So, Atheism+ eh?

I somehow missed all this getting started but I’ve spent today trying to catch up between bouts of work, driving lessons and other interruptions. I think I’m up to speed but there was a lot to catch up on and if I have the wrong end of the stick do be sure and correct me.

What it seems to be is people doubling down on what I already made a post about a little while back. (Short version is that I asserted that it was bloody stupid to assume that just because we’re both atheist that we agree on everything else). This A+ idea seems to be an actual bold and ‘out’ attempt to conflate a whole bunch of stuff with atheism.

On the face of it, there’s nothing you could or should object to. This is how it’s put in one place:

We are…
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.

Great! I care about social justice. I support women’s rights (and mens). I protest racism. I fight homophobia and don’t have anything against trans people. I use critical thinking and scepticism! I should fit right in then eh?

Well maybe, but I’m a bit suspicious. For one thing I don’t want atheism getting tangled up in a bunch of other political and ideological strings because I’ve spent a great deal of time getting it through people’s skulls that all it means is ‘I don’t believe in god/s’ and that’s it. After all, they already conflate atheism with Communism and think one’s t’other and vice versa and that’s a whole lot of stupid one has to correct. Now I’m going to be confronted by people, fearful of some ‘liberal conspiracy’ pointing at A+ and gibbering in abject terror and that’s going to be much harder to refute.

If you’re putting ideology over truth, ideals over scepticism, ought over is, then you’re heading for trouble and the evidence I’ve seen up to this point rather suggests that’s what’s going to happen here.

You’ve got the rootless accusations of misogyny, the poor treatment of thunderf00t at the hands of the ideologues, the stupidity surrounding Elevatorgate, the scaremongeringly unhelpful harassment policy push, the number of times we see The Claim and Cause Entwined going on. There’s a near total lack of willingness to apply the supposedly lauded trait of scepticism to claims around these progressive elements and if you do dare to question it’s presumed that you’re against whatever it is that’s being promoted.

“You know… I’m not sure these rape statistics are entirely kosher.”


“I think you’ll find it is true that there are racial differences in rates of criminality but I suspect the cause to be economic…”


“Chromosomaly you’re still male of course.”


Question the data, even if you don’t question the cause, and well… people might as well just point at you and shriek ‘WITCH!’ Once the accusation is made, you’re fucked, no matter what the truth is.

This seems like a supremely bad, elitist (oh the irony) dick move but is probably doomed to be another failure.

Remember ‘Brights’?

6 responses to “So, Atheism+ eh?

  1. To be honest, it can be hard to discern someone’s intentions when you chat over the internet. Oftentimes I have expressed criticism over how people communicate about gender and sexuality issues, only to be chided by those around me as unenlightened or ignorant. And I tend to agree with them on social issues about sex and gender discrimination!

    Why do we need a certification like A+ to proclaim to the world “I am an atheist and I won’t attempt to rape the women around me at atheist conferences” in the first place? This is a serious problem if as a movement we can’t even agree that women should be treated with the same decency as anyone else. I used to respect thunderf00t, but after I heard the things he said about women and how far he took his disdain for sexual harassment policies, I’m not so sure.

    The fact of the matter is, if women aren’t welcome at atheist conferences, we all suffer for it. We lose so many valuable viewpoints and allies(women make up roughly half of the population, yet they seem to be missing in atheist circles!) Maybe the A+ thing won’t work, but as far as I have seen no one is really having a discussion about we fix this problem. (and fewer people seem to recognize this is a problem at all!) And this isn’t a trivial issue; this is a serious issue about the personal safety of the women who are now and have been reluctant to join our unbelief for fear of being sexually assaulted or worse by the men around them.

    And because it’s so hard to tell if someone has the willingness or intent to do harm to a woman until it’s too late, we need to make sure that kind of behavior is unacceptable and never happens in the first place, which means everyone needs to be involved with enforcing some very basic rules. Don’t rape someone. Don’t assault someone. Don’t stand by if you have reason to believe someone is getting raped or assaulted. And if make someone uncomfortable, cut it out. Agreeing to only those points is more like D+ work, not A+.

    • We don’t need a certification like A+. Conferences don’t have any particular problem and existing laws etc are more than sufficient. It creates the impression that there’s some particular issue with rampaging, sex-starved atheists when there isn’t.

      Of course we agree that women should be treated with the same decency as everyone else. Just not a whole bunch of extra ‘decency’ or any special privilege on top of that.

      Women are welcome, weird and kooky ideas about gender interactions and politics not so much.The weirder end of feminism needs to be subject to sceptical scrutiny the same as everything else.

  2. I don’t consider feeling safe in public to be a special privilege. That ought to be a pretty fundamental to everyone. I’m a middle-class white guy. I can walk down any street in my town at any hour in the night and I can feel perfectly safe. There are a lot of women who don’t feel safe around men in broad daylight, especially at atheist conferences where there are no expectations to behave with a certain conduct. These aren’t phobic women who want to impose a political agenda; these are women who get sexually harassed in public and they don’t like it. Nobody likes talking about this; women especially don’t want to have to explain to men over and over again why this is a problem because this should be a no-brainer. But the problem of sexual harassment is not being addressed and it’s not going away.

