So we had this hangout last night to talk about various things, including Atheism+, and while it was fun and interesting, I don’t think we really answered the questions lurking in everyone’s heads: we wandered about a bit too much. If I were to do it again, I think I’d want to have the panel answer some more specific questions about it all.
But there were lots of questions and comments on the youtube channel and on Google+ during and after, and they weren’t all idiotic! (OK, most of the youtube comments were from idiots, but some were good.) So I thought I’d answer a few here.
Can someone explain to me what is A+?
Nope. Lots of people can give you their opinions, but it is only starting to coalesce. There are no leaders, no organization behind it, no money, no coercive power at all. It’s entirely spontaneous. Currently it’s little more than a label.
It’s an emergent movement, bubbling up out of resentment at some of our atheist “allies” who turn out to be regressive thugs. We can’t very well kick them out of the atheist movement — none of us have that power, and they legitimately are real genuine atheists who just happen to also be assholes. And some of us don’t like associating with them.
Imagine a great big party with a lot of diverse attitudes present, and you discover that a few of the invited attendees are also hooligans who wander about calling everyone “cunts” and slapping derrieres and telling women to stop being so sensitive, it was only a quick fondle. Also they smell bad. We’re the segment of the party that’s decided to go off to the library and enjoy some good conversation with the interesting people.
Question: What’s the difference between “Atheism+” and “Secular Humanism”? Is the first one encompassing people online?
Now that’s a really good question. There shouldn’t be a difference.
I think, though, it’s an accident of culture. Unfortunately, a lot of the perspective on secular humanism in the US is tainted by association. The atheist movement has benefited from a surge of enthusiasm that has already brought in a more diverse group of people, especially younger people; humanist meetings here tend to be demographically older (this is definitely less true in Europe). In addition, there is the influence of the Harvard Humanists, who infuriate a lot of us atheists: there is the perception that they want to shape humanism to ape religion. Most of us atheists are post-religionists, and we want nothing to do with a movement that borrows so heavily from religious traditions.
But otherwise, there isn’t a huge difference. Atheism+ could fade away, and it’s proponents could instead populate and energize a New Secular Humanism. I’m not entirely in favor of that, because that would then leave the growing, exciting atheist movement in America as a bastion of libertarians and jerks, and then the name of atheism would continue to be anathema. I’d rather remain within atheism and push it to be more progressive.
The Atheism+ idea really has been evolving for a while, and I think part of it is that there are elements of the New Atheist movement we like, and also elements of Humanism and Ethical Culture that we really like, and we want a more perfect movement that better reflects everything we want. If you want to see more of the roots of Atheism+, you might look at Greta Christina’s post on why atheism demands social justice, and also I published something earlier this month that said very similar things.
I propose that we adopt a third wave of atheism, a socially conscious, activist atheism that combines humanism with the assertiveness of new atheism, that joyfully embraces science and reason and uses them to advance society. And by advancing society, I mean much more than the materiel advancement of science and technology — we need greater equality, and we need a deeper appreciation of diversity. We need everyone to participate in building a stronger, more peaceful, more progressive culture — one that recognizes that all of us should have equal opportunities.
Both Greta’s and my article were published in Free Inquiry, which is kind of interesting…did Tom Flynn know he was recruiting radicals when he signed us on?
But even there I was dithering about the issues of the differences between this Third Wave and secular humanism: atheism here and now is definitely more assertive than humanism, and I like that. But then, of course, humanists can be and are pretty damned assertive — I was humanist of the year for American Humanists and the IHEU, after all.
Atheism+ is nothing more but Secular Humanism with a religious mentality
Uh, no. There’s no religious mentality at all in Atheism+. As I said above, look at the Harvard Humanists, or Alain de Botton, if you want to see a religious mentality. (And I emphasize again, being a secular humanist does not mean you automatically have a religious mentality at all.)
Based on some of the comments made on some of the A+ vs. Humanism threads, I’m afraid that in the zeal to promote A+ Humanism is getting a bad rap and all Secular Humanists are being judged based on the example of the Harvard Humanists. Not all humanists want to emulate religion, not all humanists want to build temples or conduct rituals. I whole heartedly support the values promulgated by A+ but worry about burning bridges with Humanist allies.
