Joint statement from AA and the IHEU


David Silverman of American Atheists and Andrew Copson of the International Humanist and Ethical Union have issued a statement on the raging racism in America. They’re against it.

That these people feel emboldened to march and protest in 2017 in the United States sickens us. Their views are reprehensible, their actions are abhorrent, and they have no place in our civil society. We stand in solidarity with the targets of the hatred espoused by these white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

As many have said, bigotry in America in 2017 isn’t just people in white hoods and robes. It’s people who are our neighbors, coworkers, and even government officials engaged in subtle acts of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and religious hated. It is our obligation as humanists and as citizens of this nation—and indeed the world—to fight this bigotry at every turn.

Silence is not an option. Anyone who does not forcefully and unequivocally condemn the bigotry of these people is complicit in their actions.

Our thoughts and support are with those who have been injured in Charlottesville and the families of the people who lost their lives. We must remember that this violence didn’t start and won’t end in Charlottesville. We must be prepared to confront it across the nation wherever we find it.

I’m glad that they condemn not just the angry men and women with clubs and shields, chanting slogans about Jews, but also the silent complicity of the majority. It’s also interesting because many of the alt-right are atheists or agnostics; Richard Spencer, for example, is openly atheist.

I would say it is definitely a young movement. I’d say that it is predominantly white millennial men. It is not sort of stereotypically conservative in its profile. I’d say that probably it is a more secular population than the country overall. That is, there are a lot of agnostics and atheists or people who are just generally indifferent to religion. And I think that it is a fairly well-educated movement on average, that as I think that probably the model alt-right member has at least some college education.

So we like to argue that religion does not instill any sense of morality in people, and it doesn’t. That claim is supported by the fact that while so many corporate people resigned from Trump’s business advisory council over his fascism that he dissolved it, but no one from his evangelical council (here’s a list of some of the most horrible people in America) have taken a similar step. They’re more interested in praising Trump’s appalling responses.

However, that religious leaders are propping up racism does not mean that all believers are racist, nor does the fact that many racists are atheists mean that the atheist organization leaders are racist; it also does not imply that Nazi atheists are not True™ Atheists. What it means is that there is an additional piece of the puzzle of what makes for a good human being beyond their beliefs about a deity, and that many Christians, Muslims, and Nones are lacking that piece…and that one of the roles of any organization that intends to be a lasting, positive contributor to our society’s well being ought to include ethical principles as an essential component.

Keep in mind that while the religiously indifferent showed up in Charlottesville with clubs and shields and anger, many of the nuclei of resistance were centered around religious institutions in the city. It’s great that American Atheists is speaking out in opposition, but we also need to have atheist representatives who travel to these trouble spots and link arms with the principled clergy. We’ve got lines of men and women in funny robes forming barriers to white nationalists, and we need outspoken atheists who stand in solidarity with them. Otherwise, we cede ethical leadership to the religious.

We also need to own the godless folk within the alt-right. We cannot effectively repudiate them if our first response is to deny the fact that there are a great many deplorable atheists, and if we fail to include a moral dimension in our philosophy.

Comments

  1. Reginald Selkirk says

    David Silverman? Isn’t he the one who insisted AA have a presence at CPAC?

  2. consciousness razor says

    It’s great that American Atheists is speaking out in opposition, but we also need to have atheist representatives who travel to these trouble spots and link arms with the principled clergy. We’ve got lines of men and women in funny robes forming barriers to white nationalists, and we need outspoken atheists who stand in solidarity with them. Otherwise, we cede ethical leadership to the religious.

    The thing is, the trouble spots are everywhere. We’re also significantly outnumbered. But beyond just the differences in the populations, there aren’t analogous atheistic institutions distributed all over the place like churches/mosques/temples are. I’d assume most of those clergy you’re seeing were from the general area around Charlottesville, not flying in from Ohio or Louisiana or wherever. They get to play zone defense, and they’ve got a very big roster that can fill up the field with plenty to spare, along with of course no refs telling them they have too many. That’s an awfully nice set of advantages to have. But in that light, some dozens of clergy doesn’t sound like many at all to me.

