Just when I thought I was out…they pull me back in

It’s no secret that I am greatly disillusioned with organized atheism — it usually seems to organize around the idea of the status quo minus churches, and not much else. It leaves a great big gap where ethics and equality and social justice ought to be, all in the name of not alienating the unctuous asshats…and there are a lot of those in atheism. So I’ve just stayed away, which is very depressing, because I still think the core truth that there are no gods is important.

Tomorrow, Sunday at 2:00, Minnesota Atheists (which is a good group, one of the exceptions that is strongly committed to social justice activism) is hosting Jim Helton of American Atheists, one of the big orgs that has burned us all fairly recently, and he promises that things are changing. Here’s the topic for the day:

What is an “atheist issue”? American Atheists redefines what that is. They challenge the status quo. In doing so, they lay out a plan to fight for equality and the true separation of religion and government. If you are not happy with the way things are, then the time is now to make a change.
Jim G. Helton, the National Field Organizer for American Atheists, will be visiting freethought groups in Minnesota over the course of four days in mid-October to bring us up-to-date on what American Atheists is doing, how they can help us, and how we can help them.

That’s a bit vague, but August Berkshire, who is one of the good guys, vouches for him. He is correct that I am “not happy with the way things are”, but I don’t know if he’s referring to the way atheism is, or if he’s talking generically about the rising power of evangelical Christianity. Do I really want to get my hopes up and attend? I’m thinking about it. AA has the power to change a lot, I’ve just been disappointed so many times before.


  1. Athywren - not the moon you're looking for says

    I sometimes wonder if disillusioning the a pretty huge number of atheists who were interested in activism beyond yelling at VenomFangX and Shock of God on youtube might have had a limiting effect on movement atheism’s ability to promote change toward secularity in society. Maybe this is an answer to that question?

  2. ridana says

    By “fight for equality” do they mean the equality of everybody or just atheists equal to theists? I haven’t seen a lot of the former advocated around the web, but I can’t say I’m very immersed either, so it could just be my ignorance.

  3. says

    Man, movement atheism’s embrace of organized misogyny is one of the heads of the hydra that put trump in power. And through trump’s pandering to the religious right, theocrats. The horsemenz, skeptic thinky leaders, and the youtube baby versions of the same have done more to promote theocracy than they can ever hope to undo.

  4. Kamaka says

    The “Atheist Movement” is all fucked up. I held Dawkins in high regard until he posted the ugly “Dear Muslima” bit here on this site.
    He changed my view of life with his Selfish Gene book, but goddammit, he fucked everything up with his “Dear Muslima” post.
    Honestly, I thought some impersonator wrote that shit. Jadehawk had to pound me and pound me some more before I understood the truth about Dawkins. Thank you Jadehawk.
    What’s left? Not much. The Hitch and Stenger are dead. Sam Harris is worthless. Shermer makes me want to puke.
    The women have all been screamed off the stage under vicious attack, rape and murder threats, no less. Rebecca Watson is very cool, but too bad for her for “speaking up”. That is not allowed, apparently, for her and any other women who DARE to “speak up”.
    Who’s left to speak besides the shouting trolls?
    The likes of Shermer and Dawkins wrecked it all.
    I’ve met Dawkins, I liked him. I held him in high regard. Thanks for the good book and all.
    Fuck you, Richard Dawkins. You piss me off, you fucking misogynistic jerk. Read that on your hate mail videos. “I look down on women.”
    Shermer, too, you fucking creep.
    I hate you both for deceiving me into thinking you were OK guys.

  5. says

    Yes, it’s so very disappointing how skeptical we have to be about a ‘plan to fight for equality and change’. So many asshats giving lip service to that sort of thing, and then interpreting equality and/or the status quo in very regressive ways.

  6. chrislawson says


    Life is too short to fight every battle, so I have no problem with there being people in the atheist movement who choose to put all of their own efforts into making atheists treated equitably. But to me the problem is that many prominent atheists are blocking attempts by others to work on broader humanist goals within the movement, isolating and ostracising those who want to do more, and worse, some are actively promoting bigotry.

    (Apart from the moral failure of blocking progressive humanist ideals, it’s also poor strategy for a counter-conservative movement. Southern Baptist churches have done more for progressive politics in the US than all the famous contemporary atheists combined. It’s an embarassment.)

  7. =8)-DX says

    “American Atheists redefines what that is. They challenge the status quo.”
    This just sounds like PR-speak. “Oh yes, we’re already doing all the things people criticise us for not doing, because we’re awesome!” Looking at all the “groundbreaking” badly designed billboards, conferences full of old white men talking about bigfoot and shitty sexism, it seems the actual strengths of organisations like AA has always been in the local political and social action. Providing groups where atheists can meet up, talk about leaving religion and maybe participate in local political and social work are the actual good work.

    I remember David Silverman’s entirely stupid podcast appearance where he was figuratively drooling and cooing about having hooked in Hugh Laurie (bless his soul) to talk at an event and patting himself on the back along with the host about how “AAA” names are what bring bums on seats and sell books and get media air time and that’s what the atheist movement needs: moar superpopular celebrities!

    It sounds worthwhile, at least to see if there’s any trust to be placed in the Minesota State representative for AA. According to that page it seems MA heads have a regular thing of leaving to join AA, so perhaps some trickle-up good will come of it.

  8. =8)-DX says

    @Kamaka #5

    Rebecca Watson is very cool, but too bad for her for “speaking up”

    Rebecca Watson is still cool, asshats threatening her did nothing to change that. I’d recommend her YouTube channel, blog and quizotron show, as well as twitch Overwatch stream and gaming podcast (if you’re into that kind of thing).

