Atheism Plus, Drama, and The Atheist Community

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Reason Being: A Drama Free Zone

The last year has seen a tremendous amount of drama in the atheist community.  Though we are only a few days into 2013, I have seen little indication that drama is going to abate any time soon.  This troubles me.  Over the past year, I have tried to stay out of the various arguments that have dominated the online atheist community.  Although there were a few times I did feel the need to comment on something I found ridiculously absurd.  In truth, I have little desire to find myself caught up in these conversations.  That is becoming harder and harder for me to accomplish.

The main reason for this increasing level of difficulty is that it seems that each time we have a drama flare up, more and more people “pick sides”.  The truth for me is that there are people and bloggers that I enjoy reading, who lead me to think, and whose intellect I respect on both sides of almost all of the issues.  I have seen friendships ripped apart, campaigns (on both sides) seeking to destroy the credibility of people, and to be honest, much of the same anti-skeptical behavior that we generally abhor from the religious running rampant.  I generally try to walk away from such train wrecks.

The best example of this has been the debate over atheism plus.  Whether you think atheism plus is the best thing or worst thing to happen to the “atheist community” one thing should be clear to all parties.  The “movement” has proven to be incredibly divisive.    I do not think that because something is controversial that it should be discarded.  That is cowardly and not how any meaningful change occurs.  My problem with this issue is the divisiveness itself.  I can foresee no end to it.  Both camps are pretty firm in their convictions, and appear, at least to me, to be digging in deeper—all the while, no progress is being made at all—it is similar to trench warfare in that regard.

This is problematic to me for several reasons.  First, if you read my “about page” you will learn that I wanted this blog to be a page where secular humanist discussions could occur.  Social justice issues, typical of secular humanism are important to me.  It is becoming increasingly difficult to rationally talk about these issues among atheists.  If we cannot rationally discuss things like sexism (as one pertinent example) among ourselves, how the heck are we going aid in affecting greater change in society?  I find it incredibly frustrating to find that meaningful discussion on my blog and Twitter feed has been derailed because of conflict elsewhere.  If for example I want to write about women’s equality, I want to talk about women’s equality—not what other bloggers think on women’s equality or which bloggers are hurting or aiding the causes of women’s equality, or which blogger is an MRA, who is a “radical feminist”, who is promoting misogyny or misandry, etc.  I want to have a discussion on the issues—not on other bloggers.  Yet, that is becoming increasingly difficult.

As this blog started gaining some success (at least by my own standard) I realized that working for the rights and equality of atheism was becoming more important to me.  I can’t help but notice that with all of the attention being turned to things like atheism plus, there has been less effort devoted to “atheist causes”.  I find that curious for something that is supposed to be an “online atheist community”.  This troubles me.  We may never all agree on certain social justice or political issues.  However, one area that we should agree on is atheist justice.  Most of us should agree on Church/State issues, on anti-Christian-Creationist issues, on prayer in public places issues—and I think that most of us do.  Yet, over the last six months, the “online atheist community” has devoted less time to causes of that nature than I would like to see.

When I look at atheism plus, I see stated goals and agendas that I agree with.  What I see in practice is something entirely different at times (though that is a topic for a different post).  I work, online and in my personal life, for many of the same social justice causes that they advocate.  The difference is this.  In my life, those things do not get in the way of my working for atheist causes.  I cannot say the same for the online atheist community.  This is a source of my problem with atheism plus.  It has become a distraction, taking time away from causes that most of the people involved in the debate, would all agree.  This divisiveness is not what we need, as atheists who are at least somewhat interested in affecting societal change for atheism.  The Christian Right is exerting its muscle like never before and we are online fighting over whether atheism plus should exist, how it should exist, whether we agree with its principles, whether we agree with some of the actions of its leaders, etc.  When we have things like creationist, anti-atheist, and other pro-Christian agendas being proposed as legislation, I can’t help but view the drama over atheism plus as distracting.

This is not to say that fighting for the social justice causes that atheism plus advocates is distracting.  Fighting for things like women’s rights, for example, is a very worthwhile thing to be doing.  Arguing over which blogger is a misogynist does not seem nearly as worthwhile to me.  If you support a social justice cause—get out and advocate for it!  You will likely find that I support you.  You will lose me when you write posts dedicated to bashing another blogger’s views…over and over and over again…for almost a year.  I don’t have the time or energy for that, and it does nothing to advance any cause and both sides have been guilty of this.

I wish that we could move past this, but sadly, I think I would be naïve to expect that to happen anytime soon.  Tempers are hot, feelings are hurt, and emotions are high—on both sides—none of which are great for conflict resolution.  However, I am going to ask you all anyway…can we please put this behind us and get on with advocating and working for the issues that are so important to so many of us?

