Chris Hall has an excellent article on how the atheism movement has moved away from an almost exclusive focus on proudly declaring nonbelief and on debunking religion and superstitions and is now addressing social justice issues in a much more conscious way.
There is an obvious changing of the guard going on, with people like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris (and the late Christopher Hitchens) no longer the faces of the movement and even seen by some as being embarrassing throwbacks holding reactionary views on issues of gender, race, and class, somewhat like an eccentric uncle who was once seen as a rebel in the family that one admired but who hasn’t kept pace with developments and cannot understand why people no longer take him seriously.
More and more, the strongest atheist voices are talking about nonbelief less as an end in itself, but as part of a larger conversation about social justice. It could hardly be any other way: atheism is growing not only in numbers, but in diversity. When Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens were at their most prominent, a frequent (and credible) criticism was that the faces of atheism were all white, male and affluent. To make the same claim now is to deliberately ignore some of the most vital atheist and skeptic voices that have emerged in the last 10 years.
Just as in any other group, there are scores of people in atheist and skeptic communities who don’t want to have discussions about racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and other bigotries, or say they’re irrelevant to the agenda at hand. The increase in diversity isn’t happening quietly or easily, and it’s often brought out the ugliest sides of people who base their entire identities on being rational and humane.
But despite the organized hatefulness, racism, misogyny, transphobia, or just the malign neglect of old-school atheists, those who are demanding that atheism become more intersectional and diverse are not becoming silent or fading away into the background. It’s becoming more and more obvious that these critiques are essential if organized atheism is to transcend its stereotype as a refuge for privileged eccentrics.
We are social creatures, and racism, misogyny, classism, and other prejudices affect our lives in ways that are just as solid as the earth orbiting the sun or our immune systems’ response to a vaccine. The activists who insist that atheism address matters of social justice are not distracting the movement from its purpose or being divisive; they are insisting it deliver on the promises that attracted so many of us to it in the first place.
This shift to a broader focus has not been entirely controversy-free nor should we expect it to be. Since nonbelievers do not necessarily share the same views on politics and social justice, this will also mean that atheists will not be speaking with a single voice and will start taking stands opposing each other on many issues. I don’t see why this should be a problem. In fact, it is much better for the atheist movement if there are diverse voices. Otherwise the views on social justice issues by old-school atheists like Dawkins and Harris will be taken as representative of atheism in general and that would be terrible.