Can We Have a New Atheist Movement Now Please?

Fuck. I’ve been putting off writing this, because I don’t really have the words. There are so many things right now, and through the last year, that just piss me the fuck off about the Atheist Movement. I’m an atheist, and I want very much to be a part of *an* atheist movement, but the one we have right now is failing on so many levels.

Sure we have publicity, and record numbers of people showing up to conferences. Huge spikes in secular student groups. Blogs. Billboards. Television exposure.

But for all our successes, we have a lot of fucking problems. Natalie Reed sums it up brilliantly (no, seriously, read the whole thing):

And, of course, the endless controversy over the most basic principles of feminism and women’s rights. Elevatorgate, now ongoing for over a year. The treatment of the 15 year old girl on r/reddit. The “controversy” of Staks Rosch’s all-male atheist-of-the-year list, and his ridiculous claims that it would be “tokenism” to have ANY women on a five person list, with insinuations that it would only start “making sense” for just ONE of half the world’s population to show up if it were a list twenty people long. The endless discussions of the merits of using the word “cunt” to harass and intimidate women. DJ Grothe’s insistent apologism for any dudes being “attacked” by the “radical feminist” contingent of Atheism who had some basic level of sense that all this fucked up shit was kind of fucked up. The sexual harassment issue. The blatant misogynistic appraisals of female atheist’s worth by their appearance. Mallorie Nasrallah. Paula Kirby. FTBullies. The Amazing Atheist’s meltdown while trying to deliberately trigger a rape survivor. Justin Trottier. The increasing incursion and overlap between the internet Atheist Movement and the Men’s Rights Movement. I got so sick of all that, having to same the sexist garbage rehashed endlessly, with so much vitriol and fervor.

(links added by me)

And to be perfectly honest, as important as I think the Atheist Movement is, as crucial as it is to promote reason and skepticism and secularism; I’m fucking tired of having the movement I believe so much in associate me with people like that. I’m fucking tired of it, and honestly, I don’t even have to deal with it on a day-to-day basis. I can’t imagine what Natalie, Jen McCreight, Greta Christina, Ophelia BensonRebecca WatsonElyse Anders, the rest of the Skepchick crew and probably dozens of other women (some of whom I probably haven’t even heard about yet) have to deal with on a day to fucking day basis. Not to mention women outside of the movement, like Anita Sarkeesian who are victims of the same Internet culture in which the Atheist Movement thrives. And yet we’ll turn to defend women like Jessica Ahlquist so long as the people threatening to rape her come from outside of the movement; and then quickly turn around and pat ourselves on the back for how much better we are towards the womenz.

I don’t want to be associated with those kinds of people anymore but I also don’t want to give up on fighting for something that I think is this important now that I’ve finally found a place (albeit a mostly digital one) where I actually feel like I belong.

So here’s what I propose: we need a new atheist movement. Not the “New Atheist” movement as Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris, as described by Christians: it’s been well pointed out that the current Atheist Movement is nothing new at all: philosophical objections to Pascal’s Wager, the Watchmaker analogy and the ontological argument are almost as ancient as the arguments themselves. What we need is an actually new atheist movement. One that actually cares about the people. While I enjoy many privileges in life (being white, male, cisgendered, able-bodied, etc) I’m tired of a movement that clothes itself in these privileges and then claims that they’re better for it.

I want a new atheist movement that actually cares about people. An atheist movement that will look at the way religion poisons our views on gender, race, or sexuality and actively tries to combat that. I want an atheist movement that will reach out help other people, regardless of their race, gender, sexuality, ability, education, wealth, visibility, or even religion. Yes, religion, we don’t have to agree with them, we don’t even have to be nice about it, but we can still be the goddamn compassionate ones who will reach across and help anyone in need, regardless of whether they can refute Pascal’s Wager or not.

I want a new atheist movement that isn’t going to call women on the internet cunts for having an opinion.

I want a new atheist movement that is open and inviting and accessible to everyone who wants to be there.

And I want a new atheist movement where we can tell the people to fuck off and leave if they have a problem with creating a safe space for the people who want to be there. Because fuck those guys.

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  • Timid Atheist (@TimidAtheist)  On August 10, 2012 at 7:09 am

    Agreed. I want that too. But until it happens, whether by sheer force or by schism or by waiting for all the assholes to go away or die off, I’ll be focusing on other things beyond atheism. I’m now regretting my online tag, but I won’t be abandoning it, I’ve used it too many places by now. Ah well.

  • NotAScientist  On August 10, 2012 at 7:37 am

    Luckily, there isn’t really ONE atheist movement. And so you can cut out the misogynists pretty easily. Or at least, I’ve found I can.

  • Josh Garnett  On August 10, 2012 at 10:04 am

    Of course, I agree with you on that one. However, I think if you just go elsewhere on the Internet and proclaims the New Atheism Movement, it is doomed to fail ; as you’ll notice, most controversies you quoted were started on the Internet! I think Internet really desensitizes people, in the sense that when people do not have a physical conversation (can’t see the other one’s face, emotions, body language, can’t be scared of being slapped or kicked out, anonymity, etc.) their social inhibitions/morals tend to dissolve and they (unknowingly or not) will be more aggressive, insulting, extreme, etc. So maybe the problem with this community is the extreme use of the Internet: if you had “local congregations/reunions” for this community, it’d strengthen the community (by making people actually physically meet other people and get endorphins from it) and keep the debate a bit more constructive. I mean, that’s what religious people do, and they’re a tightly-knit community working towards the same goals.

