There seem to be a string of stories lately about various ‘schisms’ or ‘problems’ within atheism. Part of this is inevitable backlash to the ground that New Atheism has won – and is to be expected. If just not-being religious is enough to upset people then it’s hardly surprising that being critical of religion will elicit an even stronger reaction. This reaction isn’t, of course, only limited to the people that follow a religion but the people who are averse to criticising it because its rude or who, patronisingly, think it’s ‘good stuff for other people’.
This article is symptomatic of the problem. A laundry-list of non-controversies, misunderstandings and manufactured arguments that have amounted to very little in the greater swing of things. It then proceeds to blame entirely the wrong people.
Harris has been a target for some of his comments, mostly because he treats Islam without the kidgloves that have come to be expected and because some people are incapable of separating criticism from Islamophobia and Islamophobia from racism. Not that I’m sure a religion with as many problems as Islam can truly be considered to be a feared irrationally. Fear can be a rational response when something is genuinely terrifying.
Dawkins is blunt and grumpy but that – and his wit – is what makes him so effective. Put anyone’s ideas and statements under the level of scrutiny that he is put under by the tumblrgh crowd and they’ll find something to get upset about. The absolute worst interpretation is always put upon anything he says by those with an axe to grind and it’s rather dishonest.
Dennett’s avoided many of the same issues, largely – I think – by being ill and looking like Father Christmas. His criticisms of religion are no less powerful and forthright, he just doesn’t seem to have grabbed the same attention.
Hitchens is, of course, dead – sadly. He, however, exemplifies the ‘angry prick’ stereotype so repetitiously hammered home in the article. However, being an angry prick is what made Hitchen’s career and what made him such a powerful critic of religion, so quotable and so useful in the debate circuses that normally favour the folksy, nice-seeming creationists and religious apologists.
What atheism means is not difficult. It’s simple absence of belief in god/s. If you want to get into atheist activism we can go a little further, but not much. That would be ‘because there’s no good reason to believe in god, religion should not influence education, politics, health’.
It’s really not that hard to grasp. All the schisms that have come in, mentioned in the article, stem from people trying to hitch various other causes to atheism’s wagon.
Being a Dick: We need people willing to be dicks and others who don’t act like dicks. Dennett and Harris – softer spoken types – got through to people that Dawkins and Hitchens did not and vice versa. It’s a cliché, but sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind and the kinds of people we often deal with as atheists are not amenable to logic and reason. Engaging them, getting them going, on an emotional level will sometimes reach them in a way that simply being logical and right will not. It can also force someone to defend the indefensible, something that can cause reflection later on or show up hypocrisy to the peanut gallery. This isn’t a problem in atheism, it’s a problem with trying to tie behavioural policing and ‘social-justice’ rhetoric to atheism.
The Soft Left: Criticising Islam is not racism nor bound up in fear. Yes there are right-wing groups using the criticism of the horrors of Islam to stir up hatred but while they’re racist pricks that doesn’t mean criticism of Islam and concern about it are racist or invalid simply because the BNP has ‘poisoned the well’. We’re now in the bizarre position where many soft-left talking heads who claim to be against misogyny, violence and all these other things are giving Islam a free pass and exposing themselves as hypocrites. This isn’t a problem with atheism. It’s a problem with conflating other political issues – such as race – with religion and criticism thereof.
Sexism: While there are almost certainly genuine misogynists in the broad, atheist movement (keep in mind it also contains libertarians, Randroids, diehard Marxists and other oddities as well as people that just don’t believe in god) it doesn’t seem to me that it is a particular problem and – indeed – that it is a much lesser problem than elsewhere. What it does have – not unlike other arenas such as gaming, SF&F etc – is a much higher degree of concern and activism by certain parties within it, making the problem seem like it is more prevalent, present or endemic. Again, all that unites atheists is not believing in god and atheists as a whole tend to be rather skeptical. Expecting them to swallow highly politicised and poorly supported gender theory without question is a bit much to expect and treating any questioning or skeptical rigour as hatred is going to attract scorn.
Atheism just means we don’t believe in god and it means we are free to examine things with a more skeptical eye and one that can look to genuine solutions rather than ones that rely on dubious authority. People like the – much praised in this article – Rebecca Watson are not engaging in that, rather they are placing their own unfounded prejudices and biases upon the pedestal that others have placed religion. She’s the poster child for everything we shouldn’t be and the failure of A+ is a heartening example that there’s still hope.
All these issues are not issues with atheism. They are issues where someone has assumed that just because we both agree that the idea of a god is stupid and has no place in public life that we must therefore agree on whatever pet cause they have and have internally wedded to atheism. Atheism and secularism are one thing, hooking other things to that wagon such as radical feminism, over-extended race politics or whatever else narrows the appeal and causes divisions. If you decry ageism, classism, racism and sexism in one breath, then condemn or ignore someone out of hand for being old, middle class, white or male in the next then you’re an obvious hypocrite and should expect to be treated as such.
We need to re-separate the various causes, not combine them. Atheism is just one kind of activism and as atheists we don’t all have to agree on every point past that, singular one. Follow your other causes on your own time, subject them to the same level of skepticism and reason and don’t expect to set up new sacred cows in the place of the one we just knocked over without a fight.
As to the honey, doesn’t it just bring home how fucking stupid the security precautions have gotten?
The only dick here is the linkbaiting @mjrobbins