Some Observations About Atheism Plus

August 27, 2012

WARNING: This post contains mild language, constructive criticism, occasional reasoning, and no invective (except by way of parody).

Atheism Plus (hereafter A+) has arrived with a bang—it was just five days from Jen McCreight’s first post on the subject to recognition in the New Statesman. Congratulations to Jen McCreight (hereafter JM) for putting forth an idea that struck a responsive chord.

Of course, that response has been somewhat short of universal acclamation.  Indeed, some reactions have been very negative. My view is that some criticisms of A+ may be justified; some not. This brings me to my first observation.

1.General Attitude to New Ideas Most humanists and atheists champion critical reasoning and the scientific method; we should welcome new ideas that question our accepted beliefs and practices. Therefore, it’s not a valid criticism of A+ to say that it may cause some disagreements and disputes. A challenge to the status quo may be warranted. That said …

2. Was Its Initial Launch Ideal? JM’s initial post on her “new wave” of atheism came in the context of a semi-biographical sketch of her disgust with the “Boy’s Club” that allegedly held (holds?) sway over the secular/skeptical movement. In this post she rang the now familiar changes of the Elevatorgate controversy, the kerfuffle over D.J. Grothe’s remarks about sexual harassment complaints and attendance at TAM, objections to Paula Kirby’s comments on “feminazis,” and so forth.  There are two problems with this approach. First, by positioning the launch of A+ within the context of these disputes, it’s likely she immediately lost part of her target audience. “Oh, this is just the latest installment of that thing,” was probably the annoyed reaction of some.

Second, she was at least impliedly suggesting that one’s position on these various issues determines whether one would be welcome as part of the new wave of A+ or be condemned to “circle jerk into oblivion,” as she rather colorfully put it. Do the advocates of A+ really want one’s position on Elevatorgate or Grothe’s remarks to be the litmus test of whether one is sufficiently progressive to be part of this new wave of atheism?

Let’s be clear: People who make hateful, threatening comments to others should not be part of any segment of the secular/skeptical movement. Amy Roth’s recent series of posts from various movement leaders leaves no doubt that this is a principle with virtually unanimous support. But if someone thinks, for example, that Grothe’s remarks may just have been ill-advised or poorly worded as opposed to intolerable, that shouldn’t result in the person being lumped together with the haters.

A+ as outlined by JM and Greta Christina in later posts has some laudable features. Atheists should get more involved in public policy questions, for example (see discussion below). It’s regrettable that this part of the proposal may be overlooked because of how the proposal was initially presented.

3. Exactly Who Is Welcome? JM made it clear that she believes the secular/skeptical movement needs to be more diverse.  I doubt whether any leader of the various secular/skeptical organizations would disagree. We need more women and minorities. One, we want more people, period; two, we want to ensure our groups are representative and that we get the benefit of the perspective of a wide range of people.

However, whether intentionally or not, the way JM first expressed the need for diversity came across more as a lament about the abundant presence of old white men in the movement. This was exacerbated by a tweet she sent in which she apparently said, “Dear smug humanists: My critique of the atheist movement included you. Your groups are infamous for being mostly old, white, men.” 

Hmm. First, I don’t think that’s really an accurate description of humanist organizations currently. CFI has 200+ campus groups affiliated with it. Lot of women, and a lot of people under 30.

Second, leave the white male issue aside for the moment. Is being old an intrinsically bad thing? This would be a strange position to take, especially as combatting “ageism” is one of the explicit goals of A+.

Aggravating matters was a blog post by Richard Carrier that appeared two days after JM’s initial post which was—how to put this— a wee bit strident.  References to enemies, kicking people to the sewers, and a closing call for “everyone now to pick sides … are you with us, or with them; are you now a part of the Atheism+ movement … or are you going to stick with Atheism Less and its sexism and cruelty and irrationality.”  Effectively, Carrier’s message was: Decide Now! Decide whether you are with us or against us! 48 hours after the first tentative unveiling of A+ and before discussion of any sort of detailed program or plan of action. Decide Now—or be kicked to the sewer like the scum-sucking enemy of the people that you are.

Whew. I think Carrier may have had one too many 5-hour energy drinks that day.

So the first impression of some was that this was going to be a group more focused on exclusion than inclusion. Understandably, there has been some pushback.

