Atheism Plus

A new movement has emerged in atheist activism: Atheism Plus. Its advocates describe themselves as

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.

In my opinion, it is an entirely legitimate movement. Different activists specialize in different things, and some people may want to specialize in social-justice issues without compromising their atheism. However, it has provoked some people to call it divisive and to claim that it associates a lot of issues with atheism that do not have any real connection with atheism.

What started it?

A little over a year ago, “Skepchick” skeptic activist Rebecca Watson was at a skeptic conference, where she talked about how to attract more women. But late at night, as she was riding an elevator, a “gentleman” riding with her asked her if she could come to his room for coffee. She blogged on that incident, describing how it made her feel hit on, and she stated “Guys, don’t do that.”

One would not expect that to be very controversial, but it was. It provoked a LOT of controversy and nastiness. Richard Dawkins weighed in with “Dear Muslima”, claiming that RW had much less to complain about than a woman in a strict Muslim country. RW responded by stating that she would no longer promote any of RD’s books. She stated that she got lots of extremely nasty comments, and sexualized ones at that, like that she deserved to be raped, and that she was too ugly to be raped.

This controversy spread into the question of harassment policies at conventions, like The Amazing Meeting, sponsored by the James Randi Educational Foundation. The fraction of women went down this year, and a JREF official blamed it on certain people claiming that the convention was not a safe place for the female sex.

It also spread into FreethoughtBlogs, where PZ Myers himself had invited Thunderf00t to participate. Thunderf00t had been well-known for his YouTube series on “Why do people laugh at creationists?”, and he seemed like a good addition to FTB. But after introducing himself, Thunderf00t then argued at length that harassment at conferences is a non-issue, citing his clownish biting of a woman’s leg. He was so annoying about it that he got banned from FTB. He even continued the fight afterward.

Paula Kirby complained about “feminazis” and “femistasi”, trying to be creative in her Godwin insults.

Then Jen McCreight blogged on How I Unwittingly Infiltrated the Boy’s Club & Why It’s Time for a New Wave of Atheism | Blag Hag. She recalled being thought OK until she started talking about feminism, she’d get lots of nasty comments about how she is “a man-hating, castrating, humorless, ugly, overreacting harpy.” She was pleasantly surprised at the positive responses that she got, so the next day, she posted Atheism+ | Blag Hag. Greta Christina and she herself took it up, though the torrent of abuse she got for it induced her to withdraw from blogging: Goodbye for now | Blag Hag. The haters even attacked her father for defending her: You know how I was afraid the hate would spread to my family? | Blag Hag.

About then, some people started the Atheism+ messageboard: Atheism+ • Index page. It has become remarkably active, comparable to some much older atheist/skeptic messageboards. This raises the question of why it took off so quickly. Were many of its members FTB commenters and followers?

The Atheism+ movement has spawned the A+scribe project: making transcripts of atheism+-related media for the convenience of deaf and hard-of-hearing people. I may add that it will also be good for searching.

It’s very young, so it’s hard to tell what’s likely to be next for it.

A lot of its critics claim that it is divisive, but Greta Christina in Why Atheism Plus Is Good for Atheism | Greta Christina’s Blog argues that it’s hard to be inclusive of groups where some groups hate some other groups. As she says,

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.

An atheist movement cannot be inclusive of atheists of color… and also be inclusive of people who think people of color stay in religion because they’re just not good at critical thinking, who blame crime on dark-skinned immigrants, who think victims of racial profiling deserved it because they looked like thugs, and/or who tell people of color, “You’re pretty smart for a…”.

An atheist movement cannot be inclusive of trans atheists… and also be inclusive of people who think trans people are mentally ill or freaks of nature.

An atheist movement cannot be inclusive of atheists who are mentally ill… and also be inclusive of people who think mental illness is just a failure of willpower.

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.”

Repeat, for many more marginalized groups that I don’t have time to list here.

I recall that she once noted that while misogynists drive women away, women don’t drive misogynists away. So between misogynists and women, it’s misogynists who remain.

She returned to this issue in Atheism Plus, and Some Thoughts on Divisiveness | Greta Christina’s Blog, describing misogynist incidents and asking why A+ers are considered divisive for objecting to such conduct.

All in all, atheism+ is a movement worth watching.

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