Atheist movement needs disagreements to grow and flourish

I believe that continuing debates and public disagreements are necessary for any movement to grow and flourish. It is very much true about atheist movement too. Otherwise it will become as stagnant as religions.

P Z Myers addressed this issue recently in a post. His writing was in response to this article in Patheos by David Smalley titled “What is killing the atheist movement “.

The gist of David Smalley’s article as far as I could understand is most of the disagreements with in the Atheist community can be solved by talking in private. Going public about the disagreement will harm the fight against religious orthodoxy.


Like PZ, I cannot agree with this attitude of not airing the disagreement publicly. If some one in the Atheist community came out publicly with a view that you cannot agree with, it’s always better to say it publicly while explaining in detail the reasons for your disagreement. Also how can a big rift in opinion on how to tackle serious social issues can be bridged by a phone call ?

The problem with private conversation (which I experienced recently) is no one will ever know that some people have disagreement with publicly held views of atheist leader x or y, unless x or y himself decides to change his views acknowledging the criticism. And that never happens.

Your disagreement may be right or wrong, but let it be debated publicly. Atheist movement is not a Communist party to hush up all disagreements. It’s not a religion were the high priest is unquestionable.

PZ writes :

The second part is that the things I think important are disparaged by these same atheists: feminism, equality, social justice. So when I encounter some dudebro atheist jerkoff spitting on feminism, you’re not going to persuade me to go easy on him in the name of unity over our shared agreement that god doesn’t exist. When someone declares their indifference to the murder of a transgender woman, I’m not going to resist the temptation to unfriend them on facebook because, gosh, we both laughed at an irreligious George Carlin routine.

I’m also not going to sit back and let someone else tell me what’s important to me, and trivialize the causes I consider essential, asking me to silence myself about misogyny or racism because darn it, this year we’re going to get “In God We Trust” off of our pennies…..

I had also seen many atheists who agree with me in private but is afraid to voice their difference in public.

PZ has this to say about it :

…Also, what sounds to me more like church is demanding quiet deferral to authority and a conspiracy of silence, in the name of the sacred cause, to protect the powerful and popular.

This is all just the tired old “civility” debate rehashed again. Not interested. I’m also not interested in discussing nothing but the existence of gods with atheists, where that issue is already settled, especially when it’s used as an excuse to avoid grappling with substantial human concerns. Fuck civility when we’ve got atheists who think the humanity of women or transgender individuals or non-white males in general is something we need to debate.

However PZ seems to be little pessimistic about the rifts in atheist movement. I am more optimistic about it. I feel such rifts show that the movement is becoming more mainstream and growing. As more and more theists become atheists, I am hoping that more and more atheists will understand the issues of oppression and privileges (due to gender,race, caste etc) and thus become Humanists.


  1. kestrel says

    I give this post two thumbs up and I sincerely hope you are right about atheism becoming more mainstream and growing!

  2. Menyambal says

    I disagree!

    No, just kidding.

    I think we need to put our disagreements in writing, and work through them transparently. That way we can all see what’s happening, and participate or learn. Keeping things private would be very hard, these days. Showing the world that we disagree in a reasonable fashion, and that we resolve our differences or live with them, would be a good example.

  3. Garrett says

    I totally agree.

    Why would you argue privately about important public matters of basic philosophy and values? That doesn’t help anyone. Also in what other circumstances does the general atheist community actually think that’s a good idea?

    Don’t publicly insult woo-peddlers on your blog! You and Jenny McCarthy agree on much more things than you disagree (e.g., the color of the sky, the capital of France, ice cream is delicious, etc.) Call her on the phone and work things out.

    As a final plea , if you disagree with something in this comment, please, please, please don’t call me to discuss it. I hate talking on the phone.

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