The good news is that in a post on Thursday afternoon, JM clarified matters a bit. She expressly stated that her focus is on diversity and inclusion and she has nothing against old white men. (I also assume, although I don’t know if she has stated this, that Carrier did not coordinate with her when he composed his post.)

We should give people the benefit of the doubt and be charitable in our interpretation of their remarks. So unless subsequent remarks show otherwise, we should assume a person’s race, age, and gender are not relevant to how welcome they are in A+.

4. Why Don’t You Call A+ Humanism? JM is pushing A+ because she wants to do more than just refute religious claims. She wants atheists to be active on social justice and equality issues.
As some have pointed out, there already are atheists and agnostics who go beyond critiques of religion. They’re humanists.

But JM doesn’t want that label. She gives reasons, which you can read for yourself. Whether one finds these reasons persuasive really doesn’t matter. One can’t force someone to use the label “humanist” if they don’t want to, and I don’t care what JM or other advocates of A+ call themselves, nor am I concerned whether they’re using the humanist model without giving appropriate acknowledgment to humanism. We’re not Apple and Samsung.

5. So What Is the Precise Content of the “Plus”? As indicated, I don’t give a fig for nomenclature. I do care about the secular movement and its direction. I do care about whether it uses its resources efficiently. I do care about whether we remain sufficiently unified to achieve the objectives we presumably all share.

So I don’t care whether JM dislikes the label humanist, but I’d like her to explain where she would go beyond the issues on which CFI and AHA (and some other organizations) are already working.

CFI has long been active in supporting LGBT equality, in supporting reproductive rights, in supporting equality for women, in opposing suppression of women and minorities, not just in the US but in other countries, in supporting public schools, in advocating for patient’s rights, including the right to assistance in dying, in fighting restrictions on the teaching of evolution, in opposing religious interference with health care policy, in promoting the use of science in shaping public policy, in safeguarding our rights to free speech, and in protecting the rights of the nonreligious. We focus on these issues because: 1. they are the issues where religious dogma and/or pseudoscience continue to have significant influence and, therefore, they’re the issues most closely related to our mission as a secular/skeptical organization; and 2. we have limited resources of money and staff time; we can’t do everything.

So do the advocates of A+ believe some or all of these issues are not worth spending time on? If so, why? What other issues will A+ be focused on? What are the connections between these other issues and atheism? Where will A+ find the resources to focus on these other issues?

Social justice is great. After all, who’s against social justice? It’s when one starts to fill in the details that disagreements arise.

As of now, A+ is a proposal in search of a program. It’s probably unfair to expect more of it at this stage; it is less than two weeks old. But precisely because it’s in its infancy, it may be premature to consider it the new wave in atheism.

Conclusion I hope my observations will not be considered unduly critical. It is difficult to put forth a proposal such as A+, as we atheists and humanists tend to be an unsparing bunch of critics; JM should be commended for her willingness to submit this proposal for consideration. As indicated, I think there have been some missteps in the presentation of A+, but at least to some extent these can be corrected. The bigger challenge may be in specifying exactly what A+ adds to the movement. I look forward to the further elaboration of A+ so we can consider and discuss in a calm, rational manner exactly what its implications are. I sincerely hope that it turns out to be something that strengthens the movement.

Comments:

#1 Reg (Guest) on Monday August 27, 2012 at 6:00am

So which are we? The People’s Front of Judea, The Judean People’s Front, The Judean Popular People’s Front, The Campaign for a Free Galilee, or The Popular Front of Judea?

Splitters!

#2 Arthur (Guest) on Monday August 27, 2012 at 6:09am

“People who make hateful, threatening comments to others should not be part of any segment of the secular/skeptical movement. Amy Roth’s recent series of posts from various movement leaders leaves no doubt that this is a principle with virtually unanimous support.”

There’s your problem. There’s evidence to suggest that the principle doesn’t have unanimous support.

For example, Atheist You Tube videomaker Phil Mason (AKA Thunderf00t) wrote a set of blog posts implying the victims of abuse were concerning themselves over nothing, mocking one such woman who complained by nicknaming her “Rape Threat Watson”. Judging from the aftermath across the web, Mason had significant support from other atheists for his stance, some well known and in positions of influence.

Of course, we’d like to believe that people would be against threats and abusive behaviour. But some people simply just aren’t.