Why am I writing on this topic today?  It is my hope that some of you out there will agree with me and will do as I plan to do—get on with atheist and social justice activism.  I am not planning to write on things that I view as distractions to my goals any longer.  I am not going to Tweet about them.  I am going to spend 2013 focusing on my “activist” goals of atheism and social justice.  I am not going to be sucked in to the past, present, or future “dramas” of the online atheist community.  I do not want to be distracted from the things that I feel are worth working on.  At times my goals and posts will certainly mesh with the agendas of other groups.  At times, I may feel compelled to write a post like this one, asking people to put aside the drama and get back to working on the issues and not the argument.  I invite you to come along for a drama free ride here on Reason Being.

Thanks for reading.  I look forward to your comments.

—-John

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23 thoughts on “Atheism Plus, Drama, and The Atheist Community

  1. @jeh704 from Bel Air, MD, United States

    Had to think about this for a bit. I really agree that the drama has gotten out of hand and yes, we need to focus on issues that affect the entire atheist community. Social Justice is a term that has been misued by people on all sides of the argument. My issue is that if someone is just not interested in social justuce issues, as a main part of their activism, their labeled and attaced as, well, you've seen it. And then of course, there's the backlash from that, which does nothing to move the athesit/skeptic community forward. I am first and foremost an atheist/skeptic. Are there humanist issues I am interested in? Sure, but those issues don't override the issues of church-state, radical fundamentalism(of any religion!), creationism in schools, or religion in the public(governement) space.I am weary of the debate, but it's like a wreck that traffic slows down to view, even though the wreck itself doesn't impede said traffic. And for some, it's actually a cause they must fight (A+) because to them it does dilute the original message. Can you be an atheist AND a humanist? Sure. But the two are exclusive, in my opinion. Hell, I know fundies that are humanistic in some areas. Hell, I think this is the longest comment I've ever written…

    Reply
    1. reasonbeing from Duluth, MN, United States Post author

      Thanks for the comment bud. I agree with you. It is a mistake to lump atheism and humanism together…largely because that notion already exists–Secular Humanism. I also think that there are many sites out there dedicated to activism of humanist type causes at least compared to atheist "causes". I really think that we cannot lose site of all of the things that are important to secular people, some of which you mentioned, and focus solely on the humanist ones–even though they are important. I would like to see a nice mix of both, which is what I try to do here. However, my focus has always been more on atheist issues than humanist ones, if only slightly. To me, good blogs have that mixture.

      Reply
  2. vjack from Hattiesburg, MS, United States

    I suspect that we'd all be better off if we learned to ignore the drama and write about what we want to write about. But yes, I'm also interested in returning the atheist activism around the separation of church and state, the promotion of secular public education, and the other issues that people typically come to atheist blogs in search of. Periodically, the drama will become impossible to ignore and will need to be addressed but I hope to do so less often. The initial shock that people in our community would behave like this has worn off to some degree and l'm ready to get back to the grind. Like you suggest, now is not the time to get sidetracked.
    My recent post How to Discuss Feminism in the Atheist Community

    Reply
    1. reasonbeing from Duluth, MN, United States Post author

      Well said vjack, that is exactly what I plan to do, with full recognition that I will probably be unable to escape all of the drama…Once again sorry about your comments sitting in my spam folder. I have no clue how that happened. I will be sure to check it more frequently. I appreciate you taking the time to write them and think it stinks that they didn't post until almost a week later in a few cases! Sorry.

      Reply
  3. Cephus from Redlands, CA, United States

    Do what I did. I simply opted to jump off the Atheism+ train. I stopped reading blogs that focus on it, I stopped listening to podcasts that talk excessively about it, I stopped following people on Twitter that harp on it and you know something? I hardly hear a word about it anymore. It's great. The immature children on both sides of the argument can go flog themselves silly somewhere else, I will not permit it into my life.
    My recent post Problems with Matt Dillahunty’s Secular Morality

    Reply
  4. RezOKC from Oklahoma City, OK, United States

    I am exceptionally happy to read this. I've been doing my best to stay out of this mess.that's what I intend to continue doing.

    Reply
  5. Jack Rawlinson from Hastings, East Sussex, United Kingdom

    " If we cannot rationally discuss things like sexism (as one pertinent example) among ourselves, how the heck are we going aid in affecting greater change in society? "

    Indeed. And part of the problem is that many of the A+-ers cannot rationally discuss things like sexism. That's why so many of us oppose them.

    Reply
  6. Jaime Ospina from Bogotá, Distrito Capital, Colombia

    As a newcomer to the "community" I identify with John and paraphrase him, " You will not engage me when you write posts dedicated to bashing another blogger’s views…

    I will not engage in discussions on the nuances of feminism, either. The way I see it, the problem is sexism. If the main focus of a blog is atheism, why not concentrate on sexism in religion? Great harm it's done and a great obstacle to equality it still is.

