet just gives them an easier way to pollute the planet. This is a problem for the human race.

    All we can keep on doing is to keep on calling them out on it.

  13. Amy Clare says

    Yeah. I know exactly what you’re saying. Imo whenever any group forms, norms of attitude/behaviour etc start developing (which may mirror wider mainstream society, or not) and anyone who finds themselves outside those norms gets a negative reaction.

    Such as, in a feminist online community I was involved with – they called themselves a ‘collective’ as it happens – I was treated badly for being an outspoken atheist and I chose to leave that community because I felt unwelcome. They seemed to have an unwritten rule of ‘don’t criticise religion’, which I couldn’t go along with.

    I’ve also been treated badly in online atheist communities for being a feminist and speaking up about sexism, so it swings both ways. I stopped going to a local skeptics meet up because there was a particularly misogynist man there. And so on.

    It can be very disillusioning. But having said that, I know that change can only be achieved if people work together on stuff. Which I suppose is why before walking away (IF we do) from a group of people we share a belief or philosophy with, we try hard to make them see our point whether that’s about misogyny or anti-atheism or whatever.

    I’m not sure what my point is, just that I find it a difficult balance sometimes between saying I am part of a group (or community) and not wholly conforming to that group. Getting hostile reactions from people you thought were allies is tough. But finding new people who are on your side feels great.

    • I amafreeman says

      What you have shared is common among the human race. This is why I don’t call myself anything and do not, nor want to, join any group; that, and I wouldn’t join any group that would have the likes of me as a member.

      Not certain who said that or said it FIRST, and don’t really care.

  14. Art says

    When you look at people as a single label you don’t really get much useful information looking at just this one facet of their personality and behavior. Atheists, like any other group can be good/bad/indifferent to your way of thinking in all other facets.

    It would surprise me is atheists weren’t slightly more misogynist in their assumptions. Atheists tend to be more concentrated in engineering, medicine and science, all of which are historically male dominated fields. If you spend most of your time around men and are habituated there is going to be a tendency to have unexamined attitudes and assumptions that are characteristic of those fields.

    This is really uncontroversial. It is like saying that if you grew up in China you have a pretty good chance of being familiar with, and comfortable within, Chinese culture.

    That isn’t to say that those assumptions are justified, fact based, correct, or fair. Misogyny isn’t fair. But it is real. Exposing it and complaining about it are fair enough undertakings, a lot of it is based in unexamined cultural assumptions and beliefs, but, as with most things, you are going to have to select your battles and fight from the outside in.

    Change is always slow and hard. Misogyny has been the cultural air we breath for thousands of years. Most of the early female centered cultures, Minoans come to mind, were wiped out early. Had they lasted as major power misogyny might not be so deeply rooted. It was the dominance, hegemony, of male centered cultures and religions that allowed it to become the working baseline assumption of most of the world.

    Reversing that might take a couple thousand years of dedicated effort.

  15. says

    I think Adam Lee’s comment above cuts to the heart of the matter.

    Why are sexually abusive comments tolerated when a (possible) over-generalization by a feminist stating a real problem runs up against some virtual zero-tolerance policy?

    Why do so many people have a much thicker skin concerning sexist statements than they do when it comes to feminist statements?

    I’m reminded of Blue Collar Atheist’s recent “Broken Glass” post.

    The only excuse for sexism is historical primacy.

    Even if “We are not an atheist community”, it seems to me that we should be a community historical primacy is open to question.

  16. Wes says

    We can only dictate our own behavior and hope that it is an example to others. Disparaging someone (i.e. call them an asshole)does not nor will ever actually change their offending behavior. In fact, most of the time the person in question could really give a crap about the person who said it. It may make you feel better but has no real lasting effect.
    In my experience, most misogynists are actually intimidated by women and sexual equality. I think they fear society will place even more people ahead of them on the hierarchy of life.

  17. Shiroferetto says

    Blah blah blah blah blabbity blah.

    I’ve read enough Reddit and r/atheism and Freethought Blogs now to get a really awesome picture of what’s going on.

