Saturday, 1 September 2012

Atheism +

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

You're all probably familiar with the concept of a troll. This is someone who will say anything they can to provoke a reaction from you. If you express any sort of opinion on the internet, it's a matter of very little time before you get 1 attacking you. If you make videos on YouTube, your appearance alone can give the troll ammunition for their insults. Take me as an example: I have relatively long hair for a guy and I don't shave often. My trolls have tended to target these features in particular. Anything that stands out from the norm tends to be a target. When it comes to women, these insults tend to take a more sexist form: for example, "get back in the kitchen". They will almost definitely make reference to your breasts or vagina or say "I'd tap that", as an extremely mild example. For these reasons, women are more prone to trolling than men. This is a perfectly legitimate issue to raise: even if the insults are insincere, the fact that one gender receives more, and that those insults are of a more sexist nature, is an issue that can be addressed. There are any number of reasons why this could be the case: perhaps trolls feel that women's rights are still a sensitive issue seeing as how any significant equality was only established last century. How women were treated before such progress was made gives them ideas. I don't think any female-specific body parts in and of themselves contribute to it because otherwise male-specific body parts would be targeted just as frequently, and that hasn't, in my experience anyway, been the case. Of course it could be that most trolls are male.

Now what does this have to do with Atheism +? If you look at the people who started or inspired the movement: Greta Christina, Jen McCreight, not to mention that Rebecca Watson's "Elevatorgate" incident was a precursor to the whole thing, they have all taken the above fact extremely seriously. They, perfectly legitimately as I said, see the fact that women are trolled more often than men as a gender issue to be addressed in our community. Every action by these trolls: every death threat, rape threat, sexist remark, or objectifying comment is taken very seriously. That's not to say that they don't understand that it's trolling, just that it doesn't matter if it is: it's still a problem to be addressed. Some people are doubtful that they receive such threats, but if you count every instance of trolling towards them in which someone says something like "I hope you get raped" as such a threat, is it really so hard to believe? Many internet personalities talk about their hate mail, many reading it out for fun. Why would you deny that the aforementioned people are any different? When Rebecca Watson, or someone like her, talks about these threats at skeptic conferences, these instances of trolling are what she is referring to. Atheism + is a movement reacting against such trolling, but also against the viewpoints that enable or encourage such trolling. Had they used a different name I wouldn't have a problem with them AT ALL. The behaviour, and the underlying mindset that encourages it, should be challenged; my problem with them is that they have taken that perfectly noble idea and framed it as "the third wave of atheism" (the previous 2 being philosophers that have championed atheism in the past and "New Atheism", referring to the more recent efforts by people like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris).

I recently saw a video by noelplum99 called "Atheism+ My Day on Freethought Blogs". In it, he details his experiences responding to a blog post by Greta Christina defending Atheism +. His response was perfectly civil, outlining his objections to the movement and offering some constructive criticism. However he was constantly misinterpreted and even Greta herself, in her response, completely missed or ignored his point. So I'm going to spell out those objections, which I share, adding my own if any more come to me. First, the movement is called Atheism +. To me, this implies that it is some kind of extension of the atheist movement. Atheism + is about addressing issues of social justice: LGBT rights, ableism, feminism etc. The only relevance this has to atheism is that the members of Atheism + happen to be atheists, but I've seen no evidence that religious issues are addressed at all. As such, as many people have pointed out, this movement is associating atheism with these social justice issues. This is unforgivable. Atheism is not a political viewpoint, it is nothing more or less than the lack of belief in a god. The issue raised by critics like me, that the members and defenders of Atheism + either don't understand or outright ignore, is that we are not OK with atheism being associated with the political perspectives of a few people, whose perspectives are not shared by the majority of atheists. To make my point more clear, consider the following.

Let's take a hypothetical future where Atheism + has flourished. A man, let's call him Bob, who lives in Alabama, is surrounded by Christian fundamentalists. His parents are fundies, his friends are fundies, and he was taught creationism in school, but, as he grows older, he becomes less and less convinced. He finds a community of atheists on the internet where, for the first time ever, he can meet people who share his perspectives. One day, he plucks up the courage to tell his friends and family that he is an atheist. Now, if this were today, he might get told that they will pray for him, they might alienate him, and he could even be fired if his work heard about it. All of this just because he doesn't subscribe to the idea of a creator of the universe that has an opinion on the way you live your life, and expects you to abide by it. But in the world where Atheism + is a gigantic movement, being an atheist means more. Without saying anything to his family or friends about his political views, he is assumed to be in support of LGBT rights, a feminist and extremely politically correct, so, through no fault of his own, he is associated with these beliefs which, in addition to the already controversial atheist viewpoint, are even more controversial in the conservative southern American state where he lives. Now think, is someone in Bob's position likely to ever come out as an atheist if atheism has a political dimension to it as well? What if Bob doesn't share that political perspective, is it fair that he gets associated with that because a lack of belief in a god has become linked to that perspective? To Atheism + directly: if you want to call yourselves something like the "atheist social justice movement", that's fine. It's clear from the name that you are atheists who also have a passion for social justice, and addressing the related issues. But Atheism + is just atheism with a plus sign. An outside observer will most likely and quite reasonably come to the conclusion that you are the next generation of atheists, but you don't simply believe in a god, you also have a certain, and very specific, position on social justice which, if the movement is to have any success, is likely to tar the label atheism with such associations.

When confronted on these points, members of Atheism + seem to completely fail to understand. The last 2 perspectives have been dedicated to spelling out exactly what the problem is, but we are still met with boneheaded remarks which show no understanding of our criticism such as:

"So you're OK with atheism being associated with misogynists and rape apologists, but you're not OK with it being associated with us?"

