Get Out! A message for the atheist movement

A couple have a major disagreement. A metaphorical story.

Spouse #1: I want a divorce.

Spouse #2: But no! You can’t! Marriage is so, so important, and we have to stick together no matter what!

S#1: I’m a feminist, and you put a pic of Milo Yiannopoulis with a word ballon saying “Feminism is Cancer” as the background on your cell phone.

S#2: You can change! Or you can learn to tolerate my little quirks. I have to be me, you know.

S#1: You marched in a white nationalist parade!

S#2: Oh, you and your trivial, petty concerns. Our bond is more important. We have to stick together, for the sake of the marriage. We still have things in common: you think Black Lives Matter, but we can still agree that cops have really tough jobs. Why are you tearing us apart?

I ask, who’s side do you take here? Some of you will say that both sides are talking past each other, and that is correct. Some might then follow through and declare that therefore Both Sides Are Wrong, glossing over the misogyny and racism that one side takes for granted.

But some of us say instead, “Oh no, Spouse #1! Get out! #2 is an asshole with bad ideas!” It seems to me the only rational response: that’s a marriage that needs to end.

But a lot of atheists disagree. At least, that’s what I have to conclude from the last 6 years of abusive behavior by atheists against atheists, who then try to silence disagreement by declaring the inviolable importance of sticking together in the name of the precious Atheist Movement.

In 2016, David Smalley asked, What’s killing the atheist movement?”. His answer: public disagreement about social justice. Reading between the lines, it was clear that it was all the fault of people who criticized other people within the movement. We’re supposed to be quiet, show a unified front, and call each other up on the phone before we dare to disagree publicly. He was completely oblivious to the fact that silence favors the status quo, and that he was taking a side when he demands obedience to the nebulous leadership of the atheist movement.

I slammed him on it. I had a debate with him on his rather obnoxious and ignorant post; you can’t listen to it anymore because it was deleted by its creator. There is still my side of the conclusion, though.

Did he learn anything from this? No. Earlier this summer in 2017, he wrote another post that is nearly exactly the same as the previous, except that now he boldly states who the villain is: How the Regressive Left Is Killing the Atheist Movement. I hadn’t read it before, because I’ve written off any interest in anything Smalley has to say, but it’s an amazing piece of work: he starts by explaining that this is a result of a series of conversations he’s had with people like Richard Dawkins, Michael Shermer, Adam Carolla, Pete Boghossian, and Lawrence Krauss.

Wow. What a diverse collection of dissenting voices. Were Sam Harris and Dave Rubin busy that day? They are the only people I can think of who might have improved on that stellar collection of manifold heterogeneity.

Actually, it’s a collection of bogus conservative atheist bullshit. It’s got everything. Witch hunts. The horseshoe theory. Insistence that he’s the reasonable one. Misrepresentation of everyone else. It’s one long atheist dudebro cliche. All the problems in his first post were exponentially amplified.

It’s not just me. The Thomas Smith at the Serious Inquiries Only blog reamed him out. Which is good, because now I don’t have to address it.

But that’s not all. Smalley then made his garbage post the subject of his talk at Gateway To Reason. Watch, if you can bear it.

Most disappointingly, it was posted by Seth Andrews, who I thought was fairly level-headed. He prefixed it with this message:

At the 2017 Gateway to Reason Conference in St. Louis, David Smalley (host of Dogma Debate) gave his perspective on the challenges and often public divisions among atheist activists, and in regard to online interactions as a whole.

It’s a perspective…uploaded and presented here as a conversation starter, as so many are fervently seeking a fairer, more tempered, and more civil exchanges and interactions between people

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.” – Harper Lee

Fairer. More tempered. More civil. Applied to a speech in which Smalley trivializes our differences and begs people to stop criticizing fellow atheists. In which he sets up all kinds of irrational dichotomies. That thing in my imaginary dialog where Spouse #2 suggests that pointing out, as Black Lives Matter does, that cops are murdering people is reasonably countered by pointing out that we can still agree that cops have really tough jobs? He actually says that.

People at that conference applauded and cheered and laughed. Except, I noticed, Alix Jules and a few others scattered around the room. An amazing number of atheists thought that deplorable performance was commendable, including Seth Andrews. My estimation of Andrews has dropped significantly now.

The video already has a large number of positive comments! I’ll give you one example, representative of the kind of atheist who agrees with Smalley.

The skeptic-atheist community broke apart when Cultural Marxism was introduced into it e.g. third wave feminism, identity politics, intersectionality. New rules for behavior and speech were introduced. This ideology even demonised the most prominent and influential atheists like Dakwins or Harris as bigoted, racist, islamophobic white males.
As a counter movement, many skeptics became fiercely anti-SJW. There the division took place.

The “Cultural Marxist” remark gives it away. This is one of those pseudoscientifically racist people who whines about white genocide. That’s the audience for Smalley’s message. He doesn’t care.

Stephanie Zvan was there at the talk. She didn’t like it.

So what the hell did Smalley do in his talk? Start with what he didn’t do: He didn’t address a single one of Thomas Smith’s criticisms. He didn’t modify his thesis, and he didn’t change his examples. The Black Lives Matter/cops have tough jobs was in the talk just as it was in the post—worded differently, but still missing the point Smith notes. He didn’t actually call out the “Regressive Left” specifically, but that’s where his examples of bad behavior came from.

You see, we’re throwing people away in this movement for not being pure and perfect. We’re excommunicating imperfect people willy-nilly, and people are leaving atheism because it reminds them of their old churches that did this. Because, you know, people didn’t actually leave their churches over the god question, despite this being the basis for the atheist movement’s claim to any kind of broad rationality. No, they left because people were mean to each other. Petty mean.

What does he mean? He means holding people to account for things like retweeting white nationalists when those white nationalists make a point someone agrees with. Or at least that’s the part of the situation he mentioned. He left out the content of any retweets in the movement that might fit his description and didn’t talk about any hypothetical tweeter’s response to being criticized for making the error.