#3 Emily Dietle (Guest) on Monday August 27, 2012 at 6:43am

Well said, Ronald; thank you for such a fair assessment. This aligns well with what I was contemplating in a recent blog post on the same:

#4 Richard Huffman (Guest) on Monday August 27, 2012 at 7:07am

Well said.  For my own part, my major critiques overlap with yours (mostly), but come in two flavors:

1.  To be honest, human beings are emotional critters.  Taking a word a lot of people have strong emotional associations with (Atheism) and tinkering with it is unwise.  This is especially true of the label because it’s a very basic level of self-identification.  Imagine the difference between Christianity+ and First Lutheran Church of Ely, Minnesota+ - while the second might get some members of that particular church in an uproar, it would not be seen as a fight for the very identity of the community.

While I realize that is what JM is proposing to do, she did not approach it with the caution I suspect is necessary to grab on to such a painfully personal label (the name was actually picked out of the comments section on her boy’s club blog post linked above).  Being a laid-back kind of atheist unless someone is actively trying to push religion on someone, it’s not something I can really understand first-hand, but some atheists (especially those who have come out of one of the fundamentalist or evangelical traditions) can be pretty scary if you disparage the label (full disclosure: I have my own buttons that will set me off in the same way; I’m not claiming some kind of superiority here).

2.  To do a “shorter” version of what you said above, great, it’s wonderful that Atheism+ is for these things, but how do you plan on going about advancing those goals?  Seriously, we often can agree on what the problems are, but how we perceive the need to solve them often describes the differences in how we see the problems themselves (wicked problems are like that).  I think that Atheism+ has been exposed to the public at large in the manner of opening the oven 15 minutes into baking a souffle and tossing the thing on the table with one hand, while ringing the dinner bell with the other.

#5 jasontorpy on Monday August 27, 2012 at 7:10am

Your comments seemed very positive from my perspective. I certainly got the impression this was an old-white-guy-haters club. But, like you, I was able to move through that first impression.
I also agree that A+ is humanism by another name. That’s fine of course. I would just make a distinction that they may be diverging from AHA Humanist or CFI Humanism, but everything put forth is within humanism as a whole. I think that’s something that might reconcile them with humanism - that neither Ron at CFI nor Roy at AHA are Popes of humanism. They can use the moniker while still advocating for additions, or at least a reprioritization of certain topics.

#6 Alan (Guest) on Monday August 27, 2012 at 7:15am

Atheism Plus seems more like a cry for attention than a cry for awareness and should be regarded as such. Everyone should be concentrating on weeding out all negative aspects within “the atheist movement”, but leave this Atheism Plus thing by the side of the road where it belongs.

#7 Kalex (Guest) on Monday August 27, 2012 at 7:19am

See, this is the problem. Arthur states…

“implying the victims of abuse were concerning themselves over nothing”

No, no he wasn’t. It’s become folklore now. The only thing Phil Mason and many of his “followers” think is that Watson was being dishonest about “elevatorgate”. As do I.

I’m sorry, I just don’t beleive one person’s story on a blog with no witnesses that I never heard of over the word of a hero to many (and what a great way to make oneself famous). Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

#8 John D (Guest) on Monday August 27, 2012 at 7:26am

A+ = Atheism + Radical Feminism.

Count me out.  I will run from this “movement”!

#9 Traveler (Guest) on Monday August 27, 2012 at 7:30am

Actually, “one’s position on Elevatorgate or Grothe’s remarks” seems like a very good litmus test for membership in any new wave of atheism.  The point of those two specific examples would be to weed out those people who deny another’s lived experience (say, by accusing Rebecca Watson of lying), try to shame victims just for speaking out (Richard Dawkins), and/or try to hush up any talk of unpleasantness rather than fight it (Grothe).

Staking out a position against threats of violence is relatively easy.  I want a movement that is even safer and more welcoming than that, and that requires asking people to get it right when considering more nuanced variations of human interaction.

#10 jamesemery (Guest) on Monday August 27, 2012 at 8:01am

What Traveler said.  I kept up with the entirety of EG, from beginning to end, and read quite a lot of it.  There’s a huge and nasty pushback every damned time that a woman has something bad happen to her and dares to talk about the fact that it happened, why it might have happened, and what might be done to help prevent it in the future.  It makes me ILL.  The radical part of ‘radical feminism’ apparently involves anything women may do to stand up for themselves.  If that’s radical, then call me a radical, because I’m all for it.

So far as Thunderf00t goes, he had some extremely nasty things to say, and did some other things that were probably not strictly legal to extract his revenge for being called out.