    You know what? Whether you agree or disagree with Rebecca Watson’s brand of feminism or atheism doesn’t matter one little friggin’ bit.

    Whether Sanger coined a phrase or didn’t doesn’t matter in the slightest.

    Whether men feel threatened when the word “misogyny” is used doesn’t matter.

    Whether someone can spell the last name “Myers” doesn’t matter. (By the way, though I’ve seen it a thousand times, I still misspell it frequently. To me, it should have another e in there somewhere…)

    What REALLY ACTUALLY TRULY matter is that ACTUAL CRIMES (look it up) were committed against a 15 year old girl, and thanks to the whistle blowers of “this community,” those pedophile fucktards have been reported to the FBI.

    That’s right. Someone on Darwin’s green earth actually, oh, went and did something about an ACTUAL CRIME COMMITTED AGAINST A MINOR.

    So keep talking about how you don’t respect this person or that person, or how somebody did or didn’t say this or that… Meanwhile, I’ll be having chats with the FBI about pedophiles who COMMITTED A CRIME.

    Thanks for playing.

    • Martyn Hughes says

      Interesting post there.

      Yes, directing sexual material, whether they be visual or verbal comments at children via the net is a crime.

      Yes, it’s good members of that specific web-site reported the activity and yes it is good the authorities are involved.

      However, do we now cease to have a discussion, because A) We, ourselves did not report the crime or B) because you object to us not being quick enough to join reddit and report the crime?

      I get the gist of what you’re saying. We *chatter* as others *do*.

      Now others *have* I just want to say, thank you for informing us, and if you don’t mind – or even if you do – we will go back to the discussion we were having.

      Say hi to the FBI for me.

      Back to the topic at hand; I believe, SC (Salty Current), OM, made a valid point about ‘communities’.

      Whether it be the LGBT community or religious minority communities or black communities, often these ‘communities’ have been formed out of being marginalised by the wider society at large.

      And of course, Maryam is correct when she states that this exerts a lot of pressure on individuals within these communities.

      What we can take from this is the knowledge that there has never been such a thing as a homogenous community and there never will be.

      To believe otherwise could prove devastating. Lets try to focus on *us* as the individuals we are and not the ‘communities’ we’re allocated to.

      • Shiroferetto says

        Martyn, I see you talking a lot about community… but given that communities are inherently non-homogenous and that this fact will never change (since humans are individuals as well as members of communities), what can our imperfect community DO to prevent things like this happening again?

        What sort of actions should we be taking or should we have taken to keep members of the community safe?

        How can we as individuals act to better the community as a whole?

        What issues are most important to the community?

        It’s great talking about the makeup of the community so as to understand it better, but once that has been laid out, of what use is the information to the community at large?

        Should we be looking out for our own?
        Boycotting Reddit?
        Downvoting comments into oblivion when they are past offensive and into deranged criminality?
        Should the well-known bloggers keep an eye out for this sort of behavior in the future even if they are likely to get slammed for doing so? Is it their job? Do they have an actual responsibility?

        I think these are some good questions that need answering for the betterment of our forever-imperfect community.

        • Martyn Hughes says

          Hi there Shiroferetto,

          Wow, so many questions! I am not even going to pretend I have any or all of the answers.

          Going back to the Reddit site. I don’t know what it is. I am not a member of that site. I do trust however, that like most sites the reddit one has a *report abuse* button (and moderators) that people could have used to report the incident we’re talking about.

          I trust someone did. You said so yourself. The authorities are involved. Good.

          Also, you ask ‘Should the well-known bloggers keep an eye out for this sort of behavior in the future even if they are likely to get slammed for doing so? Is it their job? Do they have an actual responsibility?’

          I’m not sure what well-known bloggers you’re talking of exactly.

          I am going to assume – something I hate doing – that you mean freethought ‘bloggers’.

          Yes, all people who use any web-site should keep an eye out for the behaviour witnessed at reddit. Bloggers and readers alike.

          I don’t see why anyone would be ‘slammed’ for doing so though.


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