I got my copy of New Humanist in the post today and in the editorial there is a section titled ‘The side of the angels?’ that opens with
Even if you’re not the kind of person who picks fights with religion, it can sometimes be hard to avoid confrontation. On so many issues arising in our secular society, religion seems to be on the wrong side. Though we didn’t plan it this way this issue highlights many debates in which religious voices seem to be standing in the way of rational arguments and human rights … in all these cases, rather than seeing religion as the root cause, it might make more sense to view it as part of the cluster of archaic beliefs and social mores that need to be revisited and, where appropriate, disposed of because they don’t measure up to our contemporary view of what constitutes reasonable moral behaviour.
This summary of the problems faced by secular and humanist activists was really timely considering the recent discussion about Atheism Plus, a new atheist movement being called for by Jen McCreight of BlagHag. The words ‘humanist’, ‘secular’, and ‘atheist’ have all been bandied about left, right and centre. They’ve been scrutinised for their definitions, and their pro’s and con’s as movements, all to support or criticise the ‘atheism plus’ movement. It has all been very confusing.
I’ve often said that I use the terms atheist, humanist, and secularist to describe the way I see the world around me, and not the way the world around me should see me. I don’t pick my ‘fights’ because what is being fought is inherently religious in origin, that is often just a coincidence (even if the Daily Mail would have you think otherwise…). I want to fight bad ideas that are dangerous and discriminating and harmful and irrational. I want to fight those ideas while standing shoulder to shoulder with people who also think that the ideas being campaigned against are dangerous, discriminating, harmful and irrational whether they’re Catholic, Muslim or Atheist. When I organised a pro-choice counter rally in the city of Bath earlier this year I stood with people – people there for their own reasons who had all reached the same conclusion that it was wrong to deny a woman a choice about her body. Some of the men and women were religious because they told me so and wanted me to know that the pro-lifer group were not representatives of them, but I already knew that.
I exist within atheist, secular, skeptic, and humanist communities because my worldview is simiar to others who define themselves using those labels, and I exist just as equally outside of those communities where I work and engage with believers in paranormal subjects, pseudoscience, and religion because I’ve never looked at the bad behaviour of others or their beliefs and opinions that clash with mine and thought ‘I want them out of this community’. I think such an attitude towards people no matter how horrid they are, is genuinely unhealthy. However that is me and I am fully aware of how different people react differently to what goes on around them, and I understand how horrible it can be to finally feel like you ‘belong’ to a community only to find it isn’t as welcoming as you initially thought when you expressed ideas that other people in that community don’t agree with. For me it was the local ghost hunting community and their negative reaction to my skepticism which ended up with threats, harassment, and stalking. I’ve had similar from within skeptic and atheism communities but I haven’t invested as much of myself into those.
Jen McCreight said in her post
I don’t want good causes like secularism and skepticism to die because they’re infested with people who see issues of equality as mission drift. I want Deep Rifts. I want to be able to truthfully say that I feel safe in this movement. I wantthe misogynists, racists, homophobes, transphobes, and downright trolls out of the movement for the same reason I wouldn’t invite them over for dinner or to play Mario Kart: because they’re not good people. We throw up billboards claiming we’re Good Without God, but how are we proving that as a movement? Litter clean-ups and blood drives can only say so much when you’re simultaneously threatening your fellow activists with rape and death.
I also don’t want to see good causes like skepticism and secularism to die because they’re ‘infested’ with people with the beliefs and ideas outlined by Jen in the quote above because these ideas are dangerous and discriminating and harmful and irrational. They’re ideas, beliefs and opinions that I stand against and that I campaign against while standing shoulder to shoulder with others who also think such bigoted views are dangerous and discriminating and harmful and irrational no matter who they are and what labels they apply to themselves. Just as I outlined above.
Perhaps it is because I have been harassed and abused outside of the skeptical, atheist, humanist, secularist ‘communities’ as well as inside those communities that I don’t think a new wave of atheism will make a change. Perhaps it’s because I take what I can from those communities and don’t invest too much in them (like I did with paranormal communities when I was younger) that means I don’t want people ‘out’ of them and feel like that is the only way I can continue to exist within those communities, and perhaps it is because I don’t base the whole of who I am on those communities that makes it easier for me to see that it isn’t just irrational people who identify as skeptics and atheists that think equality is mission drift, or that view other humans as targets for hatred, or as second class citizens.
I’m sure many will disagree with me, and I know for many the ‘atheism plus’ movement has filled a void in their lives and that is honestly fantastic, but I just don’t think it’s for me. Discrimination, hate crimes, religious privilege and inequality are things that have to be challenged – for sure. However, I think ‘atheism plus’ feels too exclusive, or at least comes across that way right now. It isn’t just atheists who want this change and want to work for it in an environment that isn’t hostile which is why, for me at least, my secular humanism is enough.