Miri Mogilevsky, blogger at Brute Reason, wrote an article called 5 Microaggressions Secular People Often Hear – And Why They’re Wrong, which appeared on Everyday Feminism. Rather than discussing the content of the article, I wish to point out the framing. Atheism is one social justice topic, just like any other. Miri doesn’t just refer to microaggressions, but also the language of privilege and oppression.
In contrast, consider how PZ Myers responds to an article written by Dennis Prager, a religious apologist. Prager is not so far off from the microaggressions in the listicle, but he’s not treated as such. Instead, he is another kook proudly showcasing his ignorance of atheism. He is an object of mockery and derision.
Going further back, consider how various bloggers responded to “10 questions for an atheist to answer”. One of the questions asks if we are free to murder and rape without God, which is taken straight out of Miri’s list. Bloggers chose to answer that one in earnest.
This makes me think about atheism, and its relation to social justice. In the past several years, there has been much discussion about whether atheists should address social justice issues, but sometimes I wonder why atheism isn’t itself considered a social issue already. Modern social justice discourse seems to include so many topics, from feminism to disabilities, to race, and sexuality. Atheism is different from any of the standard social justice topics, to be sure, but the standard social justice topics are all so different from each other.
It’s not as if being gay gives you any special insight into racism *cough*. Rather, to be taken seriously as a gay social justice advocate, you also need to know a little bit about all the other social justice topics. After all, some gay people are also disabled, trans, or of color, and gay advocacy should include those people. And yet, atheist activists are not expected to know a bit of every social justice topic, nor are social justice advocates expected to know a bit about atheism. This seems a shame.
Although, I can see why microaggressions aren’t a popular way to think about anti-atheist comments. So many myths and misconceptions about atheists are propagated in the context of debate. So when someone asks where we get our morals from, we take it as a rhetorical challenge rather than an expression of privilege. And if we were to treat it as an expression of privilege, outsiders would likely interpret our response as trying to dodge the challenge.
There’s also the obvious issue that many atheists are opposed to coexisting. As a gay person, I don’t have any particular wish that everyone else become gay, but as an atheist, I do advocate that everyone leave the major religions. I don’t want or expect religious people to be my “allies” in this goal.
Still, I think it is useful to think of atheism as another social justice issue, if only to provide one more lens to view our own cause.