They’re right, you’re wrong

You’ve probably already seen that dopy crude article by Michael Luciano explaining that atheism don’t need no stinkin liberalism. PZ has a post about it.

My favorite part, by which I mean the part that makes me cringe with loathing the most, is the way it’s illustrated – right at the top, under the title, before there are any words.


It’s like a giant “eat shit, bitches, it’s men who run this show and if you don’t like it you can fuck off.”

Tyson and Dennett don’t belong, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali doesn’t really belong (although she does in a way, as the only woman this guy thinks belongs), but the rest are…what they are. Happy to exclude women, at least, and likely to get hostile or contemptuous of both if asked to stop excluding women. In several cases likely to call us cunts for trying to say something. Hitchens, of course, is gone, and omigod am I sick of that photo, which so many pseuds and self-admirers have on their Twitter profiles. Fucking spare me. This isn’t Paris 1943 and we’re not in the Resistance, and cigarettes aren’t a badge of coolitude.

I’m so fed up with being any part of a movement that has this ridiculous childish hero-worship thing going on. Guys, get over it.

Olivia at Skepchick has a nice post responding to the Parade Of Dudes.

Let me direct you to where Heina has already given a great explanation of how atheism as a movement already cares about social justice, and add that I suspect that the reason the Social Justice Warriors are so interested in bringing social justice to atheism is because we are a.atheists and b.people who believe that equality is a basic standard of human decency. The “woman problem of atheism” as Luciano so eloquently puts it, isn’t a problem because atheism has to be feminist. It’s a problem because any organization that repeatedly excludes, harasses, and ignores women is a shithole that needs to change. I’m not sure if Luciano missed this, but social justice movements actually ask everyone to live up to these expectations because they believe that societal structures that systematically oppress entire groups of people are a bad thing, whether or not they’re religious or atheist in nature.

That’s it. This is a long-term thing, so we all have to live together, and guess what, we don’t want to live among a bunch of scornful sexist assholes. We just don’t. If you make a big point of shaping your movement to be that way, you’re going to lose people.

Oddly enough, there are still some of us out there who are hoping that atheism and people with a shred of human decency are one and the same, and that’s what we’re appealing to. The people who are saying these things don’t give a rat’s ass if you’re liberal or conservative, but they do care if you are actively pushing them out of your movement, discriminating against them, and essentially treating them like worthless piles of shit. Oddly enough, the desire to be given basic human respect and equality is not associated with any political party. The inherent connection between equality and atheism is that there are people who are atheists who want to be treated equally. In case you haven’t figured out where the atheism comes from yet, it comes from the thousands of atheists who are female, people of color, disabled, queer, or any other minority who want an atheist community that lets them in.

It’s honestly not that hard to understand.



  1. Silentbob says

    Behold thy Prophets, thou shalt have no other Prophets before them. Nor shall ye blaspheme against them, nor go a whoring after social justice. For theirs is the Movement, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    The Hitchens pic makes me think he’s about to launch into a Peter Lorre impression.

    Still, it’s less ridiculous than Ricky Gervais (next to end on right; I had to ask for an i.d. on Pharyngula) with the little-boy fist-fighting pose. Makes me wonder why they didn’t use the image of Dennett sporting a pimp hat from that Expelled video.

  3. says

    (1) Eww at the photo. And I’m glad you brought up that Tyson and Dennett don’t belong, since that was exactly my immediate thought when I first saw it. (2) Who’s the dude between Maher and Hitchens?

  4. Scr... Archivist says

    When I first saw this picture this morning, I wondered who might be a more-representative sampling of atheist and secular activists. Then I found the speakers page for the recent 2014 Secular Conference in London. A lot of them are working in much harder circumstances than the ones above.

  5. bargearse says


    Who’s the dude between Maher and Hitchens?

    That’s Lawrence Krauss, physicist, author and valiant defender of billionaire sex offenders (amongst other things).

  6. Folie Deuce says

    I am sorry, I just don’t understand this line of argument. Luciano said “It’s silly not because equality and diversity aren’t worthy causes, but because there’s no inherent connection between not believing in god and liberal politics.” Why is that statement controversial? Atheism is the absence of a belief in god(s). That is all. The atheist movements you speak of are atheism plus something else (humanism, feminism, social justice, etc.).

  7. PatrickG says

    Atheism is the absence of a belief in god(s). That is all.

    You should really tell American Atheists about that. I’m fairly sure they would argue that atheism leads to recognition of discrimination and religious privilege, which in turn leads to secular activism.