  9. hemidactylus says

    I’m thinking AA’s conception of equality is litigious activity to knock theism off its pedestal of privilege and making signs to that effect more than a newfound embrace of social justice. I could be wrong…hopefully. They seem firebreathing and over the top. Silverman owned this radical approach by invoking the Overton window in his book Fighting God.

    May be a worst case scenario of such an approach, but Rebecca Watson had done a post on them going after an animal shelter because a visiting priest:


    Her sarcasm and wit are endearing, but I usually only read posts that seem to have interesting content. I haven’t been keeping up with other Skepchick channels or affiliates or the Orbit. I recall Heina moved from Skepchick, here then to Orbit, but I haven’t checked for ages to see if she is still actively posting.

  10. Curt Sampson says

    Here is the complaint.

    My opinion: the suit is spurious. It’s technically correct, but it ain’t hurting anybody badly enough that you need to start doing lawsuits over it. If you want to make a point about religion, find some Satanists to also do a blessing at the shelter once a year, and sue once that gets stopped, if it does.

    (Or pick another non-Christian religious group if the Satanists are bad in your area. I suggest them merely because, of all the various religious groups I’ve interacted with over the last few dozen years, more individuals from that group are relaxed and open than those from any other I’ve encountered. But go with whatever you have.)

  11. jpmonroe8 says

    Hey PZ! I used to regularly read here up until around 2011ish, though I do not think I participated in the comments. I remember some of the drama first hand, though I thankfully missed most of it. Prompted by the Kavanaugh hearings, I’ve been going over the history I missed.

    I also went over content from Youtubers whom I did not follow at the time. Previously I read here, Butterflies and Wheels, WEIT, Russell Blackford, and etc.

    From what I gather, almost everyone involved at every step elected to publicly chew each other into tiny pieces on a personal level rather than addressing problems internally or forgiving marginal differences. That’s not a value judgment concerning what issues are essentially marginal, rather I mean issues orthogonal to the topics traditionally addressed by atheists and skeptics. Atheism+ was declared on an explicitly exclusionary basis by Richard Carrier, for example. Thunderf00t dismissed Skepchicks as intellectual munchkins.

    The drama also attracted more community attention here and elsewhere than did the traditional topics. The internet is an attention economy and that put incentives in the wrong directions. For most of those who were involved, this did not help traffic in the long run.

    I think the fractures were guaranteed permanence by those who engaged in complete moderation and those who banned even centerline objections to whatever was being presented. When allegations about the personal lives of prominent skeptics were aired by others, that made peaceful cooperation effectively impossible.

    Looking over some of the comments so far, I don’t see a solution. If nothing else Dawkins has done matters in light of ‘Dear Muslima’, the scales have tipped too far. I don’t think is a realistic weighing of concerns or values, nor a fair judgment of someone’s character when they have otherwise done so much for atheism.

    All movements have to deal with cultural problems. We were just particularly bad at it. We are enough of a minority that to factionalize is self-destruction. If the goal is to oppose religious impositions and the harms of irrationality, we will have to accept each other and be able to criticize each others’ positions without destroying reputations.

    So if I may, I would suggest everyone speak directly to a group of atheists you do not like, with patience and every effort to be constructive. You might find one you like. It’s also possible to support them where you happen to agree.

  12. alixmo says

    PZ Myers, you are needed as a spokesperson for atheism! (Atheism also needs more active, outspoken women.) The “gender issue”, which is the favourite pseudo-problem of right-wing atheist, is deeply rooted in a cult of masculinity. This cult is not exclusive to right-wing atheism, though. Misogynistic atheists are the tip of the iceberg. The vast majority of people who are against women`s rights AND also LGBTQ-rights are firmly rooted in religion.

    World-wide, we are getting into a political crisis, and our navel-gazing is not helping. The crisis is the rise of fascism (or authoritarianism). Those “leaders” are all firmly against “feminism” and LGBTQ-people. Silly to think that those guys or their huge following are atheists. They are not. And they are outspoken about it. Religion is the breeding ground for misogyny, gender apartheid and animus against everyone who does not fit into a “clean”, “natural”, “traditional”, “God-given” gender binary.

    I do not excuse right-wing atheists who adhere to the cult of male superiority. (Young guys often liked atheism especially because so few women were involved; it “proved” their mental and intellectual superiority over women.) But some of those “atheists” already switched their allegiance to Jordan Peterson, who is NOT an atheist or skeptic. And why? Because misogyny is NOT written into atheism per se. It IS part and parcel of religion, though. Peterson managed to sell his reactionary, traditionalist ideas to those young men because atheism just did not satisfy their need for more and more male superiority.

    We need more and harsher criticism of religions and deeper insight e.g. into the machinations of Evangelical fundamentalists. Their work is mostly hidden from us. Be it in Africa or South America, they grow in strength. This is bad news for everybody who cares for women`s rights (including “reproductive” rights like access to contraceptives and legal abortion, sex education) and LGBTQ-people.

    Jair Bolsonaro, the fascist Brazilian presidential candidate, is backed by powerful Evangelical groups and other fundamentalist believers. His appeal is owed to big extend to his anti-“feminist”, anti-gay (and other LGBTQ) animus. His campaign slogan: “Brazil above everything; God above everybody”.

    This hardly gets reported. There is a tacit agreement, especially from the left (I am left myself) not to talk negatively about religion. So the media (even “independent” youtube channels) ignore the connection between fascism and “traditional” religiosity. Surely, we will all pay for that neglect in time.

    Women`s rights and LGBTQ people are in danger around the globe. Therefore, we need “good” atheists like PZ Myers to go back out there. But careful, do not waste energy in in-fights. Pick your battle. Ignore the “male cultists” in atheism. They are but a smudge compared to their religious counterparts. The goal is to win the war, not (necessarily) every battle.