(This is a collaborative post between Robert and me)
A light rain sprinkles onto the pavement as two men enter Plato’s Gourmet Coffee and take a seat. Light jazz, perhaps a bit too uplifting for both the genre and the topic at hand, drifts through the air as the conversation begins.
Robert: So, I hear you wanted to discuss this new internet sensation they’re calling “atheism+”. I suppose that as an atheist myself, some sort of comment should be required. But I’ll let you have the first word. What are your thoughts on it?
Gil: Yeah I planned to make some comments but never got around to it. To be honest, I just don’t see anything remarkable about it. There are already causes like humanism that fight against racism, homophobia, etc. If the atheist is interested in such causes, they’re free to participate in them. The only difference here is that this seems to be nothing more than a marketing gimmick to tie atheism to a set code of living. Anyone who disagrees, according to Richard Carrier, is immediately not “one of them” and must be “disowned or discarded”. Not to mention cussed out as despicable, immoral, and un-godless. Christianity is said to be “fundamentally f***** because…it fails a most fundamental moral test”. Any non-religious person that disagrees with them is no better than any christian. It’s patently obvious that their goal is to market atheists as intellectually and morally superior to christians at the expense of excluding others. Atheism+ is remarkably similar to a religion, if you ask me. But I know I’m biased and I’ll be written off as such… So I’m interested in what you think of this, Robert.
Robert: I agree that it does seem like a marketing gimmick, especially for ultra-liberalism and radical feminism. I also agree that it does at times seem like a religion, although I might even go so far as to label it a cult. It certainly has some elements of a cult, such as silencing dissent – they often do something they call “shaming”, which is essentially publicly calling out people who act in a way they’ve determined is socially unjust in order to embarrass them.
I think comparing it to humanism is interesting, because it is similar in many ways; but in others it’s quite different. I mentioned ultra-liberalism before, but perhaps that’s not even strong enough of a term. Their views go far beyond even the most liberal politician I’ve seen. For example, we both think racial and other slurs are a social ill which should be fought against, but they take practically everything as a slur. I was checking out their forums the other day, and there was a post claiming that even the word “stupid” should not be used in a derogatory manner, because it’s “ableist language”. Of course, hurt feelings don’t seem to apply when they’re shaming someone they don’t like. I have a lot more to say, but for now I’ll pass the metaphorical microphone back to you.
Gil: Wow, a cult? And I thought I was harsh! You’re going to get it now, dude. Honestly though, I think you’re right on. If atheism+ ever had a brother, he’d be Stalin. That might be a little bit of a stretch, but this sort of activism has some extreme properties. Anyway, how would you handle an a+ atheist like Richard Carrier that publicly disowns you in front of everyone online? Would you strike back with a vengeance? I cannot believe they complain about the word “stupid” but are quite pleased to use it against their enemies. Talk about double standards!
Robert: Haha, well Carrier doesn’t seem to be such a big part of atheism+; it’s become more of a collective on their forum in the past month. But if one of them did try to “call me out”, I’d probably just roll my eyes, because the worst thing about the movement is that it seems to be all style and no substance. I’m all for social justice, but the way they go about it is so radical that it actually ends up becoming unjust.
I mean, the whole tone of it is just really strange. They’ve got their shaming, their trigger warnings, and their safe spaces, but they’re attempting to create all this in a public forum. Those things don’t exist publicly. You don’t get to have a “safe space” while you’re standing on a soapbox. You don’t get to expect that others provide a warning that what they say might “trigger” a victim. It’s fine in your living room, but when you parade the metaphorical streets, all bets are off.
Robert takes a deep breath, clearly struggling not to embark on a long rant. The sun starts to settle behind the horizon as the coffee shop’s lighting and music both fade into something kind of blue.
Aaaaaaanyway, there’s some problems with atheism+ that seem pretty obvious, at least to us. But the bigger question is what we should do about it. Should we fight back, so to speak, against it? Or should we just ignore it?
Gil: I think it’s good to be watchful and prepared, but at this point I don’t consider it a threat. They’re outspoken brats that have no prominent influence on society except for their own little online bubble. That’s not to say that it does not have the potential to become a powerful force (as new atheism has become), it’s just that I don’t think it’ll succeed for several reasons. First, it has produced division within the atheist camp by deriding those that oppose them. As such this is an internal affair between atheists and I have no intention of getting involved at this point. In fact, I think it is more strategically beneficial if we let them attack each other and hope that atheists such as yourself can tear this agenda down to the ground. If that fails then the least we can hope for is a split within atheism that would weaken their power.
Second, I think new atheism succeeded precisely because it was united in their deification of science, disgust for religion, and their love for thinking themselves to be “free thinkers” in comparison to those blind religious believers. Having a sense of superiority, a sense of common purpose, and sharing the same worldview really makes the difference here. Atheism+ on the other hand, creates division because not all atheists share that same vision, or if they do, they just don’t think it should define atheism. So without that universal unity, atheists like yourself can team up with christians to tear them down, which is something that you would’ve never seen in new atheism. They will hate and shun you for associating with evil christians, but that will only further reveal the hate-filed nature of their agenda.
You and me are proof that this is possible! We agree that atheism+ is a joke, even if we disagree on the existence of God. You were never a new atheist to begin with, but I have a feeling that even some new atheists would open up to the idea of uniting with an enemy against an enemy that they feel is destroying their unity. Third, I think atheism+ will really need to distinguish itself against other social groups that already do what they want to do. There’s a lot of talk among these atheists+ but not much action as far as I am aware. So for now, I will only choose to watch them until I have good reason to retaliate. We just need to be careful not to add gasoline to the fire.
Robert: I can certainly agree with that, although I don’t think most of them are hate-filled; they’re just jumping on a bandwagon. I guess the cool new trend on the internet is to be ultra-liberal and touchy-feely about everything. I could jump into their forums and try to critique them, but to be honest it probably wouldn’t do any good. So I suppose I’ll just sit back and wait for the whole thing to fizzle out.
Suddenly a young woman, with skin rendered pasty from a lifelong vegan diet and time spent in rather affluent dwellings, and bedazzled with hipster swag, approaches the table.
Woman: Hey! I just listened to your conversation, and you’ve got it all wrong. This is deeply offensive!
Woman: And?! And you can’t offend other people! Check your privilege!
Robert: Look, we’re having a conversation here. If you have some actual critiques of what we’ve said, then feel free to tell us about them. But if you’re just going to scream about how offensive it is, get out of here.
Woman: Stop ‘tone trolling’! I’m a woman, and I have a right to be angry about these issues! If you don’t let me talk, you’re sexist and reinforcing the patriarchy!
Robert: I don’t care what you are. And I really don’t care how angry it makes you, because we weren’t talking to you in the first place. If you’re angry it’s your own fault.
Woman: Oh no you didn’t! Now you’re blaming the victim!
Robert: What victim?
Woman: Me! I’m offended, shocked, and hurt!
Robert: Welcome to life. It sucks, then you die. Why don’t you go do something productive instead of taking offense at everything anyone says?
The woman walks off in a frustrated huff, tripping over her own ego as she does so.
Robert: Jim Morisson was right. People are strange.