    That’s just one small example of how atheism isn’t *just* anything.

    To put it another way, sure, atheism means just a lack of gods. So why do you care about commenting on the subject? Does it … (hushed voice) … mean something to you?

  8. says

    @Pierce R. Butler

    Still, it’s less ridiculous than Ricky Gervais (next to end on right; I had to ask for an i.d. on Pharyngula) with the little-boy fist-fighting pose.

    At least they didn’t use this charming pic of him, which I see used for so many meme/quote pictures on tumblr.

  9. Dave Ricks says

    Luciano wrote (emphasis mine):

    Did I sleep through some radical redefining of the word ‘atheist’? It’s always been my understanding that an ‘atheist’ is someone who simply lacks belief in deities. That’s it. Somehow, though, it’s suddenly incumbent on atheists to take up certain social and political causes, and that’s just silly.

    He also wrote (emphasis mine):

    … we need to [be] careful about placing the onus on atheists for causes that are unrelated to atheism or more broadly, secularism.

    I see what he did there: Secularism is his social and political cause. Secularism is his Atheism Plus. But as someone said before the Moving Social Justice Conference in Los Angeles a few days ago:

    There are people in our community that, while they may not believe in God, they are only going to sit down and listen to you talk about separation of church and state for so long.

    Luciano needs to justify why they should join his Atheism Plus.

  10. Folie Deuce says

    7. “To put it another way, sure, atheism means just a lack of gods. So why do you care about commenting on the subject? Does it … (hushed voice) … mean something to you?”

    To me, it means a concern about the truth (and a rejection of the false claims of theism). I care about social justice too (and believe theism is often an obstacle to social justice) but I don’t agree with assuming social justice is an intrinsic component of atheism.

    When theists accuse atheists of being “just like a new religion” we don’t like it. How do we respond? Religion is a belief system, atheism is not a belief. It is the absence of belief. Yes, let’s be clear about that. If we define atheism to include things other than absence of belief in god(s) it does indeed start to look like a belief system.

  11. Maureen Brian says

    So you want to prove that atheism is nothing beyond the refusal to believe in a God? Well, that’s a political act in, say, Pakistan and several other places people like you are fond of quoting.

    I know, you say, I’ll make a collage of recognisable faces to illustrate how single-topic atheism has to be! Well, apart from the fact that all but one of these are men, all but two are white and two of them are not atheists, you still have a problem. Every last one of those has actively promoted a social or political point of view. Without even trying I can spot the ones who believe that women should expect to be humiliated if they appear in public – a social and political point of view, n’est-pa

    The cherry on the cake, though, was when you put front and centre someone who is not only dead but who began his adult life as a Trotskyist and ended it vocally supporting the Iraq invasion.

    Mr Luciano, you are just not qualified for the task you took on. (Which was a stupid one, anyway.)

  12. John Morales says

    Folie Deuce @11,

    Religion is a belief system, atheism is not a belief. It is the absence of belief.

    That’s a simplistic claim. Leaving aside that religion and theism are overlapping but not equivalent categories, it very much depends on your definition of ‘belief’: philosophically, a belief is cognitive content held as true.

    (Don’t you believe that you have no belief in a deity?)

  13. bigwhale says

    I wonder if people like Folie Deuce would stand up to decry a church softball team. It isn’t hard, atheism is not believing gods exist, atheists are people who care about causes. When atheist groups form, they do canned food drives, pick up litter and promote social justice, because they are people living in a community and a society. People aren’t bad atheists when they are bigots, they are bad people. I would kick a bigot out of my atheist game night, and what you are seeing is the internet equivalent. Because the internet is real life.

    We are not redefining atheism, and if people use unclear language, it is because it shouldn’t be this hard to understand. We want the bigots out of our atheist community/movement. We can’t kick them out of atheism because that makes no sense.

  14. Barb's Wire says

    The graphic comes from a slymer called atheism-is-unstoppable on youtube – Ali was a later addition after it was mentioned that there wasn’t ANY women represented in the graphic. The guy said he really didn’t know any… because there were no prominent women in the movement – ever … except MAYBE Ali. So, the most right-wing atheist he could find (Ali) was added. I suppose O’Hair was a nobody.

