Over on FreeThoughtBlogs P Z Myers has written a piece titled Dogma comes in many flavours and talks about how many atheists are not worried about challenging dogmatic religious beliefs, but when it comes to other deep-rooted beliefs such as gender stereotypes, atheists are often quick to shy away from challenging this. ‘We wouldn’t hesitate to be iconoclastic if the issue is one of faith. Break it down, we’d say, shatter those chains and think for yourself,’ Myers writes. ‘Other topics, though, are suddenly taboo. Try to go to most atheist meetings and question, for instance, conventional notions of masculinity. A significant number of those radical superstition-breakers will be appalled and start whispering about you, and divisions will form and some will cast you out.’
He points out, quite rightly, that culture is dripping with stereotypes when it comes to how men and women should act and towards the end of the piece touches upon pick up artists, “men going their own way” and how these very ideas of masculinity are unscientific despite the claims that they are the very opposite. In the last few sentences, Myers writes that ‘if you are concerned about removing obstacles to our species’ potential, as most atheists will say they are, then you have an obligation to combat the propaganda of these pseudo-scientific Y chromosome worshippers as you do the propaganda of religion.’
The piece doesn’t really click with me, though. Whenever I have become involved in Feminist or LGBTQ activity I have never stopped to worry about the religious beliefs of the other people present. When it comes to combatting prejudice that is harmful I will stand with allies regardless of what labels society would apply to them. When I attended a vigil in the city of Bath in memory of those who were murdered in Orlando a prayer was said and I didn’t care because all of the people present had come together despite their differences to show support and solidarity. I’ve been involved in conversations with atheist friends in the past who voiced their dismay that I supported a particular charity because “that’s a Christian charity,” despite there being no non-religious organisations doing the same humanitarian work.
That anyone would hesitate to support a good cause because of the religious origins of it is pretty mindblowing for me. Of course, there are religious charities which practice prejudice and harmful practices and I wouldn’t’ support them and would actively challenge them (for example, the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children), but that my local foodbank is run by the local churches doesn’t bother me. That there is no secular equivalent does.
When it comes to situations like this I always recall a quote from Harold Blackham: “Humanism is about the world, not about humanism.”
Why can’t atheism be the same? Well, truth is that it can. I wouldn’t ask the question of why so many atheists are reluctant to challenge deep-rooted beliefs about gender stereotypes and similar, but why they’re so reluctant to do so alongside their fellow humans who happen to have different beliefs than they do. I have often struggled to find common ground with people in the “atheist movement” because of this bitterness towards anyone who is religious. A lot of the things I see people saying are pretty inaccurate and stereotypes that are unfairly applied to all people of a particular faith. All it does is provide you with fewer allies and a self-isolating atheist is a pretty sad atheist.