Jen McCreight has a marvellous post up on BlagHag, and you should all go and read it. But I have some objections. Let me say first though that I completely agree with the argument that if a person is rational enough to dismiss the existence of the supernatural, they should also be able to apply their rationality and critical thinking to matters of social justice like racism, sexism, homophobia, women’s equality and the like.
I don’t want good causes like secularism and skepticism to die because they’re infested with people who see issues of equality as mission drift. I want Deep Rifts. I want to be able to truthfully say that I feel safe in this movement. I want the misogynists, racists, homophobes, transphobes, and downright trolls out of the movement for the same reason I wouldn’t invite them over for dinner or to play Mario Kart: because they’re not good people.
I want us to be clear of the terms and groups here. Atheism is lack of belief in gods, that’s the old “dictionary atheist” definition. A lot of atheists are also freethinkers, secular humanists, some are feminists, and some are racists or misogynists or homophobes. And herein lays the problem with Jen’s post. What she is asking for is not a third wave of atheism, but a new movement altogether. And I’m all for that. Count me in. But this won’t be the atheism movement that we currently have. It will be a completely new movement that is kind of a “best of” of secular humanism, atheism and various social movements, a movement of people who apply science and skepticism to all the issues out there, be that equality of women or racism or religious bigotry or Bigfoot.
Now it’s time for a third wave – a wave that isn’t just a bunch of “middle-class, white, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied men” patting themselves on the back for debunking homeopathy for the 983258th time or thinking up yet another great zinger to use against Young Earth Creationists. It’s time for a wave that cares about how religion affects everyone and that applies skepticism to everything, including social issues like sexism, racism, politics, poverty, and crime. We can criticize religion and irrational thinking just as unabashedly and just as publicly, but we need to stop exempting ourselves from that criticism.
I agree with this. But it won’t be the atheism movement as it is today, and it sure as hell won’t be the skeptics movement. Let me draw you a diagram with my beer glass:
The thing is, it’s not Atheism+. It’s a new movement of people who apply critical thinking and rationalism to all the world around them, and who are willing to listen to those who perceive the world differently and have different experiences. People who will not feel threatened by the realisation that they have privilege by being for example white or heterosexual, and people who can see beyond their desire to gnaw at women’s ankles at conferences. But this new movement also needs new rules, a set of values and social behaviours that are widely accepted and enforced. MRAs and misogynists can learn and adapt, and they should be given the chance to do so, and people new to the movement should have a chance to learn what it is about, but at the same time those who can not let go of their privilege and sense of entitlement will have to be told that our movement is not for them.
So whether it’s “atheist humanists”, “affirmative atheists” or something else, it will be very different from the current brand of atheism represented by Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris (or Paula “I never experienced harassment therefore Rebecca Watson is a feminazi” Kirby). Although I can see that Dawkins could realise the value of a broader movement that not just deals with the irrationality of religious belief. Because let’s face it, such a movement, one that combines social justice with rejection of the supernatural, could actually be a force in elections, even in the USA.