    Also, if you forgive my bluntness, I think lots of atheists are a bunch of posers that like to debate endlessly in long posts, rehashing same arguments to each other, repeating what someone said, “spreading” facts and thoughts endlessly, and in the end it’s just a bunch of people expressing their opinions to each other. There are no experts, no direction to the thoughts of the community, no advances (in the sense of “‘scientific’ breakthrough”): the atheist community is no more than a bunch of commenters that just like talking about whatever is going through their minds. It’s such a waste in my opinion, cause if you have so many intelligent people that spend so much time being passionate about something, and that in the end there’s absolutely no tangible result, it is a waste of time. I mean, look at it: lots of blogs and youtube videos and conventions and all that, but have you ever seen in a newspaper something like “a proposition of the senator xxxx sparked outrage from the atheist community”? It’s like it doesn’t even exist (and it’s not because the media are biased: when someone attacks gay people, there is usually a “this comment was criticized by the gay community”.).
    To me, the atheist movement needs more structure to move forward. That’s what every group of people that fought for their rights did: their created associations, groups, lobbies, etc. to actually act in the real world. Because ultimately, we’re talking about changing the world, but how can you do that if you’re not structured and have clear goals? There’s so many ways to do that, goals to have: if you had the Atheist Secular Association of America (or Canada or whatever), with an influential president/chairman, that would call for boycotts, create petitions, organise events, create local branches, try to attract more members (or even celebrities – you’ll never see a rapper tweet “big up to y’all atheists online”, but you could see a “big up to greenpeace for dissin shell #savepolarbears” or something), tell people to contact their MPs and send them a letter, call for donations, send out press releases to criticize people or give thumbs up, launch enquiries, survey people’s opinions, create academic work, demonstrate, call for sit-ins or strong actions, that’d be something that’ll be known and respected by a lot of people and that actually has a chance to accomplish something. But to the best of my knowledge, the atheist movement is doing nothing of that; the closest they have is one fairly influent blogger calling for a boycott to his readers, and that doesn’t have the same impact at all. Hell, it could even be an full-sized NGO, with tax deductions and all, fighting to end discriminations and calling for more scientific literacy; obtaining that is already a major fight ahead, and it’d be a great platform to change society. Anyway, bottome line: the atheist online community needs to drop the “online” and create a real-life entity to regroup their forces and work towards a common goal.

    (wow, sorry for the huge comment – that’s not even a comment, that’s like a full blog post! I don’t have a blog, guess my brain feels frustrated and just wants to rant for hours :-p anyway, feel free to reply or discuss those arguments on your blog if you’d like, it’d be an honor 🙂

  • Norman  On August 13, 2012 at 4:21 pm

    I don’t understand the part you have written here:

    “I want a new atheist movement that actually cares about people. An atheist movement that will look at the way religion poisons our views on gender, race, or sexuality and actively tries to combat that. I want an atheist movement that will reach out help other people, regardless of their race, gender, sexuality, ability, education, wealth, visibility, or even religion. Yes, religion, we don’t have to agree with them, we don’t even have to be nice about it, but we can still be the goddamn compassionate ones who will reach across and help anyone in need, regardless of whether they can refute Pascal’s Wager or not.”

    There can be no such thing as an atheist movement in these terms – being atheist is, and can never be, a social or political position. My being atheist is comparable to anyone else’s being atheist because being atheist can only mean one thing.

    Whether we agree or no on social or political ideologies can not be inferred from our shared atheism.

    What you want is a new socio-political movement where atheism is an accepted position to hold.

    • omniz  On August 13, 2012 at 6:37 pm

      There’s a difference between “atheism” and “the Atheist Movement”. Obviously the dictionary definition of atheism is simply non-belief in any gods and I would agree with you that there’s no direct implication from that to any social or political ideologies.

      On the other hand, the Atheist Movement has a lot of add-ons to atheism, such as cataloguing the harms that religions do in the world, and trying to prevent them from doing more; fighting against the discrimination of atheists by trying to increase their visibility (it’s a lot harder to hate a group of people once you can put a face on it); making sure that people who escape from religion have a support structure in place, as they will often give up theirs when they leave the fold; or even doing the same for people who were never a part of a religion in the first place. There’s also a lot of overlap with the values of the Skeptical Movement (stuff requires evidence) and the Secular Movement (religion should keep out of government).These are the things of value I see in the Atheist Movement, and I suspect many people would agree.

      Of course, you can be an atheist without any sort of allegiance to the Movement. For an example of someone like this, see S.E. Cupp, who identifies as an atheist but obviously doesn’t care about the goals of the Movement when she says shit like she would never vote for an atheist for president.

      But if someone in the movement really wants to embrace its values, particularly in being a welcoming place for those with no religion, it’s important to make sure that it’s a welcoming place for everyone: women, people of colour, GLBT folks, etc… This is why I get so pissed off when I see people from within the Atheist Movement (sometimes even people who might be considered leaders of the movement, like Paula Kirby or DJ Growthe) say stupid shit that makes it a *more* hostile environment: You’re fucking up your own goals.

      I’ll end with this. I started going to atheist conferences this year and the feeling I get there is amazing. It’s obviously not for everyone, but if you ever get tired of the constant exposure religion gets in our society, it’s a really great change of pace to go somewhere where you don’t have to deal with that for a couple of days. The only things I can compare it to that I’ve experienced are comic book conventions, where you can be around a bunch of likeminded people and discuss your interests in a way that would simply elicit blank stares from “normal” people; and Pride festivals where it’s a celebration of who you are and you don’t have to be afraid to be out because everyone there is going to be supportive. *That* is why we need an atheist movement.


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