The Atheist Movement’s Future — My Latest for Splice Today

CN: Sexual misconduct

I have a love/hate relationship with the atheist movement. On one hand, I’ve experienced more grace, fellowship, and healing among my close-knit group of atheist podcaster friends than in a church. On the other, many prominent atheist activists have either been outed as sexual predators or tried to deny any problems within the movement. The latter has only intensified with the recent BuzzFeed article detailing the sexual misconduct allegations against Lawrence Krauss. While some organizations, like the American Humanist Association and the Center for Inquiry, have cut ties with Krauss, others feel most prominent atheist activists aren’t doing enough to address this issue.

For example, Seth Andrews of The Thinking Atheist podcast, has received pushback for statements he made on social media regarding sexual misconduct in the atheist movement. While he did call Krauss’ behavior “inexcusable” in a Facebook post, he also referred to several friends of mine in the comment section as “extremists,” and claimed they believe in “a vast conspiracy of frontline male activists who don’t care about respect for and the safety of women.” One of these so-called extremists is Minnesota Atheist associate president Stephanie Zvan, who told me on my Bi Any Means podcast a few weeks ago about the history of prominent men in the atheist movement misusing skepticism as an excuse to not believe in women’s stories. While I’ve deliberately avoided online disputes with Andrews, I’m still disappointed at his poor response to those telling him misogyny in the atheist movement is a systematic problem.

The incidents involving Krauss and Andrews are just the latest examples in a long line of controversies—Elevatorgate, “Dear Muslima,” MythCon, etc.—that have stirred up heated debates about the atheist movement’s future. Some have left the movement altogether, some have formed smaller sub-communities, and others suggest the problematic elements of the movement are just a few bad apples. So where does the atheist movement go from here? Can the movement survive? If so, how?

Read the rest here.


  1. jazzlet says

    I aree whole heartedly with junking the white, male leaders, but there is a real problem for movements that want to have alternative stuctures. The Green Party in the UK started off having no leaders because they didn’t want to go down that hierachical route, but has ended up with designated leaders as the media just could not cope with no leaders. The Green Party decided on pragmatic grounds that if they wanted to get their message out, and to grow, they were going to have to have people in some roles that were familiar to the media, and to the general public. They have continued to emphase that these people do not have the power a leader in a traditional party would have, and it is slowly getting through to both the media and the country as a whole. I am not saying that one shouldn’t try, just that one needs to be aware of the problems when one wants to communicate outside the group and to develop structures to cope with that which don’t end up undermining the alternative structure.

    I also agree that there is a need for groups that serve different communities of atheists and I don’t see this as a problem, in fact I think it demonstrates that atheism is becoming more powerful as a movement. It is a commonly seen pattern when movements of any sort start to get beyond a certain size, in fact the development of the Green Party in the UK is a good exampe of that. The environmental movement had got big enough that a sub-set of those involved felt getting direct political power was an important objective and created the political party to do just that, with increasing success.

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