    Of course you can’t have too many people opposing shitheads like this, and we’re not on the other team, so please don’t misunderstand the analogy. The point is that I don’t think appointing an A Team to roam around looking for trouble is going to be nearly as effective as how they’re able to do it, for as long as religions remain so dominant while atheism is nearly dormant in the relevant senses at the community level. So, it just doesn’t sound right to say that we are thereby ceding anything ethical to the religious, because we’re not as big or as powerful or as well-funded or as loud as they are. The kinds of “leaders” who look like that are conquerors, which it hardly needs to be said are not a good model for how people should influence others in ethical ways.

    But not as well organized? Sure, we’re not that either. And that evidently is something that we ought to work on, if we’re going to work toward the goal you’ve set here. But I don’t think the right sort of organization will come in the form of a few big-wigs handing us (presumably unelected) “representatives” to stand in the right place at the right times. And none of it better be happening just so they can get in front of the right camera and make atheism look good. (Yes, I’m looking directly at you, David Silverman, and it’s not because you’re good-looking.)

  3. Siobhan says

    To be fair, antifas are much more likely to be atheist, and the clergy *directly* credited antifa action for saving their lives at Charlottesville. It’s not like we’re without representation as it is.

  4. consciousness razor says

    There’s also no way to tell how many atheists actually were among the counter-protesters, and I’d be pretty surprised if there were none. But we don’t have to wear funny robes to identify ourselves. We can just look like normal people mixed in with the rest of the crowd, but of course it doesn’t attract photojournalists when a normal-looking person is spotted.

  5. says

    I’m not arguing for funny robes. I’m saying we need a David Silverman (or Andrew Copson, although he’s British) standing up there with the rabbis and pastors. We need visible representation.

  6. consciousness razor says

    We need visible representation.

    What must people see? What are we supposed to show them? I don’t think many atheists want to take the time to give serious answers to questions like that. They’re too busy complaining about what somebody else did — granted, there is plenty to complain about, but that’s not time which is spent formulating a coherent message or creating an effective organization.

    Did you even see Cornel West standing in that line? Was he really visible, or did he blend in with the group?* Which churches are any of those people representing, and what are their doctrines? Basically nobody looking at these pictures or reading these stories in the papers/online could tell you anything about it.

    They do see people like their own pastors. That’s a regular occurrence for many, and it makes a very big impression starting from their earliest memories. Somebody standing in a rally, with all kinds of chaos happening all around them, when you’re already inundated by chaos happening in the news every other day of the week, isn’t doing anything like that. The images that I’m sure will burn into people’s minds are dudes marching with tiki torches and people getting hit by a gray Challenger.

    *Quite a feat for West, but I’d say it’s fairly likely in this situation.

  7. says

    Cornel West being interviewed by Amy Goodman on Monday:

    CORNEL WEST: Absolutely. You had a number of the courageous students, of all colors, at the University of Virginia who were protesting against the neofascists themselves. The neofascists had their own ammunition. And this is very important to keep in mind, because the police, for the most part, pulled back. The next day, for example, those 20 of us who were standing, many of them clergy, we would have been crushed like cockroaches if it were not for the anarchists and the anti-fascists who approached, over 300, 350 anti-fascists. We just had 20. And we’re singing “This Little light of Mine,” you know what I mean? So that the—

    AMY GOODMAN: “Antifa” meaning anti-fascist.

    CORNEL WEST: The anti-fascists, and then, crucial, the anarchists, because they saved our lives, actually. We would have been completely crushed, and I’ll never forget that. Meaning what? Meaning that you had the police holding back, on the one hand, so we couldn’t even get arrested. We were there to get arrested. We couldn’t get arrested, because the police had pulled back, and just allowing fellow citizens to go at each other, you see, and with all of the consequences that would follow therefrom.

    I read another similar statement from (allegedly) a member of the clergy on Twitter but I didn’t save it.

  8. doubtthat says

    What must people see? What are we supposed to show them?

    That atheists are not just a bunch of assholes on the internet haranguing people over relatively minor philosophical differences when white supremacists are marching.

    We are at the point where the public face of atheism is much closer to the white supremacists than it is to pro-social justice. The high profile Twitter and YouTube atheists are busy, right now, backing up Trump’s both-siderism and engaged in the baffling practice of arguing that there would be no Nazis if it wasn’t for the left calling everyone Nazis.