Yes. Objecting to racism is now “being mean” to some in the movement. We’re excommunicating people over mere sexism and racism! Not mentioned is that somehow the people being “excommunicated” are people at the top, like Dawkins and Harris, who haven’t gone anywhere, who are still lauded as the leading voices of the movement, who still get speaking gigs at atheist conferences, who are still turned to when the media needs a quote from an atheist.

Steve Shives points out exactly where this split in the community occurred. One flashpoint where the differences crystallized: Rebecca Watson and Elevatorgate. You remember that — when Watson, in response to a late-night suggestion in an elevator said “Guys, don’t do that”, and an angry horde of entitled assholes shrieked and sent rape threats, and an even larger group of atheists looked at the years of harassment and the quiet one-liner with David Smalley’s attitude and declared that both sides were equivalent and bad.

This is what is making the atheist movement irrelevant and ugly: that there are people who close their eyes to injustice, like David Smalley, and others who exploit that to turn the whole thing into foul nest of entitled asshats who prop up the status quo. Where once we were a radical force for a new perspective on humanity, now it’s a home for white nationalism and casual sexism and the same old dogmas, because too many of its advocates consider equality and human dignity trivial, petty concerns not worth calling out members for. It’s populated with people who cannot recognize the distinction between racism and criticizing racism. (You know who else, besides David Smalley, cannot do that? Donald Trump.)

Atheism has squandered its momentum on a defensive old guard and apologists for neglect of events happening in our world. I’m going to have to suggest that we all abandon it. Let’s find an organization that openly states that they want to dismantle the structures of white supremacy and sexist oppression.

Take a listen to James Croft. Humanism is a better future.


  1. says

    Yup, Steve Shives got this spot on. I watched his video today and thougth to myself that it is a pity his voice is so small in comparison tho the asshats.

  2. says

    Movement? There’s a movement?

    I can’t get out, because I never got in.

    I never felt any inclination to join the atheist movement (if there is such a thing). I have nothing in common with atheists. Or, if you like, what’s in common with atheists is something that we don’t have. And that never seemed to be a sensible basis for a movement or a community.

  3. says

    “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.” – Harper Lee

    But for some reason, it’s always us that has to shut up and consider their view.

  4. kellym says

    Seth Andrews is a speaker at this year’s MythCon. By sharing a stage with the likes of Carl Benjamin, It’s no longer secret that Andrews supports harassing rape victims, racism, and other delightful ideologies.

    I hung on to atheism/skepticism for WAY too long. I’m finding groups to join that are working to make people’s lives better – and not making me fight to be treated like a goddamned human being. Thanks, ever so, David Silverman, for coming out as a CPAC Republican all those years ago. I no longer identify as Atheist, and I don’t believe in any gods.

    The Center for Inquiry identifies as a Humanist group, however, I think they are solidly anti-feminist. Besides being headed by anti-feminist, pro-harassment, and more-than-a-little-racist Richard Dawkins, my local CFI sponsored a viewing of “The Red Pill.” I protested. I pointed out that the movie was not only anti-feminist, it was financed largely by white supremacists and misogynists. Exactly zero people cared. I did not attend the showing, and the reviews of the film were exclusively overwhelmingly positive. I was a proud CFI member for many years. I’ll never consider rejoining or supporting that “humanist” organization in any way.

  5. kome says

    The older I get, the more I really resonate with the old Groucho Marx “I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member” line.

  6. says

    I like this line from Zvan’s article:

    he’s talking about me, he’s talking about people I worked alongside, and he’s being grossly dishonest in what he’s saying about us. And very few of the people who will hear this talk will understand that because these movements are singularly terrible at maintaining any sense of history.

    If your answer to “What’s killing the atheist movement?” doesn’t mention history at all, you either don’t know what you’re talking about or you’re not answering it sincerely.

  7. rietpluim says

    LykeX #5 Exactly my thoughts. Even something clear and simple as “Guys, don’t do that” gets responded to with “NOT ALL MEN ARE RAPISTS YOU CUNT” instead of “Okay, I’ll try to imagine what is it like for a woman alone with a man in an elevator”.

  8. psychomath says

    Maybe your cause isn’t really atheism any longer. Maybe, for several years, your cause has been humanism. Maybe it is time to stop being an atheist blogger, since that isn’t the battle you want to fight anymore, and your allies aren’t reliable. Just an idea. I’ll still read you, in any case. I like and respect you, PZ, so just keep doing whatever the fuck you want.

  9. rietpluim says

    PZ, I posted a reaction with a sexist quote that is probably filtered out. Is it awaiting moderation, or is it rejected completely?

  10. Artor says

    Atheism is less important to me than being a decent human being. I guess that’s where Humanism comes into play. If someone can’t be bothered to make even a minimal effort to be a good person, then I have no use for them. That’s the “alt-right” for you: worthless dipshits who aren’t interested in making the world a better place for the people around them, so instead they decide to be the shittiest examples of humanity they can be. Why would anyone want to be like that?

  11. says


    Unfortunately that seems to be an all too common type of human reaction. You see it a lot from white people when the talk is about racism.

  12. Arnie says

    No one (including deplorable people) should be discriminated in any way for being an atheist. That’s the specific thing about atheism that every decent person (which includes non-atheists) should be able to support a movement for.

    Just like a movement against discrimination of non-whites (for example).

  13. ardipithecus says

    I’ve often wondered why a movement dedicated to social justice would tie it’s can to the ass of a non-philosophy like atheism, which is nothing more than the disbelief in deities.

    Isn’t the path toward social justice a laudable journey in it’s own right?

  14. rietpluim says


    a non-philosophy like atheism, which is nothing more than the disbelief in deities

    We call that “dictionary atheism” and most people here oppose that because they are dedicated to social justice.

  15. Derek Vandivere says

    Riet – true, but a lot of people who identify as atheists and are not dedicated to social justice aren’t here. Seems to me the most productive tactic would be to start identifying ourselves as explicitly humanists (assuming you’ll accept that as synonymous with being dedicated to social justice). Work with the ‘dictionary atheists’ on issues where we agree, and call them out on the rest of their baloney where we don’t.

