So, it’s “Atheist Day”

I’m sad to say that I don’t care anymore. I got all these messages that 23 March 2019 is Atheist Day, a “global event” with a few scattered local events, some of which look rather interesting, but the whole concept is leaving me cold, and I wasn’t sure why. I tried to figure out what was turning me off to the idea.

First thing that turned up was the source: Atheist Republic. I really dislike the organization — it’s very 2005, a group of people who are proud of themselves for the simplest possible conclusion, and who refuse to consider anything deeper. Their main web page makes the hoary old argument that “Atheism Is a Lack of Belief in Deities”, nothing more, and announces that there is “no singular, decisive atheist movement,” all while trying to represent an atheist movement. It’s the denial of any social responsibility, this idea that there is no point to atheism other than slapping each other on the back and telling each other, “you’re right!” when someone says there is no god. Over that.

Also, in past encounters with the group, there’s the casual, unthinking misogyny. But then, I guess that’s just part of the old-fashioned atmosphere. The good old days, you know.

And then Twitter is flooded with the #AtheistBecause hashtag. That was just a reminder of a disappointment. Some of you might recall I had this series on the blog, “Why I am an atheist”, in which I invited the audience to send me their personal story of why they were atheists. It was very popular, and there were quite a few thoughtful, interesting submissions, to the point where I was actually thinking of putting them into a book. I had drafted some release forms and was getting ready to send them out, when there was a peculiar shift. I was still getting submissions, but I was also getting all these frantic emails asking me to delete entries or edit out names — people were noticing that when they googled their names, the first thing that popped up was…their declaration of atheism. This was not good if you were, for instance, applying for jobs (and that also tells you how messed up American attitudes towards atheism are). The day the number of retraction requests exceeded the number of submissions was the day I knew that little project wasn’t going to happen.

I’m still getting retraction requests, by the way. Every few months someone writes to me and pleads to have their name redacted, or the whole dang post deleted. I oblige every time, of course.

Also by the way — the number of women making those deletion requests exceeds the number of men. I can’t imagine why.

I think I’ll spend my Atheist Day working through a couple of papers on spiders — I still have grand plans for my summer research, once this damnable snow goes away. Funny thing, though: spiders are all atheists. I guess I’ve found my people…errm, organisms.


  1. rietpluim says

    Well, I think the retraction requests are evidence enough that an international Atheist Day is necessary, but then again, such a day should be something substantial.

  2. says

    Oh, I agree. I just think if you try to build an atheist movement around an absence of values, you’re just going to end up with a coalescence of shitheads, again.

  3. Akira MacKenzie says

    So just because America is still a theistic shithole that discriminates against nonbelievers and some Atheist activists turned out to be sexist assholes, we should all just crawl back under our beds were we atheists can be safe and inoffensive?

    And what will you do for an encore, P. Z.? Advise LGBTQs to creep back into the closet? Suggest blacks just stay out of white neighborhoods?

  4. colinday says

    Atheism is a philosophical position, not a social movement; secularism is a social movement. And secularism as a social movement requires more than atheism.

  5. rorschach says

    I vaguely remember the “Why I am an atheist” posts, I might have contributed, and I am astonished to hear that you would have received requests to actually retract submissions.
    This is an argument for anonymous internet, isn’t it? If you google your name and get a result, be it a picture or news item or whatever, you have been doing the internet wrong. Obviously it’s different if you are high profile/published etc. , but for us foot soldiers the safest way to not cop constant abuse is to stay anonymous.
    Marcus Ranum, what say you?

  6. says

    Atheist day, huh? You know, in online LGBTQ+ activism, it’s much more common to declare that such and such day will be the day of ____. These efforts are often ill-conceived, and you don’t hear about most of them. But on the other hand, sometimes they’re eventually successful anyway. I think no matter how you do it, a day of ___ is going to be awkward in its first year, and it’s good to be open-minded about it–while still critical.

    I took a look at the Atheist Day page, and I have a few critiques. First, they’re very much taking the angle that this is in protest of atheist persecution, such as that which occurs in parts of the middle east. I’m not sure if the point is that I’m standing in solidarity with persecuted atheists or if I’m supposed to believe that I myself am persecuted to a similar degree here in the US. I get the sense that this event is not for me, despite the broadness of the name.

    The second thing is that they’re really pushing this green circle symbol, which to my knowledge is a symbol with no history. Now that really is ill-conceived, trying to combine the awkwardness of a new Day, with the awkwardness of creating a new symbol.

  7. rorschach says

    As to the atheist movement, actually, I think 10 years on from its peak, and 8 years on from its lowest moment in an elevator in Dublin, there is room and scope for a renewed movement. The world is going to shits, Pompeo is musing whether god sent Trump to save Israel, the NZ Prime Minister’s face was just projected to the tallest building in the world in Dubai after a white Aussie killed 50 people.
    This sounds like a good time to present a secular alternative to religious and white supremacist madness. But atheists need to be taking positions, get active, offer alternatives.