    Point being, we’re very, very close to a popular association of atheism with the alt-right. I would go so far as to say that one of the defining features of the alt-right, as opposed to traditional extreme conservatives, will be the atheism. The KKK was proudly religious. Most of the malignant views on the right have been born from extreme religion. That ain’t true anymore. Violent, atheistic nationalism seems to be driving a hell of a lot of the new alt-right bigots.

    I’m a proud atheist. I have never been ashamed of that word, but I’m getting close to dropping the label, even a modified version of it.

  9. jrkrideau says

    # 2 consciousness razor

    I’d assume most of those clergy you’re seeing were from the general area around Charlottesville, not flying in from Ohio or Louisiana or wherever.

    I’ve lost the reference, perhaps a Guardian article, but I think you are incorrect. I am not sure about those people forming the line but the article I read suggested that perhaps 1,000 ministers (or whatever) from around the country had rallied. The guy in the long white cassock and stole who is local even has been conducting non-violent protesting training for them.

    Only some of the ministers, etc. were on the line as many had not arrived in time to complete training but those who had not received training were setting up a first aid/general assistance post and presumably doing other things.

    After a few years of bossing choirs around, one’s organizational abilities probably are well honed.

    @ 4
    I was going to suggest some tasteful robe—white Saudi tobes are quite tastefull and inexpensive— to emphasize one’s corporate identity. They are also available in brown and black but the white looks better IMO. They are also loose enough to allow for a quick sprint if needed.

    And while not demonstrating a tobe combined with ghutrah & egal (the kind of headdress you see the Saudi king wearing) makes an excellent hot weather outfit for lounging in the garden.

    Wait, I just remembered we’re discussing the USA. Cancel the lounging in tobe idea, you’d probably have a SWAT team coming over the back fence.

  10. Matt G says

    At least some of those people in the photo are Unitarian Universalists, who have consistently been on the side of social progress. The Unitarians were the first denomination to ordain women, back in the 1800s, for example. I was raised UU, and like many UUs, I am a devout atheist. Cornell West spoke at the annual General Assembly a few years ago.

  11. consciousness razor says

    That atheists are not just a bunch of assholes on the internet haranguing people over relatively minor philosophical differences when white supremacists are marching.

    I don’t think you understand the meaning of my question. This would be an abysmally low bar for “ethical leadership” as PZ put it. I take it that we have to show them atheism can work in their daily lives, not as their religions do in every way (funny robes, etc.) but as human beings can, in real tangible ways, when united to make the world a better place.

    That’s a great deal more than making visible to them individuals who merely rise to the level of not being assholes. And I apparently disagree with PZ, that our main problem (the one worth bringing up) is our relative lack of talking heads like Silverman. Those get drowned out in the noise too easily anyway, if they’re even saying anything worthwhile to begin with.

    We ought to be a force which actually does something to make everyone’s lives better, from the moment they’re born until they die. (How exactly should we do that? That’s another question which has to be taken very seriously, and of course none of this is about “minor philosophical differences.”)

    We should not just be something that appears on the news occasionally, amid all the other crap pretending to be journalism, that is meant to demonstrate to everyone some point that you think they all need to learn. I couldn’t care less if atheism or its perennial identity crises are ever newsworthy to anyone. And besides, that is not even close to satisfying what I was aiming for with that question.

    Point being, we’re very, very close to a popular association of atheism with the alt-right.

    Or just the right. Even though atheists are actually more liberal, that has been the perception for years, partly because of “representatives” like Hitchens, Harris, Dawkins, etc. — including of course Silverman, with his schemes to court the republican party.

    But I hope you get (at least now) that I’m not saying we shouldn’t do anything about it, or in particular that we shouldn’t be protesting things like the Charlottesville rally. Because in fact I’m pressing a lot harder and saying we need to do much more. Not less.

  12. doubtthat says

    That’s a great deal more than making visible to them individuals who merely rise to the level of not being assholes.

    I don’t disagree with that, but given that the incident in Charlottesville, a good place to start would just to be visible supporting good, important causes. If Cornell West can get there, so can atheist groups that have a budget and are receiving donations.

    How exactly should we do that? That’s another question which has to be taken very seriously, and of course none of this is about “minor philosophical differences.”

    Sure, it’s the important question. I think we’re in agreement. So much atheist effort goes into debunking stupid creationist claims – not unimportant, not something that should be dropped – and very little goes into explaining Step 2, Step 1 being, “stop designing civil society around ancient books of fairy tales.”