  15. says

    Wow, Krauss didn’t even cross my mind — even though I’ve seen a hundred photos of him, I didn’t recognize him here because I had no idea he could be considered part of this group…

  16. Morgan says

    @Folie Deuce: I guess I’m just not clear on what Luciano is arguing against. I haven’t seen anyone say that being an atheist means being a feminist or antiracist or pro-gay rights or whatever. The closest I’ve seen to that is PZ arguing that atheists should be those things because without a god or afterlife it’s incumbent upon us all to work to treat each other decently here and now. No one’s claiming that if you hate queer black women you secretly believe in deities.

    What I have seen is a lot of argument that the causes and concerns of social justice are important ones and that atheism as an organized movement should not ignore or shy away from them. Organizations and conferences should make efforts to be inclusive and to address the concerns of those without privilege as well as those with it, both because this is a good thing to do in and of itself, and because otherwise it’ll encyst itself as a pet cause for the privileged, disconnected from issues that matter more to demographics that could help it grow.

  17. says

    @15: According to everything I’ve read, O’Hair was a more than a bit of an asshole (OK, so maybe she would have been in good company with some of the folks in that picture). Still, omitting her suggests a certain ignorance of one’s own history. How old is this Luciano guy?

    The “minimal” definition of atheism is appropriate for the philosophy seminar or religious studies class. But I don’t personally need a movement to help me “not believe in gods”, and frankly I’m not all that interested in fighting religion *per se*. But I note that in practice the major “atheist” organizations have taken on board other issues like secularism, skepticism, LGBT rights and women’s rights (at least to the extent of being pro-choice, and decrying the more obvious religious oppressions wrought by religion [one could be excused for suspecting that at least some of that is a cynical hijacking of issues that look useful to advance one’s own cause]).

  18. R Johnston says

    How exactly is “They’re right. You’re wrong.” supposed to square with the notion that atheism is a mere opinion, bereft of any logic or philosophical content? If atheism is merely the unsupported belief that there are no gods then it is not something anyone can be right or wrong about, much like the preference for a particular flavor of ice cream. Atheism is not some random assertion; it’s a conclusion demanded by logic and observation. Atheists, such as most of those pictured, who reject logic and critical thought when it comes to matters of sex, race, and religion, are really rather bad atheists and in no way are the right.

  19. screechymonkey says

    How come these dictionary-thumpers don’t show up in other contexts?

    “Americans should support democracy and human rights around the world.”

    “Nuh-uh! It says right here in my dictionary that an American is just someone who is a citizen of a particular country — nothing about supporting democracy or human rights!”

    It’s also amusing how many of them seem to have dictionaries that define “freethought” as “the doctrine that you must allow anyone to blog or comment on your blog network”

  20. Golgafrinchan Captain says

    @Folie Deuce (and just in general)

    I think that atheists pronouncing hurtful/unscientific/backwards opinions is redefining “Atheism” to exactly the same extent as atheists saying they care about social justice issues. That is, dictionary-wise: not at all. Those opinions are largely separated from the lack of belief in gods. I have never heard anyone say they aren’t good atheists, just that they aren’t good people (or, at best, ignorant). However, this dictionary definition of atheism is not what is commonly used in society and I see nothing wrong with people who identify as atheist broadcasting that they give a crap about other people.

    How is it fair that Social Injustice Warriors & Social Apathyists should be the only ones allowed to use the label? I actually do use the term Secular Humanist unless I have time to get into a discussion because the word “Atheist” already has so much extra baggage which indicates much more than just lack of belief in gods. When I do have the time, I’m delighted to be able to have the “I’m an atheist but let-me-clarify-before-you-make-assumptions” conversation.

  21. doublereed says

    I don’t even think any of the people in that photo would agree with the definitional atheist argument. Sure, they might get kind of annoyed with social activism and such, but in all of their cases, they speak about the very serious social consequences of religion. Didn’t Sam Harris write a whole book on morality?

    Hell, the accusation by the Social Justice people is that they use women and homosexuals only as a weapon against those religions. So clearly they don’t believe that it’s “just” not believing in Gods.

    As assholish as some of the photo people are, I’d be surprised if they agree with writer at all. They might even be offended.

  22. dshetty says

    I just dont understand people like Luciano.
    We believe there is a causal relationship with religion and evil. So do some of the people in the picture.
    The only way that non-belief is only about non-belief is if we are wrong and there is no causal relationship at all.
    In which case Why the hell bother arguing against religion ? if belief and non-belief is about nothing else but itself? I would no more care about it than I care about why Americans call a sport played mostly with their hands as “football”.

  23. says

    To me, it means a concern about the truth (and a rejection of the false claims of theism).

