Half full or half empty? Lemonade or dishwater?

Crommunist on the other hand is optimistic.

Three years ago, when I first entered the atheist blogosphere, basic 101-level social justice was well outside the mainstream. There was a small number of voices articulating positions that did not fall into the bread-and-butter topics of evolution, cosmology, and theology. Now, mainstream atheist forums like Reddit’s r/atheism is often (half-jokingly) derided for being synonymous with r/LGBT insofar as the fight for recognition of gay rights dovetails the fight against religious domination of public life, and the popularly-shared links reflect that. The community at large is (always too slowly) realizing that atheism is a social justice issue, and that our struggle is a similar struggle to that of gay people, people of colour, women, trans persons, people with disabilities, people with mental health issues… the list goes on.

I guess. I suppose I’d assumed the community at large knew that all along, and have been shocked to learn otherwise. It still creeps me out to see what apparently educated and in some sense thoughtful people will allow themselves (provided, usually, that they’re pseudonymous) to say, but that doesn’t mean we’re not winning.


  1. GordonWillis says

    I’m not sure that I’ve quite got that. I always thought that social justice was the issue, and that it subsumes “atheism…gay people, people of colour, women, trans persons, people with disabilities, people with mental health issues… the list goes on.” Indeed it does. And “my right to say that a woman has a smelly snatch” is not included. And it doesn’t have anything to do with atheism.

  2. says


    …that doesn’t mean we’re not winning.

    I most sincerely hope so. The eventual reign of sense and sanity is one hope I desperately cling to, but there are – oh! How there are – challenges. Consider the recent tweets from the assorted misogynists, uncouth and just a shade crazy, that we know and love so much.

    If the generally mindboggling idiocy weren’t enough, there is now this – “Atheism has nothing to do with feminism or pro-choice positions” – being endlessly retweeted by the lovable crowd.

  3. Brian says

    From the article linked in the tweet Kausik linked to (meta enough?):

    To note that atheism is consistent with something — such as ‘feminism and pro-choice positions — seems to be an empty statement.

    No, it’s a statment that the propositions involved do not entail a contradiction.
    P1. Atheism is the lack of belief or outright disbelief in gods and supernatural.
    P2. Feminism is the set of beliefs that follow from the proposition that both sexes are equal and there is no overarching reason or natural reason for descrimination between the two.

    That is not an inconsistent set. It would only be inconsistent if atheism entailed treating one sex badly compared to the other, or feminism entailed believing in gods or the supernatural. Pretty straight forward…

    What about feminists who are in opposition to abortion? Are these people also being ‘inconsistent?’
    Yes, but only because feminists argue that women have a right to make choices about their body, not because of atheism.

    While it’s possible that a position on one issue (namely that organized religion, as it seems Marcotte believes, is harmful to women)

    And this guy doesn’t? What a tool.

    may lead one to be outspoken on another issue,
    In other words there’s nothing inconsistent here. It may not be logically entailed, but that’s not what consistency means.

    this in no way means that Marcotte’s lack of belief in any gods is ‘consistent’ with her feminist positions.

    Logic fail. Bad Justin. No cookie.

    I’d write a blog post, but meh. I saw this guy pop up recently on Massimo Piglucci’s blog whinning.

  4. Arthur says

    I’m with the posters who believe that social justice is the overall issue, and atheism is just one aspect within that.

    Social justice is more important to me than exposing some doob on YouTube who believes the earth is 6000 years old.

  5. says

    No problem. Not that long, and I don’t mind long ones anyway.

    Vacula’s the guy who told a very dishonest version of my withdrawal from TAM in a podcast. I don’t admire him much.

  6. says

    Massimo’s “bad stuff in the community” mentions:

    * Feminism is a form of unnecessary and oppressive liberal political correctness.

    Oh please, and yet, rather shockingly, I have heard this “opinion” from several fellow CoRers.

    * Feminists are right by default and every attempt to question them is the result of oppressive male chauvinism (even when done by women).

    These are people who clearly are not up on readings in actual feminism (did you know that there have been several waves of it? With which do you best connect?).

    Is it just my imagination, or is this a sign of progress?

