As a number of folks on Tweeter had posted a link to the Salon.com article, “Atheism’s growing pains,” particularly because it referenced Atheism+, I thought I would have a look. I skimmed half of it because it just summarized the rise of atheism (I won’t call it a “movement”) and later, the prominence (or notoriousness) of Jen McCreight and her ill-named “Boobquake.” I wrote about Boobquake briefly here, but Adam Lee’s statement here is too good to bypass:
At first it seemed like lighthearted fun in support of a good point, but she (McCreight) wrote that it had encouraged some men in the atheist community to view her as a sex object, rather than a person with ideas worth taking seriously …
Again, I ask: ya think? Here is a confirmed neofeminist who is supposedly vehemently against the objectification of women who came up with a title for an event that, itself, objectifies women. I know I’m repeating myself, but this is stunning. But I could get bogged down in this silliness all night. Let’s press on.
Lee then proceeds to Atheism+ and begins to show his hand when he leaves the third person point of view and slips into the second person language of “we:”
The animating idea behind Atheism+ is that atheism isn’t a stopping point, but a beginning. We’re atheists not because we want to gather and engage in collective back-slapping, not because we want to chortle at the foolishness of benighted believers, but because we care about creating a world that’s more just, more peaceful, more enlightened, and we see organized religion as standing in the way of this goal. We consider politically engaged atheism an effective way to demolish this obstacle, to refute the beliefs that have so often throughout human history been used to excuse cruelty, inequality, ignorance, oppression and violence. (Full disclaimer: I identify as a member of A+ and as a proponent of social justice.)
While the “full disclaimer” is appreciated, I’m afraid, disclaimer or not, it doesn’t do much for his argument. Let me rephrase some of his points here. We’re atheists because we don’t believe in any god or gods. OK, there. That’s all I need. Atheism does not say anything whatsoever, nor should it, about morals, political positions, gender rights, racism or anything else. “Politically engaged atheism” runs the same danger as politically engaged Christianity. Some Christians are as tuned into issues of social justice as nonbelievers. To suggest that nonbelievers do or should have a monopoly on social justice is a hideous and arrogant notion. Some atheists are contemptible human beings; others give abundantly to making the world a better place. To marry atheism with a laundry list of social justice issues not only sullies atheism but commits millions of nonbelievers to political ideas with which they may or may not agree. And it is perfectly OK whichever position they take. It’s their choice.
Thus, the goals of Atheism Plus: We are atheists and skeptics, plus we defend women’s rights and reproductive choice, plus we fight against sexism and racism, plus we oppose homophobia and transphobia, plus we call for equality of opportunity and economic fairness, and so on.
Lee better be careful here laying out all the precepts of Atheism+ without running it by McCreight, Rebecca Watson or A+ overlords at FTB or the “safe place” forums. Remember the dim view that McCreight took of Richard Carrier’s analysis of A+.
In any case, so, what would the Atheism Plus folks say to a Christian or a Jew with the exact same goals? Would they be dubbed Christians Plus or Jews Plus? The Jains pretty well got it right, and they didn’t need to reinvent themselves time and again.
Back to Lee:
Many of the people who stepped forward to count themselves among its ranks declared that it was exactly what they had been waiting for.
Yes, I bet you could find a bunch of uppity, hyper-sensitive and reactionary folks eager to throw down the “troll” card anytime someone so much as whispered a voice of dissent or walked the tightrope of insubordination.
While Atheism+ has already seen allies flock to its banner, it has its detractors as well. The most common complaint heard from some quarters is that A+ is “divisive,” that it causes us to waste valuable time and energy on infighting rather than accomplishing the goals we all have in common. However, this is a classic example of how privilege makes it easy for people to overlook barriers that don’t personally affect them. The truth is that the atheist movement is already divided, and has been for a while: Surveys show that there’s a significant imbalance of men over women. Some of this may be due to outside cultural factors, but some of it is surely owing to the experiences that many women have spoken out about: belittling language and condescension, unwanted sexual advances, outright harassment, and sometimes violent abuse and threats when they speak up about the other things that make them feel unwelcome.
When this kind of behavior goes unchecked, it’s no surprise that many women will choose not to participate in the atheist movement. (In fact, shortly after the post that gave birth to A+, Jen McCreight announced that she was taking a hiatus from blogging due to the volume of vicious insults and threats she almost immediately received.)
This is stunning. Lee makes it seem that McCreight chose not to be part of the Atheism+ movement because of the responses she had received. Hogwash, since she darn well founded it. The women that I know who are outspoken against Atheism+ do not, in my view, take kindly to the weak and frail image of women that the likes of McCreight and Atheism+ supporters put out there. If they get an insult from a man, they are willing to react in kind and not coil into a ball in the corner. In short, these are emotionally strong women, who first, don’t think all men are misogynistic pigs and second, even if they were, they would still hold their own and not recoil into a pool of fractured nerves and tears. Such is the abysmal image of women that Atheism+ has seemed support, if not explicitly, certainly implicitly. As such, I would suggest that Atheism+ is fostering the opposite of intended goals. In fact, nowhere have I seen “fostering emotional strength in women” as a goal of this quasi-movement. Presumably, it is already assumed that they have emotional strength. The evidence proves otherwise (If I have to dig through FTB and the Atheism+ forum to prove this I will, but I think this point stands on its own).
Back to the column:
It’s clear there’s a small subset of people within the atheist community, mostly but not exclusively male, who are driven into a raving fury by the idea that there should be any limitations on people’s behavior or that we should undertake to make our movement more diverse. It’s unlikely that we can rid ourselves of these people entirely; but at the very least, we hope to ensure that the larger community won’t sanction their behavior, regard it as acceptable or tacitly condone it by saying and doing nothing.
I suppose I fit into this subset, as well as the numerous men and women alike who I know who don’t fall in lockstep with Atheism+. Of course, he’s not telling the whole story here. I doubt many well-meaning nonbelievers would think that people’s actions should be unchecked. For that, we have things called laws, and more to the point, a rather elaborate set of laws that protect people from sexual harassment. I can only wonder what he means by hoping that the “larger community” will not “sanction their behavior.” What behavior is that? Dissent? Speaking out against Atheism+. Plenty of women don’t like Atheism+, but they, like me, realize that atheism is and always will be about one thing: the disbelief in god or gods. Nothing more.
Our hope is that, by making our spaces more feminist-friendly and justice-conscious, we can do our part to help push that wave forward in society at large.
OK, so what has feminism been up to the past few decades? Is Lee saying that generations of feminists have failed? What about humanists? Humanism, since it is centered on the betterment of human society, encompasses all the social justices issues within Atheism+. Secular humanism encompasses both disbelief in gods and social justice. What have freethinking humanists been doing the last three or four decades (and longer)? Is their work irrelevant? I’m reminded of a boil: festering, filled with extraneous pus and bloated. Atheism+ is and should burst sooner than later. I’m more than happy to apply the pin prick.