Three views on social justice in atheism

Previously, I wrote a post framing social justice as a meta-movement, a movement which seeks to change how all other movements are run. Here I’ll talk about how that applies to atheism.

Why should the atheist community pay attention to social justice? The reasoning is quite elementary: The atheist community is a community. All communities should pay some attention to social justice. Therefore the atheist community should pay some attention to social justice.

Some atheists like to argue that social justice is beyond the scope of atheism. The argument goes that the community should take a neutral position, thus being inclusive of people with various relationships to social justice. However, this is missing the point. The “scope” of the community doesn’t really matter for the argument. All that matters is that it’s a community. As I said before, the same argument applies to the physics community, despite it being obvious that social justice is outside the scope of physics. The “neutral” position is not really neutral, but directly in opposition to the goals of social justice.

However, there are various degrees of “pay attention to social justice” which I describe below.

  1. Atheist organizations should incorporate about as much social justice as physicists do. That is, they should cultivate a healthy and diverse community by making sure to address issues of atheists who are part of minority groups.
  2. Atheist organizations aren’t a professional community, they’re activist networks. As such we might expect them to do more activist work for social justice, rather than simply cultivating a healthy community.
  3. Atheist organizations should be integrated into the social justice umbrella, just like feminist or queer organizations. Atheist organizations wouldn’t merely advocate for social justice, they would use social justice paradigms to understand their own problems and goals. Also, other social justice organizations would advocate for atheists.

I’ve seen ace communities fighting for #3 for a long time. Early on (circa 2011), that involved submitting workshops to queer conferences, and trying to educate queer activists and leaders about asexuality. It involved marching in pride parades. It involved arguing with homophobic AVENites, and acephobic LGB people. People still argue about it to this day, although I am unable to keep up with it any more.

The point is, it’s extremely obvious to me that atheists don’t do that.  Atheists have never made an attempt at #3, not even in their wildest dreams.  At most they seem to fight for #2.

To illustrate this, consider Atheism Plus, which was one of those wild dreams proposed in 2012.  Atheism Plus was not an attempt to integrate atheism and social justice, it was much more modest.  It was a proposed subcommunity of atheists that cared about social justice.  It did not amount to a proposal that atheism itself was a facet of social justice.  Atheism Plus received a tremendous amount of backlash even for these modest goals, and Atheism Plus no longer exists as an identifiable community (though the people and ideas are still around).

So, what would a more integrationist approach to atheism look like?

I’ve heard many atheists declare that atheism is the “last” oppressed minority, and I want to make it very clear, that’s not what an integrationist approach looks like.  If they truly believed that atheism were an oppressed minority, then they would do more to interact with existing minority group activists.  They would, at the very least, have an understanding of what “oppression olympics” are, and why they’re strongly discouraged among activists.

For a better example of an integrationist approach, I performed a search for atheism articles on Everyday Feminism, which turned up several articles.  Note several things: They appear in a location where they’re likely to be seen by social-justice-minded people.  They reframe atheist issues using social justice language and concepts.  And finally, they offer connections between atheist issues and other social justice issues.  Yeah, so this is the sort of thing I’d like to see more of.

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