Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The "New Wave of Atheism"

Jen McCreight has set in motion a "new wave" of atheism (allegedly) which she calls "Atheism+." It even has its own Batsignal:

Atheism+ is a call to take atheism as a cultural movement beyond the "boys' club" dominated by privileged white males (who enjoy the privilege of being white males) who have cultivated an atmosphere that harbors misogyny, sexism, and other forms of prejudice, in spite of being the group that upholds reason, understanding, and humanism. In short, Atheism+ comes with these basic tenets:

We are...
Atheists plus we care about social justice,
Atheists plus we support women’s rights,
Atheists plus we protest racism,
Atheists plus we fight homophobia and transphobia,
Atheists plus we use critical thinking and skepticism.

This isn't exactly new, and certainly not a "new wave." Jen is talking about humanism, which a lot of atheists have been upholding and defending for a long time. Atheism+ is for atheists who want to be "more than just 'dictionary' atheists who happen to not believe in gods and [who] want to be a positive force in the world." Great! It's for atheists who want to be humanists.

I'm not opposed to Atheism+, but something about it strikes me as odd. Maybe it's the idea of creating a banner, a logo, a "members only" atmosphere akin to the mentality of organized religion. We've already seen this brand of elitism exhibited from both sides of the Elevatorgate debate. Considering Atheism+ is one (almost predictable) consequence of such events as the Elevatorgate debacle, we should be extra cautious that Atheism+ doesn't become AtheismX, as in "Atheism Exclusivism."

Atheism+ is, at best, superfluous. It doesn't add anything new to the discussion, other than to give atheists in particular a shiny new toy to play with. Hey, it could be worse. At least they're not calling themselves "Brights." Don't get me wrong: the tenets of A+ are great. Yes, sexism is wrong. Yes, critical thinking is good. Yes, social justice is sorely needed. And I agree that atheism shouldn't be a club for white boys. I have upheld all these tenets, and will continue to uphold them, regardless of whether A+ exists or not. And that's how pretty much all like-minded atheists have been and will continue to be. So really, aside from giving us a new logo and an increased risk of elitism, A+ won't have much of an effect on the culture pragmatically... at least not much of a positive effect.

Those within the atheist community who still maintain misogynistic attitudes, or homophobia, or racism, or who stand for anything contrary to the tenets of Atheism+, will not change because someone puts a plus sign after the word "atheism" and claims it's a "new movement." Those who support the tenets of A+ will just end up fighting over less important matters, like whether we should accept A+ at all, or whether it's a "new wave" or just another bandwagon, or whether adding a new religious-esque symbol and doctrinal creed to one's atheism is a good idea or not. I don't plan on embracing the A+ logo, and I would hate to think that other atheists would look down on me because of that (even though I am certain some of them will).

We're atheists, plus we argue amongst ourselves over bullshit.

Is there a problem in the atheist community? Yes. Sexism exists, racism exists, homophobia exists. As I've said before, calling oneself an atheist does not make one immune to prejudice, and it does not mean one automatically possesses critical thinking. Should these issues be addressed? Absolutely, and quite often in fact. Should we do it without the kind of self-importance that leads to thinking that one can or should try to start a "new wave of atheism"? I think so.


UPDATE 8/29/2012: Here's a list of relevant blog entries dealing with Atheism+ that I thought I'd add here:

- It Would Be Nice If Everyone in the Atheist Community Agreed With Me (Atheist Revolution)
- Richard Carrier and the Atheist+ Religion (The Way Forward)
- "Atheism Plus"? (The A-Unicornist)
- A+? What Next? Oh, I Know... (Anything But Theist)
- Freethought Blogs Stole Atheism Plus! (Dead-Logic.com)
- Growing Pains & Labels (emilyhasbooks)
- Reactions to Atheism+ (Atheist Revolution)
- Some Observations About Atheism Plus (Center for Inquiry)
- On A+, with a comment about Richard Carrier's intemperance (Rationally Speaking)
- Labels, New Movements, & Hubris (Dead-Logic.com)

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