    I naively thought that the dismantling of regressive religion would naturally lead to socially progressive positions. Clearly untrue.

    I was a philosophy major. I love conceptual arguments, but I think it’s time (assuming “atheists” actually care) to devote more time to the pressing matters of the day than coming up with a new way to rebuff the Kalam cosmological argument.

    That’s what I mean about minor philosophical issues. Once we’ve accepted that the mere transition from belief to non-belief is neither sufficient or necessary to advance important social causes, that debate becomes relatively minor in importance.

    But I hope you get (at least now) that I’m not saying we shouldn’t do anything about it, or in particular that we shouldn’t be protesting things like the Charlottesville rally. Because in fact I’m pressing a lot harder and saying we need to do much more. Not less.

    Agreed.

    It’s a weird new world we’ve entered, in some respects. Obviously we don’t have polling, but I think it’s safe to say that the proportion of atheists in the Tiki Torch SS and the proportion in the counter protesters was pretty close to equal. If anything, the Pier One Brownshirts may have had a higher percentage.

    This is different from, say, similar scenes during the Civil Rights Movement where there were almost no atheists, but if there were some, they were almost exclusively on the pro-CRM side.

    I totally agree that there’s much more to do, but the dynamic playing out threatens to render the notion of “atheism” totally useless to rally around. We may as well drop it all together and just focus on the social issues.

  13. says

    I see the journalistic/entertainment attraction to picketers in their clerical robes. What if we college grads presented in cap and gown, perhaps complete with grad school sash? This is probably ‘prettier’ in my imagination, but I studied for my sash as hard as that cleric did. :)

  14. Siobhan says

    Another pastor directly credits antifa:

    https://twitter.com/RevSekou/status/897462807788232704

    “Antifa saved my life.”

    I’m just saying largely secular organizing is already occurring. You’ll have to be demonized by the beltway pundits but hey, that’s not much different than existing while black in the USA. I’m not sure how the antifas don’t count as a visible representation of atheism considering absolutely none of their rhetorical texts invoke Dog for their political position.

  15. cartomancer says

    I’m all for funny robes. There should be more funny robes in the world.

    We don’t even have to invent new ones. I’m sure academic robes would do the trick nicely. It’s been ages since I got to flounce about in that natty scarlet and purple number I liked so much.

    Or there are the faux-academic robes so beloved of Harry Potter devotees. Maybe paired with a banner bearing the slogan “this is what a real Grand Wizard looks like” or some such. I’ve got an old Gandalf fancy dress costume tucked away somewhere that would be perfect.

  16. doubtthat says

    I’m not sure how the antifas don’t count as a visible representation of atheism considering absolutely none of their rhetorical texts invoke Dog for their political position.

    I don’t think enough people have any idea who and what they are to associate them with atheism. Of course, that’s not their fault as the media seems to mostly be covering them as a gang of Stalinists.

    Antifa also doesn’t help secularists and atheists at all with regard to what society should be like, save not fascist, which while obviously correct, is a pretty low bar. It’s not a pro-social justice message, really, it’s just a no-Hitler message which leaves a lot of unexplained space.

  17. consciousness razor says

    doubtthat:

    That’s what I mean about minor philosophical issues. Once we’ve accepted that the mere transition from belief to non-belief is neither sufficient or necessary to advance important social causes, that debate becomes relatively minor in importance.

    It’s not sufficient, but it simply isn’t true that religion is irrelevant to numerous social problems that you undoubtedly have in mind. So “necessary” may be too strong, but “helpful” certainly isn’t. Perhaps in cases like this there’s not much use in worrying a lot about necessary and sufficient conditions.

    I totally agree that there’s much more to do, but the dynamic playing out threatens to render the notion of “atheism” totally useless to rally around. We may as well drop it all together and just focus on the social issues.

    Maybe I just don’t even understand this perspective enough to disagree with it. Supernaturalism is a fundamental feature of so many harmful beliefs and practices, it’s hard to know where to begin. Like it or not, that’s something we have to deal with. And that isn’t a statement about movements or strategies or however anyone may self-identify.

    Also, as I said, atheists are actually more liberal than the general population. There is a perception due to a small and noisy minority of atheists who aren’t (including an even smaller group who are extremely far to the right). If we’re all really trying to lose this game, then maybe it’ll happen, but I have no idea what makes you think this dynamic is out of our control.

