Would people object to an atheist group showing up at Pride with a banner “Atheist for LGBT rights”? Would this confuse onlookers and make them assume that all atheists are for LGBT rights? I was at the 2012 World Pride in London and right behind my group, Nigerian LGBTIs in diaspora, was another group with the banner “Lawyers for Equal Marriage”. I am a lawyer and I also happen to know many lawyers who are against equality rights for same-sex couples. Should the anti-LGBT equality lawyers protest the use of the name ‘Lawyers’ in such context? Well, that would be silly!
Just like Lawyers, Socialists and Humanists, I can also use my Atheist self-identity to complement other causes I identify with. No other atheists get to tell me, “Hey do not add ‘plus’ to Atheism, you are redefining it”. I am not redefining it; I am only using what I already am to promote other causes I believe in.
NO, I do not have to do it under humanism or secular humanism label, as often suggested by sometimes well meaning opponents of Atheismplus. Not that I owe anyone any explanation why I choose to promote my social justice causes under a label I actively wear, but the thing is, I actively identify more as an atheist than I do as a humanist, and the fact that you would feel comfortable advocating for social justice under secular humanism does not mean I have to feel the same. I won’t give you any headache if you chose to actively promote pro-choice, lgbt rights or socialism under the secular humanism label. So please do not assume you have the right to tell me or any other persons not to use the atheism tag we actively wear, as a meeting point to promote social justice causes we mutually care about. I use what i am to promote other things I hold dear. If you don’t like it, sue me for copyright infringement, if you can’t, just learn to live with it!
And no, I do not have to be content with joining social justice groups to promote causes I care about. What is wrong with having a one stop shop for my atheism plus social justice causes? I am a member of many social justice groups that start and end their meetings with prayer to a skydaddy. Sometimes in order to be “all inclusive”, they start with a Christian prayer and end with a Muslim prayer. The many times I have tried to point out that they are not being considerate of other members who are adherents of native religions and those who do not share their God belief, often earn me a stern look that might spoil the mood of the meeting and negatively affect the agenda of the meeting. I have been told i ostracize myself from fellow comrades because of my atheism. Never mind that they are the ones who want to keep their distance from me because they are scared associating with an “infidel” like me could incur the wrath of their skydaddy. So, while I am happy to network with other persons and social justice groups that do not share my non belief, I am more than glad to have a group where I do not have to spoil their mood with my non belief in God.
This also applies to many atheist groups. I might enjoy stopping by to make a contribution or two on atheists groups, but when group members do not check their privilege, are happy to use slur words, encourage racism or homophobia, under the disguise that they are just a group of people who do not belief in God, whenever I have a chance to make my position clear, I call them out on their ‘assholiness’, and if they don’t make changes, i leave the group. The catch is, because our only bond is simply our non belief in God, they really don’t have a duty to be a decent person just by virtue of their non belief in theism, therefore I cannot demand or force them to be educated on race , feminism and sexuality. I can only point them to the implications of their words. However, when I join a group of other atheists who states categorically that they are a group of atheists who want to network in a safe environment free from racism, homophobia and anti feminist slurs, I immediately feel at home.
I see no reason why the atheists who do not care about these social justice issues, or who care but simply do not want to be overly active about those causes, or who want to be active but chose not to do so under their atheist tags umbrella, should throw tantrums just because some other atheists are happy to come together under the atheist label to promote mutual social justice causes.
The good thing is that while I do not have the right to demand that a member of an atheist group who uses slur words be kicked out of the atheist group especially if the aim did not specify their stance on use of slur words, I absolutely have the right to demand that an atheist who voluntarily joined an atheist plus group be banned from the group for the use of slur words, because it violates the policy of the group.
Why join a group if you aren’t happy with its aims, objectives and policy? I have had experiences with atheists who join atheists plus groups and constantly violate its stated policy. How is that different from religious believers who join atheist pages just to tell them how they are going to burn in hell?
I recently had an experience with a generally well meaning white, male atheist who is a group member of the African Atheist+ facebook group. I noticed that while he was generally happy to make atheist posts bashing religion, he gets all uncomfortable when members make posts about racism. He leaves such comments like “shouldn’t we just be colour blind?” under any post that speaks on racism. When a black female member shared her blog discussing the non inclusiveness of persons of colour in the atheist community, without even reading the post or giving any indication that he had bothered to read the post, this white guy made his usual comment , “shouldn’t we just stop seeing ourselves as unique and be colour blind?
Now, every attempt to explain to him what was wrong with his silencing technique and how inappropriate his comment was under the post thread was eventually met with my being accused of reverse racism. When asked to state just one racist word I used in my “very lengthy” arguments(as he called it), he could only come up with “Check your white privilege”. I had to give him a lecture on why asking someone to check their privilege, be it colour, gender or sexual orientation privilege, is not racist and definitely not an insult. I skipped the lecture on why reverse racism is not even possible, as i suspect that would have been way over his head.
