Thanks for all the whatever that was

Tauriq Moosa has a beautiful, and deeply sad, post on a goodbye to all that about the atheist movement and what it had meant to an ex-Muslim.

I can’t escape the weird identity I have and it’s this identity which makes me so angry at the leading figures – i.e. white men – of a movement that changed my life. But I’m more fucking angry at the sycophantic nature of a movement that was supposed to have abandoned sanctity for reason and evidence.

I wanted to never speak about Richard Dawkins – or rather the environment that views him with infallibility.

I wanted to avoid saying anything about Sam Harris. I got what I wanted from their books – both books, which I loved and which had a profound, life-changing affect on me. For the better. Dawkins made it safe and sane for me to question and engage; Harris conveyed a civil focus on deep questions that required evidence to engage in. Hitchens conveyed beauty and brilliance in the secular outlook, which helped me engage with my parents as I left. It came at a time when my parents divorced, when I had no friends, and no direction. It was a confusing horrible mess, yet here was Dawkins waxing poetic about meaning, here was Hitchens pointing to poetry and to Salman Rushdie.

But those same tools they used to carve out a path now remain clutched firmly in their hands, with a refusal to cut out the poison that sits within so many of us.

And it didn’t have to be that way. They didn’t have to dig in their heels, they didn’t have to get furious whenever a woman dared to talk back. They didn’t have to use their fame and status to lay waste to everything around them.

Including me. Including bloody me. And I’m not the one with honorary degrees, renowned expertise, PhD’s, New York Times pieces, best-selling books. But it can still be me.

Because I’m a man, who has never experienced sexism, who doesn’t know what stupid, shitty, sexist, misogynist thing I might say – today, tomorrow (but hopefully never).

Because I don’t know everything.

Because I don’t know what phrasing might sound like; and, even if I didn’t intend to be a sexist shit, no matter how many articles I write against sexism, doesn’t excuse one (severe) fuckup. Digging in my heels indicates I care more about maintaining an image of infallibility than that I’m a critical person willing to admit:

“I stepped over the border of ignorance and into bigotry. I never intended to hurt or harm. I would never want to do that to friends or innocent people. Please accept my apologies for saying something fucking stupid. I deserve your reprimands for being another man saying something that sounds like it’s from the 18th century.”

Because I hope to never have friends who say I can never be sexist, never be wrong, because I’m their buddy.

It wouldn’t be so bad if they were friends who say “I’m surprised he said something sexist, I never would have expected that.” But to say “I’ve never heard him say anything sexist” and treat that as demonstrating total non-sexism? Oy.

As a brown person in the atheist movement, I’ve never felt particularly welcome. Seeing the tactics of white men defendng other white men from obvious bigotry that isn’t obvious to them – and, worse, seeing their sycophantic followers convey these men’s infallibility – has never made my view more entrenched: I want nothing to do with this “movement”.

I thank all these amazing people – yes, including Dawkins and Harris – for what they’ve done. I thank them from the bottom of my pathetic “social justice warrior” “feminazi” heart. But this is no longer a space I want to be part of when the first lesson they taught me – question yourself, question your most deeply entrenched views, question how you might wrong – is now no longer allowed to be applied to them.

Adam Lee continues to be called a liar, without anyone saying what he’s lying about. Ophelia who has been watching Dawkins and similar highly prominent folks for years is declared an opportunistic, click-bait blogger. Forget her books, her articles, her columns. Greta Christina gets told by Sam Harris’ fans that she should shut up about sexism (again, not Sam Harris’ fault, but the culture of inclusivity, which is my major focus). On and on, it goes. Silence, lies, betrayal. No. No more.

Goodbye to all that.




  1. Eric MacDonald says

    Well, that should nail the lid on the whole sordid business! Excellent piece from Tauriq Moosa. And, as you say, Ophelia, it didn’t need to be that way. And while I agree that we have different reasons (possibly overlapping) for being fed up with the new atheism, the main one, from my point of view, is the fact that there seems to have arisen an orthodoxy, which must never be questioned, whether this happens to be accusations of sexism advanced towards leading “darks” of the “movement”, or positive remarks about religion, or even suggestions that the critique of religious arguments need to be augmented or deepened. This growingly “ecclesiastical” structure (dare I say?) of the new atheism movement, to my mind, has the effect of subverting unbelief and scepticism itself. And I agree with Tauriq Moosa, mimicking Robert Graves, “Goodbye to all that.”