    Siobhan:

    I’m not sure how the antifas don’t count as a visible representation of atheism considering absolutely none of their rhetorical texts invoke Dog for their political position.

    You might be thinking of secularism. If everybody doesn’t need to belong to this particular cult or have that particular superstition, in order to accept a claim/proposal/etc., then it’s secular. That’s how I’d use the word and not how I’d use atheism, which is about not being a theist as opposed to not requiring theism for a claim/proposal. And actually confronting all of the harms religions do (politically or otherwise), assuming anybody actually wants to do that, is about more than just failing to explicitly invoke a deity. But silence can just as well imply consent, so personally I wouldn’t read much into it anyway.

  18. doubtthat says

    @18 consciousness razor

    It’s not sufficient, but it simply isn’t true that religion is irrelevant to numerous social problems that you undoubtedly have in mind. So “necessary” may be too strong, but “helpful” certainly isn’t. Perhaps in cases like this there’s not much use in worrying a lot about necessary and sufficient conditions.

    I chose those words carefully. I agree with you that saying religion is irrelevant is far too strong. It’s still the source of a shitton of our problems.

    But I disagree on the analysis not being of much use. If atheism is neither necessary nor sufficient for cultivating a powerful, effective social reform organization, that tells us where our energy should be spent.

    A whole lot of those idiot Nazis were atheists. Richard Spencer is an avowed atheist. And who really cares what the spiritual beliefs of the people standing in opposition to them were. Some were atheists, some were believers, all of them were right.

    Long term, I still believe a move to a more secular society will be broadly beneficial for a whole lot of reasons, but not if the secularists are guys like, say, Donald Trump, who clearly doesn’t give a shit about Church.

    Maybe I just don’t even understand this perspective enough to disagree with it. Supernaturalism is a fundamental feature of so many harmful beliefs and practices, it’s hard to know where to begin. Like it or not, that’s something we have to deal with. And that isn’t a statement about movements or strategies or however anyone may self-identify.

    Sure, we agree on the damage religion has done and continues to do. But also a really poisonous ideology is this new branch of glibertarian, atheistic, nationalism. That presents a special sort of problem for atheists and secularists as they borrow from our toolkit to make their arguments.

    It is the case today that I would, a thousand times out of a thousand, rather ally myself with someone spouting religious gibberish who was feminist, anti-racist, anti-fascist, and pro-progressive economics, than I would one of these endless atheist bros bitching about trans people, much less the Richard Spencer-style atheists.

    That means something for those of us who think secularism is a valuable position. We are now in the position that moderate muslims find themselves – we have to justify our belief structure and protect it from the fucking madmen who are placing themselves under the same broad umbrella of non-belief.

    Also, as I said, atheists are actually more liberal than the general population. There is a perception due to a small and noisy minority of atheists who aren’t (including an even smaller group who are extremely far to the right). If we’re all really trying to lose this game, then maybe it’ll happen, but I have no idea what makes you think this dynamic is out of our control.

    It’s sure as hell rapidly getting out of our control. I don’t think you can rely on the liberalism of atheists being true forever. These libertarian atheists are a relatively new phenomenon and they DOMINATE the spaces young people access – Twitter, YouTube…etc. Throw in that high-profile atheists making a turn towards the idiotic (Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins’ Twitter persona…), and you have a good recipe for the next generation of atheists being much more regressive than what we’re accustomed to.

    I’m not saying this is inevitable. I’m saying we need to be aware of this dynamic, we as secularists and atheists have a special obligation to confront these people, and we need to recognize that we can’t just rely on the spread of non-belief to solve the social problems in our society.

  19. consciousness razor says

    doubtthat:

    But I disagree on the analysis not being of much use. If atheism is neither necessary nor sufficient for cultivating a powerful, effective social reform organization, that tells us where our energy should be spent.

    I meant that it isn’t useful to talk about its “necessity” for this or that specific individual. That is, you don’t literally need to be an atheist to be a decent human being, and the reason is essentially that particular believers/nonbelievers have all sorts ways to compartmentalize and dissemble. Now, I’d say they shouldn’t act that way, but they could, thus it isn’t impossible, meaning atheism isn’t necessary in that particular sense.