    Maybe I’m just too optimistic – I just finished listening to Al Franken’s book Giant of the Senate (highly recommended) and was taken by how much he talked and thought about creating positive change by finding that 10% or 20% of common ground with people even as personally revolting as, say, David Vitter.

    Het was een moie dag in Amsterdam, toevallig – vier uur op het bootje in de grachten…

  16. rietpluim says

    Derek Vandivere Well, I call myself a dictionary atheist, but I’m an exception. Dictionary atheists usually are the ones not interested in social justice because atheism is only about disbelief.

    Lekker! Ik heb ook in Amsterdam gewoond. Ziet er heel anders uit vanaf het water.

  17. says

    PZ (#3) – I disagree. We’re part of the same body, but the intersectionists represent the head, and the “four horsemen” type have become the posterior.

    Kidding aside, my experience has always been that the only ethical christians (and theists) are those whose religion I learn by accident; they never talk about it. The ones who define and describe themselves with religion aren’t to be trusted, they mention it to ingratiate themselves to others and cover for their personal failings. The atheists you mention now act the same way.

  18. lcaution says

    I got out of the “movement” for a different reason: I don’t care what other people believe, as long as they don’t use government to impose their beliefs on the rest of us. Religions wouldn’t exist if they didn’t offer something to believers. Life is hard. If believing in Rama or the Buddha or Jesus helps somebody get through the day, I’m fine with it.

    But I discovered that such tolerance is unacceptable in the atheist “movement”. I want believers to respect my non-belief. I owe them the same respect in return.

  19. Jeremy Shaffer says

    We’re supposed to be quiet, show a unified front, and call each other up on the phone before we dare to disagree publicly.

    Given how bad I’ve seen some people misrepresent others on public message boards and posts- and intentionally, I might add, since often all one had to do was scroll up a bit and see it for themselves- I can’t see private phone calls being all that effective. Well, unless your goal is to keep the waters muddy with a bunch of disagreeing “he said, she said” claims.

    Sure, on the surface it sounds all reasonable: two people with a disagreement, working things out without it blowing up. But that only works when the points of view are already sound despite their disparate nature and both parties are acting in good faith. And given the topics often at hand- such as, should cops be allowed to gun people down as they see fit and without punishment, or should they be required to show restraint and face real consequences when they don’t? Yea or Nah?- I don’t think we’re going to get any of that.

    The skeptic-atheist community broke apart when Cultural Marxism was introduced into it…

    That, or when supposedly rational people eagerly began deploying old Nazi propaganda and conspiracy theories, such as Cultural Marxism, as if they were legitimate arguments and not inane verbal mascot banners.

    As a counter movement, many skeptics became fiercely anti-SJW. There the division took place.

    Yeah, because a sure sign of level-headedness and emotional strength is adopting a position simply to spite someone who’s upset you. Tell me again how rational you are now that you’ve ultimately told me you’ve allowed another person to dictate your position to you.

  20. says

    @rietpluim (Ok, more in general, you are just a good starting point. Sorry for that)

    Every group, be it a baking club, a swimming team or a comity for the advancement of sciences should support humanistic values because humanistic values are important.
    Every group can be atheistic. You can have an atheist baking club, a atheist swimming team and a social justice atheist group.

    But having a atheistic movement solely on the basis of atheistic though? Having atheism mean something more than the disbelieve in god? For me, that sounds like a a non smoker movement. You can have ex-smoker groups. You can have a Comity to end tobacco. But you would not expect two people who do not smoke to agree on a significant amount of world views, not even that smoking is bad, solely on the fact that both people do not smoke.

    So why is there a atheistic movement on the US?
    In Germany (with a at least 40 % non religious population) there is near to non purely atheistic group. Not a single major one for sure. Nearly nobody here would even accept the idea of an atheistic movement.
    There are secular groups for the advancement of sciences, the fighting of pseudo sciences or the fight for a better separation of church and state, but non of these call them self atheistic. The biggest of these groups is maybe The Humanistic Party (Partei der Humanisten). Which is saying a lot of the attitude here in Germany.

    So what is the difference to the US? As far as i can see (and i can be totally wrong) it boils down to this:
    Remember the ex-smoker i mentioned above in my example? The US is full of the ex-smoker equivalent of atheists. People who where religious and fought/thought their way out of it. And the US society is still deeply religious, a society that sees atheist as barely better than rapists. This is a shared experience you can bound around.An atheist movement makes more sense in this circumstance.
    But with new atheism came a lot of people who did not have this shared experience. Who never were religious and did not life in a culture that punished atheism. Privilege people like me, who, while having a mother very active in the local church and getting 12 years of religious teaching at my _public_ school never was religious for a single day because nobody told me that this is something you should take seriously.

    We do not “get” a “atheist movement”, the same way not every non smoker can “get” a ex-smoker group. For us, being atheist is just a state of being, with no further implication. Humanism is something that pairs well with atheism, not something implied by atheism.

    That does not mean there should be no atheistic group at all. Atheistic right groups are important everywhere. Separation of Church and state is a hot button topic even here in Germany. And religion still hurts many people all over the world and needs to be tamed.
    Nor does it mean that these atheistic groups a free to ignore humanism. But not because atheism implies humanism, but because humanism should be part of everything. Atheistic or not.
    It does mean that there is no unified atheistic movement, but that is quite obvious by now. Sam Harris and Steve Shives are not part of the same movement.

    All of this at least explains why their are atheists like Sam Harris. Or Milo. Or Dawkins. Or a big chunk of atheists on youtube. People who are very clearly atheists, but also huge assholes who do not share a single value with me besides some very basic ones about separation of church and state.

    All of this is my analysis and could be very much off, especially because i am in an outsider position (no atheist movement in germany) making assumptions about the US i got mostly from reading blogs.
    But yeah, thoughts?

  21. says

    In a different post because it hits on a different topic:
    Everyone who calls for a unified front always means one thing, and one thing alone: “Everyone criticizing me, shut up and do what i say”. It is the most bullshit attempted of silencing and should be met by ridicule.

