Earlier, when I was talking about the death of the New Atheist movement, and I mentioned the idea that New Atheism contained an implicit critique of social justice norms. In social justice, it is common to treat religion as just another axis of oppression, similar to race, gender, or orientation. Religious minorities, such as Muslims, are seen as an oppressed group. However, New Atheism problematized the social justice framing by pointing to the harm caused by religion. New Atheism wanted to make it socially acceptable to argue about religious beliefs.
So, I’m curious how this all rolled out, especially among readers who participated in New Atheism and then shifted towards social justice. How did you view religious minorities around five years ago? Have your views changed since then? If so, why?
I wanted to begin with an analogy between religious and political minorities, both of which are belief-based minorities. For example, conservatives are a minority in California. I observe that most social justice people would hesitate to treat conservatives in California like a marginalized group. So there’s a question of whether there’s a breakdown in the analogy, and where.
But perhaps the analogy suffers from a lack of consensus for how to treat political minorities. What good is an analogy if it analogizes a situation we don’t agree on to another situation that we also don’t agree on?
My attitude has been, and continues to be, that religion causes a great deal of harm, and it is important to have space to argue against it. The silence surrounding religion often benefits the religious majority, because it is the atheists who are seen as the “offenders” for bringing up religion, while the religious majority usually gets a pass. When people complain that atheists are too shrill, this is a form of tone policing, and stereotyping too.
On the other hand, having space to argue against religion does not mean harassing people who are unwilling to argue. It does not mean laying the deeds of extremist Muslims at the feet of rando Muslims. It does not mean discriminating against Muslims, or blocking refugees. And if you’re going to argue against Islam, you owe it to Muslims to understand their position as a minority group in the US and Europe, and the implications of that.
So, I’m taking a middle view. Muslims are an oppressed minority group in the US and Europe, and should be treated as such. But we should be free to argue against religions–Islam included. It’s all a matter of context. In some contexts, arguing against Islam is appropriate, in other contexts it’s inappropriate.
One thing that has changed for me over the years, is that more and more, it seems I live in a context where arguing against religion is inappropriate. Especially as I’ve taken a community leader role in the ace community, I don’t want to chase religious people away. Anyways, I don’t even like arguing about religion that much. I’m in favor of it in the abstract, but I have better things to do.