  8. says

    #3: I never argue for crawling into a closet. I’m saying that this Old New New Atheism, whatever we’re going to call it, isn’t offering anything worth fighting for. I’m not going to invest myself in a cause that is causeless.

  9. says

    I took a look at Atheist Republic, and I agree with the “very 2005” assessment. But I think there can be justification for that. There’s a whole world outside of the US and UK, and sometimes other parts of the world really can lag 15 years behind in terms of their social movements. They’re kind of like a living embodiment of the ghost of atheist past, and in the mean time, to them I suppose we must be the ghost of atheist future.

  10. psychomath says

    @5 colinday

    Yeah, I agree. I never saw the wisdom in trying to add a moral value structure to atheist movement, such as it was. It was obvious that the movement was unwelcoming to many, and that was untenable, but atheism just seemed like the wrong foundation. I was raised atheist, and never knowingly suffered because of it, so it never was important to my self identity, and I now understand that was a privilege not everyone enjoyed. For many coming out was a scary and lonely formative experience, and I see the importance for some to have an atheist community for encouragement and support. It still seems to me to be kinda flimsy as a foundation, though, since simply being an atheist doesn’t imply much about one’s attitude towards social justice, which ultimately makes it neither encouraging nor supportive.

    Anyway, I focus on secularism, social justice, and economic justice now. Pharygula is the only nominally atheist source I ever read these days, and I’m here more for the biology and the idiot bashing now.

  11. psychomath says

    Oh, and the window into academia. I really appreciate the posts on the social and political aspects of colleges and universities.

  12. Akira MacKenzie says

    P. Z. @ 9

    I’m sorry. It’s just that the present days has me really down.

  13. says

    For me, it’s a belief in a lack of deities.
    I mean, I can’t PROVE it.
    But any omnipotent being that was deliberately hiding from me certainly wouldn’t be (for instance) the god of Abraham.

  14. Hj Hornbeck says

    (clicks the Atheist Day link)

    Err, a green circle? Green bandsare already used to raise awareness for depression, cerebral palsy, organ donation, celiac disease, and environmentalism. I can understand why they don’t want to use the Scarlet A, but it’s not like there’s a lack of alternatives that are primarily associated with atheism. About the only advantage I can see to using a simple circle is that it resembles the Atheist Republic logo.

    …. Ooooohhh. No wonder they’re keen on promoting it.

  15. Hj Hornbeck says

    Some of you might recall I had this series on the blog, “Why I am an atheist”, in which I invited the audience to send me their personal story of why they were atheists.

    Hell yeah, that series made quite an impression on me. Reading those entries and then comparing them to why people become religious led to a big change in the way I think about religion, and ultimately torpedoed the big book of atheist apologetics I was writing at the time.

  16. mnb0 says

    @9: anything in any atheist movement worth fighting for – ie social justice – can be fought side with side with believers fighting for the same. You just confirmed that Atheist Day is a silly idea.
    October 17th is just one much better day for all kinds of social activities.

  17. DanDare says

    My little Atheist Community here in OZ emphasises the community bit. That means that as well as dominating our mission statement (We are to do what communities do) we have a values statement as well. The atheist bit is just one commonality we insist on for membership, and it is merely disbelief.

  18. hemidactylus says

    Secularism merely means lack of religion in public square. Secularists are most active in church-state separation which is good. Getting beyond strict dictionary atheism means turning to humanism. Now there’s a problematic term. I take it to mean learning Greek and Latin and rehashing the classics, footnotes to Plato and Aristotle and all that.

    “When evening has come, I return to my house and go into my study. At the door I take off my clothes of the day, covered with mud and mire, and I put on my regal and courtly garments; and decently reclothed, I enter the ancient courts of ancient men (sic), where, received by them lovingly, I feed on the food that alone is mine and that I was born for. There I am not ashamed to speak with them and to ask them the reason for their actions; and they in their humanity reply to me. And for the space of four hours I feel no boredom, I forget every pain, I do not fear poverty, death does not frighten me. I deliver myself entirely to them.”- Machiavelli

    And relish pagan art and other vanities to piss off Savonarola as did Lorenzo the Magnificent. That’s the true meaning of humanism in the sense of Renaissance Florence. Let’s make humanism great again!

  19. John Morales says


    Secularism merely means lack of religion in public square. Secularists are most active in church-state separation which is good. Getting beyond strict dictionary atheism means turning to humanism.

    Sorta, even though it’s as pointlessly redundant to speak of “secular humanism” as to speak of “secular atheism”. But it’s hardly enough. After all, there are religiously-motivated humanists.

    (Also, Ayn Rand’s Objectivism is humanistic, stupid as it may be)

  20. Saganite, a haunter of demons says

    The 23rd of March was Darsana Prime day. Much more meaningful.

  21. says

    Huh. I wrote one of the submissions, and it took me a while to dig it out of google, even knowing some specifics that would flag it. Of course, I’m not exactly in the closet in terms of my disbelief, so it doesn’t affect me at all anyway.