  22. Paulino says

    Yeah, Humanism has a ampler deeper program. Atheism is necessary, but it is limited in goal and therefore it offers a slim basis for a movement, and it is embedded in Secular Humanism. As Neil Rickert #4 said.

  23. emergence says

    Calling us the “regressive left” is pure projection on part of fuckers like Smalley.

    The real regressive left are atheists who claim that they aren’t sexist while simultaneously promoting gender essentialism.

    The real regressive left are atheists who respond to the brutal, unprovoked murder of unarmed black people by cops with authoritarian whines about how bad cops have it.

    The real regressive left are atheists who use opposition to Islamic fundamentalism as justification for dehumanizing Muslims and promoting jingoistic xenophobia.

    Shitwits like Dawkins, Smalley, and Carl Benjamin have far more in common with religious fundamentalists and neo-fascists than they do with any sort of progressive movement.

  24. mesh says

    For the most part, dictionary atheism is simply a declaration of non-affiliation with your cause, a pretext for cutting out any facet of social justice that isn’t tangentially relevant to white atheist dudebros. These people are generally fine with promoting bus campaigns, shirts with scarlet A’s, and video games that teach evolution, as well as lending support for other campaigns that face Christian/Muslim resistance such as gay marriage and abortion rights, but the moment you start boring them with the treatment of women or open racism from within the movement be prepared for a dry lecture from Mr. Spock on etymology.

    Any real social justice work would definitely need to go beyond atheism, although the atheist movement should’ve been a way to demonstrate that atheists have more to offer than just another tribe seeking to excise itself of progressive elements in order to achieve political dominance.

  25. microraptor says

    emergence @27: The real regressives are the ones who pat themselves on the back for being liberal while degrading and decrying any sort of social cause that doesn’t directly benefit them.

  26. chrislawson says

    1. Dictionary atheism has become the way I look at myself — for the very reason we’re talking about. It is abundantly clear that being an atheist has almost zero bearing on a person’s moral code or political views. So, yes, I am an atheist but I want nothing to do with the likes of Sam Harris just because he is also an atheist.

    2. That Harper Lee quote is about understanding another person’s point of view, not accepting or respecting it.

    3. “Regressive left” is a meaningless term unless you, say, live in Russia and long for the return of Stalinism. It sits alongside “cultural Marxism”, “identity politics” and other stupid terms that are used for the sole purpose of being derogatory towards a viewpoint without describing it — and like the 2LOT argument against evolution, it tells you a lot about the level of thinking of person using it.

  27. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Yeah, identity politics is a silly slur because all politics revolve around identity of some sort.

    In the case of Hair Furor, it is all about him. Small, pitiful, and SAD!

  28. F.O. says

    I’m going to have to suggest that we all abandon [atheism].
    Humanism is a better future.

    Took you long enough PZ.

  29. says

    It’s populated with people who cannot recognize the distinction between racism and criticizing racism. (You know who else, besides David Smalley, cannot do that? Donald Trump.)

    Ironically enough, Smalley had a Tweet critical of Trump over this. (Sorry, I don’t feel like looking for a link to the Tweet.) I “follow” him on Twitter to see what obnoxious crap he posts, which is why I saw it, and left a reply noting that his post you reference, PZ, sounded somewhat similar. But, since I am a nobody in this word, I doubt my reply was even noticed.

  30. bustergate says

    Didn’t you already kill the atheist movement years ago? The “Atheist Movement” hasn’t been relevant in a very long time it was just as much a fad as your Social Justice Movement is now. It will fade the same way. GamerGate and ElevatorGate are distance memories – the people on the other side are still influencing mass audiances while you have faded into obscurity.

    You people will always fail because you alienate people and judge to harshly. People like TheAmazingAthiest and Sargon of Akkad will continue to grow because you don’t have to be lock and step with their ideologies to approach them.

    If you people had gone the route of the Atheist Experience, and just talked to your opposition and mocked when appropriate none of this would have happened. The left wouldn’t have been as divided, the Right wouldn’t be champions of free speech, and MAYBE Trump wouldn’t have been elected because the Right wouldn’t have been as popular.

    But that’s not the world we live in. We live in a world where you’re the bad guys and the rest of the internet levels up by fighting you.

  31. says

    Humanism is a better future.

    Sadly, there is a woman who lives in my area who claims to be a secular humanist, yet spews alt-right propaganda, especially in regards to woman’s rights/feminism…while simultaneously claiming she doesn’t like the alt-right. I’ve been tempted to ask if she knows she spews their propaganda, but she comes off as terribly arrogant, so I haven’t bothered. The point, though, is humanism can have its flaws, too, especially, it seems, when people get religious about it. But, yeah, it’s still better.

  32. =8)-DX says


    I’ve often wondered why a movement dedicated to social justice would tie it’s can to the ass of a non-philosophy like atheism

    I have no problem answering that as an ex-catholic. A lot of people were (and are) brought up in christian households where many social justice issues are explained as dogmatic positions of faith. Gays are bad, divorce is sin, trans people confused, sex outside marriage or denying reproduction is self-harm, men should lead their families. I lived that shit as a teen and young parent. Of course many people harmed by religion will associate atheism with social justice.

    The problem is that so many people think that if you figure out there’s no gods, you’ll get the rest right just as easy.


  33. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    Can we just lock the “Atheist Movement Is the Only Thing That Matters” fuckheads and the “Movement? When Did Atheism Become a Movement?! Don’t Try to Make a Religion Out Of It!” fuckheads in a big room together?

  34. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    bustergate #35
    Who are you talking to?

    His delusions of course.

  35. WhiteHatLurker says

    tl;dr … sounds like a zealot calling out blasphemers.

    Important take away – It’s “whose side” not “who’s side”

  36. F.O. says

    We live in a world where you’re the bad guys

    There I thought the Nazi were the bad guys.

  37. hemidactylus says

    #30- chrislawson
    Regressive left seemed to have more traction when Maajid Nawaz started using it, but has become bastardized and morphed into a an all-purpose epithet for everything Harris, Boghossian, Coyne et al find repugnant.

