The Internet is "afire" (as one blogger puts it
) with news of a new movement, one which may be seen as either combining or contrasting 'the New Atheism
' with notions of feminism
rights and transgenderism
and social justice
and a slew of other bywords and catchphrases of the day. It's called AtheismPlus, and it has drawn praise and passion as well as some sharply targeted scorn and ridicule. To an extent, there's a confrontational undercurrent in the defense of the idea that some of the policies put forward by AtheismPlus -- support for the leadership of women and for LGBT
people, for example -- run head-on against the arbitrary bigotries of Bronze Age scripture
writers. At the same time, the movement seeks to stem the notion that social justice concerns such as feeding the poor and tending the sick are only obligations for those with religious convictions.
Perhaps the strongest and most widely quoted formulation of this proposed movement is the one written by Greta Christina titled "Why Atheism Plus Is Good for Atheism
." Christina contends that there is "no way for the atheist movement to be inclusive of everyone," providing as a key example:
An atheist movement cannot be inclusive of atheist women… and also be inclusive of people who publicly call women ugly, fat, sluts, whores, cunts, and worse; who persistently harass them; who deliberately invade their privacy and make their personal information public; and/or who routinely threaten them with grisly violence, rape, and death.
Similar admonitions are provided for racial minorities, the transgendered, the mentally ill, and interestingly tags on that:
An atheist movement cannot be inclusive of poor atheists… and also be inclusive of people whose basic attitude to systematic poverty and economic injustice is, “Screw you, Jack, I’ve got mine.”
Now, the comments about rape and death threats come from a very real situation, an incident wherein a female atheist author attending an atheist convention was clumsily propositioned in an elevator, and later complained of the incident, only to later be harangued for voicing such a complaint. This event crystallized concerns about the leadership of the New Atheism movement being perceived as an 'old boy's club,' a white male organization under the auspices of the famous 'Four Horsemen' of Atheism, Richard Dawkins
, Christopher Hitchens
, Sam Harris
, and Dan Dennett
. And it is indisputable that these four names have received the lion's share of the coverage as the voices of Atheism (with many other prominent atheists falling within those same demographic parameters). Perhaps it does not help that the most prominent African American scientist today, Neil deGrasse Tyson
, calls himself an agnostic
and refuses to sign on to Atheism's absolutism, even while he pokes countless holes in traditional theistic accounts.
Especially problematic in the framework of AtheismPlus are two subtly dangerous idea that atheist men must be nonsexual beings, that a man commits some sort of offense against reason by being physically attracted to a woman, and especially for pursuing that attraction. Although this movement doesn't make the mistake that many religions make in condemning such conduct by blaming it all on the woman-as-temptress, it is certainly ridiculous to tie sexual politics to a religious (or nonreligious view). The direction this leads is that of the antipornography crusade, and the public shaming of men who are attracted to women and dare to pursue this attraction, especially if this attraction is limited by age and physical characteristics. True, there is no argument that those who would threaten rape and violence have no place in any civil discourse, be it that of Atheism or that of one of the faiths. And even to extend that a man who might publicly call a woman "ugly" or "fat" is at least situationally deplorable. But this line of thought, this intention to create a 'safe zone' for people outside of the historical demographically empowered group, too easily embraces the exclusion of the man in the elevator why makes a clumsy pass at a woman.
Where the principle to be extended is that those who would exclude ought to be excluded in the name of inclusiveness, absurdities will necessarily abound. Consider the transgender person who lives as a woman, and then complains, "my boyfriend dumped me when he found out I have a penis." I have transgender friends, and I have personally known this to happen to them. Will AtheismPlus exclude this insensitive lout of a boyfriend because he ought to have overlooked that anatomical revelation and continued the relationship with his penis-possessing girl? And what of the middle-aged man who is convinced that it is normal and healthy for him to have sex with eight-year-old girls
-- on its face the values of AtheismPlus would demand the inclusion of this person, and the exclusion of those who would condemn him. There are simply too many gray areas within the zone of yawing hard towards inclusivity, including the paradox of being uninclusive to the uninclusive, even if there uninclusiveness is the consequence of psychological factors beyond their control.
Equally problematic is the political philosophy underpinning the social justice agenda. Sure, it's a good thing to help the impoverished, a task undertaken phenomenally well by some religious organizations such as the Church of Latter Day Saints
in the places where it holds sway. But will AtheismPlus take sides on the question of how best to achieve this result? Will it assume that it can simply trust government to do the job with uncharacteristic competence, and call for higher taxes and a more invasive system of redistribution of wealth? Will it demand of its members tithes
to aid the disadvantaged, and take up the responsibility of collecting contributions due and running those social programs itself? Will it turn a blind eye to the grifters and the graft drawn in by such accumulations of funding?
And what, precisely, does AtheismPlus intend to do with all the Atheists who don't share its political agenda? Kick them out of Atheism? Force them to adopt a theistic religious belief? Exclude them from participating in theological discourse? Religions which require members to be card-carrying adherents to an entire slate of social views, or be excommunicated from the group, have never fared well in holding on to liberated minds. And Atheism is filled with minds liberated from myriad brands of theism. In that light, I can not help but feel that this movement is doomed to be at best a flash in the pan, and at worst a costly and embarrassing failure.
Some additional points of view on the topic:
Jen McCreight's original blog post proposing Atheism+
Richard Carrier's blog post endorsing The New Atheism +
The Atheist Ethicist blog post on AtheismPlus
The New Statesmen article, Atheism+: the new New Atheists
ReasonBeing blog post on Atheism Plus