I am increasingly disheartened with the roiling controversy within and around the periphery of the atheist movement. It seems that some atheists have become like Joshua in the Old Testament when he said to the Israelites, Choose you this day whom you will serve.
Joshua goes on to say, as for me and my house we will serve the Lord. While certainly no one within the atheist community is suggesting we serve THE Lord, it is quite clear they expect true atheists to serve (commit to, follow after) groups like atheism+.
I suspect that the largest percentage of new atheists come from Evangelical and Fundamentalist churches. Learning that the Bible is not what the church claims it is, and becoming disillusioned with the shrill, acerbic hate speech of their preachers, has turned more people into atheists than Madalyn Murray O’Hair could every of hoped for.
When people deconvert they don’t immediately become atheists in the truest sense of the word. They may say they are atheists, but often this is just a reaction to their former religious beliefs. Some people get over their anger and return to Christianity. They were never atheists in the first place. They were angry, and hurling the words, I am an atheist, was a way of poking their finger in the eye of the bear.
A true atheist is born out of heartache, contemplation, and study. The true atheist (my focus is on those who come from Evangelicalism to atheism) must deconstruct their lives and rebuild them one belief at a time. The true atheist likely reads and reads and reads and…well you get the picture.
It is not enough to say, I don’t believe in God anymore. Just the Christian God? Some Gods? All Gods? The true atheist is one who says, I reject any belief in the existence of deities. Once a person has reached this point they are an atheist. Nothing more is required to claim the label atheist.
The atheism+ movement demand fidelity to a certain set of beliefs. I have no problem with this. A group is free to define their beliefs any way they want to. They are free to establish membership qualifications and only those who meet those qualifications may join. They are also free to try and convince me that what they are starting is not just an atheist version of church or a denomination.
Central to any group is its leaders. A Baptist preacher of yesteryear was famous for saying, Everything rises and falls on Leadership. This maxim is very true. The success or failure of any group rests on those who are leading the group. It matters who is leading and who is speaking for the group.
In the case of atheism+, there are many good people involved in the group. However, there are some not-so-good people involved too. Richard Carrier is case in point. As I noted in my previous post on this issue, Carrier is harming the atheism+ group and they know it. He has received a lot of condemnation over his treatment of those he disagrees with, yet he, for the most part, remains defiantly pigheaded and the other leaders within atheism+ remain strangely silent.
Atheism+ was born out of a reaction to the racist, misogynistic, sexist actions of a few. There were calls for the offenders to be publically identified, to be outed. Those making these claims refused to name the people (I suspect all the offenders are men) involved so we have no way of knowing “exactly” what happened. It would be helpful to know who the parties are and exactly what happened. If we are going to fracture the atheist movement over these things then full-disclosure is required.
I am in no way suggesting that what people are saying happened didn’t happen. I don’t have enough evidence to make any judgment and I am certainly not willing to join any group, let alone atheism+ without knowing the facts of why the group was started.
Atheism in America is finally gaining some momentum, but we are not so strong that we can afford to be subdivided according to rigid social and political beliefs. Every division makes us weaker.
I am of the opinion that the atheist cause is best served when atheists are free to connect themselves to whatever group or cause they wish. I prefer a loose coalition of atheists as opposed to a structured atheism with rigid political and social beliefs. With a loose coalition individual atheists are free to pick and choose what and who to support. Atheism+? Either you are with them or you are against them, to quote Prophet Carrier.
This Us vs.Them approach of atheism+ will ultimately harm and weaken the atheist movement. Any time there is exclusivism rather than inclusivism, the group’s power is diminished. The fundamentalist approach of atheism+ will only continue to marginalize other atheists who can’t or refuse to toe the atheism+ ideological line. Atheism+ should be working to include as many people as possible rather than exclude as many people as possible. (especially since atheism+ is a reaction to a tiny fragment of people within the atheism community)
Many of the sharpest critics of atheism+ are people who were Evangelicals before they deconverted. What we see in atheism+ is very similar to our experience in the Evangelical church. We left leaders who demanded we toe the line doctrinally. We left churches that were built on an Us vs.Them thinking. We left churches and leaders who believed they held the only Christian franchise. Exclusivism controlled everything our former churches and leaders did. Why would we want to join a group that is just an atheist version of what we left behind?
People are making all kinds of predictions about atheism+’s future. I am not going to get in on the betting pool. While I gladly embrace the tenets of atheism+, I cannot join up with them. As long as people like Richard Carrier are allowed to run wild with their words I have no interest in being a part of the group. His unwillingness to admit that his behavior towards those who disagree with atheism+ is reason enough for me to say atheism+ is not for me. How, behavior wise, is Richard Carrier any different than the racist, misogynistic, sexist people atheism+ is against?
The other leaders in the atheism+ group could have publicly called out Richard Carrier but they didn’t. It is also evident, based on his last post, that he wasn’t called out privately either. It is evident that the atheism+ group values Carrier being a part of their group more than it does attracting new members. As I told someone recently, Carrier killed the baby in the cradle.
I am sure I will be criticized for my singling out of Carrier. However, remember what I wrote earlier? Everything rises or falls on Leadership. When determining whether or not to join a group, I look at its beliefs and its leaders. The leaders of atheism+ should ask themselves, what message is Richard Carrier sending about atheism+?
Carrier remains unrepentant and defiant. He refuses to accept any criticism of his behavior. Carrier said of me “you are indeed a very unlikable person. Stay away from me in future.” Yep, unlikeable, that’s me.
In his latest post, Richard Carrier wrote:
In short, if you reject this value statement, you are simply my ideological enemy, and I will give you no quarter. I’ll respect your legal and human rights, because I believe in that. But don’t be shocked if I am not friendly.
And the beat goes on.
I intend to stay a part of the atheist Gentiles standing outside the Temple as the Jewish atheists worship the one, true atheist God. I intend to be an atheist free-agent, refusing any and all loyalty oaths. I know what I am, what I believe, and what it is I want to accomplish through my work on The Way Forward. I know I am a small fry in a bog atheist pond and words carry little weight. At best, I can be a small voice for atheists who are tired of attempts to corral them into ideological pens. We freed ourselves from the chains of Christian fundamentalism and we’ll be damned if we will be chained again by fundamentalist atheism.
I find myself in an interesting place. A liberal, socialist leaning, atheist standing with libertarian, conservative and Republican atheists. While we may disagree on a host of things, we all agree that intellectual freedom and the right to dissent should be valued above all else.
Does this mean that I will no longer associate with people who are a part of atheism+? Of course not. I am not petty like some within the atheism+ group. I can associate with people who have different beliefs than I do. I am free to choose to hang with whoever I want. This is the freedom that TRUE atheism brings.
I wish the atheism+ group well. I hope they, like may facets of the atheist movement, will grow up and mature. I hope they will make a meaningful difference in the world. Right now all I see is a bunch of children fighting over which super hero is better; Batman, Superman, Spiderman, or the Hulk. They are ALL great super heroes. Why must I choose just one?