  22. says

    I, too, wrote a post, and would stand by it in publication.

    But atheism and secularism and humanism have all evolved since then. Dictionary-definitions are less meaningful. So I’d stand by the post in a book titled “Why I’m A Fucking Decent Human-Person, And Not An Emotionless Lizard In A Human-Like Skin Suit, And You Couldn’t Prove Otherwise.”

    I’m pretty daring that way.

  23. alixmo says

    Maryam Namazie on “Why #AtheistDay?” and (with Farinorz Pooya)

    This day is a product of international groups, not just some white Anglo-Saxon men’s project! There are many people with diverse backgrounds involved in this World Atheist Day, many of them Ex-Muslims. Many of them women.

    I appreciate their courage, many of them faced real danger to “come out”. I never did, and I cannot even think of what I would do in their situation. Most European atheists did not face dire repercussions, either. Not even U.S. citizens face similar problems. I deeply respect the personal strength of those atheists (mostly of Middle Eastern or Asian

    Therefore, I support their(!) idea of World Atheist Day.

    It gives people around the world support, courage and solidarity. People, who are intimidated, oppressed, hiding their real selves from the “thought police” in their home culture. People, who often have to face terrible choices. Choices, that not only affect them, but their entire family.

    Giving those people hope is a laudable goal! Next year, I will celebrate World Atheist Day!

  24. alixmo says

    I was never part of any “movement”. I still know little about so called “New Atheism” and its problems (most of it I read here). Still, I dare to have a thought about it, an opinion (which could be wrong):

    From what I read here in this thread, I got the impression that there is a great disillusionment about parts of a (vague) group that calls itself “atheists”. That disillusionment seems to be based in the fact that this faction/segment did not care for or is even opposed to social justice causes, like anti-racism and pro-feminism activism. This disillusionment was so deep, that there is now a split in this perceived group of “atheists”.

    Well, “atheists” are a group, yes. But a very loose one, only held together by the disbelieve in deities or other supernatural entities. (Yes, it really is nothing more.) This group is capable of doing some amazing activism and campaigning for broad goals connected to this fact, which is quite a bit of work, given the fact that, world-wide, religion is still dominating and many people are still not allowed their right to freedom of consciousness and freedom from religion. Clearly, there is much to do for atheist-activism per se.

    The rift appeared when topics beyond the narrow issue of “atheism” were voiced. It became clear that a broad movement like this actually included many people who have nothing else in common but “atheism”. And that common ground proved to be to little.

    Any big, very diverse, group is strained when confronted with so called “divisive issues”. Being leftist/liberal/progressive, all those issues of course are absolutely not “decisive” to me; I am anti-racist, pro-feminist, pro-LGBTQ+. It turned out, many other vocal/”Internet” atheists were not. (Still, according to polls world-wide and in the U.S., atheists are mainly progressive/leftist/liberal.)

    That visible and vocal (non-representative) subgroup consists mostly of conservatives, ultra-conservatives, libertarians and even a few “fascists”. That should not surprise us. It is a fact of life that those people exist, for whatever reason (nurture/nature), like it or not. And of course, some of them are atheists!

    It was not atheism that turned those people into shit. No. It was “always in them”.

    We all have more than one aspect to our personality, more than one opinion, more than one interest, more than one affiliation. Turns out that atheism was less strong than political (broadly speaking) orientation which was “already in them”.

    I was very disappointed and annoyed as well, when I first heard of this crazed, misogynist herd of (Internet) atheists. I truly disdain them, utterly. For me, a main reason to support atheism and secularism is the treatment of women by patriarchal religions. Hence, my absolute disgust when some of “us” showed their misogyny.

    Now I understand that their behavior merely mirrors their political leanings. I still dislike those people, strongly, and feel solidarity e.g. with the women they harassed and trolled. Those women are victims and deserve justice.

    But that does not mean that the issue of promoting atheism/secularism (or better even, humanism) is not worth fighting for! Especially now that the main “protagonists” of “atheism” are conservatives/libertarians/right wingers, we leftists have to show more presence.

    Looking at the news or reports, I am daily reminded that religion needs to be curbed, needs a critical (non-religious) watch-dog. It should be us, not the conservative/right wing of atheism, that visibly stands up against religion (I do not trust those guys with the work; they have too much in common with the conservative religious crowd). Traditionally, leftists were leading critics of religion (hence the disappointment when we found out that some of “us” are not left-orientated.)

    And the world needs more atheism! Women, LGBTQ+, science, free thinking and progress need atheism. Because without atheism, the room for all of the above mentioned will shrink, maybe even wither away.

    (I leave migrants and minorities causes out here, because the main problem there is not necessary religion, at least not at present. But not being completely shit on some issues does not mean that you are not shitty altogether: e.g. most religions are patriarchal and adamant on their oppression of women. That is reason enough to fight against them.)