To illustrate why this is such a monumentally stupid remark, I'm going to create a hypothetical atheist movement, like Atheism +, that these "misogynists and rape apologists" are a part of. Let's call it Atheism -. This movement is committed to opposing the political perspectives of Atheism +. My criticisms of Atheism + also hold for Atheism -: they are using the label of atheism to advance a particular political position. In reality, there is no Atheism -. There are misogynists and rape apologists who HAPPEN TO BE atheists, but they are not conducting their behaviour UNDER THE BANNER OF ATHEISM. Atheism + ARE advocating their own stance on social justice issues under this banner. If Atheism - did exist, I'd oppose it for the exact same reasons as I oppose Atheism +, but, as I've said, atheism just means a lack of belief in a god. All unrelated viewpoints can be held by atheists. Just because we might not like that, doesn't mean we should try to exclude these people from "atheism", this would just be a No True Scotsman fallacy. The behaviour of many people towards feminists is completely unacceptable, but they have never tried to claim that this kind of behaviour is part and parcel of being an atheist. You, Atheism +, are doing exactly that.

The blog post which noelplum99 responded to, by Greta Christina, which can be found here, makes another point that I'd like to address. Greta goes on the defence saying that if you want to go your own route and address your own issues, that's fine with her, but we shouldn't try to talk people out of Atheism + by saying that it will weaken the Atheist community. Greta, there is no such objection. I agree with you that the community is already relatively weak. Where I disagree is in seeing this as a problem. As I've previously said, atheists can hold any position which doesn't contradict their lack of belief in a god. This diversity ensures that there will always be in-fighting in an atheist community. This is completely fine, as the community is not a unified movement, rather it is a community of subgroups with differing political and philosophical allegiances that share one thing in common: atheism. This is how it has always been and there's nothing wrong with that. But, until now, no group has sought to hijack the term "atheism" for its own political ends.

You then say this in your response to noelplum99: 

"The group that has formed in large part to combat this situation [feminist-oriented attacks] and to create a safe haven from it has a name that you think will be confusing and create an incorrect impression of atheism."

You claim that Atheism + is a safe haven for people who have been the victim of the rape and death threats that you rightfully speak out against. Jen McCreight, on the other hand, claims that Atheism + is "the third wave of atheism" which necessarily involves hijacking the label atheism for your own political ends. So what's the deal? Are you right, is she right, or are you both right? If it was just a safe haven, as long as it didn't sell itself as "the third wave of atheism", and there was more than a + sign, which can very easily be misinterpreted, to describe the nuances of your movement's particular goals, none of us would have a problem with you. We'd agree or disagree with your opinions, but we'd have no reason to oppose the existence of your group.

Atheism +, try to understand:

By choosing a name which suggests that you are the next wave of atheism, by saying exactly that, and not, instead, choosing a name which simply tells people that you are atheists supporting your own interpretation of social justice, you are changing the definition of atheism to equate all of us with your political perspective that we may or may not agree with. This is, with all due respect, far more serious than the threats you have received, because you are forever changing what it means to be an atheist and you do not get to do that. We are not OK with that, and we will oppose you as long as you keep trying to do this. If you want us to get off your back, you MUST change your name and mission statement to something which does not try to actively change the definition of the word atheism, which, in the extremely unlikely event that you are successful, will have huge implications not just for current atheists, but ones who want to be able to say, without fear of consequences, that they are an atheist as well.



  1. I'm truly getting sick of seeing Radical feminists, new wave feminists, vegan-weekend-warriors, etc and so on, Cling onto other movements and plagiarizing the efforts of others.

    "No, I'm sorry. You can't have this movement just for your own bitchy little friends, it's for everyone."

    And why are we excluding bigots and misogynists? This might sound stupid on the surface but Why are we? It's like denying one positive trait to someone based on approval of all of their other traits.

    It's just like speakers. like Rebecca Watson and Greta to Polarize the world into two boring black and white sects of us against them bullshit.

    Some people do shit I loathe. I do shit other people loathe. There is someone somewhere that wants to burn every patch of earth I walk on until the world is in flames, and that goes for every single other person on the planet. We all have our supporters and our detractors. WHY is that grounds for exclusion to a positive trait?

    I may just be rambling at this point, but shit like this gets under my skin, with the censored comments and backslapping clueless idiots giving each other invisible high fives and reach-arounds over some ridiculously stupid idea. It makes me sick. ENOUGH with the fucking movement plagiarism, FFS.

    Atheism+ is a bad joke, just like freethoughtblogs. The sheer amount of drama that place generates could power a small country.

  2. I agree , to Paste other "Positive " assertions on to a "Negative" Just slops the whole thing. I disbelieve in God should never be tied to i do believe, in *blank* The i do believe should be left to the individual.

    1. Indeed. Thanks for commenting 8<{D-

  3. Couldn't agree more here. Notwithstanding everything that Orygyn just wrote, but the thing that really gets under people's skin is the reactionary, over-sensitive response to criticism displayed by Christina and others at FTB. They want to be taken seriously as creating some type of new "movement," yet they threaten to ban people faster than you can blink over the slightest bit of criticism. A lady named Anna was recently asking questions about that new A+Scribe thing and got labeled an "ablist" just out of the blue ( Talk about insecure.

    1. Wow. I just read that for myself. So because she's concerned about copyright issues when it comes to videos being transcribed she's an ablist because it's preventing deaf people from understanding YouTube videos?

  4. I'd be more supportive of Atheist+ if they weren't so bent on thinking all other atheists don't support social justice.