#11 jamesemery (Guest) on Monday August 27, 2012 at 8:03am

Also, whether Jen McCreight’s introduction to A+ comes across as derogatory toward ‘old white men’ seems mostly to be determined by whether the reader WANTS to feel like she’s talking down to them.

#12 Ashley F. Miller on Monday August 27, 2012 at 8:40am

The only thing I really disagree with is your perception of the remarking on the oldness of the movement as ageist.  The observation is actually noting that the movement is not as inclusive of young people as it could be, not that old people are bad.  Seeing only older faces speaks to an ageism in which young people are devalued.

Noting the movement is dominated by “old white men” isn’t saying that being old or white or male is bad, but that the movement should *also* welcome those who are not old or white or male.

#13 Ophelia Benson on Monday August 27, 2012 at 9:14am

So far, and speaking just for myself, I’ve been taking Atheist+ as an adjective more than a movement, which means among other things that I don’t have to worry about wasting resources or splitting into factions.

I think of it as a shorthand for saying “gnu atheist [i.e. explicit, vocal, assertive etc atheist] with extra added egalitarianism.”

It’s extra added, right now, because of this wave of cheery unabashed sexism. I feel a need for the + as a quick way to make the point that the atheism movement (and there is such a thing) shouldn’t include rude hostility to women. (Or any other groups, but that’s the thing: sexism seems to be exempt from the taboos on racism and the like.)

#14 Ophelia Benson on Monday August 27, 2012 at 10:05am

And another thing. What you say about CFI - well exactly, and I at least don’t see Atheism+ as in opposition to or separate from CFI at all.

#15 Richard Huffman (Guest) on Monday August 27, 2012 at 10:19am

Ashley, just a thought: I suspect Mr. Lindsay might have been talking about avoiding substituting one kind of ageism for another, that’s all.

#16 Dan (Guest) on Monday August 27, 2012 at 10:23am

Benson says: “I feel a need for the + as a quick way to make the point that the atheism movement (and there is such a thing) shouldn’t include rude hostility to women.”

Except of course, those women that disagree with Ophelia’s particular view of how women should behave or think.
It’s all very well haranguing those “old white men” (perhaps even using “British” as a pejorative), but what of these “old white women” like Benson/Cristina that enthusiastically engage in “rude hostility to women”?
Women who disagree with the FTB clique are marginalised, derided, their agency as equal human beings denied. They are called “chill girls” and other such absurdities in order to dismiss their arguments rather than engage them. This is real sexism, and it’s coming from old, and not so old, white women.

#17 jamesemery (Guest) on Monday August 27, 2012 at 10:42am

Nice argument, Dan.  Calling out sexism is sexism.  Much like calling out racism is racism.

Present a decent or valid argument from one of these ‘chill girls’ that hasn’t be gone over and picked apart again and again.  Please, do.

#18 Nathan Bupp (Guest) on Monday August 27, 2012 at 11:01am

The ease with which the words “misogyny” and “sexist” is thrown around these days constitutes an insult to the incredibly important and groundbreaking work done by the courageous and noble individuals (mostly women) in the women’s suffrage movement and first wave feminism, where real persistent and recalcitrant obstacles had to be overcome. Frankly, it demonstrates a flagrant and irresponsible violation of any reasonable ethic of discourse on the part of those routinely doing so today. (Does truth really matter??) Not saying sexism and misogyny doesn’t exist in our culture. I’m talking about the ease with which other people are tarred with it, where none genuinely exists.

#19 Ophelia Benson on Monday August 27, 2012 at 11:12am

Ah yes, very true, I’m an old woman, aka a witch.

So I’ll exit the discussion. Which (as it happens) is precisely our point.

#20 jamesemery (Guest) on Monday August 27, 2012 at 11:20am

Nathan, it’s obviously our place, as males, to decide what is sexist and misogynist, and what isn’t, and what would be insulting to earlier feminists.  How could I have been so blind?

/snark

#21 sofiarune (Guest) on Monday August 27, 2012 at 11:21am

Hey Jen,

I can’t help but feel that a lot of the animosity is being built by how the whole thing is being framed. I suspect any basic consideration for human psychology has been overshadowed by personal frustration. Consider how the following two statements make you feel:

1. “There are too many old, white men in the movement.”

2. “There are not enough younger, racially diverse women in the movement.”