  2. Eric MacDonald says

    I should add that it is a scandal that Tauriq Moosa should feel isolated from the sceptical movement just on account of the colour of his skin. What is the matter with people? Women and dark-skinned people are persona no grata for atheists or sceptics?! What does this say about scepticism, if white males are unable to question the cultural presuppositions that go along with being both male and white???!!!

  3. Anthony K says

    Women and dark-skinned people are persona no grata for atheists or sceptics?!

    Objects, not subjects.

    If you missed it via Ophelia Benson via Dana Hunter, here’s Libby Anne:

    Frankly, I feel used. These atheist activists are the sort of people who want to use my story as proof that religion is horrible to women but aren’t willing to listen to what I have to say about sexism in our culture at large. They are the sort of people who are eager to use the shooting of young education activist Malala Yousafzai by the Taliban to prove how horrible religion is for women but somehow fail to mention that Malala is a Muslim who speaks of drawing her inspiration to fight for gender equality from the Koran. This is not standing up for women. This is exploiting women as merely a tool in a fight against religion.

    I’m done. I’m so, so done.

    Read the whole thing.

  4. moarscienceplz says

    What is the matter with people? Women and dark-skinned people are persona non grata for atheists or sceptics?!

    I’m an old(er) white dude, so i am probably going to say something incredibly ignorant here. Anybody who has the spoons to go to the trouble to point out to me which stupid things I shouldn’t have said, please bear in mind that I mean well. 🙂

    I’m a member of the Atheist Community of San Jose (California). I am pleased to report that, based on my uncalibrated eyeballs, over 1/3 of our regularly attending members are female. This is still too low, but I think it’s a good start.

    Gay/Straight/Lesbian/Transgender ratios I can’t comment on, because I have never asked. Maybe this is a failing on my part? I just have never thought one’s position on this spectrum mattered much vis-a-vis one’s opinion about the (non)reality of supernatural entities.

    Racial minorities are, unfortunately, still very underrepresented. I think a big part of this is the stratification of the Bay Area as a whole. Blacks are pretty strongly ghettoized to the east bay area. Hispanics are economically segregated, often to jobs that require night shifts, so they are often unable to attend our evening meetings. Asians are also mostly missing, but I’m not sure why. My understanding is that their socializing is often strongly family-centric; perhaps this ties them to traditional belief systems and makes exploring atheism more difficult?

    So, yes, at least in the group I have experience with, we are still far too male, white, and ex-Christian. But I hope that those people who are not inside that Venn circle, and yet are still able to transcend the external forces that push them away, don’t feel unwelcome when they do manage cross our threshold.

  5. Jeff Engel says

    What defines a movement? To me, it’s a group of people acting in some association for some common purpose. If you’re not off to be a hermit or rigorous iconoclast, if you’re still working and associating with someone toward that common purpose, you’re still a part of a movement. You may still – sometimes, you SHOULD still – mark yourself off from certain people and certain institutions when you can no longer work with them, when you no longer care to associate with them, or when you find there isn’t a genuine common purpose anymore.

    But when you’re striding away from jerks with whom you don’t care to work and you still find yourself moving in the same direction as a lot of other people who are good company and do share the same consensus of values – I don’t think it counts as saying goodbye to a movement. It’s just noting that there’s a Deep Rift and those other people are moving (or not) on the other side of it.

    I’ll count myself with Tauriq and with Ophelia. If we’re still moving, it’s a movement. If it doesn’t include big names who are not moving the directions we are – well, it’s a pity and a shame they are not, but that’s all.

  6. dshetty says

    I believe Dawkins and Coyne like to tout the Converts corner at RDF. Maybe we need to start another one – For those who have been turned off by the behavior described above.

  7. psanity says

    That’s a good point, Jeff, because we are still moving. We are the ones who are moving forward. They are doing their damnedest to stay in one place, maintain their desired status quo, ignore the wreckage they’ve created or try to pass it off as a great machine. They have crashed, and they’re comfortable with that.

  8. 2kittehs says

    dshetty @6

    I believe Dawkins and Coyne like to tout the Converts corner at RDF.

    I had an image of them on soapboxes, ranting at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park when I read that.

    Seems to me sometimes that the only thing some of these Great Thinky Leaders are pissed about is that they don’t have the power and influence of some clergy. Every other bit of the status quo seems to suit them admirably.

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