Adam Lee says a lot of things about the atheist movement I’ve said before — the deplorable leaders, the avid adoption of alt-right ideology, the islamophobia and misogyny, the dominance of awful people over YouTube atheism. He ticks off all the same check boxes I do.
But one thing different is that he ends on a note of optimism. I think he makes an important point here that I’m typically too exhausted to care about anymore — it’s not all bad and hopeless.
It can’t be denied that many prominent atheists, as well as some of the louder and most vehement voices in the community, have supported Alt Right ideology and White male supremacy. However, many of the larger atheist and secular groups have gone in the opposite direction and are quietly engaged in serious work on social-justice and intersectional issues. Organizations like the American Humanist Association, the Freedom from Religion Foundation, and the atheist charity Foundation Beyond Belief have a solid record of supporting women’s equality and reproductive justice, promoting the voices of people of color, and supporting non-church-based charitable programs in underserved communities worldwide.
These groups and others like them have recognized that society is diversifying, and so must the atheist movement. To remain narrowly focused on the issues of greatest concern to White men, and no others, would lead the secular community into an ideological dead end. To actively scorn the concerns of women and people of color isn’t just morally abhorrent, but self-eradicating. As for atheists, there are strong currents pulling the movement in both directions. Which one will win out, and how that victory will reshape the movement’s priorities, are very much open questions.
It’s true — some of the best, most inspiring people I’ve met have been atheists, and they do sometimes end up in leadership positions in good organizations, too often with little fanfare. Part of the problem here is that it’s easy to be loudly aghast at the scattered assholes with loud voices, and overlook the majority who share decent progressive values. While religious people are also mostly good, there’s always this one commonality they hold: an intellectual and emotional commitment to raving lunacy, proudly held. When I would attend atheist conferences, one of the biggest reliefs was finding oneself in a community where the superstitious foolishness of religious gatherings was gone, and it was a welcome absence.
We just went looking for other bad ideas in our groups, and we let them taint that joy, rather than simply casting them into the void, where they belong.
One other factor I have to mention is that the villains of atheism were passionately dedicated to making sure their views, and only their views, were allowed to be expressed. I had a conversation with a conference organizer who was feeling me out to see if I’d be willing to speak at their event, and I was…but they then explained that it was a tentative invite, because while the majority of the committee were eager to get me, there was this one guy (there’s always one guy) who hated me and was going to raise a big stink. I never heard from them again. Which was fine…I don’t feel a right to a platform.
But that’s what’s been happening: a few loud voices can dominate the discourse, and the tolerant Left tends to avoid the whole idea of “domination”, while the intolerant Right embraces it. It leads to an asymmetry that influences our perception.
In addition, the bad voices are willing to lie, cheat, and steal to secure that dominance. Just look at our Republican party. Or look at YouTube, where the name of the game is fooling the Algorithm, and using endless sock puppet accounts to generate an illusion of overwhelming numbers. Those assholes have built an amazing Potemkin village to subvert any principle of democracy or merit.
It’s hard because I’m so goddamn tired of the game any more, but I have to try and remember there is a virtue to godlessness, and a majority of good people in atheism. It’s just been subverted by an unscrupulous minority.