    Curiously, Feminism is the only topic he mentions twice. The first item seems fine, the second – not so much. But does this attempt at false balance reveal the pressure on the community from Surly Amy’s collection and such?

    And separately, “Free Will” is a religious myth used (ironically) to control the flock.

  7. Arty Morty says

    I agree that the movement is becoming more social-justice-aware. But I think Redditors’ “half-joking” derision about all the LGBT talk (Crom’s words, not yours) is as much an example of the problems that still exist in the community as an example of progress.

    Within various atheism circles, I sometimes hear “half-joking” mutterings about the movement’s over-emphasis on LGBT issues; I think it’s a tell that even on the one social justice issue that the atheist community pretty much universally stands behind, it’s a grudging alliance for some atheists, prompted by convenience more than a genuine concern for the rights and dignity of LGBTs. An enemy-of-my-enemy kind of thing.

    LGBT issues like same-sex marriage and high school GSAs make for solid, plentiful ammunition against organized religion; pastors railing against gays make for quick, easy soundbites for atheists to rightly mock. But some atheists who loudly criticize religious homophobia will then turn around and make gay jokes (not to mention prison rape jokes) about child-rapist clergy, for example. Which adds to my impression that, for some of us, atheism still has nothing to do with social justice and everything to do with projecting intellectual superiority.

    Nevertheless, I do think things are getting better. If LGBT rights can act as a gateway to social justice issues in general for some atheists, which I think they do, hopefully the other social justice issues discussed here at B&W and FTB at large will open their minds further.

    Who knows… maybe in three years’ time r/atheism will be half-jokingly derided as synonymous with r/feminism. I guess that’s the way progress works?

  8. Dunc says

    Old existentialism joke: Some people say the glass is half full, others say the glass is half empty. I say that the glass is dirty and the milk is sour.

  9. says

    About 4 years ago I came to the conclusion that trying to decide the scope of atheism or skepticism (etc) was too limiting. There will always be arguments about what is in and out. And there will be arguments about some notional hierarchy, such as “is social justice or secular humanism or human rights what is really important”?

    I believe that these can be fitted into a framework of “Enlightenment”, if the latter is properly formulated. Being a highly analytical person, I made an attempt to do so. I have worked on the concept of “Dimensions of Enlightenment” since then, both on my blog (reached via my name above) and my website (reached via my blog). The dimensions are “cognition”, “knowledge”, “empathy”, and “governance”. I have tried to sketch what are the enlightened and unenlightened positions in each dimension.

    Much of the concerns here are with failures of empathy. (For example, a post on my blog last September “A message of support for Rebecca Watson” noted that much of the problem, especially with the response to the original problem, to be unenlightenment along the empathy dimension).

    I’m not claiming to have solved anything. I am trying to find a better way of fitting together all of these various concerns, and being able to make better judgments of people, organisations, and viewpoints, etc. If nothing else, it gives me a framework for a personal morality, given that I would like to think of myself as (at least a bit) enlightened.

    I would like to promote what I have written as a contribution to the discussion, especially as a way of showing that all of us are really fighting a “War for Enlightenment”, taking place over generations. Please have a look at what I have written, if only to tell me how naive I am!

  10. says

    @Rob (whispers so as not to be part of derailment) that might have been derailing, but it was bloody brilliant! Thanks for pointing to that —

  11. callistacat says

    “Feminism is a form of unnecessary and oppressive liberal political correctness.”

    No, it’s a civil and political rights movement, necessary because people always seem to forget that women are part of the human race, and not a “special interest group.”

    What the hell does “politically correct” mean anyway? Maybe I’m dense, but no one has ever actually explained that to me. I asked a co-worker who used it once in that same sneering manner and he looked confused, then his face turned red and he quickly changed the subject. Does it mean being consistently for political rights for all people and not being hypocritical about it? Does it mean what’s popular or fashionable politically in different time periods?

    “Civil rights include the ensuring of peoples’ physical and mental integrity, life and safety; protection from discrimination on grounds such as physical or mental disability, gender, religion, race, national origin, age, status as a member of the uniformed services, sexual orientation, or gender identity; and individual rights such as privacy, the freedoms of thought and conscience, speech and expression, religion, the press, and movement.

