Since I’m best known for being an ace blogger, perhaps a few of you expect me to explain asexuality, preferably in an easily digestible blog post, preferably in listicle format. Pffff, wait your turn. Have you considered that I have ace readers, and the ace readers want to hear me vulgarize atheism instead?
What is atheism?
Atheism is defined as the lack of belief in gods. This definition, of course, is a political fiction.
It’s widely claimed that someone who believes in the supernatural but not in gods doesn’t really count. It’s also widely claimed that agnostics who act like there are no gods are really just atheists. We also like to make lots of generalizations, like saying atheists are pro-science and anti-religion. From the real-life usage of “atheist”, we must infer a second distinct meaning. An atheist is someone who has a lot in common with the modern atheist movement.
You might notice that atheists have nearly zero respect for self-identity. If you’ve ever worried that the freedom to self-identify as asexual has muddled up it’s meaning, let me tell you. Removing the value of self-identity doesn’t help at all! Muddled meanings are a fact of life.
What is this atheist movement?
The atheist movement has been around for a long time, but arguably its modern form was created by 9/11. The movement really made it to the public eye when, in the following years, many 9/11-inspired atheist books were published. Now, there are an incredible number of atheist nonprofit organizations. Stealing from Greta Christina’s list, these include Foundation Beyond Belief, Secular Student Alliance, American Humanist Association, Freedom From Religion Foundation, American Atheists, Black Nonbelievers, Hispanic American Freethinkers, Secular Woman, and countless others. There are also thousands of meetup groups around the world, more than I can track in my local area. And finally, we have quite the online presence, with at least four major blogging networks being just the tip of the iceberg (the iceberg being Facebook, Reddit, YouTube, forums, and so on)
Compare to aces, who have only two non-profit organizations that I know of: AVEN and Asexual Outreach. Around here there is only one meetup group that meets in a cafe monthly. And the closest thing to a blogging network is a group blog launched by yours truly.
Despite all this, atheists are strangely insistent that there is no atheist movement, or that atheists are especially disorganized. There’s a saying that organizing atheists is like herding cats. Basically what I’m saying is that some atheists are full of it.
What do atheists want?
Broadly speaking, the atheist movement opposes religion and supernatural beliefs on the grounds that they are incorrect and that they are harmful. Like with the ace community, the atheist movement is international but US-dominated, so Christianity and Islam tend to be the biggest focuses. The harms range from personal (e.g. the difficulty of coming out) to political (e.g. the religious right). I’m not going to go through a list here.
Atheists also stand for the right to speak up, to be confrontational. This can be difficult to understand from an ace perspective, since ace activism is primarily about peacefully coexistence and mutual appreciation of each other’s experiences. But demanding peaceful coexistence from atheists is like demanding peaceful coexistence from liberals and conservatives. Atheists and religious people can interact with varying degrees of civility, but civility is not a positive value in every context. I am not one of the “good ones” for being civil, I’m just responding to my personal context.
Finally, atheists just want to do what’s good for the world as we see it, independently of whether or not any religious people want the same things. For example, we support science education, liberal politics, and social justice. Or at least some of us do. Historically, the atheist movement has been dominated by white men–and I think you know where this is going. There are a lot of non-religious, non-male aces around, so probably some of you have experienced atheist sexism first-hand.
Like with asexuality, atheism has a bunch of associated identities. Off the top of my head, there’s agnostic, humanist, skeptic, rationalist, secularist, godless, freethinker, naturalist, apatheist, apostate, anti-theist, anti-religious, non-religious, non-theist, non-believer, and bright. But the nature of these identities is quite different. Where most asexuality-associated identities try to be increasingly specific, atheist-associated identities try to be very broad, encompassing significant segments of the movement.
As a result, the definitions of these identities often fail to convey what is truly important about them. The important thing is, who adopts these words, who emphasizes them, and for what functions? For example, both “rationalist” and “skeptic” are roughly defined as being in favor of reason and evidence, a rather mundane definition if I ever saw one. However, “rationalist” is most commonly adopted by a particular community strongly influenced by Eliezer Yudkowsky, while “skeptic” is adopted by a community which places emphasis on opposing strange beliefs outside of gods.
To my atheist readers, I hope that wasn’t too boring explaining stuff you already knew (you did know it, right?). To my ace readers, I hope you enjoyed turning the tables, and that it helped you better understand some of the bizarre things about the atheist movement.
What’s that, you wanted me actually educate people about asexuality? I suppose I can copy and paste something later.