    #31- timgueguen
    Isn’t movement atheism itself identity politics? Any time AA or FFRF make an PR initiative or launch a lawsuit over church/state violation that is identity politics.

  38. hemidactylus says

    I worry a little about puritanism (or ideological purity) amongst the “SJW” so called and putting forward unrealistic ideals no human can live up to, which may set up for failure as people are fallible creatures. I don’t know that’s going on, but is a concern. There should be some degree of tolerance for diversity of views and stupidity, if only to shield myself for potential brain farts
    or oopsies.

    But when I read #35 bustergate’s rant invoking Amazing Atheist and Sargon I can see the sort of thing that people find repugnant personified.

  39. A. Noyd says

    @emergence (#27) & microraptor (#29)
    Yes, it makes far more sense to apply “regressive left” to people who align with the political left—perhaps quite far left on certain issues—but who entrench themselves in positions where they’re the most comfortable and try to drag back anyone who heads further left if it threatens their personal comfort. People who lash out at requests to modify their own behavior for the sake of progressive social causes. People who do believe in equality for all as a concept, but who can’t really imagine what that entails in practice and who balk at attempts to implement it beyond what they’ve deemed necessary.

    In other words, people like my uncle who don’t agree that it’s racist to make up pseudo-Indian “chants,” wiggle his hips and call it “twerking,” and speak in a fake Chinese accent to the waitstaff at Chinese restaurants. (That’s just having fun!) Who claims that violence by Antifa justifies the accusation that “both sides are just as bad.” (Never mind that rigid bothsiderism has been the status quo in the media for decades now and playing into respectability politics will not persuade anyone to deviate from that template.)

    I mean, my uncle isn’t not a leftist. But he definitely gets upset and dismissive when called out for harmful behavior or oblivious rhetoric. He decries the harm done by the right but, because he identifies as being against the more obvious harm-doers, cannot see what harm he does himself. It’s that sort of leftist who becomes embittered at any suggestion he’s not doing enough and starts to consider that maybe anyone saying so is merely an extremist.

  40. Danny Husar says

    >people like Richard Dawkins, Michael Shermer, Adam Carolla, Pete Boghossian, and Lawrence Krauss… Were Sam Harris and Dave Rubin busy that day? They are the only people I can think of who might have improved on that stellar collection of manifold heterogeneity.

    But … those are all decent people. So is Dave Rubin. And Sam Harris. (I’m not familiar with Pete Boghossian or David Smalley). They aren’t hateful. If you were to take the totality of what you believe and support and compare to what they believe and support – I have to think you’d agree with 95% of the time. This has shades of “People’s Front of Judea” vs. “Judean People’s Front”.

    >Objecting to racism is now “being mean” to some in the movement. We’re excommunicating people over mere sexism and racism!

    But the people in the above list are neither sexist, misogynist nor racist. Right?

    >Where once we were a radical force for a new perspective on humanity, now it’s a home for white nationalism and casual sexism and the same old dogmas

    Come on. Nobody likes white nationalists. Those guys did not come out of New Atheism. You can’t watch Dawkins, or Hitchens debate evangelical Christians and think they argued for white supremacy. There was always a shady Neo-Nazi sub-culture on the internet.

  41. militantagnostic says

    @46 Danny Husar

    But … those are all decent people. So is Dave Rubin. And Sam Harris.

    For a sufficiently broad definition of decent that extends up to being just a bit less racist than Hair Furor.

    And right on cue, Thomas Smith’s latest Serious Inquiries Podcast is titled “Sam Harris WTF” in response to Sam Harris calling BLM racist. Haven’t listened to it yet.

  42. rorschach says

    We wouldn’t be here if that elevator in Dublin had the newest tech you know, where you summon it with your room card, and it goes to your level only, no stops in between, no buttons inside. Works like a charm and keeps the atheist (and other) creeps away.

    I think what it boils down to is that going back 10 years we made the mistake to assume that atheists are mostly good people, but what we learned was that just like with any other heterogenic group, like “pilots” or “tourists” or “doctors” or whatever, there will be a number of intolerant, racist, homophobic, sexist, misogynist, dumb, narcissist people among them.

    That’s why whoever claims to still be a member of movement atheism these days, arouses my immediate suspicion, and withholding of funds and hours spent.

  43. hemidactylus says

    47- militantagnostic-

    Serious Inquiries podcast? Thanks. Will give it a try. Got to the point where Harris asserts BLM is destructive to civil society. Kinda dumbfounded at this point. Too lazy to find and cue Public Enemy’s Fight the Power right now. Youtube it. Grew up on that.

  44. Philip Rose says

    The Atheist Movement broke apart because of the introduction of the men’s movement and the anti-islam movement, both of which were dog whistling for the loose coalition that became the alt-right (primarily the white supremacists, who had mastered manipulating online trends).

    The predecessor for that was the race realist movement, which never quite got play in the atheist movement because we had some real liberal hard asses who took down the race realists on youtube, we made them look like fools. Frankly, the race realist leaders just sucked.

    PZ, you may recall the show we did with theskepticalheretic; while his ambush of you was unfair (I was unaware he had planned it) he was the definitive take down artist of the race realists.

    With the men’s movement you got charismatic leaders who managed to really take it to a new level, and it was a way to undermine the liberal movement while avoiding the thorny topic of race.

    The alt-right, they began signal boosting those that aided the alt-right political cause, all they had to do was not criticize the alt right while they bashed liberal/ progressive values and they would build viewership swiftly.
    These people were viewed as gateways to white supremacist/fascist ideology so support was encouraged.

    Pretty much every atheist I know and still talk to won’t identify as a member of the atheist movement (the exception being the professional atheists).

    Some won’t identify as atheists.
    It’s not out of any resentment. They just don’t feel like that movement represents their best interest as atheists, and we live in a country where we are no longer guaranteed rights, freedoms and safety so why would you out yourself as an atheist and make your life harder, possibly even put yourself in danger?

  45. mesh says

    You’ve missed the point, Danny. It doesn’t matter that Dawkins hasn’t personally argued white superiority or that Hitchens wasn’t spawning neo-Nazis out of thin air, what matters is that this is the company that movement atheists have chosen to keep.

