The ghost of atheist past

A few days ago, PZ Myers pointed to Atheist Day, a new annual event sponsored by Atheist Republic and a handful of other organizations.  PZ didn’t care for the idea, and described Atheist Republic as

very 2005

Glancing at Atheist Republic‘s website I thought this description was apt.  However, I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing for an atheist organization to be 10+ years behind the times.  Let me expand that thought.

Last month I looked at some postmortems of the atheist movement, and there were two main themes: 1) atheists screwed up on social justice issues, and 2) atheism is simply declining in relevance as a personal identity.  The atheist movement is dead to me, because I lived through the entirety of the atheist gender wars, and also because I live in a location where nobody cares that I’m an atheist.  However, it stands to reason that this is dependent on your personal background and geographic location.  A social movement doesn’t just go poof, and there will definitely be hangers-on for a long time to come.

I would caution against the assumption that the hangers-on are hanging on because they’re anti-feminist or what-not.  If they’re avid fans of Sam Harris, that’s one thing.  But Atheist Republic followers?  Seems doubtful.  When I left my last atheist group in 2017, most of the members of that group were not especially feminist, but neither were they anti-feminist.  It was like, they’d never even heard of Elevatorgate, you know?  Kids these days!

Let’s take a moment to look at Atheist Day in more detail.  It’s described as “an atheist coming out day” and “a global event”.  And they created a new atheist symbol, a green circle.  Top-down attempts to make community symbols are easy to mock.  But perhaps it’s not really any different from the Dawkins-endorsed Out Campaign in 2007, which also came with its very own symbol, the scarlet A.  Atheist Republic really is retreading history.

But something’s different about Atheist Day.  They’re pushing a particular angle:

On March 23rd we shall take a stand for our right to be treated equal and for those of us in countries where atheists are persecuted and live under a threat of death.

There’s an emphasis on severe oppression and persecution, of the likes not seen in California.  They also have a video of someone explaining the event in English, interspersed with another language (I’m guessing Arabic).

This confirms my suspicions, that while the atheist movement has died for me, it may live on for people of different backgrounds and geographic locations.

In general, the atheosphere has not been very cognizant of differences between nations.  Here on the internet, everyone mixes together, where “everyone” refers to just a few countries with good internet access and English fluency, and nobody bothers to think about who’s missing.

As an ace blogger, I tend to learn a lot more about ace communities in other languages.  I can tell you that in many languages, it really is like they’re behind by a decade.  But there are also some languages (Japanese and Russian) that have their own independent histories that caused them to develop in different ways.

What the fuck have I ever learned about the atheist community in, say, the Philippines?  Absolutely nothing.  Thanks, atheists. *grumble grumble*

So, what’s my relationship with this ghost of atheist past, this atheist movement ten years out of time?  There is none.  They don’t care what I think, I don’t care what they think.

I dislike them to the extent that I dislike all the foibles of the early atheist movement.  But also, I think they deserve the space to make their own mistakes.  Imagine you took part in a social movement, and then some time-travelling folks from ten years in the future came to tell you all the things you’re doing wrong. Would you find that helpful, or would you tell them to piss off?  I fear that they will retrace the steps of the old new atheists, including all the shitty stuff, but there’s no guarantee of that, and anyway it’s their own damn problem.


  1. wanderingname says

    Took a look around the website. It looks more international, centralised and media savvy. And you’re right about it having a clearer focus and identity. It has potential, but I’m not sure what direction it’ll head in.

    It’s founder, Armin Navabi, seems to be a very particular person. He doesn’t seem self centred, but he does seem to be a very rigid person.

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