That’s a good comment, too. Let’s not do that. I think it’s entirely feasible that Atheism+ could evolve into Secular Humanism; marrying the atheist and humanist movements together would be a lovely outcome, I think. But I think you’re getting at the core here: it’s about values beyond science and denial of gods. People who are embracing Atheism+ as a label think atheism ought to similarly incorporate social values.
Aren’t the social justice goals of A+ already covered by existing movements? If no, in what ways are current groups insufficient?
This is not an argument that other groups aren’t doing their jobs. Minnesota Atheists, for instance, are supporters of the GLBTQ communities in our area: that does not imply that they think GLBTQ organizations aren’t as good as atheist organizations at promoting equality. We would defer to those organizations as the best tools to represent their communities. But atheists can still speak up and find common cause.
The alternative would be to reject or neglect these good groups. Why would we want to do that?
Im in that awkward position where i do agree with most of the values and dislike the misogynist idiots but see no value or reason to mix atheism and the other values. For me atheism just is the simple disbelief and my political values stand apart from it.
Now you see, that’s just stupid. There are lots of atheists who take this blinkered stance that atheism is just one specific idea about rejecting god-belief, and it has absolutely no philosophical foundation and should have no political or social consequences. And that’s nonsense. This commenter is deluding himself as thoroughly as any god-walloper.
If there is no god, if religion is a sham, that has significant consequences for how we should structure our society. You could argue over how we should shape our culture — a libertarian atheist would lean much more towards a Darwinian view, for instance, than I would — but to pretend that atheism is just an abstraction floating in the academic ether is silly.
My take on a healthy philosophy is creating a social contract of values and ethics that create and reinforce the emerging equality that brings forth the humanity that gives value to human life. Many profit from disparity, and in that inequality find reason to be antagonistic towards equality.
Yes. I’m a white male middle-class professional. I profit from disparity, and it simultaneously gives me guilt and worry that someone might take my privileges away from me. But I can’t in good conscience live in the illusion that I somehow deserve more than a poor black woman making ends meet with menial labor; I don’t. I’m just the recipient of the blessings of chance and history.
But I agree that a lot of people do not want to consider the idea of seeing others come up in the world, because that might bring them down. And there’s also the fact that we don’t discern status by an absolute appreciation of what we have, but by relative assessments with our neighbors. We are envious apes.
Atheism Plus is destined for failure. Dogma is a cancer and this “you’re either with us or against us” mentality is about as dogmatic as it gets. . As soon as you’ve booted out all the people that disagree with you, the group will devolve into factions and splinter even further. No thanks.
There’s a lot of this strange attitude going around. If Atheism+ is a dogma, can you recite its creed? Does it have a holy book? We can’t even do a good job of defining it right now!
Also, it can’t be about booting people out. It’s entirely opt-in. It’s like announcing that you think the Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan club is dogmatic because they all like Buffy, and that they’re being cruel to non-fans because they aren’t asked to join. It’s OK, guy! You can join, even if you like Spike better than Willow, and if you don’t give a damn about the stupid TV show, why are you complaining about not being in the fan club?
My whole point is that not everyone dismissed as a “misogynist” or “hate and rage filled asshole” by the Atheism+ crowd is actually anything of the kind. Sometimes that kind of response is aimed at people who simply have a reasonable disagreement with them, rather than the genuine trolls who are sending threats and abuse.
We get that a lot. In fact, I’d say it’s the source of most of the anti-atheist+ reaction: It’s a whole lot of cranky people saying that they aren’t sexist at all…they just think it’s fine to call women “cunts”, that Jim Jeffries is a hilarious comedian when he riffs on his contempt for women, that they just hate feminists, that we’re all just killjoys and cockblockers who want to interfere with their right to hit on women whenever they feel like it. But oh, no, they’re not misogynists. How dare we challenge their masculine privilege?
