About a month ago I wrote an essay called It's Just Atheism outlining my rationale for disagreeing with a growing chorus of atheists that want to expand the definition of atheism. I still disagree with this and given recent developments I feel the need to reiterate it again. Over this past weekend Jen McCreight posted How I Unwittingly Infiltrated the Boy’s Club & Why It’s Time for a New Wave of Atheism outlining her idea that atheism needs to change. This very quickly resulted in a follow up post Atheism+. Both posts call for a new type of social justice atheism. To be clear, I find this goal honorable and not without merit, however, I must disagree with the concept and the resulting parade of people jumping on.
I guess the easiest way to segue into the thesis of my post is t clearly state that I am a “dictionary atheist.” That, for one, won’t win me many friends with the FtB/PZ crowd. In my earlier post (which now will be considered Part I) I wrote that:
The desire to conflate a lack of belief in god(s) to a scientific, progressive, libertarian, rationalist, naturalist, secularist, humanist, skeptical, feminist, antitheist or any philosophy or method is a potentially powerful force in the culture wars. All the various cats can be herded together under one big cat tent. It brings a sense of belonging, unity, and power. Together we are stronger. There is no denying this.
I wasn’t always the “dictionary atheist” type and so yes; I understand the desire to have a large cohesive movement. While I share the goals of my fellow atheists as I listed above I have never considered that a central part of my atheism per se. They may or may not have resulted in my rejection of god, but then it became something else. To me, and to a lot of others, atheism simply is the lack of belief in god(s). It’s easy like that.
Why do I have major reservations about attaching all manners of philosophies and agendas to atheism? To "protect" atheism. I do not disagree with the goals of the social justice crowd. However, this agenda has absolutely zero to do with atheism as it is defined. It's as if they want to reinvent secular humanism for no apparent reason. A "third wave" of atheism (presumably to resemble the third wave of feminism they espouse) is unnecessary. A greater focus on humanism and building a humanists movement instead of atheism would be more appropriate.
What do I mean by "protect" atheism? By attaching these ideologies, as correct as they are, to atheism one hinders the ability to appeal to a broader demographic. Atheism is simple: Don't believe in god(s)? Welcome. That's it. Nothing else is relevant.
This is not ignoring these other issues so much as ensuring the focus of each agenda is attended to properly. Atheism as a movement wants to appeal to people that are in-the-closet non-believers and those whose faith is wavering. Get them out of religion, weaken the faith-based machines of our culture, and bolster a secular society. The addition of these other agendas has the potential to turn off those on the brink holding onto to their religious indoctrination. How many atheists were against LGBT issues, abortion, women's rights, etc. in their former religious life? Did their perceptions of these issues change overnight upon rejecting the claims that god(s) exist? Likely not. I fail to see how attaching these agendas to atheism progresses the intent of the atheistic movement. These things need to be fought for, no doubt; but they are more appropriate under the banner of humanism which has a firmly established history of a broader agenda.
From my earlier post:
When we lump all these groups together and say “this is what we are” we are automatically excluding those that live quietly on our side of the fence. These are the people that need to be attracted to being, at a minimum, open about their irreligion and be comfortable with it. This is not a critique of the outspoken. Without them (us) we would get nowhere. My critique lies within the drawing of battle lines that need not be drawn.
A few things to expand upon here: First, this is not a rejection of the social justice agenda. It is my opinion that “mission creep” will ultimately retard the growth of the movement. Yes, I know we are winning, but that does not mean it is time to change gears on that front. I think there is enough room in our movement for more than one line of attack. It is like lines of evidence. The current atheist movement is made up of those that use science to negate religious claims, philosophy to show the illogic of specific religions and the existence of their deities, using the contradictions of theology illustrate the incoherency of religion, etc. All this creates cognitive dissonance about faith. We are not done on this front. We have not succeeded. Those arguments are not over. They still must be presented and I think it is best without any appended ideologies. Let people find their humanism after they reject theism.
Regardless if you’re bored with those arguments and battles and are dismayed at the treatment of our fellow humans by forces external and internal then creating a conflated atheism is simply not logical. While it well known that the LGBT community has some its greatest allies in the atheist movement those actually only result in the humanism found by rejecting god(s) and religion. It’s not a one-step process. There is evidence for this in the idiocy of the anti-feminist crowd that has been the catalyst for the newer atheism or A+. I do not begrudge those that wish to fight it. I do too, but honestly I do that as a humanist and “humanism” has been somewhat ignored the past decade. We have not been the “New Humanists.” We have been the “New Atheists.” If we require a new wave to inspire human equality it should be separate from the wave that removes the poison of faith. They are related, they are extensions of each other; but they are not the same. I fear joining the two will hamper both.