    They’ve shown that they’d rather shame people who make light of the racism and sexism within for being divisive rather than work with them to address it. They’ve shown that they’d rather minimize instances of ongoing harassment and shame the victims as being just as bad rather than accept sexism as a serious issue. They’ve shown that the atheism movement will welcome white nationalists with open arms while slamming those who take issue as being regressive and uncivil.

    It also doesn’t matter that PZ would probably agree with their choice of tea. If any of what I mentioned has found its way into that 5% of disagreement, it’s a deal-breaker as it ought to be.

  46. chrislawson says

    If I agree 99% with someone, but the 1% we disagree on (to choose one of many possible examples) is that they insist women are evolutionarily too stupid to be software engineers, then I am not a friend or an ally of that person. It’s not about percentages.

  47. Danny Husar says

    @51 mesh – What you wrote reminds me of the meme that went around a few years ago which stated that teaching religion to children is child abuse. That never sat well with me. You certainly can, within a certain interpretative framework, make a reasonable case that will also sound good in a soundbite, but if you’re really honest with yourself, it does’t match reality.

    You’re ascribing positions to these individuals that are simply not there. You’re faulting them for things they never did. You’re pilling on them every terrible thing you can think of to contrast your moral clarity. Are we still talking about the likes of Dawkins and Hitchens because I don’t recognize them in anything you wrote?

  48. chigau (違う) says

    Did you know that meme is a completely useless concept for anything other than photoshopping text onto screencaps?

  49. F.O. says

    @Danny Husar #46
    That “decency” threshold you (and too much of polite society) are using is far too low.

    BTW, from the top of my head:

    Dawkins is an irrational xenophobe, as he demonstrated with his ridiculous “Dear Muslima” which is a textbook “not as bad” fallacy. I’d ask a bit better from such an avowed rationalist.

    Sam Harris gave platform to Charles Murray and his The Bell Curve without challenging him, as if those racist ideas hadn’t been discarded by science half a century ago.

  50. ck, the Irate Lump says

    bustergate wrote:

    You people will always fail because you alienate people and judge to harshly. People like TheAmazingAthiest and Sargon of Akkad will continue to grow because you don’t have to be lock and step with their ideologies to approach them.

    Right.. Sargon is so non-judgemental that he has a series he calls “This week in stupid” where he just mocks people and stories, and plenty of his other videos are made without bothering to even read what he’s criticising or try to understand what is being said. He claims to be centre-left, but only seems to like politicians from the right (like Trump and LePen). He once had a little get together with some friends to laugh ridicule a woman who was killed by her boyfriend (who was apparently a feminist). He’s made countless videos complaining about feminism, and Anita Sarkeesian especially. His career has been made by criticising the left and has admitted that he doesn’t criticise the right for some rather weak justifications.

    These are the reason Sargon has alienated me. Want to know why you think he’s somehow not alienating? Because your politics align with his (i.e. anti-feminism and a defense of the status quo). Because despite all the rhetoric about “trying to understand other people’s viewpoints”, you’ve never tried to do it yourself.

  51. mesh says

    Danny, that’s likely because you failed to comprehend what I wrote. I’m talking about the conduct of movement atheists as a group. I’m talking about the very behavior described in the OP from the bothsideism to the apologetics to the “regressive left” epithet that earn applause, cheers, and affirmations in YouTube comments.

    I don’t care if Sam Harris, Michael Shermer, etc. have goddamn haloes permanently mounted over their heads from how totally unhateful they are. It’s how they respond to the hate within their own movement that makes clear that they’re all part of the problem just as much as Trump is very much a part of the growing Nazi problem even if he never personally waved a swastika and perpetually tap dances around acknowledging the existence of the white supremacists worshiping him as God-Emperor.

    PZ didn’t name Dawkins et al. to suggest that they’re hateful bigots breeding Nazis but to express that they are all known adherents of the status quo. If the leaders don’t appreciate how other people are representing their movement, then they are free to speak up and take command. Otherwise, people will take their silence and inaction to indicate that they are perfectly content with the way things are.

    We don’t care what’s in Dawkins’ heart of hearts, we care what he’s doing to combat racism and sexism within his own following.

  52. emergence says

    @ bustergate

    The amazing atheist and Carl Benjamin are garbage people who promote and defend some of the ugliest, most hateful aspects of modern atheism. They don’t have any meaningful, nuanced arguments to make, they just spout simple-minded platitudes that reinforce the entitled mindset of shitweasels like you. They only have careers because they’re ideologically jerking off a pack of whiny little shits who resent the changes to society that the social justice movement is trying to bring about.

    Are you kidding about them not requiring you to be in ideological lock-step? If you so much as suggest that they might be wrong about feminism, black lives matter, islam, or anything else, they’ll just call you an “SJW cuck” or something stupid like that and instigate a mob of shrieking trolls to bombard you with threats and insults. That’s certainly how Bejamin and his contemporaries reacted to Anita Sarkeesian criticizing video games.

    There are certain views that make you a complete shithead if you express them and then double down when people criticize you. Declaring that women are biologically less suited for the STEM fields than men, or that you don’t care about black people being displaced by gentrification are among them.

    As for that comment about social justice movements fading away while people like Benjamin and the amazing atheist become more popular, you’re high as a fucking kite. Black people aren’t going to stop caring about their friends and loved ones being murdered by cops. Feminists aren’t going to stop caring about women being devalued in the STEM fields. Immigrants aren’t going to stop caring about being scapegoated for society’s problems. American Indians aren’t going to stop caring about their rights to their land being violated by corporations or the government. These groups certainly aren’t going to stop caring about these issues when open racism, misogyny, and xenophobia are being normalized by the right.

    At no point in history has a social movement pushing for the rights of marginalized groups just faded away and been forgotten about. It’s always been a continuous cycle of these movements fighting to achieve incremental social change while regressive assholes pushed back against having the status quo questioned.