There is a pretty profound difference there. The first statement is framing the issue in terms of excess. What do you do with excess stuff? You try and get rid of it. It comes across really badly and in fact devalues old, white men. You can argue that people shouldn’t read it that way until you’re blue in the face but that isn’t going to change anything. That framework has basic implications that people will read into and a lot of them will come away with negative feelings.

If social activism is the goal then personal frustration needs to take a back seat. Outreach to people who are not necessarily already on board with you should be a priority. If you are going to do this then you’ll have to think carefully about what you are saying. I know that can get irritating but it’s part of the package.

Words matter. Choose them carefully.

#22 jamesemery (Guest) on Monday August 27, 2012 at 11:32am

Sofia,

That’s been covered on Blag Hag.  Please have a look at the most recent post.

#23 Nathan Bupp (Guest) on Monday August 27, 2012 at 11:37am

@#20 jamesemery.

Okay, I get it now. So there is no objective standard here? Only a woman can identify what is and is not sexist and/or misogynistic, and with a selective, relative, and subjective sliding scale to boot, as the situation warrants, of course. And you learned the principles of science, reason, and evidence where? Guess I better not call feminist epistemology bunk for fear of being branded a sexist misogynist.

#24 jamesemery (Guest) on Monday August 27, 2012 at 11:48am

Nathan,

Being that sexism often IS subjective and relative (read: situation is relevant), I think you’ve got it.  You just refuse to accept that.  For instance, propositioning a single woman alone, in an elevator, at 4 A.M., probably wouldn’t be nearly as intimidating/creepy as doing so in a well-lit cafe in the middle of the day.

Which principles are you referring to, here?  You certainly haven’t made a case for what would or wouldn’t apply.

#25 jamesemery (Guest) on Monday August 27, 2012 at 11:51am

Edit to above:  Swap the elevator/cafe situation. Sorry.

#26 sofiarune (Guest) on Monday August 27, 2012 at 11:52am

jamesemery:

Her post does not address what I said. I am not accusing Jen of wanting to exclude old, white men. I am suggesting that the way Jen and others have framed the problem in the past is at least partially responsible for some of the negative response. Human psychology matters in the situation and I think the launch of Atheism+ has illustrated how neglecting the psychology of your audience in favour of venting personal frustration only creates more problems.

We can argue all we want about how they shouldn’t read into things but that’s not up to us to decide. What we can do is try to use deliberate language from the very beginning in order to prevent issues in the first place.

#27 jamesemery (Guest) on Monday August 27, 2012 at 11:57am

Sofia:  So, you strawman her into a claim that she FRAMED it in such a way as to give the impression that there are too many old white men in the movement?  She didn’t do that.  For that matter, the audience that would read it that way largely WANTS to read it that way, and is going to regardless of how she frames it.  Just like the billboards that state nothing but “Atheists” are horribly threatening to everyone who WANT to be threatened by them.

#28 sofiarune (Guest) on Monday August 27, 2012 at 12:01pm

And now instead of actually engaging with what I said it is time to start inappropriately citing logical fallacies. You know what I think about when this happens? That whoever is doing it was never interested in discussing anything and this was all about “winning” and “score-keeping”. Perhaps, in future, we could engage in genuine discussion instead of getting extremely defensive in reaction to mild criticism.

This is what I meant when I suggested personal frustrations take a back seat.

#29 Guest (Guest) on Monday August 27, 2012 at 12:02pm

I’m closeted atheist (for the past five years) and a very active feminist (for the past thirty).  I resent being informed that I can either publicly (either by announcing via social media or wearing a particular badge or jewelry) align with Atheism+ or be considered an “enemy” who will be “shunned.”

I resent the implication that declining to join some bloggers club means I’m a misogynist, racist, or simply (in Carrier’s words) a douchebag.

Already the bloggers are announcing who speaks for Atheism+ and who doesn’t.  So, Atheism+ has a leader or leaders - they’re just working out the hierarchy.  Carrier is clear that Atheism+ is his baby, and he would have been the one to announce it if he’d only had the time.  If that’s true, he speaks for Atheism+ more than anyone.

Count me out.

#30 Richard Huffman (Guest) on Monday August 27, 2012 at 12:09pm

@jamesemery: You may want to think about that claim of straw man for a moment.  She’s saying that the focus of the sentence sounds a particular way (and it does to me too), and that the language is important (it is).  Someone saying you’re doing PR badly is not strawmanning you; it’s constructive criticism.