    I wouldn’t want to be sexually harassed, either, and I think it’s generally agreed upon that feeling threatened is bad. Fortunately, I am seldom put into that line of fire because nobody gropes me inappropriately when I go to an atheist conference. But there are a lot of women who aren’t that lucky. They tell a man to stop touching them or to leave them alone, and that man doesn’t stop. When that happens there should be rules in place that address that kind of behavior, and frankly, I don’t see them enforced at atheist conferences.

    I don’t think there are a tremendous number of rampaging, sex-starved atheists in the atheist community, either. But I do think there are a tremendous number of guys who make derogatory comments at other women that cross the line. If there were rapists in the atheist community, I would like to believe they would be caught and dealt with quickly. I have thought in the past that being an atheist would mean that one would be less inclined to rape a woman, or at least be more inclined to prevent acts of sexual assault when they see someone else doing someone bad. But apparently, I can’t expect the guys around me at an atheist conference to behave themselves around a woman nor can I expect other guys to take a conversation about personal safety seriously if feeling safe in public is considered a special privilege.

    I have never raped or otherwise sexually assaulted a woman, but I know three women in the last year who have been sexually assaulted by men. Two of these women won’t come forward to the police about these incidents and none of these men were investigated for their behavior. Every time I asked one of these girls why didn’t want to come forward, they have told me it’s because they are scared of the guy who did that to them or in the case of the girl who came forward, the police refused to pursue the incident, even after she got a medical examination that proved she had been violated.

    Maybe you’re like me and you feel safe in public. But that doesn’t mean that everyone is as privileged as you or me. It means that you are in a privileged position to be able to help other women. It means that you have the power to prevent sexual assault against women in the future if you take a stand and make it clear to the men around you that offensive behavior towards women will not be tolerated. It’s not kooky to think that women should be able to feel safe like everyone else at an atheist conference. And if this A+ thing doesn’t work, then at least people are seriously taking about the issue of personal safety. At the very least we all need to recognize that women aren’t welcome in the atheist community and that this needs to change.

    • I see no reason they shouldn’t feel safe. The fear of attack is vastly overstated and as a man I think, if I remember the figures correctly, you’re much more likely to be the victim of random violence than a woman.

      Why should Atheist conferences have any ‘expectations’ different to any other social situation? Are they some hot-bed of sex attacks? No. They’re not. Creating the myth/impression that they are doesn’t really help anybody and that’s what these totally unnecessary policies and similar efforts create.

      Please don’t use the word ‘privilege’, it’s a huge ‘asshat flag’ and will bias me against what you say. The whole concept is not helpful and is used primarily as a tool to dismiss others (ironically). I don’t feel the need to ‘take a stand’ because it simply isn’t a particular problem related to atheism, except that it seems some people are conflating a whole bunch of things with atheism – and that is a problem.

  3. Perhaps you don’t like people to bandy about the word privilege in an argument, but I am going to use that word a few more times not because I am trying to dismiss you or what you’re saying (because I would like to see those figures about violence against women versus men), but because it’s necessary.

    Women aren’t aren’t getting raped in public. And while I used the example of women getting raped in a previous post perhaps as an extreme example, I don’t think this is the heart of the matter with A+ idea. I think the idea is that we need to recognize not every atheist feels safe at our conferences. A lot of people have felt hostility from theists in their community and have experienced outright ostracism. But an atheist conference should be the one place where everyone can feel welcome. And that’s not happening.

    To say that these women have no reason to feel threatened, from my point of view, is to dismiss their argument out of hand. To be blunt, I don’t think that you know what it’s like to be a woman at an atheist conference. And neither do I. But when someone brings up that they feel threatened, skeptical scrutiny ought to mean that we hear them out and give them the methodological principle of charity, not call their ideas weird or kooky. That’s not a very constructive criticism.

    Privilege is invisible to those who have it. You or I might not experience harassment, but prejudice goes on whether or not we see it. I would bet we have both benefited from certain privileges. I don’t know what it is about atheist conventions that makes them different from other social situations, but people do behave differently. And in atheist chat rooms. Maybe people feel more comfortable expressing themselves here and they do it in ways that are not as appropriate. In any case, the ‘why’ doesn’t really matter.

    The bottom line is: if you don’t identify with A+, you don’t have to join. No one is going to revoke your atheist card for disagreeing, certainly not me. It doesn’t negate your beliefs and you are not obligated to believe in it. People already conflate atheism with things other than a lack of belief in God, so if people want to come together for a different mission, it’s not a big deal.

    Is the Secular Student Alliance causing a schism because it focuses on students? Arguably, no. Whether you recognize that multiple forms of bigotry are a problem in this movement or not, there are a lot of people who see it as a problem and they will continue to discuss it. You don’t have to participate, but I happen to believe it’s in the the best interest of everyone that we support diversity of opinion, and that can only happen in an environment where we acknowledge not everyone feels safe and we need to work towards an environment where people with many different viewpoints can feel safe to express themselves.

    • We also recognise that people still believe in god, but we acknowledge that the fear is irrational and misplaced. Why note that for one thing and ignore it in another?

      You’re right, an atheist conference is a place you shouldn’t feel that kind of hostility but that is, perversely, the kind of atmosphere that these policies and overreactions like elevatorgate create.

      Sceptical scrutiny should also mean we’re not afraid to conclude that the argument is spurious and the fear an irrational one. Who’s to say that they haven’t been heard out? Listening =/= agreeing.

      We don’t have to join A+ just as we don’t have to join – say – scientology. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem or that we’re not entitled to worry about its problematic nature.

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