    Reply
      1. Jaime Ospina from Bogotá, Distrito Capital, Colombia

        I am sure I will enjoy your posts unrelated to religion as well, John. My opinion as regards religion´s determinant influence on the mistreatment of women and its extinction as a prerequisite for the end of sexism has been well expressed by @TheStudio7 below. Gender dominance and several other types of dominance go hand in hand with religion.

        Reply
  7. Martin S Pribble from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

    I agree with what you are saying, but I must take issue with something: Atheism Plus is not the only place this distraction is coming from, it's coming from BOTH sides of the argument. Each is just as guilty of "not getting on with things" as the other, and I find it not just distracting, but childish too. Watching the fighting is infuriating, and it's distracting us from what we set out to do.
    My recent post Anthropocene

    Reply
  8. @TheStudio7 from Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

    Until we can affect the cultural mindset that religion has created amongst us all (whether we like it or not), promoting women's values amongst this background will be half-assed at best. As a woman, anything I say that can even moderately be assigned to promoting women automatically brings cries of "fem nazi" instantly devaluing any positive and turning it into a negative. Because the treatment and value of women is something so ingrained in the psyche of so many different cultures – particularly those with heavy religious agendas, you need to go deeper to root out the problem. I think if we concentrate on turning off belief of religious controls, then other things, like the treatment and value of women will follow. Humanity as it stands now, is still not ready for true equality – that is because religion stands in its way. I have learnt for myself, that harping on about misogyny and sexism, just makes me out to sound like an idiot. Better to concentrate on educating the world on its wrong turn into the arms of control freaks.

    Reply
    1. Jaime Ospina from Distrito Capital, Colombia

      "Humanity as it stands now, is still not ready for true equality – that is because religion stands in its way." I wholeheartedly agree. I always told my daughters it would be beneath their dignity as human beings to join organized religion. None of them did. You speak for me when you say, "I think if we concentrate on turning off belief of religious controls, then other things, like the treatment and value of women will follow."

      Reply
    2. reasonbeing from Duluth, MN, United States Post author

      Sorry it has taken me so long to get back to you. Thanks for the comment. I really appreciate it. I agree with you, religion is a key part of the problem when talking about inequality. I think we need to address inequality on all fronts—both religious and non-religious, but agree, that until we can break the hold of religion, true equality will be difficult to achieve.

      Reply
  9. Recovering Agnostic from Norwich, Norfolk, United Kingdom

    I agree entirely. Atheism isn't big enough to be pursuing a toxic civil war, and both sides seem to be obsessing over details which are insignificant in the wider scheme. I wrote about this 6 months ago, and little appears to have changed since then, so I'm thinking about another post.
    http://recoveringagnostic.wordpress.com/2012/07/0

    Reply
  10. Loren Miller from Bedford, OH, United States

    My personal evolution to atheism was a long and slow one, probably starting with the first time I read Heinlein's "Stranger in a Strange Land" back in the late 60's though 9/11 and finally being emboldened by seeing atheists speak out on a discussion board I participate in. Somewhere in all of that I came to the conclusion that I was an atheist and began to strengthen myself in that position and become more vocal myself.

    Long before then, I recognized that women and gays were getting the short end of the stick, that the environment was getting mucked up by indiscriminate pollution, that a woman's right to choose should remain solely HERS and not be at the whim of either government or religion. These and a lot of other issues were on my mind and I had arrived at what I think of as positive positions on them decades before my attitude toward atheism resolved itself. ALL of those positions were the result of my observations on how things were happening in the world and my own rational processing and analysis of them.

    For what I understand, atheism plus wants these issues and others to be bound together into a supposedly necessary superset of atheism. To me, this is an artificial and manipulated association of issues. I base that assertion on the fact that those positions came together within me ON THEIR OWN, not because of some supposed relationship between them but because they were all part of my own personal bent and attitude. Indeed, my position on these issues is more a product of my approach to them – rational, thoughtful, and informed – than it has been a product of any one of them, atheism included.

    I am an atheist. I am also a supporter of women's rights and very conscious of environmental and other issues I care about. To me, each of these issues has one thing in common – ME. Otherwise, they have as much in common with each other as a fish does with a bicycle.

    I don't associate them with each other … and I Will NOT Be TOLD that I have to.

    Reply
    1. Jaime Ospina from Distrito Capital, Colombia

      Very well said. My positions on the issues you mention came to be within me on their own as well. In my case, atheism was first, in adolescence. I cannot fathom acquiring a definite position on all the other issues simultaneously at that stage, or at any other stage for that matter. Hard enough dealing with the transition from religion to atheism without being asked to lump all the other issues into the process.

      Reply

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