Greta asks where you’d draw the line.
Is there any line that someone could cross that would make you unwilling to support them or work with them? Is there any line that someone could cross that would make you not link to their videos, not share their blog posts, not upvote them, not post admiring comments about them in public forums, not buy or promote their books? Will you really support the work of absolutely anyone, regardless of how vile their behavior has been, as long as they say one thing you happen to agree with?
Would you support the work of an avowed racist, who has publicly and unapologetically stated their opinion that black people are not fully human? Would you support the work of an avowed homophobe, who has publicly and unapologetically stated their opinion that LGBT people are mentally ill and should be locked into mental hospitals?
OK, atheists, think about it. Have you been outraged at the Catholic Church’s cover up of pedophiles, criminal behavior in orphanages or hospitals, or been horrified at their inhuman rejection of family planning in the third world? Have you ever thought to yourself that it was unbelievable that people actually remained in the church and even made excuses for that behavior? If you’re saying that all behavior must be tolerated in the name of the Big Tent, if you’ve been arguing that it’s just one little foible but that these cheerful misogynists have done good work otherwise, if you’re reluctant to call out the ugliness because it might besmirch the good name of atheism, go look in a mirror and say hello to the same damn thing as any Catholic apologist.
Atheists already have a PR problem, in that the stereotype is that we’re all amoral, horrible people. The only corrective is to make it clear that we stand for something more than just making fun of god — and everyone knows this. Atheists like to stand up for science (I approve), but some atheists freak out if we also use atheism as a rational justification for equality (I don’t even understand that). Neither science nor atheism dictate what you must do, but they are frameworks for seeing the universe free of the superstitious fog of human delusions, so that human beings can better pursue human virtues. All human beings. Not just the ones in your ethnic group or your socioeconomic class.
About that ‘big tent’ every movement aims to provide…atheism is a small tent. It was worse 15-20 years ago, when I’d attend atheist meetings and find myself the youngest guy there, but still fitting in as a white male academic. It’s definitely gotten better. But honestly, rather than simply expanding the tent, what I see is resistance, defensiveness, and a hardening of sexist and racist attitudes. And further, I see movement leaders acquiescing or glossing over these flaws because they fear antagonizing people already under the tent, rather than seeing that these same reactionary neophobes (or worse, disruptive trolls) are a major hindrance to further growth. And you have to be willing to adapt.
When you a non-white or non-male person joins your movement, like Sikivu Hutchinson, or Rebecca Watson, or Anthony Pinn, or Heina Dadabhoy, or Jamila Bey, or when LGBTQ atheists like Zinnia Jones or Chris Stedman join, they are not there to bring you cookies. They are not there to reassure you that straight white men are A-OK in their book. They are not there to allow you to check off an entry in your diversity bucket list. They are there to represent their interests, to criticize, to shape the movement to better fill the needs of more diverse people. You can disagree and criticize right back, because that’s what atheists do, but you must take them seriously, and you must try to change yourself, because that’s the only way we can grow this movement.
That’s our choice. We can either make atheism mean something, with substantial ideas that improve people’s lives — and science is one thing that does, but is only going to appeal to a niche audience — or we can fade out and die away, like any of the other tightly focused movements that sprang up in this land of a thousand religions and a thousand self-help movements. Diversify or die. Adaptation or extinction. Your choice.
I’m not making the choice that says we ignore the hidebound dogmatists and stiflingly loud haters in our midst. I’ve got lines that I won’t cross.