Even though the sound of it is… well, opinions vary.
The latest big atheisty skeptosphere type thing seems to have started with Jen McCreight (or one of her commenters). Atheism Plus. It’s for atheists who care about more than just the no-god thing. It is the internet’s new jam.
The fact is, most of the atheist community has already been concerning itself with various things beyond the falsehood of religion for some time now – but it’s not implicit in the word “atheist” itself. For many, the factors which led them to atheism are similar to those which compel them toward various kinds of social activism – but there’s nothing to say you can’t be a misanthropic anti-science crazy bastard who also doesn’t buy any of that hooey about Jesus.
Some atheists still find non-belief central to their identity, but want to be something more than simply a non-believer. Insofar as this is prompting people to rally around noble causes, embrace positive values, and find new reasons to feel energised about the possibilities of an atheistic, skeptical, compassionate, engaged worldview, I can totally get behind this.
Personally, I’ve been using the word “humanism” for years to basically describe the same thing, but it’s not a label which suits everyone. Arguably it doesn’t necessarily even imply non-belief in God, so if you want that to remain central to your identity, then it makes sense to keep looking for another label.
Mostly, this seems to be a thing driven by good intentions, aimed at nurturing more positive interactions and encouraging better social engagement among people who have something in common and choose to band together. I think a strong majority of what I’ve seen discussed around Atheism+ is coming from a good place. But I’m still nervous.
The various splits, schisms, and dichotomies among the atheist/skeptical/rationalist/humanist/etc community that already exist are largely artificial and unhelpful. You’re either with the FTBullies or against them, and such like. And I’m worried that Atheism+ might just become one more divide, another way to see people as either part of your in-group or outside of it – and for those on both sides of that dividing line to distance themselves from the others.
Its socially conscious aims are all fantastic, and are nothing new to the atheist community at large. But there’s something about defining them as a whole new movement which I’m not sure is a great idea.
And that’s even before I read this, in which it’s clear that some people are totally on board with the idea of Atheism+ being a divisive issue. That’s just fine, they say, so long as we’re keeping out only the wrong sort of people – misogynists and racists and abusers and whatnot. Just like they‘ve tried to oppress women and minorities and others in the past.
This just seems dangerously wrong to me. There can be opinions which aren’t compatible with your worldview, but once you start deciding that people are just inherently not part of your crowd, even if it’s because they believe abhorrent things, then Atheism+ becomes a potential tool for abuse.
It might be a significant improvement to say “Those inhuman scum don’t support gay marriage”, where once people said “Those inhuman scum think a black guy’s vote should count just as much as mine”… but it’s still not great.
I’d love to see what people do with Atheism+, if they’re inspired by seeing what possibilities exist for people to band together and do good things and spur each other on. I’d hate to see it turn into some sort of litmus test, a requirement that you prove your worth by joining the club, so that the tribe all agree that you belong before you’re deemed worthy of anybody’s consideration.
My darling love has also decided this isn’t for her, and said something which at first made me a bit sad:
I think that the conclusion I’m coming to is that I should give up on the idea of finding a group of “my people” where I can snuggle in and wear the nice symbol on a necklace. It’s a bit lonely not having a tribe…
But then I realised this is actually kinda how I think anyway.
People are getting on board with Atheism+, in part, because they’re disappointed that the atheist community doesn’t wholly consist of “their people”. There are enough profoundly differing views that not everyone can be part of the same tribe, and splits and rifts will naturally form. Throwing your lot in with any one particular identity always has the potential to exacerbate conflicts, which now become about tribes rather than just individuals.
I’ve been a bit more socially withdrawn than some, and had less success in getting deeply involved in the community – but perhaps as a result, I’ve found it easier not to have to pick a side. I follow various people I’m interested in, and agree or disagree with them on an individual level as best I can. This may also relate to the fact that atheism’s never been any kind of a struggle for me, or something I’ve ever suffered for and needed reassurance over; I don’t need the comfort of a tribe the way someone bravely abandoning a lifelong Christian upbringing despite their family’s anger might do.
I’ve also gotten to know what it feels like when my brain interprets Person A’s attack on Person B as a wound against my own ego to an irrational degree. I’m fairly good now at recognising that this means I’m too mentally tied in with Person B, and need to be careful about losing my objectivity.
So, I’m a bit all over the place with Atheism+. I don’t doubt it’s going to encourage people to do plenty of good. I also worry about the potentially stifling effects of setting entry requirements to being part of a conversation.
If it’s all going to be a colossal mess, let’s try and make it a good one.