So you are an atheist. Now what?


Over at stderr, Marcus Ranum has a great piece explaining why ‘movement atheism’ was inherently limiting and now appeals only to those (like Richard Dawkins) who have either no broader social justice goals and hence have nothing useful to say outside of condemning religion or (like Sam Harris, Michael Shermer, and the late Christopher Hitchens) are actively opposed to many of those goals.

Richard Dawkins has not had any thoughts about politics that are important enough to make him a footnote to a Cliffs’ Notes version of Plato, so he’s doing well sticking to the well-hoed field of atheism, where he can make arguments that would have elicited a yawn from Hume and an eye-roll from Voltaire.

Religion is a huge system of bullshit, and there are many sub-fields within religion, and anyone who wishes to can have a busy and productive life just attacking any one or maybe two of those sub-fields – in fact, I owe my perspective on movement atheism to Sam Harris and his shit-show posting about “Why don’t I criticize Israel?” [stderr] that made me realize that movement atheists simply do not have the chops to go after anything bigger and tougher than refuting religion.

What I’m saying is that folks like Harris, Dawkins, Shermer, Carrier, et. al., have found the place where they are as effective as they want to be, and they’re comfortable there. Oh, you want to argue about whether or not there’s evidence for the biblical jesus? That’s nice. Over in the deep end of the pool, they are arguing about whether there’s evidence that supply-side economics works and they’re trying to model what reparations for slavery might look like over the size of an economy like the United States’ and 400 years. Next up: what about the Indigenous Peoples? As far as I am concerned, the atheist movement hit its peak effort when a bunch of its stars stepped forward and then immediately fell all over themselves when they tried to express thoughtful opinions about politics.

You should read the whole thing.

Comments

  1. says

    why ‘movement atheism’ was inherently limiting and now appeals only to those (like Richard Dawkins) who have either no broader social justice goals and hence have nothing useful to say outside of condemning religion

    When it comes to condemning religion, the question is why does somebody chooses to publicly condemn it and put so much of their time and effort into doing so. Possible options: because they think that (1) religion is false, or (2) religion is harmful. If some atheist merely believes that religions are factually false, then why bother investing so much of your personal time and effort into condemning them? After all, the world is full with various factually incorrect beliefs, and most of the time people don’t care about them, for example there exists no large movement that opposes beliefs in Bigfoot or Nessie. People start large movements only when they believe that some belief is harmful, otherwise they just don’t bother campaigning against the falsehood.

    The problem with “movement atheism” isn’t that people who are involved in it have “no broader social justice goals.” If that was literally the case, they wouldn’t bother with it. If they didn’t consider religions harmful, people wouldn’t oppose them so adamantly. It’s just that their “social justice goal” is making sure that white, wealthy, cis men are no longer denied jobs because of skipping church services and being openly atheist. Church and state separation is something that matters for white men personally. Women’s right or LGBTQIA+ rights, on the other hand, do not personally concern some white dude. White cis men who are atheist leaders only care about how religion harms them. They don’t care about how religion harms women, people of color, or LGBTQIA+ people.

    (Note: some leader might actually be in a movement merely for the conference money. But this is not the case for followers who are also in the movement.)

  2. file thirteen says

    @Andreas Avester #1

    If some atheist merely believes that religions are factually false, then why bother investing so much of your personal time and effort into condemning them?

    Because they are so fucking popular. Degree of Falsehood * Degree of Popularity = Capacity for Harm, no “merely” in it.

  3. mnb0 says

    “So you are an atheist. Now what?”
    A question I already had answered before I declared myself an atheist more than 30 years ago (before I considered myself an agnost). Rather cooperate with a christian with the same political goals as me regarding social justice and environmental problems than with the big names mentioned by MarcusR. I have no idea whether the politicians I voted for (notably Ria Beckers) were religious or not. What’s more, I never cared.
    When will American atheist SJWs learn? Movement atheism was doomed to fail from the beginning. That’s why I never was part of it -- I had more important things to do, like teaching math and physics in the interior of Suriname, where there were no qualified teachers. I happily cooperated with many christians and muslims at my school.

  4. says

    @Andreas Avester #1

    People start large movements only when they believe that some belief is harmful, otherwise they just don’t bother campaigning against the falsehood.

    I do largely agree with your point here. However, adding to what file thirteen stated for comment #2, I would first suggest that people like Dawkins did not start the movement. Second, do not confuse social justice with all concern over harm. I would point to Sam Harris as an example here. The “harm” he seems to be mostly worried about when it comes to religion is in regards to terrorists who just so happen to be Muslim. But he does not seem to be interested in justice. Or, as you have noted yourself, “their ‘social justice goal’ is making sure that white, wealthy, cis men are no longer denied jobs because of skipping church services and being openly atheist.” But that’s not justice. Not really. (I’m not even sure how harmful that actually is.) It’s about largely privileged people whining that there is some particular privilege they don’t have. I would have thought you put it in quotes like that to indicate that it is not, in fact, what it is claimed to be. So I’m confused, then, as to why you did that.
    In conclusion, I don’t think your point invalidates what Mano said about them having “no broader social justice goals.” Also, now that I’m writing this conclusion, I noticed the use of the word “broader.” So even if I were to concede that fighting against job discrimination were about social justice, it is a narrow goal, which would, in turn, make your counter argument a strawman. I believe it to be entirely unintentional, but a strawman nonetheless.