#31 jamesemery (Guest) on Monday August 27, 2012 at 12:15pm

Yes, and concern trolling is concern trolling, ESPECIALLY when the blogger in question already, quite clearly, addressed the concern noted.  I’m out.

#32 sofiarune (Guest) on Monday August 27, 2012 at 12:24pm

Doubling down with a concern troll accusation? Nicely done. I recommend looking up the definition of concern troll while you’re at it. Or perhaps even start with troll in general. Most people seem to be completely unaware of either definition at this point.

Come back when you’re interested in sincere discourse I guess.

#33 Richard Huffman (Guest) on Monday August 27, 2012 at 12:25pm

@jamesemery

But Jen’s intentions were not the concern.  The language and its possible interpretation was.  Not every person who reads about this is going to get to bullet point #5 on Jen’s blog post, so it’s best for the message to be clear and consistent.

Your problem with this is what?

#34 William M. London (Guest) on Monday August 27, 2012 at 1:14pm

Bravo Ronald A. Lindsay! I am delighted to see the constructive criticism and illuminating reasoning you offered in this post.

It seems to me that this paragraph, more than any other gets at the source of much of the friction that led to the Atheist+ proposal:

“Social justice is great. After all, who’s against social justice? It’s when one starts to fill in the details that disagreements arise.”

I agree that disagreements arise as we fill in the details, but I’m not sure we can all agree about what social justice is or that it is great.

When I introduce the concept of social justice to my students, I find that this formulation is useful:

Adams, Bell and Griffin (in Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook, 1997) define social justice as both a process and a goal. “The goal of social justice education is full and equal participation of all groups in a society that is mutually shaped to meet their needs. Social justice includes a vision of society that is equitable and all members are physically and psychologically safe and secure” (Cited at

#35 Dorion on Monday August 27, 2012 at 1:25pm

I believe every movement/group should exclusively include membership that agree 100% with the group’s policies and philosophies, whether pertinent to the movement or not, preferably as outlined by that group’s “leader.”

As disagreements arise, any argumentative members should be driven out, hopefully to form groups of their own, with the further goal of 100% agreement.

Continue/repeat until each group should ultimately be comprised of a single individual.

#36 Emme (Guest) on Monday August 27, 2012 at 1:25pm

This is a sad situation.  In a way, it feels like the Christian religion splitting into different denominations.  When the main body of an organization has issues it does not quickly address, people eventually get fed up and leave to form something new. 
This gender equality issue is not just an elevator story and a few nasty emails.  It’s been, and continues to be, a problem. 
What with the GOP/women’s rights attack going on this year, it can all be just too much and feels like being attacked from all sides. 
Cut the advocates of + some slack and work together instead of CFI losing valuable members.

#37 jamesemery (Guest) on Monday August 27, 2012 at 1:39pm

Hi Emme,

Don’t be too sad- If you decide to consider yourself part of A+, remember that it doesn’t mean you’re somehow barred from being in whatever else you want, too

Eventually, hopefully, there will be no need for this sort of thing, but as you mentioned, it still continues to be a problem.  We can address this problem.

#38 Nathair (Guest) on Monday August 27, 2012 at 2:24pm

“Carrier is clear that Atheism+ is his baby, and he would have been the one to announce it if he’d only had the time.  If that’s true, he speaks for Atheism+ more than anyone.”

It’s not. He doesn’t.

#39 junebug (Guest) on Monday August 27, 2012 at 4:13pm

Who does have the authority to speak for Atheism+?  Obviously you (and not Carrier) but anyone else?

#40 jasontorpy on Monday August 27, 2012 at 4:53pm

This ‘who speaks for Atheism+’ is a great question. If it’s Jen and Greta and a few others who posted originally, it starts to take the character of atheism+feminism. (Feminism is not a bad thing.) If it’s just a new branding of atheism+social justice, then it’s humanism. Humanism is already a general-use term for nontheistic, progressive, ethical living and meaning-making in life. Roy at AHA and Ron and CFI speak for humanism as much as anyone, but neither are the Pope or have any right to put their foot down and declare what is and is not humanism. In that sense atheism+ is a protest against the term humanism and adds no value in terms of creating a home for nontheists who advocate for social justice. I just creates a home for those who have some beef with the term humanism.

#41 Kean (Guest) on Monday August 27, 2012 at 5:36pm

The advocates of Atheism+ are behaving like tyrants and that alone is enough to dismiss and avoid them. Jamesemery is so forceful in his advocacy as to have posted almost a third of the comments.

