Quite some time ago there was an article written about the Gnu Atheist movement that said there were “deep rifts” among so-called adherents. Or maybe it was some random blog post. I don’t know and it’s not important. What I do know and what is important is that PZ Myers made a post about it and ever since it has become a rallying cry for people who don’t want to address division amongst Gnu Atheists. That is, whenever someone raises the possibility that there isn’t a notable cohesiveness amongst atheists out there, the response from certain people (usually those of the freethoughtblogs.com persuasion) is to declare “DEEP RIFTS!” and then say atheists are a diverse group and blah blah blah. It’s generally a cop-out.
That isn’t to say atheists aren’t a diverse group. We necessarily are. After all, atheism is purely descriptive (something PZ doesn’t understand). We have no more normative connection with each other than anyone else has with, well, anyone else. That changes slightly with Gnu Atheism, of course, since Gnu Atheism is about using a more forceful and critical voice concerning religion; Gnu atheists are united in the value that religion is, mostly, not a good thing and should be confronted. However, that’s where the inherently shared values end. After that point, there is no reason to expect one atheist to believe the same thing as the next. That fact is even more significant when we’re talking about atheism sans any qualifiers (such as Gnu).
This presents a problem for some people. There is a desire amongst a handful of people to create a more cohesive group, to coalesce around certain ideas. That’s understandable and no one can be faulted for wanting to do that. However, it can’t be done merely under the banner of atheism – again and again and again, atheism is purely descriptive. No matter how much so many theists want to accuse atheists of believing this or that moral dictate and no matter how much some atheists want to parade particular atheist values, it can’t be done. The whole idea is philosophically incoherent. So what’s the solution? Enter 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.
This sounds all welcoming and nice, and only the fourth point could really exclude a lot of people (at least on paper). Because, who rejects social justice? Who rejects women’s rights? Who embraces racism? Who doesn’t see critical thinking favorably? Of course, it’s clear that all these things are speaking of liberal values, just as “family values” is code for a conservative point of view. And that’s the rub. It isn’t one that’s meant to be hidden, nor is anyone trying to hide it, but it isn’t out there on paper: Atheism+ is meant first as a label for atheist, (caricature) feminist liberals. It is meant to create an exclusionary community of individuals who…ah, hell. Let’s not kid ourselves. It’s Freethoughtblogs. It’s a label for just about everyone who blogs at freethoughtblogs.com. Anyone who thinks Rebecca Watson is a mook need not apply.
So where’s the problem, then? Who gives a rat’s ass if a bunch of people already deep in groupthink want to give themselves a new label? What difference could it possibly make? Well. The answer is simple. It’s all about division.
“DEEP RIFTS” has become an inside joke among a fair number of atheists, atheists who don’t think there is any real separation in the community, but there’s no denying it any longer. The entire mentality of Freethoughtblogs and now Atheism+ is George W. Bush’s old chestnut, “Either you’re with us or you’re against us.” Don’t believe me? Take a look:
Atheism+ is our movement. We will not consider you a part of it, we will not work with you, we will not befriend you. We will heretofore denounce you as the irrational or immoral scum you are (if such you are).
Check it out in practice:
Let me summarize: “You disagree in the least bit?! You’re evil and you can go fuck yourself!”
That great controversialist, that person who has been called too confrontational, that person who told everyone religion is delusion, that person who has debated beloved religious leaders, that person who has publicly faced down the nastiest pundits of our time–Richard Dawkins–has no better means of telling you you’re wrong than posting passive-aggressive tweets trying to attack ad revenue.
It then shows a series of Tweets from Dawkins where he tells people not to help out sites that drum up false controversy. I don’t know, nor do I care, what the specific details are behind this, but we can presume it has something to do with Freethoughtblogs. Take a look at some of the comments:
“When I first identified as an atheist I thought Dawkins was great but, the more I listen to him, the more he rubs me the wrong way.”
“I’ve always had and always will have great respect for Richard Dawkins’ work as a science communicator and an advocate for atheism. But lately, I’ve been losing a lot of respect for him otherwise.”
“He’s saying there is no real problem with bigotry in this movement, that you all are lying for money? M’kay.”
When a community that owes a huge part of its existence to one man – there are plenty of others, but Dawkins is easily the most significant – when that community starts going after him (and with shit logic, at that), it becomes extremely difficult to deny that the likes of PZ and others have created significant division. The deep rifts in the atheist community are very real; I don’t think I need quotations around them at this point. Freethoughtblogs, PZ Myers, Jen McCreight, and the pitfalls of groupthink have caused an ideological split amongst atheists today. In one camp we have those who have agendas external to Gnu Atheism, external to the problem of religion and the promotion of science. In the other camp, we still have reason and a commitment to basic Humanistic values, a commitment to promote a world that rejects superstition while embracing the wonder of science. In this other camp, this older camp, we have a group of people who are still focused on the task at hand.