  53. Adam James says

    I’ve been on board with the project of making atheism a force for social change since the beginning. I always thought women’s rights and racial equality were natural outgrowths of the atheist’s commitment to reason and inquiry. As long as we’re questioning this god business, why not have a look into tribalism and patriarchy, and see if those concepts hold up to scrutiny, and aren’t doing more harm than good.

    But I also never wanted to exclude from atheism anyone with a different political opinion. This doesn’t mean leaving room for Nazis, bigots, sexists, homophobes and the like. But it might mean allying with more moderate liberals, libertarians, and centrists. That really doesn’t sound so bad to me: I like the idea of big-tent atheism. I often hear people on the pro-social justice side (my side) argue for a more diverse set of voices within atheism. I think we ought to be true to this principle, but I’m often disappointed to realize that what the people advocating for “more diverse voices” really mean is more voices on the left and even further on the left.

    And that’s another thing: we play a part in the polarization. When we declare people like Laci Green (a pretty strongly left-wing feminist) or June aka Shoe0nHead (a moderate liberal, who admittedly made her name riding the YouTube anti-feminism thing) to be essentially no better than Trump supporters [e.g. PZ made Laci out to be on board with Trump’s anti-trans policy a while back, when her actually position on it is the same as PZ’s] we misrepresent their position and make ourselves out to be intolerant, not of intolerance, but of any disagreement or deviance. We also push ourselves further to the fringes of the political spectrum if we declare liberals and centrists to be right wing. Our opponents are not an undifferentiated mass: it is not us vs them. Viewing everyone not in agreement with you on every issue to be part of the same opposition is not a healthy outlook. It’s an isolating one. It’s possible to disagree strongly with someone while still recognizing that their views are as nuanced and as considered as your own. Thunderf00t might garner the support of some pretty vile MRA types with his anti-feminist videos, but he also heaped scorn on the nationalists and racists that supported Brexit. The Amazing Atheist, loathsome as he can be, has made several videos advocating for transgender people and speaking out against bullying.

    I don’t want white supremacists in the atheist movement. I want women to feel safe and respected, not the outsiders in a boys club. But that doesn’t mean all atheists need to be advocates for social justice or feminists: different people have different political priorities and that’s OK. And these people aren’t the same as those who are actively anti-feminism etc. either. They’re often just those caught in the crossfire who we unfairly lump in with the opposition. I don’t think we can just keep dismissing the accusation that we’re being intolerant: maybe the critics are off the mark, but it’s worth self-reflecting and seeing for ourselves if there’s any merit. Yes we are being intolerant of intolerance, and it’s a fair rebuttal, but I think the critique goes deeper than that.

  54. Adam James says

    One thing I realized was missing from my above comment was any mention of the role that the “antis” have played in the polarization. My general philosophy is to be critical of one’s own side first and foremost. But to be totally honest I’ve always thought it was the anti-feminists that struck first, in the wake of the elevator-gate thing (in which a woman committed the terrible crime of posting a friendly video asking dudes not to make women at conferences feel uncomfortable or unsafe, and received unending vitriol in return). Until then I had always assumed that gender equality was just assumed to be a shared value among atheists. But many atheists made it loudly apparent that this wasn’t the case. So in my recollection of things, it was the opposition who first announced that they believed feminism had no place in atheism.

    But then that’s really no more than crying “they started it!” As to how we’ve responded, see my comment above.

  55. Arnie says

    ardipithecus (#17)

    I’ve often wondered why a movement dedicated to social justice would tie it’s can to the ass of a non-philosophy like atheism, which is nothing more than the disbelief in deities.

    I have never wondered why a movement dedicated to social justice would tie it’s can to the ass of a non-philosophy like African ancestry, which is nothing more than lack of European purity.

    Or a movement dedicated to social justice tied to the ass of a non-philosophy like same-sex attraction.

  56. F.O. says

    You know when they say that I should ally with someone with whom I agree *almost* completely?

    This is the guy I’m going to ally with:
    This is the person that makes me look over our philosophical differences and be happy to be at their side.
    Because unlike too many atheists and rationalizers, he cares for people different than he is.
    Because he has the empathy to understand that his personal, direct experience is not all that there is to understand society.

    I used to believe that atheists were better than religious people.
    I was wrong.
    Atheism is not a force for good.

  57. leerudolph says

    I guess there just wasn’t enough room on the Gateway to Reason screen to spell out the full title of David Smalley’s talk? Surely it should have read “Eating Our Own Shit: How You Can Save the Movement”. Where, of course, the contrast between “our” and “you” makes it clear that different people do the shitting and the eating.

  58. doubtthat says

    @46 Danny Husar

    They aren’t hateful. If you were to take the totality of what you believe and support and compare to what they believe and support – I have to think you’d agree with 95% of the time. This has shades of “People’s Front of Judea” vs. “Judean People’s Front”.

    I don’t think that’s true.

    First of all, the percent thing is dumb. It needs to be weighed for importance. I may broadly agree with Harris on some political issues (though it’s tough to keep up with all of his rapidly shifting views), but he gave Charles Murray a platform to spew long-debunked, racist nonsense, and he seemed to agree with it, saying, “this is just science” over and over. It’s not science, it’s racist psuedoscience. Harris has advocated torture (but not really, HOW DARE YOU!!). I disagree with him completely on his analysis of reasons for violence in the Middle East.

    And Dave Rubin? That guy is a really, really dumb dude who is now basically a right wing libertarian. Listen to the interview he did with David Pakman. In addition to showing how little he understands about things like paying his employees and how taxes function, he espouses endless, classic right wing ideas. I agree with him on almost nothing.

    Dawkins seems determined to destroy his legacy. As brilliant as he is, he just vomits up the dumbest, most ill-informed thoughts on a wide range of issues. Eclipse isn’t a social construct, baby! Deep thoughts.

    So….I don’t think 99% is right, but even it it was, the 1% is super important.

  59. KG says

    Adam James@60, 61,

    Lol! Congratulations on that witty parody of a well-meaning idiot comprehensively missing the point.