Ashley Miller is one of the fire-starters, who falsely accused D.J.Grothe of having ignored her claim of sexual harassment-a claim of sexual harassment, which was so devastating and foundational in her faulty assessment that the atheist community is full of rampant sexism and misogyny, that she couldn’t be bothered to report it or follow up on it herself (which was therefor inaccurately reported as plain ol’harassment)and only brought it up in the context of needing more ammunition in the war to eliminate the falsely alleged sexism and misogyny that is supposed to be so rampant at atheist/skeptic conventions.

It is perfectly clear that almost every individual who believes these claims of rampant sexism and misogyny have no idea what a troll is or how they operate (they are essentially provocateurs),  then in the blogs they read, where these claims are made, anyone that disagrees with the accuracy of the claims is labeled a hater, misogynist, troll, douche-bag etc. The irony is disgraceful! Almost all of the “evidence” of sexism/misogyny is from online activity where the offender could be anyone, yet the only measure needed to assess the offender as more “evidence” for sexism/misogyny in the atheist/skeptic movement is that the offender must be an atheist because the offender is posting a comment or sending an email to one of these atheist bloggers. I mean, wasn’t Ophelia Benson caught up in something like this once before, where a Christian male, trolling atheist blogs, pretending that he was an atheist used a sexist epithet against her?

#42 Ambidexter (Guest) on Monday August 27, 2012 at 5:40pm

I have no major problems with Ron’s OP.  But having read several of the comments, I now know why I’m going to support Atheism+.

Rebecca Watson is a liar because no man would ever try to pick up a woman at 4am in an elevator?  Pull the other one, it’s got bells on.  Saying “guys don’t do that” is worthy of receiving rape and death threats for over a year.  I thought CFI forms were places where reasonable people behaved in a reasonable manner.  I see now I was wrong.

#43 jamesemery (Guest) on Monday August 27, 2012 at 6:11pm

TYRANTS, Kean says!  Surely he’ll be paying taxes and bowing to us, next, instead of simply being admonished, with words, for his ill behavior.

Speaking as someone who has been to a few conventions OUTSIDE the atheist realm, I can say that this crap is fairly rampant outside, as well.  I STILL don’t know whether it’s the atheist community specifically, or if that’s mostly how people act on the interwebs and at conventions, and most people don’t realize that, yet.  Either way, it comes to the same conclusion:  It DOES HAPPEN within the atheist community, and the atheist community has to address it- both in general, and especially within their own ranks/sphere of influence.

Disclaimers:
Obviously, I’m a guy.
While I’m a follower and fan of Jen, PZ and the FtB community, I don’t speak for any of them.  I’m simply in agreement with them on this topic, and most of the facets involved.

I’ve seen just how nasty some of these folks can be.  if Kean would like to continue being willfully ignorant/pretending not to see some of the misogynistic crap that goes down over even the most minor examples of women standing up for themselves, that’s his problem.  Kean, your very act of dismissing the claims of those wrongs is misogynistic.  Note that I’m addressing your action here, and not calling names.  I have a feeling this will fall on deaf ears, but I was there too, once.  It’s hard letting go of privilege and yanking one’s fingers out of one’s ears.

#44 jasontorpy on Monday August 27, 2012 at 6:12pm

Count it - “I thought CFI forms were places where reasonable people behaved in a reasonable manner.  I see now I was wrong.”
0 days until CFI is denounced as anti-woman as a result of this opinion piece.
The truth is no forums are places where people behave in a reasonable manner. Either people are terrible trolls or moderators censor everything. It’s just how the internet is and how people are - both insensitive in their comments and sensitive in their reading of comments.

#45 Dennis (Guest) on Monday August 27, 2012 at 6:49pm

Movements progress and regress, and the influx of young people has more than a little to do with both.

(How’s that for politically incorrect?! You rarely if ever hear anyone fault the young!)

Yet it is precisely the infusion of youth (a case of “be careful what you wish for?”)—though it has undoubtedly energized & enlarged the movement—that has given rise to a distinct “in-crowd” feel to conferences that wasn’t there before, along with the ridiculous charges of sexism/misogyny on a scale far out of proportion to any convincing evidence.

