Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Atheism is not a club, a community or a movement

Today, I came across something that seemed very strange to me - a group of atheists over on Freethoughtblogs.com are creating (or have created?) a new "movement" called "Atheism+". In essence, it seems like a fairly sound premise underneath it - they would like an atheist community without a bunch of bigots spouting hateful comments. Fair enough. Perhaps I am missing something, though, but the solution to this seems to be to post somewhere else or - like Skeptic Blogs - start a new site where hateful commenters are not welcome. In contrast, trying to create some kind of super-atheism - "Atheism Plus" - that combines atheism with (as far as I can tell) liberal Humanism seems, well, somewhere between pointless and just plain wrong.

For one thing, Freethoughtblogs.com is not atheism. (I'm an atheist and until today I am not sure that I had ever spent any real time of FTB.) Calling something "Atheism+" as if you are trying to take atheism and make it better, as if it is yours to make better, makes me feel rather uncomfortable and slightly insulted. It also seems to miss/misunderstand a fundamental point about atheism.

Atheism is not a religion. It has no creed. It is not a club that you join. It is not a community and it is not a movement. Sure, there are atheist communities and atheist movements - plural - but that is not what atheism is. Clubs and "movements" that seem to be trying to redefine or own the word "atheism" are not helpful.

Atheism is a lack of belief in gods - particularly theistic gods. Everything else is up for grabs. Yes, atheists are more likely to be rational, skeptical, pro-secular and/or Humanist than religious folks but atheism in neither necessary nor sufficient for any of these things - and vice versa.

There are people who are atheists for irrational reasons. There are atheists who embrace other kinds of superstition. There are definitely atheists who oppose secularism and think that religion should be banished from, well, everywhere. There are sexist atheists, racist atheists and homophobic atheists. Unlike religion, atheism itself has nothing really to say on any of these things - it is the philosophical and political views of those atheists that determine these things. I do not want to be tarred with the same brush as other atheists just because we both happen not to believe in god. That may be the only thing we have in common.

That's not to say that atheism does not influence these things - it does. (Well, if you want it to - some people actually don't care and don't think about it. It does for me.) But I am fairly sure that atheism is a consequence of the underlying philosophy of atheists and not the cause. (At least, if you are being a proper skeptic/rationalist/materialist it should not be a cause.)

Perhaps the Atheist+ers (what do you call someone who has signed up to Atheism+?) would agree with that and say that's why it's Atheism plus - it has extra stuff. But that's just pointless. We already have Atheism+ with words like "liberal", "socialist", "Humanist" - or whatever else you need to describe your political, philosophical and/or moral stance on various issues. Just adding "plus" alone, makes no sense.

Although I agree with many, even most, of the liberal inclusive - Humanist - views of Atheism+ (although I am not 100% sure what they stand for), I do not consider these to be an inevitable consequence of, or necessary requirement for, atheism. I am also more that a little concerned by the rejection of Humanism by Atheism+ on the grounds that it is not atheist enough. Humanism has some room at the table for people with religious views. These are mostly secular Deists as far as I can tell but, either way, I fail to see how their presence is a bad thing if they otherwise hold (largely) the same ethical/moral views. The "echo box" criticism of online communities is a valid one and the smaller you make your box, the greater the risk of self-reinforcing superiority and bigotry. For all these reasons, I for one will not be calling myself an "Atheist+".

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