    “Political rights include natural justice (procedural fairness) in law, such as the rights of the accused, including the right to a fair trial; due process; the right to seek redress or a legal remedy; and rights of participation in civil society and politics such as freedom of association, the right to assemble, the right to petition, the right of self-defense, and the right to vote.

    “Civil and political rights form the original and main part of international human rights. They comprise the first portion of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (with economic, social and cultural rights comprising the second portion).”


  12. says

    601 – oh, no, I don’t think so. I don’t think Massimo is aligned at all with the anti-feminist crowd. I’ve never seen anything from him that would suggest that.

  13. says


    The second item “Feminists are right by default… / …not up on readings in actual feminism…” seems like an attack on the so-called “Sisterhood + Chorus.”

    Maybe I should be more charitable in my reading of this?

    I would say feminists generally are right by default, because equality.

  14. says

    601 – ah that part. Yes. I don’t think he meant it that way. Feminism does have a lot of factions and I (for one) certainly don’t agree with all of them. I think difference feminism boils down to anti-feminism with a smiley face.

    I’m on the women studies mailing list and I disagree with many of the things said there. Academic feminism tends to be way too relativist for me – that’s another reason I make a point of being a liberal universalist.

    See the brouhaha over Adele Blavatsky-Wilde’s article on the burqa at The Feminist Wire for an example of the kind of thing. FW published it and then got pushback from people claiming it was racist (which is nonsense) so they unpublished it and then kicked her out. It was revolting.

  15. patterson says

    “What the hell does “politically correct” mean anyway?”

    I remember in the 80’s hearing that it was originally a Maoist term, that was unfortunately adopted by leftists academics as part of their attempt to make everything sound ridiculous.

    I was active in a CD group in the 80’s and became a little jaded after having to listen to academic socialists destroy meeting after meeting, with endless speeches and obtuse terminology. All I remember of their arguments is that non-violent civil disobedience is actually a form of violence and ruins it for everyone. This was of course pre-1999 Seattle after which, CD became cool and the same people who had called on the police to arrest us for ruining “their” demos started giving workshops on CD.

    Anyway like I said I don’t have a very favorable view of the academic left, but what can you say about the idiots who made bigotry cool again by calling it politically incorrect.

  16. says

    [Ophelia]: See the brouhaha over Adele Blavatsky-Wilde’s article on the burqa at The Feminist Wire for an example of the kind of thing. FW published it and then got pushback from people claiming it was racist (which is nonsense) so they unpublished it and then kicked her out. It was revolting.

    Opposing burqas is not racist. That seems kind of obvious to me, since the mere opposition to something has nothing to do with the motivating factors.

    However, some of the ways in which people try to oppose burqas are fairly naive (if not culturally biased). I cannot see, for instance, how making burqas illegal works to eliminate them in a cultural context that deems them essential for women. Trying to stop a practice by punishing the people negatively impacted by it has always seemed exactly inverted to me.

    It’s one thing to make it illegal to force someone to wear something, and something entirely different to make it illegal to wear it. If we’re serious about solutions, we should always target the oppressor. Trying to instigate change by antagonizing the oppressed is very unlikely to work and often the equivalent of asking someone to sacrifice their life for a cause.

  17. says

    @Ophelia #18

    I don’t think he meant it that way.

    Ok, I’ll give Massimo the benefit of the doubt on this one. Which seems appropriate since that was the whole point of his “play nice on the internets” post.

    Regarding Adele Blavatsky-Wilde and the burqa / niqab issue:
    The concept of denying someone freedom because they don’t really have it anyway, pushes the first amendment to the breaking point. I’m sympathetic to each of the issues, liberty, oppression, and racism. Yet I still struggle to find the balance point.

  18. says

    kagerato – yes, but nothing I said implied otherwise, so why say that? Adele’s article wasn’t a plea to ban the burqa.

    I haven’t read it, so I’ll take your word for what it says. I can pretty much guarantee that some of the respondents (mis)interpreted it that way.

    The reason I brought it up is merely that a few feminists who ought to know better have advocated for the ban. I admit the connection to the current context is tangential at best.

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