It is often said that recent generations of youth have been coddled, and our movement is confirmation of this. The young are praised as vital to the cause, are encouraged and hailed as the future, and the source of new ideas. But rarely are they criticized, when in fact they—and their unwitting enablers—are often the cause of a reduction to the speed of the “slowest ship in the convoy”; as “newbies”, they frequently raise issues already covered or entailed in the movement, and mistake indifference to revisiting old battles for ignorance of them.

At first one is happy to see the young at conferences, but after a while you notice the same immature cliquishness and “grownups are invisible” behavior you encounter in the wider world.

I saw this youthful idealist phenomenon at an event at Harvard back in the nineties, where a young student came up after the presentation on humanism and asked why there was nothing about “eco-feminism” in the talk. After much back and forth it was clear that those who were “insensitive” to the idea “just didn’t get it”, and were, of course, “privileged”. You simply could not disagree about the need for an explicit humanist inclusion of her cause in any way but one which demonstrated you were unenlightened.

 
Ophelia and PZ and many others (some of them old enough to know better) have been hugely disappointing in their commentary on this matter; it is odd to see champions of reason do it so badly, to say nothing of their sycophantic followers. It may be true that many in their camp no longer wish to attend conferences where offenses are alleged to have occurred, but it is equally true that many who looked forward to these events now feel disinclined to go, and have similar disinterest in reading the blogs of those who have contributed to the poisonous atmosphere.

Just as the so-called New Atheists began criticizing accommodationists after an initial unwillingness to split ranks, there is now a divide between those who question the resurgence of stale seventies feminism, which was effectively countered some time ago, and the “new stale feminists” who missed the first round.(See among others Noretta Koertge and Daphne Patai’s book Professing Feminism: Cautionary Tales from the Strange World of Women’s Studies)

Idealism which mistakes criticism for ignorant insensitivity is common; every new generation wants to solve problems it seems to think it has newly discovered. But until we see evidence of widespread bad behavior, as opposed to the expected minority of wackos when any movement grows, I think the case for “A+” deserves a D-; it is likely just another example of kids going off and creating their own wing, and calling it “progressive”.

#46 Renee Hendricks (Guest) on Monday August 27, 2012 at 7:01pm

I really do not see the necessity of creating yet *another* label/group. This smacks more than a bit of “weeding out the undesirables” where some of those undesired might simply be pro-gun or any number of different stances that are somewhat outside of the “norm” as far as atheists go. It’s an attempt at creating the perfect atheist. Elitist, in my book.

#47 Darryl Wright (Guest) on Monday August 27, 2012 at 7:10pm

Thank you, Ronald. You articulated so well what I’ve been thinking as I read through the highschool-level piffle that comprises most of the commentary on these issues.

#48 dougreardon (Guest) on Monday August 27, 2012 at 7:38pm

Atheism is what unites atheists, any other position can only be divisive.

#49 Randy on Monday August 27, 2012 at 7:53pm

“It is difficult to put forth a proposal such as A+”.  No, actually I don’t think it is.  Rather, it’s difficult to defend.

I believe you’re giving the benefit of the doubt to a group who have left no doubt.  The last week made very clear that the primary intent is to set a particular group of already-associated people apart and above everyone else, including those of us who share their claimed values of equality and skepticism, but disagree with their, shall we say, bias and hostility.  Now (and only now) they’re having to walk some of it back, under bright light.

I simply don’t see how a movement can grow out of something with this genesis.

#50 Emily Moskal on Monday August 27, 2012 at 9:16pm

Thank you for laying this all out so clearly.

I think the reason JM’s call for a reflection on the way we handle relationships within the atheist community may have struck such a deep chord is that the vast majority of us welcome the chance to (pardon me while I borrow a word from my religious past) deepen our commitment to an ethics and a code of conduct and decency outside of simply not believing in a god or gods.

For myself (considering I’m not really one for making sexist or racist jokes), it resonates as a way to quickly explain to friends and family (who have no interest in learning what humanism is, because they’re too busy going to Bible study) that it is possible to be good without god, and that a lot of thought goes into how I choose to do it.

As a branding label, I think it’s catchy. I hope it draws more armchair atheists out into the real world of supporting causes they believe in. I don’t see why it wouldn’t be possible to “wear” the A+ label on your blog, and then donate time and money to humanist organizations that work towards the things you personally care about.

I really wish that the definition of that brand could be left that open. Time will tell, I suppose.

Thanks again for such a comprehensive breakdown of many of the same things I’ve been thinking.

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