    So you’ve acknowledged that for you atheism is about a commitment to truth and a rejection of false claims. In addition to the fact that this goes beyond “Atheism is the absence of a belief in god(s),” there are obviously nontheistic false claims, so you’ve lost the argument.

  24. says

    Furthermore, to try to defend your position, you would have to explain the motivation behind your “concern about the truth” without reference to any considerations related to social justice (needs, well being, avoidance of harm and suffering, and so forth). You can’t do that in any reasonable fashion, so you’ve lost the argument.

  25. Golgafrinchan Captain says

    @dshetty 24.

    Sadly, I’m believing in the causal relationship less and less. When I first became aware of “movement atheism,” many of the things I read and podcasts* I listened to were from people who would proudly wear the badge of Social Justice Warrior; people who wanted to make the world a better place for everyone. I thought that shedding religion generally made people better. I still think that there are cases where religion makes good people do bad things (and treats credulity as a virtue), but I fear the % of assholes is no different.

    I guess I really shouldn’t have been surprised. I used to travel a lot for work and found this to be true for every culture I interacted with as well.

    *BTW, if you’ve never listened to Reasonable Doubts, do it now. Very good blend of science, religion, politics and humour; from an atheist perspective. They are also on FTB but their blog is mainly just as a companion to the podcast.

  26. Folie Deuce says

    26 SC says “Furthermore, to try to defend your position, you would have to explain the motivation behind your “concern about the truth” without reference to any considerations related to social justice (needs, well being, avoidance of harm and suffering, and so forth). ”

    God either exists or he doesn’t. It is a true/false question that can be answered apart from any concerns about social justice.

    Suppose I invent my own religion tomorrow a la Joseph Smith. But (unlike Smith) my religion is centered around social justice. We spend 90% of our time feeding the poor and doing charity work and all sorts of other progressive endeavors. But to inspire that work I invent some bogus new holy book and people believe it. Eventually, I get 2 billion followers all devoted to social justice. No matter how much utilitarian benefit my religion provides and how much social justice it promotes, my theological claims are 100% false. The truth matters regardless of the consequences for social justice.

  27. Maureen Brian says

    @ 28,

    God either exists or he doesn’t. It is a true/false question …

    Bollocks! There are several perfectly reasonable ways of arriving at the opinion that no god exists but it remains just that, an opinion. In some discussions the idea carries more weight when it is asserted on the basis of being scientifically literate and having given the matter some thought but in everyday life it doesn’t matter how you got there.

    If you want to disagree then please don’t waffle, disparage or fantasise.

    Just show us what formal proofs for the existence and the non-existence of god might look like.

    Then, if you wish, you can move on to explain how anyone can have an opinion about anything when there has been no input at all from culture, education, language or social experience.

  28. carlie says

    If I walked into a room and saw that group of people, I wouldn’t even make it past the doorway before turning around and leaving.

    No, wait, I’d beckon for Tyson to follow me out, so I could get him away from that mess, and hopefully he’d say “Finally, I was looking for a way out of there”.

  29. says

    @27: Having spent a long time in moderate Christianity (and also reading eg. Sojourners), I was never under that impression. Which is one reason I’m just not *interested* in being a Dictionary Atheist — I’ll oppose specific harms done by religion (usually the less moderate types of religion), and I’ll say that all religion is false (because that is my considered opinion), but I’m not interested in putting all that much energy into a fight that targets the moderates along with the extremists.

  30. says

    Folie Deuce, your comment was so unresponsive to my statement that you quoted that I have to think you’ve misunderstood my points. You were asked what atheism means to you – why you feel the need to speak about and identify with it publicly. You responded: “To me, it means a concern about the truth (and a rejection of the false claims of theism).” First, even if your concern were limited to the single false claim that a deity or deities exist – which it wasn’t* – what I’m trying to get you to appreciate it that there must be reasons for this concern about the truth in this specific case. Why does it matter to you that people believe deities exist, to the point that you publicly comment on the subject and are concerned to contest that claim? I’m suggesting that you find that you find that collective belief/claim a problem for reasons that have to do with its real-world effects on people’s lives.

    Second, your concern about “the truth” seems unavoidably to extend to claims and beliefs beyond religion. I can’t imagine you’re only concerned with the false claims of religion and not, for example, with AGW denialism or false medical claims. To limit your epistemic concern in this way would be stupid and illogical. Thus, you have no justification for excluding from your purview those topics and claims you see as more explicitly related to social justice. If you’re concerned about the truth, you’re concerned about the truth (and good epistemic practices) generally.