    In any case, collectively, we don’t have that option: it is necessary, because without that we’re not addressing the root causes of so many of the things that need to be reformed. One person can manage to do that, or merely attempt to “distance” themselves from it and do nothing, while still being decent or at least not completely evil, but the whole lot of us can’t behave that way. We’d be missing an ingredient that’s needed for being effective at any of those reforms, if we don’t consider it a responsibility (not the only one) to focus our criticism on religion for precisely those reasons.

    Sure, we agree on the damage religion has done and continues to do. But also a really poisonous ideology is this new branch of glibertarian, atheistic, nationalism. That presents a special sort of problem for atheists and secularists as they borrow from our toolkit to make their arguments.

    What are they borrowing? I know basically nothing about Spencer or a lot of others I’m sure, and this is a sincere question. In my experience, their “arguments” (when they’re not just spewing ignorance and hate) don’t look anything like the atheistic arguments I’ve ever used. And I definitely have no patience for anything glibertarian or nationalistic. But whatever you have in mind, we evidently need to examine all of the things in our toolkits and get rid of any illegitimate items.

    I’m not saying this is inevitable. I’m saying we need to be aware of this dynamic, we as secularists and atheists have a special obligation to confront these people, and we need to recognize that we can’t just rely on the spread of non-belief to solve the social problems in our society.

    Earlier you said we “may as well drop it all together” as something to rally around, in order to focus on “social issues” (as if religion weren’t a social issue, but I got the gist of it). That sounds a hell of a lot like throwing in the towel, and I don’t know how you reconcile that with this special obligation. Since we’ve gone and dropped that ball, at your recommendation, how would people like us, who aren’t a coherent group and aren’t rallied around that, proceed to do anything in the way of confronting people like this?

    We’re coming back to where we started…. it’s one thing to say we can’t rely on “just” that (it’s not sufficient), yet another to say atheism doesn’t need to play any role at all. And if we’ve got special obligations, then it certainly sounds like you’re trying to oblige atheism to do some of the work for us anyway. I have no problem with that, obviously, but you don’t get to have it both ways. Really, it’s very mind-boggling trying to understand what you think you’d hope to gain by resisting this notion.

  20. doubtthat says

    We’d be missing an ingredient that’s needed for being effective at any of those reforms, if we don’t consider it a responsibility (not the only one) to focus our criticism on religion for precisely those reasons.

    I think this is generally correct, but it does ignore, as I said, these growing strain of atheist nationalists. Wipe out religion, and nationalism will happily fill the void. There are more sources of irrational fanaticism that religion, though I agree religion is historically and currently the main source by a factor of a thousand.

    What are they borrowing? I know basically nothing about Spencer or a lot of others I’m sure, and this is a sincere question. In my experience, their “arguments” (when they’re not just spewing ignorance and hate) don’t look anything like the atheistic arguments I’ve ever used.

    You don’t recognize them because you’re intellectually competent and honest. They aren’t borrowing good arguments, but they are using the language atheists have used against the religious. It’s Cargo Cult reasoning. A good example is the current exchange PZ is having with these Evo Psych goofballs: they throw around science-y terms, they hold up “peer review,” because they recognize the explanatory power these concepts and methods have in the hands of real scientists and skeptics. They label their opponents irrational and lacking in empirical evidence. Hell, the “hyper skepticism” of the misogynist atheists has become a meme of its own.

    This is a distinct line of regressive rhetoric that is somewhat new, at least in its popular form. It’s from the Ayn Rand atheist playbook.

    This is why I think it’s a special problem for us. Those who are intimidated by science or ignorant may lack the resources to understand why smarmy racist Charles Murray isn’t a brave, rational hero “just following the evidence.” He’s using all of the superficial trappings of science to advance something that is actually completely contrary to what careful, thorough reasoning and research reveals.

    But whatever you have in mind, we evidently need to examine all of the things in our toolkits and get rid of any illegitimate items.

    I think it’s less an issue of scientists and rational folks abandoning items in their toolkit so much as it is recognizing when others are misusing those concepts. Rationalist/skeptics/scientists, however you want to classify them, have spent a long time trying to convince people that their method of inquiry is a superior means of learning about the world. We have succeeded, which is great, but in gaining respect for that approach, the door has been opened for a new category of hucksterism and quackery.