Now, the point is, the only way I could end that argument peacefully was to refer him to the stated aims, objectives and policy document of the African Atheist plus group. And serve him a warning that next time he attempts to silence a discussion on racism or feminism with his usual “Can’t we all just get along” tactic, he might get an immediate ban. If it was just an atheist group page, I wouldn’t have a stated policy to direct him to, but seeing it is an atheist plus group, the policy made it clear that we are not just here to bash baby Jesus and his followers but to also promote our mutual social justice goals. His case is a good reminder of why I am glad there is Atheism plus.
I do not necessarily discuss socialism in atheists’ forum but if the issue came up, I won’t shy away from engaging in critical debates. Also, I do not jump into atheists’ forum and scream, “Hey everyone, I wanna lecture you about sexism, racism, or homophobia”!
In most instances, the words used by group members trigger the need to engage on ‘rights based’ discussion. You might be perfectly happy to make posts bashing religion but when you use words like “cunts”, “sluts”, and “faggots” in group forums, it becomes incumbent upon me as a group member to bring to your attention the logical implication of your language use. When you further dismiss my concerns as “girls’ talk” or “rants”, then it becomes necessary for me to call you out on your irrational behavior. When you come on social network sites to call out religious believers on their lack of thinking capacity in the area of religion; it is only fair that same be applied to you in areas where you have also displayed a lack of critical thinking capacity, no exceptions.
I appreciate that not all atheists are concerned about social justice issues, and I probably wouldn’t start a social justice debate with a random atheist I met in a bar who just want to have a drink. However atheists who come on social network sites and spend time bashing religions are basically saying, “I do not belief in your religion, your Jesus story is fraught with irrationalities, your God sounds like a bigot”, well you are basically telling the world that you are someone who lacks a belief in a deity because you are a rational thinker, as the slogan says, “I think, therefore I am an Atheist”.
When you present yourself not just as an atheist but claim your atheism is as a result of rational thinking, don’t be surprised when people engage you in rational debates because they think you are a rational thinker , who by definition, should be open to rational debates and ready to succumb to superior facts.
This is the reason I bother to engage in rational discussions with atheists and expect same from them. This is why the way I would engage with a random atheist I met in a private space would be different from the way I engage an atheist I met on an atheist social network group. Therefore when rape jokes, gay or racial slurs are made on an atheists’ forum, it is only logical to engage in rational discussions about the genesis of such slurs that have led to irrational conclusions about a group of people.
When some atheists cringe away from such discussions and instead chose to label me or other dissenters as divisive, feminazis or confrontational, well, what they are simply signaling is that they are rational only around the issue of religion, they lack the capacity to be rational about other issues that demands rationality or just that they do not wish or have chosen not to engage in rational discussion or reach a rational conclusion about certain issues. In most cases, these certain issues just happened to be issues feminists, lgbts advocate and human rights activists are concerned about.
I do understand that it could be difficult for someone with power or privilege to relinquish or even admit that they have power and privilege. Engaging in Rights discussion with some atheists is basically like trying to take away their prized toys, it is not easy to pry away old toys from some adults, it is not easy breezy to let go of privileges, but you can’t eat your cake and have it.
If you want to come online and laugh at religious believers for their irrational belief in a God, well everyone has also got the right to laugh at your irrational belief or in most cases attitudes that reinforce the irrational beliefs that women are inferior and can be called sluts, that gays, lesbians, bisexuals, trans are somehow fit only to be called faggots, that blacks are subhuman and therefore should be tactically silenced in a group, that persons with physical disability or mental health issues can be ignored in a forum.When you use words and act in ways that support these irrational beliefs, you are not any better than the irrational religious believers you are so eager to laugh at!
If you do not want people to laugh at your funny beliefs, do not hold funny beliefs, if you do not want to be called out on your bigotry, do not display bigotry, if you do not want me to get angry at your irrational thoughts, do not express such thoughts towards me. Being an atheist does not give you a free pass from scrutiny, being a member of an atheist group does not give you a license to be an asshole. It really is that simple.
BTW, you still have a right not to identify with Atheism+, it does not automatically make you an asshole, just same way identifying as an atheist does not automatically make you a decent person. We can still hang out on atheist forums but I’ll surely be an irritating fly buzzing around parochial atheists who use atheists’ forums to perpetrate misogyny, homophobia and racism. Atheists who aren’t assholes need not find me irritating for standing up for equal rights for all, anywhere and everywhere I can. So I guess we should get along very well on Atheist minus the Plus forum. However, it is great to know that when I need a break from all the misogynist fights and ism schisms bullshits, I have an Atheists+ forum to retreat to. A safe place is always welcome, even the toughest of activists needs a sanctuary.
Related post- What are Anti-Atheists+ afraid of?