Saturday, September 13, 2014

A Defense of Atheism Plus

Starting about a month ago, the atheist blogosphere became pretty wrapped up in a controversy over a video made by Youtube star Jaclyn Glenn. If you aren't aware of it, the normally pretty loopy Richard Carrier has done an excellent analysis here. In short, Glenn posted a video creating a strawman of the Atheism Plus movement, mocking them as being divisive, irrational, and "pussies," as she describes in the video's description. Gender politics issues like this one have given me concern about the atheist movement, a community which I grew up in and am intimately involved with.

I've been a fan of both Jaclyn Glenn and the Amazing Atheist for a while. In fact, I entered the so-called Misogyny Wars on the side of the opponents of Atheism Plus. Elevatorgate, which is where all of this really started, was (and still is in my opinion) a complete joke of an issue. All Rebecca Watson said was "Don't hit on me in elevators guys." Does that deserve the fallout that came afterwards? I was initially inclined to support The Amazing Atheist's perspective on the events because I felt that PZ Myers was focusing on a nonissue by blogging about Elevatorgate. It has since been shown that Myers was simply defending Watson from the "Men's Rights" assholes who made Watson's video an issue in the first place.

Regardless, my point is that these issues have been a problem in the atheist movement for a long time. As such, Jaclyn Glenn, being a newcomer to our movement, is firstly being pretentious by attempting to tackle an issue which revolves around events that she was not around to witness. While normally this might be acceptable, her refusal to even consider Myers and Watson's side of an issue which she has no context about is intellectually dishonest and points to incredibly egotistical and arrogant feelings on Glenn's part.

So, Jaclyn Glenn, I'm going to tell you how it is from someone who witnessed the beginnings of Atheism Plus in action. Let's start with what it's not:

Atheism Plus isn't some movement of "radical feminists." By and large, Atheism Plusers are relatively moderate feminists. Have you ever read a real radical, Valerie Solanas style feminist Jaclyn? They are frightening. I may be a feminist, but those who argue that "all sex is rape" and "men are all rapists" have no sympathy from me.

Atheism Plus supporters aren't "pussies". To maintain our activism in a movement that is overwhelmingly hostile to us is certainly not a coward's way out. Instead we try to change the perspective of the movement from the inside. And by the way, if you talk to the average atheist or humanist on the ground (NOT youtube comment warriors or the neckbeard MRAs on Reddit), I think you'll find that more of the atheist community agrees with us, the Atheism Plusers, than with your MRA bros like The Amazing Atheist.

And finally, Atheism Plus isn't unnecessary. I'm sure you're aware of this Jaclyn, but the atheist movement has a problem with harassment. You remember when all of those atheists were sending you hate mail about how you're "only popular because you're pretty" and the sort? Well, guess what? All Atheism Plus is trying to say is that atheist guys shouldn't do that. We claim to be better than the sexist religious communities we've fled from. Let's act like it.

Now, let's talk about what Atheism Plus is. Atheism Plus is a politicized form of secular humanism which advocates that atheists be concerned about social justice in addition to simple scientific and secularism issues. Religion claims to have a monopoly on morality; Atheism Plus proves them wrong. And if you are the type to say that politics and social justice have nothing to do with morality, I couldn't disagree with you more. Moral issues like abortion, same sex marriage, and even questions of whether or not capitalism itself is ethical are debated all the time. Atheism Plus attempts to establish itself as a secular humanist perspective which will defend the rights of everyone, especially groups traditionally oppressed in America like women, people of color, gender and sexual minorities, atheists, etc.

I know that high profile atheists like Richard Dawkins are supporting you, Jaclyn. But our heroes are not always right. Dawkins is a great science educator and activist, but he knows next to nothing about social justice issues. And you don't seem to know much about them either. In a situation like yours which one has not taken part in, know next to nothing about, and clearly haven't bothered to research, what a modest person would do is look up the issue before trying to make an argument. While he may not practice what he preaches, Dawkins makes precisely this point in The God Delusion. Maybe you should read it again.

In the end, the atheist movement has a problem with women and people of color. Have you ever noticed the fact that almost all famous atheist advocates are white men Jaclyn? Or the fact that every atheist group/convention tends to be overwhelmingly white and male? If these don't convince you, then remember the harassment you yourself have received. If we want to change hearts and minds and bring in the greater population, then the atheist movement needs to solve these issues. Otherwise, all of our work in spreading science and freethought will be for naught.

To quote John Winthrop, "We are a city upon a hill." The world is watching the atheist movement. Shall we be a model of humanist charity? Or shall we go the way of so many atheist and leftist groups in the past and collapse due to our inability to welcome minorities into our movement, thus providing more ammunition for the religious against us. The choice is ours. Make the right one.

UPDATE: Since I wrote this, Richard Dawkins and Ophelia Benson have released a joint statement condemning sexist harassment in the atheist movement. Dawkins has also apologized for his infamous “Dear Muslima” letter. These are both steps in the right direction, and I applaud them. Keep up the good work!

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