  60. hemidactylus says

    I cannot help thinking of ole what’s his name who went and founded what would become the capital of Rhode Island. Instructive in that dynamic has been part of the human condition from time immemorial and will continue to be. The problematic part would be in splitting too many hairs in what Freud (borrowed?) as narcissism of small difference.

    There are *huge* differences with MRAs, alt right, skinheads, the atheist dudebros angling for backslaps on Youtube and podcasts. Good riddance. But there can be an overkill if ideologic focus gets too narrowed and a purging mentality erupts.

  61. rietpluim says

    F.O. #63 – That link is to the best rebuttal of bothsiderism I have read so far.

    if you aren’t willing to personally take a bat to the head, shut up about antifa

    Fucking says it all.

  62. says

    Hey Buster the right is not the champanion of unlimited consequence free speech. Anything you can name that the so called regressive left does the right also attempts to do. I.e. CPAC no platformed Milo over his comments on pederasty.

  63. says

    Danny Husar @54,

    What you wrote reminds me of the meme that went around a few years ago which stated that teaching religion to children is child abuse. That never sat well with me.

    You do realize that Dawkins originated that idea? It was in The God Delusion

  64. mineo says

    GOD IS DEAD! he has been & will always be DEAD. America has hitched it’s beliefs & moral compass on a ideology that does not really exist. How sad for us. Each day I see evidence of why the bible is nothing more than “words” written long ago, by men that are long dead and gone. A belief system, these men set up for generations to come, yet as we see, no one really follows these so called beliefs to the letter. It’s impossible to do so in my opinion. Man & women are way too complex to live by these so called Commandments. Some believe they can by attending church on Sunday, praying and pretending to love their GOD fully. But what about the heart? What is going on truly inside each person? We see so called Christians spouting hate for their fellow man & woman. We just saw such hate a few weeks ago at the cost of a woman’s life & the beating of a man to the point that he had a stroke. Is this GODLY behavior? And yet, some of them, I’m sure will profess to be a Christian and that these terrible acts were carried out in the name of what is holy & good. We have a President that supports this behavior and yet still makes it seem as though it doesn’t really exist or that it’s because of outside forces that against his agenda of hate and diversion. I stopped pretending to love a GOD that I know is only a fairy tale-made up only for the purpose to keep the masses in check. And I can no longer bring myself to follow words in a book, written long ago, by men who only had one thing in common, TO DIVIDE & CONQUER. I guess some people need something to hold onto and believe in, and I guess that’s not a problem. It becomes a problem when people use these words to harm, and judge others based only on their feelings and use this book as justification for their actions. And in all this, where is the love? Where is the understanding? Where is the empathy? In my feelings, the bible is perhaps the worst book ever written. I don’t expect anyone to agree with my feelings and thoughts. Actually, I don’t really care. I live my life as I see fit. And I would hope you will do the same. I am a true ATHEIST. I need no book or GOD to point me in any direction.

  65. Rowan vet-tech says

    Huh. I’ve only ever previously seen the deeply religious write ‘god’ in all caps.

  66. says

    Dawkins, Harris, Thunderbutt, Sargon, Smalley, shitty whiny children incapable of dealing with criticism. The fucking atheist movement was a social justice movement that used social criticism, often blunt, overt and insulting social criticism. And then suddenly they could not take it? If the fact that there are people in their own community that need help is not enough for them, how about some self interest?


    Weakness. Vulnerability. They smell like prey. I’ve got Tourette’s Syndrome and that includes a boost in the sensation of negative empathy*. I feel the expression of the negative emotion of others more intensely than most. I got the same criticism, I survived it and it made me stronger. It NEEDED to happen, that’s how the system works. I don’t feel the tiniest shred of sympathy because this is a general human skill that they have aparently never learned. They should want to.


    Seriously. I’m imagining being in the same room with Dawkins, diagramming out on a white board why what they said or typed was bigoted, and going into what kind of bigotry and why. Using perfectly good terms for human behavior and then watching him collapse into childish responses. Or having insult and content presented to him in parallel like we got from creationists for so long, and then whining about tone. Incompetance. Inability.


    Weakness. Cowardice. If Dawkins and similar can’t take what they have gotten and given when it comes to creationists they should get out of inter- and intra-group politics. If such as him fold so easily on these issues why should any atheist trust them with other issues?

    I have an easy job here, all I have to do is refuse to shut up and keep my criticism private (being a white, aggressive male helps here). Seriously, what does their ability suggest with respect to actually handling what I’m doing? They want me to do something differently and I don’t have to do a damn thing until they stop, or we both keep going because they don’t get to demand that we stop doing things that offend them if they want to be “politically incorrect”. It’s such craven bullshit.


    Besides, issues like bigotry in one’s own group are always relevant.

    Elevator Gate is what pushed me from simply being a reader to an active commentator. Seeing that misogynistic, violent, rapey, abusive filth aimed at people, and then supposed community leaders trying to get victims to shut up? The health of a community is always relevant no matter what the purpose of a group.

    I have no trust in Dawkins, Harris, and people like Smalley to produce healthy communities or move communities in a healthy direction. They are incapable of dealing with the social predators they share social space with and incapable of even the minimal job of understanding what people are telling them independent of disagreement. I feel little but contempt and disgust.

    *Citations available on request.

  67. LeftCoaster says

    In slight possible fairness to Smalley, the link you provided to the “deleted” episode was on spreaker and I think that when he went with PodcastOne, one of the requirements was that all of the old episodes had to be solely available through PC-1 so it might be available there as premium content but i’m not going to pay the fee to sign up just to find out.

    That being said, he’s been spouting some real doozies tonight on the private dogma debate Facebook page that I’m still a member of for now though his recent shows and comments have had me seriously re-thinking that:

    A few examples:
    “If universities spent more time on dialectics & dichotomies, & less time on producing outraged children, we’d be much better off.”

    “Did you know that violently attacking Conservatives, or being a Nazi, arent the only 2 positions? I know, I was shocked, too.”

    “Wanna know a secret? Nazis & Antifa are both hate groups who want to control you w/ violence. The wise avoid extremes.”

    He’s been getting slammed pretty hard for those.