    Earlier you said we “may as well drop it all together” as something to rally around, in order to focus on “social issues” (as if religion weren’t a social issue, but I got the gist of it). That sounds a hell of a lot like throwing in the towel, and I don’t know how you reconcile that with this special obligation.

    I’m conflicted on that point. I go back and forth on it. I still value atheism and secularism, but then I’ll stumble upon a hornets nest of online atheists browbeating women and think the concept has been so taken over by those assholes that using it as an organizing concept is useless. I mean, Gamergate is so closely related to the infamous “Schism” in the freethought community that it’s impossible to distinguish the main players. The most notorious asshole atheists were high profile in Gamergate and vice versa. It’s hard for me to get beyond those associations, and I think it might be even worse for younger people.

    10 years from now will being an atheist just mean you scream “c%&$” at women on the internet?

    But then I think back on the intellectual lineage that I value greatly, and I think it’s worth fighting for. You’re not wrong to see contradiction in my writing because it’s a topic I am far from clear on.

    Since we’ve gone and dropped that ball, at your recommendation, how would people like us, who aren’t a coherent group and aren’t rallied around that, proceed to do anything in the way of confronting people like this?

    Well, on the small scale it involves confronting all the horseshit our fellow atheists generate – the misogyny, the racism, the anti-LGBT shit. Everyone posting here, on PZ Myers’ page, is likely engaged with that on a daily basis.

    On the broader scale, it’s tough. As I mentioned before, it’s the same demand we seem to place on moderate members of Islam – get the crazies under control. It’s not that easy.

    I think it involves coming up with a clear explanation of what we advocate for beyond just non-belief — which, again, may necessarily involve making atheism one item on a list of beliefs. I think it involves leaders of the community – people we donate to – getting out to places like Charlottesville and just participating. Not evangelizing or pushing an atheist agenda in that moment, just showing support.

    And if we’ve got special obligations, then it certainly sounds like you’re trying to oblige atheism to do some of the work for us anyway. I have no problem with that, obviously, but you don’t get to have it both ways. Really, it’s very mind-boggling trying to understand what you think you’d hope to gain by resisting this notion.

    Yes, a choice has to be made: if we want to keep the atheist label and think it’s valuable, there’s going to be a battle for it. There are already two broad factions, and it’s going to be tough to gain positive political power when there is a countervailing faction pushing regressive ideas.

    The other option is just to say fuck it, “atheism” is a term that has lost any socially progressive value. Push for secularism as a part of a broader social justice movement and undermine religion less directly.

    As I said, I go back and forth. Right now, if I wanted to engage with groups combating police violence targeting African Americans, I don’t see any atheist group that I could join (there are a couple that are trying, to be fair), and I think placing atheism at the forefront of my participation in that movement could very well be counterproductive. So, where does that leave us in these “interesting” times?

  21. says

    Another pastor directly credits antifa:

    https://twitter.com/RevSekou/status/897462807788232704

    “Antifa saved my life.”

    I’m choked up seeing that. Courageous young people with Wobbly flags. Amazing.

    I’ve been recommending An Injury to One for years now. Here’s an article about Frank Little from last year. Speaking of monuments:

    In Butte there is no statue or street named in Little’s memory, not even a mention of him at the town’s World Museum of Mining, just a few miles from the scene of his kidnapping. He lies in the pauper’s section of the Mountain View cemetery.

  22. consciousness razor says

    I think this is generally correct, but it does ignore, as I said, these growing strain of atheist nationalists. Wipe out religion, and nationalism will happily fill the void. There are more sources of irrational fanaticism that religion, though I agree religion is historically and currently the main source by a factor of a thousand.

    How is that ignoring it? I’m saying we can be part of the group (with the religious, who were “wiped out” peacefully of course) who happily fill the void. We’re the bigger faction in atheism, and we can do that, if we take responsibility for it and don’t stand down, because we’re willing to let nationalists and bigots and other forms of irrational fanaticism take over. We have to wipe them out too, which is exactly why we agree that it’s insufficient to merely deal with religion. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t necessary.

    We have succeeded, which is great, but in gaining respect for that approach, the door has been opened for a new category of hucksterism and quackery.

    Okay, I understand and agree with everything you said in that section.

    I think it involves leaders of the community – people we donate to – getting out to places like Charlottesville and just participating. Not evangelizing or pushing an atheist agenda in that moment, just showing support.

    It certainly involves that, but what else?

