Of the people I know IRL, the majority don’t believe in God, and yet most seem to cringe at the idea of openly describing themselves as atheists. I used to assume that this was because they were being too polite, ie not wanting to offend believers.* Now I’m finally understanding that it’s probably because they don’t want to be seen as arrogant pseudo-intellectual pricks.
Natalie Reed’s recent All In post resonated strongly with me because it seemed to articulate what people I respect have tried to tell me for years.
The Atheist Movement doesn’t have a monopoly on atheism. Anyone can simply come to the conclusion that religion is kind of silly and dangerous. The Movement doesn’t have a monopoly on secularism. Anyone can pitch in and help fight to keep religion from influencing legislation. The Movement doesn’t have a monopoly on skepticism. It barely practices it. Anyone can learn to value critical thought, doubt, hesitation, humility, honesty and questioning their perceptions and biases. And none of us need their permission. We don’t need DJ Grothe or Richard Dawkins or Justin Fucking Vacula’s seals of approval to do any of this.
Let them have The Movement. Let it be a club for entitled little white cis straight dudes to get together and tell each other how fucking smart they all are to know that John Edwards is lying, and there’s no bearded sky daddy doling out favour on the basis of how rarely you eat shellfish or have hot queer sex. Let them go right on thinking of themselves as the few insightful rebels who could see through The Matrix and now fight against the evil machinations of Andrew Schlafy and Jennifer McCreight. Let them live in their mythologies. Let them sink, bit by bit, into self-congratulatory, insulated irrelevance, while the rest of us get on with actually trying to help make the world a bit less of a mess.
There’s clearly something wrong with The Movement if so many people who are technically members want no part of it. But others are not so keen to walk away, especially if they live in places otherwise dominated by religion. They want solidarity and unity, but it’s hard to see progressives and libertarians kissing and making up any time soon.
Jen McCreight has been similarly troubled, but feels there may be hope in defining a sub-movement. If the greater Atheist Movement can’t be changed, why not create something new? Rather than ceding the ‘Atheism’ label altogether she wants people to embrace Atheism+
It illustrates that we’re more than just “dictionary” atheists who happen to not believe in gods and that we want to be a positive force in the world. Commenter dcortesi suggested how this gets atheists out of the “negativity trap” that we so often find ourselves in, when people ask stuff like “What do you atheists do, besides sitting around not-praying, eh?”
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.
In practise it’s really just secular humanism, but the problem with secular humanism as a descriptor is that even though it rejects the existence of deities, most people probably don’t even know that this is the case. It’s important that nice, normal people who don’t believe in gods be comfortable identifying as atheists (at least to each other!), so the stigma might fade in the wider community.
I don’t know that the idea will really take hold, but I applaud the intent, and I see it as part of a conversation that was somewhat overdue. The name is potentially cringeworthy, A+ implies cleverness and we don’t really need more of that right now. Remember the Brights? Ouch. The logo presented (best so far) is a bit meh, mixing the Out! campaign scarlet letter A with a blue cross; to the uninitiated it might simply evoke adultery and healthcare. But then anything is better than the Happy Human humanist logo.
Whatever happens, I do think some change is probably necessary and that this is a step in the right direction, because right now most people still think atheists are mean-spirited dicks.
* It’s not because they’re scared, because Australia is a lot more tolerant of the unbeliever (even our Prime Minister is agnostic/atheist)