I have a suggestion for you. Read Manboobz. I know, if you’re the kind of guy who resents a privilege check of any kind, you probably already hate David Futrelle, but try. Follow the links. What you’ll discover is that there really are openly woman-hating misogynists out there, but also, that there are a lot of men and women who say extremely disturbing and stupid things about women who at the same time claim that they don’t hate women. And they don’t: they don’t hate women who fit their narrow, limited version of what a woman should be. It’s just those uppity, aggressive, rude feminist women that they think need to be raped into submission.
And that’s you, guy. And it’s all those other anti-feminists who turn apoplectic with fury whenever the issue of treating women as diverse human beings with personalities and intellectual interests and ambitious goals beyond worshipping your penis is brought up. It’s all of these stupid twits who infest youtube and every other online forum:
…. but FtB and Mini-Me, sorry Skepchick, have pretty much entirely abandoned atheist concerns in favor of becoming a feminist collective that is also nominally atheist.
Personally Feminism is dogmatic, bringing feminist ideals into atheism is the wrong thing to do. Looks like a wedge strategy to wrest control from “the boys club”.
You absolutely disgust me, the notion that I DON’T support diversity, care about tolerance, because I don’t want to be part of your clique. THAT is why people are ANGRY.
The atheist movement is for atheist concerns. It’s not a manatee for the parasitic feminists to glom onto. PZ’s enabled this for way too long; thankfully, other leaders are getting sick of his shit.
(A manatee? WTF?)
If you’re resentful that many atheists think that feminism is important, that we should be fighting for racial equality, that we think reason and evidence dictate that excessive income inequity does harm to the nation, that the gun madness needs to stop, or whatever social and political issue pushes your buttons, then tough. I’m not making you write legislation to increase spending for schools in poor neighborhoods. I’m not forming you up into squads going door to door to take away people’s guns. I’m arguing for the importance of those issues, and I’m finding allies who agree with me.
You don’t want to be one of those allies? Fine. But isn’t it really silly to complain about not belonging to a group with ideals you don’t agree with? Here’s your answer:
I think it would be fabulous if all the anti-A+ people committed themselves to social justice issues each and every day. No one’s going to be put out if A+ is proved to be unneeded in the long term.
I’m just going to end with a quote from my article in Free Inquiry, Atheism’s Third Wave.
Science is neutral on moral concerns; it only describes what is, now how it ought to be. And this is true; science is a tool that can be used equally well for curing diseases or building bombs. But scientists are not and should not be morally neutral, nor should scientific organizations or culture be excluded from defining the appropriate uses of science. Science without humanist moral standards leads to Mengele or the Hiroshima bombing or the Tuskegee syphilis experiments.
Similarly, atheism may be value-neutral, but atheists and atheist organizations should not be. Atheism sensu stricto may be a specific assertion about a fact of the universe, but atheism as practiced is a defining idea in a mind and a powerful foundation for a human community. It has meanings and implications that we must heed and use for achieving our goals.
And what should those goals be? Because I’m an atheist and share common cause with every other human being on the planet in desiring to live my one life with equal opportunity, I suggest that atheists ought to fight for equality for all, economic security for all, and universally available health and education services. Peace is the only answer; extinguishing a precious human life ought to be unthinkable in all but the most dire situations of self-defense. Ours should be a movement that welcomes all sexes, races, ages, and abilities and encourages an appreciation of human richness. Atheism ought to be a progressive social movement in addition to being a philosophical and scientific position, because living in a godless universe means something to humanity.
If you agree with that, you’re an atheist+. Or a secular humanist. Whatever. You’re someone who cares about the world outside the comforting glow of your computer screen. It really isn’t a movement about exclusion, but about recognizing the impact of the real nature of the universe on human affairs.
And if you don’t agree with any of that — and this is the only ‘divisive’ part — then you’re an asshole. I suggest you form your own label, “Asshole Atheists” and own it, proudly. I promise not to resent it or cry about joining it.
I just had a thought: maybe the anti-atheist+ people are sad because they don’t have a cool logo. So I made one for the asshole atheists.