    Sometimes I’m pretty uncertain about how to follow through. I remember lots of long boring arguments against Harvard Humanists and their ilk, who were trying to make a churchy sort of atheism, which generally I find irrelevant if not repugnant. (SC knows what I’m talking about.) Trying to make ourselves resemble a religious denomination in certain sorts of ways won’t be constructive, as an attempt at building a moral/political program, aiming for social justice or whatever else. Of course, I don’t fault anyone, if it’s therapeutic for them to keep some of the rituals or symbolism, etc., that they miss from their former religion. But that’s a very self-centered and isn’t about improving conditions in the broader society. It seems to be taking the wrong lessons from religion about how it’s been successful, what we’re supposed to be accomplishing with that kind of “success.” So there are real issues on that front, and it’s not enough to blithely suggest we should copy religions and “fill in the void” with more of the same crap.

    Still, every day, we get a constant crop of new people being born into religious indoctrination, but they’re also offered a lot of help and support when they need it. Atheists aren’t coming up with no-bullshit alternatives to that, for most people in most places. (Obviously, social welfare systems aren’t atheist-operated charities or institutions, and we should work toward that as well.) So we jump in awfully late to the party, and what you get is that we show a little support in a protest or write a press release. For most people, if they even notice it happened, I bet that looks like some pretty weak fucking tea, and the chances it changes anyone’s mind about anything important is marginal at best. We could do much better.

    One thing I don’t like is this whole attitude that it’s about some of exercise in damage control. This isn’t about PR. It’s not about making atheism merely look “good” (i.e., not Nazis and terrorists) or trying to salvage our reputations when bad atheists show up in the news doing all sorts of bad shit. Let the RCC handle its scandals that way. I mean, you can worry about marketing if you really want to, but the fact is that our “product” (or service) is in so many ways still in the R&D stage. So what exactly would you be selling to people, assuming it’s not a scam? I think we have to focus a lot more on making the product better, not how other people perceive us, how we brand ourselves, making sure everybody knows it’s “not all atheists,” or whatever the fuck. It’s understandable that people have such concerns and they get very uncomfortable and want to “identify” in some other way, but that’s not what the whole fucking deal is all about. If we’re not bringing anything to the table that’s very relevant, at a local and inter-personal level, then superficial things like that just won’t matter to most people. However “interesting” the times may be, I don’t think the situation has changed in that respect.

  23. doubtthat says

    One thing I don’t like is this whole attitude that it’s about some of exercise in damage control.

    I think we’re mostly in agreement. Definitely on board with your position on generating substantive positions.

    I slightly disagree with you on the PR front. Certainly, there’s an element to the “marketing” side of a movement that can be awful and disingenuous. I would say that this, too, is one of the defining features of the alt-right atheist crowd – they make money, for example, by releasing 923458712395 videos about Anita Sarkeesian because they know it will send their fan base into ecstatic rage-gasms.

    But there is a practical, important side to maintaining a healthy public perception. If the concept “atheism” is so toxic that other groups don’t want to interact with you, it becomes counterproductive to whatever social reform effort you’re engaged in.

    Think about trying to start a communist group, for example. If you want to advance labor rights, putting “Communist” in your group name is going to turn off a lot of potential allies, embolden management, and cause you to spend most of your time trying to explain that you aren’t pro-Stalin or Mao. Much more effective to ignore that term completely, brand in a different way, and go about the same work.

    So, the conflict isn’t one of substance. I’ve always viewed atheism and secularism, in general, as a means to a more just society. I still think that’s substantively true, but as a tactic, I’m not sure being overt about it is the best way to go.

    But again, I’m not certain of that. I can be convinced. I am just legitimately worried that after all the work that’s been done to raise the esteem of atheism in our society from “deep dog shit” to “slightly better than deep dog shit”, all of that is going to undone.

  24. emergence says

    I brought this up in a thread that was started after this one; how much of an overlap is there between modern racists and Christian fundamentalists? From what little I’ve read of the modern KKK, there’re still loudly Christian, I’ve read an article about a Christian identity minister who merges fundamentalism with racism, and neo-confederates seem pretty closely intertwined with both Christianity and racism.

    There are definitely a lot of atheists in the modern racist movement, but beyond showing that there are plenty of atheists outside of it, I think that we should emphasize that Christians are probably just as likely to be racists as atheists are.

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