    But my main point is what I was getting at when I speculated about the reasons for your concern about truth and false claims. Here’s a sentence: “I’m concerned about the truth [you can include “…(and a rejection of the false claims of theism)” or not – it doesn’t really matter] because…” I’m saying that you can’t complete this sentence in any substantive and reasonable manner in a way that doesn’t relate to social justice. Consider this honestly: Why are you concerned about the truth? Why is rejecting the false claims of theism important to you?

    * Your own statement refers to the “false claims of theism” in the plural, so your concern evidently extends beyond this single claim.

  31. says

    One thing that irritates me about these debates is that they tend to push people who want to fight for social justice away from an emphasis on epistemology. I’ve been arguing for years that such an emphasis is absolutely essential to these movements. It’s very easy to turn to arguing not just that religious people and groups can and do struggle for social justice and are often our allies (which is certainly true and important to acknowledge) but that it’s fine for social justice activism to be based on faith-beliefs, or that we should let go of our anti-faith message entirely and just ally with religious people who are progressive on an issue of concern because the content of their beliefs is positive. Social justice movements have to contest faith, and oppose religion because it claims faith as a virtue. Specific faith-beliefs can, in immediate and practical terms, work in favor of social justice, but faith as an epistemic practice is wholly contrary to our goals.

  32. dshetty says

    @Golgafrinchan Captain
    Sadly, I’m believing in the causal relationship less and less.
    Well we never believed religion was the only cause , merely that it was one. But I know what you mean.

    but I’m not interested in putting all that much energy into a fight that targets the moderates along with the extremists.
    But what is “moderate” ? My parents are religious moderates but had a lot of problems accepting my marriage to someone outside their religion. Is this moderate? There are many things that are par for the course in religious culture that arent generally considered extreme.

  33. says

    No matter how much utilitarian benefit my religion provides and how much social justice it promotes, my theological claims are 100% false. The truth matters regardless of the consequences for social justice.

    That’s a non sequitur. The first sentence is true, but the second statement doesn’t follow from it. The second is a claim that the truth matters in some meaningful way, and the first statement doesn’t provide support for that claim. I argue that the truth does matter – or, more fundamentally, epistemic practices matter – for social (justice) reasons. I’ve made this argument about why and how truth matters and the need to reject faith and faith-based claims at some length. I’m suggesting that your concerns about truth and faith similarly have some social basis which ultimately refers back to “consequences for social justice.” Again, “I’m concerned about the truth because…” what?

  34. hoary puccoon says

    I don’t see any point in worrying about what’s true and what’s not if you have no intention of changing your behavior according to the truth claims. It’s like knowing that a cloudy sky is a sign it may rain, and not thinking that implies you should carry an umbrella and postpone your picnic.
    People change their behavior according to what they believe is true all the time. In fact, it usually works in reverse–they generally try to discover what is true in order to make informed decisions on how to behave. That is what atheists who promote social justice are doing– they are sure there is no “pie in the sky when you die” so they try to make life as pleasant as possible for as many people as possible in the little time we are given. Their decision is necessarily based on their best estimate of the facts.
    If you don’t like that, Folie Deuce, your problem isn’t with social justice advocates. It’s with Homo sapiens sapiens.

  35. says

    Well, Dennett is a Bright and adheres to their ‘doctrine’, which involves an overt statement of the positive value of living without religious and more specifically supernaturalist commitments. That gets him there largely by default.

    He was one of the ‘four horsemen’ and he is not a metaphysical dualist (ergo his Bright status), and has referred to both contemporary supervenience and traditional Cartesian dualism about as ‘a cliff over which to push one’s opponent’ (ather aptly, really).

    If more women would perform the role that Ali does, but moreover the important role of Hitchens and Dawkins, and highlight the inherent corruptness and duplcity in faithist devotion as avidly as the ‘dudes’ do, then I am sure that PZ would put them in the banner. I guess Ayn Rand could get a look in, but there are other interesting reason why she might be excluded. Is Krauss as ‘bad’ as Rand was?

    There are a few practicing women scientists that deserve a place (the head of NASA’s planetary exploration), as does Eugenie Scott. Only the latter has been really vocal, however. She definitely deserves a place. So do some of the women in this awesome site – I think that they are quietist for career reasons. Professing to be anything like a new atheist is not a career maker, but I think it is a non-sequitur to say that this is because there is something inherently wrong with speaking out against faithism.


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