Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Here's a fun new movement that's hit the atheosphere recently: A+: atheism plus social justice.

As you probably already know, the words "atheist" and "atheism" simply mean "lack of belief in a god or gods" -- thus, if someone identifies as atheist, that doesn't mean that the person necessarily agrees with me on any other point. Yet, it seems like most atheists I encounter actually do hold a lot of additional beliefs in common. I generally use the term "Humanist" to describe my positive philosophy, but I agree with Jen McCreight that there's room for an additional term because a movement that's not totally identical with Humanism has grown around atheism.

Now, I know this idea has been born of controversy, so I decided to take a closer look at the controversy before signing on. Specifically, VJack at Atheist Revolution has provided some thoughtful dissent. The most prominent spokespeople for feminism within the atheist movement have been accused of bullying and of engaging in group-think.

Is it true that there are people committed to seeing women and minorities as full-fledged members of the atheist movement, but who are getting bullied by the prominent feminist-atheists? If so, that's a problem, and would make me hesitate to join their new "A+" movement. Fortunately, VJack gathered up a list of such accusations (from various blogs) so we can asses the charges.

Here's my assessment of the posts on the list:

This post had some good constructive criticism. The others weren't too impressive. They failed to convince me that they're committed to stopping sexism within the atheist community (or even that they're opposed to sexism at all). Among them, I found a claim that sexism is a trivial issue, derisive remarks about feminism, and even a guy accusing a woman of getting published only through gender-based affirmative action. Nice.

So, I didn't find a conflict with two sides, both opposing sexism, but one side full of group-thinking bullies. It looks like is is a genuine philosophical conflict over whether it's good for the atheist movement to be a boys' club. Guys, don't be on the wrong side of this.


(see also: DJ, please fix this genuine problem. If women state that they were sexually harassed at a conference, that doesn't make me think that harassment is a widespread problem at the conference. However, when the organizers respond -- not by enforcing rules against harassment, but -- by telling the women they need to shut up about it, that makes me think there may well be a serious problem.

"a small number of prominent and well-meaning women skeptics who, in trying to help correct real problems of sexism in skepticism, actually and rather clumsily themselves help create a climate where women — who otherwise wouldn’t — end up feeling unwelcome and unsafe." Wrong. When women's legitimate concerns are dismissed and ignored, that helps create where women — who otherwise wouldn’t (like me!) — end up feeling unwelcome and unsafe.)


postmormongirl said...

Honestly, what prompted my shift from calling myself an atheist to calling myself an agnostic was the fact that so many atheists seem to have a very rigid view on what people should believe. After a certain point, I realized I didn't have any more claim to truth than any other person. Which isn't to say that I don't agree with atheism - I lean more towards atheism than theism - but I can't pretend that I have any more claim on truth than anyone else. Maybe agnosticism is a wishy-washy stance but I find it preferable to saying "I know there is no God".

Funny, I just posted on feminism and the fact that so many people view the term with such negativity. I think we all need to go back to basics with the term feminism, as so many people who are inherently feminist in ideology are afraid to label themselves as such. It's time to start talking about feminism is inherently egalitarian in nature.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey PMG!!!

Yeah, feminism is tricky because it means different things to different people and because women have extremely diverse interests. I've had experiences where I felt like prominent feminists were so misguided that I almost rejected the "feminist" label. But I realized that the feminist movement is where most of the people who care about women's issues are at, so I agree that it's better to get on board and try to help steer this crazy train, rather than rejecting it outright.

The situation with atheism is similar, but maybe a little different. Atheism isn't technically a movement -- people who think you have to believe XYZ (anything other than lack of belief in god(s)) to be an atheist are wrong.

At the same time, a movement has kind of coalesced around atheism -- a movement that does have a set of additional tenets. That's why I think this "Athiesm+" idea is so brilliant. It helps distinguish between merely being an atheist, and being a part of the modern atheist movement.

MrRoivas said...

Completely off topic, but I thought you would be interested to know that the Mormon Church has officially declared caffeine okay so long as its not in a hot drink. So cola and ice tea are okay, but coffee is not.

C. L. Hanson said...


Yes, very interesting development!! It was one of the highlights of my SiOB column this week! :D

ivo said...

I've followed the whole momentous buildup that has led to Atheism+, since Elevatorgate last year. I must say that I've learned a lot about feminism, male privilege, and many related issues (special thanks to the amazing: Greta Christina, Rebecca Watson, PZ Myers, Jen, etc, and also those bloggers who have actually learned something and switched sides! (or quit the fence)).

I slowly realized how disgustingly misogynist a certain portion of the skeptic and atheist community is, and how completely oblivious of it most of the rest of us are. I must say that all of this was rather depressing, until the rise (or explosion? that was really quick!) of A+ has managed to rekindle my faith, so to speak.

By the way, Carol, do you know that DJ has left FTB and Jen has stopped blogging?

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Ivo!!!

Very cool!! Except the part about Jen's hiatus....