21 August 2012

"Atheism Plus"?

Freethought Blogs (sigh) is afire with several of its more prominent writers (Jen McCreight, Greta Christina, Richard Carrier) rambling on about some new 'movement' they want to start to distinguish the good atheists from the bad ones. Greta Christina starts it out in flawlessly hyperbolic form:
If you’ve been getting worn down and discouraged by the seemingly-endless barrage of misogyny and trolling and hateful stupid in atheism and skepticism lately… read this.
The problem is that what constitutes 'hateful' or 'stupid' or 'misogyny' has been the subject of quite a bit of discussion and debate, and the Thunderf00t debacle showed that if you're not willing to uncritically wave the flag of the loudest bloggers over on FTB, it's time to take a hike. But anyway, Richard Carrier jumped on board and expounds:
I am fully on board. I will provide any intellectual artillery they need to expand this cause and make it successful.
Its basic values (and the reason for its moniker) Jen stated thus:
We are…
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.
Ah. So, you're humanists. This is new how?

Carrier goes on to list four 'declarations' explaining values he thinks atheists should embrace. And y'know, I think that most people who read it would have a hard time disagreeing that they are good values to have. So why am I cynical about this utterly stupid "atheism plus" movement? It's simple, really.

I’m an atheist. I’ll let my opinions on various issues stand for themselves when the time to discuss them arises. I don’t need to latch on to a bunch of bandwagon platitudes so that I’m easily pigeonholed before someone even asks me anything. I don’t need to be associated with any movements or maxims. Call me crazy, but I thought we’d been doing a good job avoiding that kind of thing.

All these sorts of platitudes do is oversimplify complex issues and, when dissent arises (as it inevitably will), it allows groupthink to take over: Hey! You're not embracing the values of Atheism Plus™! You're not one of the good guys! Somehow, I doubt that the giant parade of bullshit that accompanied the reaction to Thunderf00t, to use the obvious example, will magically be resolved by reciting a few platitudes. All this serves to do is stifle discussion, marginalize dissent, and reinforce groupthink – exactly the sorts of things that atheists, usually being self-proclaimed 'free thinkers', tend to want to avoid.


Related reading:
The "New Wave of Atheism"
Richard Carrier and the Atheist+ Religion

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