Monday, 19 November 2012

Oh No! He's Not Talking About ThA+ Again!: Part I

The way people were going
on over the summer, you'd 
think we were all due for this
kind of A-Bomb.
Editor's Note: I know going back to talking about Atheism+ may annoy some of my readership, but I did say I would try to come back to it later when some of the fallout dust has settled.

Awhile back, I had a brief stint with Atheism+ before I decided it wasn't quite for me, yet.  So, I backed off.  But I still support everything they're trying to fight for.  We'll, the catchy declaration Jen McCreight wrote up that is.

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.

My major problems with keeping that self-identification at the time were lack of time to properly understand and participate, an overly strident tone held by many on both sides, a lack of focus, a lack of a clear manifesto and lingering doubts.

Well, it's been awhile since I've heard anything since the furor that seemed to jet and spray everywhere like fiery alien napalm over the summer.  Now, everything seems to be silent and the world hasn't ended, yet.  Perhaps those hot primordial gases have cooled and something interesting has materialized.

So are the winds of change still a-blowing or has this A+ A-Bomb blew?  Has the movement entered into its cocoon and about to reappear as a powerful force for positive change within our community and the world or has it moved out to pasture?  Over the next week, I'd like to explore this question and maybe even try to score some answers from the inside.

I'll start with one of the biggest hurdles for me when I was considering the movement, a lack of a clear definition or manifesto.  From a previous post:

What Atheism+ really needs to have a framework that can be published, agreed upon and shared with the larger community of Atheists.  They need a Declaration of Intent plastered right on front of their site along with an outline of their core values.  

One of my biggest problems with the movement was its lack of immediate information for lazies like me who expect a movement to try to define itself in a FAQ to me on its webpage.  Well, someone did just that and the new Atheism Plus website landing page is spartan but to the point.

Well, kudos to them!  Go to the Atheism Plus webpage and click on the FAQ to read the whole thing.  I'd like to comment about a few points.

What is Atheism Plus?

In a previous post, I expressed my frustration at how vague the meaning of Atheism Plus is.
I just went back to and browsed through some more forums.  It felt like I had gatecrashed a party that was already in progress with all conversations all in progress.  I'm still confused as to what Atheism+ really is.  Maybe it's a generational thing?  Is it a site?  Is it a forum where people can safely discuss things?  Is it a movement?  I just found Greta's most recent post Atheism Plus, and Some Thoughts on Divisiveness which also links to a FAQ about Atheism+.  I'll read them but as I do a brief scan through of Greta's post I find myself agreeing with her on all points but still not getting what Atheism+ is.  
The site now has a nice description that goes a fair way to help a guy like me out.
Atheism Plus is a term used to designate spaces, persons, and groups dedicated to promoting social justice and countering misogyny, racism, homo/bi/transphobia, ableism and other such bigotry inside and outside of the atheist community. The idea for the name came from a comment on a blog entry by Jen McCreight wherein she discussed the need for a new wave of atheism. Jen introduced a number of logos for the project shortly thereafter. Although it was only recently given a name, Atheism Plus has been percolating for a while.
This really does sound like a noble cause to me and it's nice they cleared up some of the confusion I had about whether Atheism Plus was a movement or just a site.  Now it all comes down to implementation.

During the early days of the movement, there were a few rather brutal sounding posts by folk like Richard Carrier that really turned a lot of people off.  There was the question of us vs them which re-appeared over and over again.  I can remember several Atheist Plus advocates using very heated language when describing those who were not ready to jump onboard.

So what if you do not quite agree with Atheism Plus' tact or technique per se, but agree with their goals?
Those who choose not to use the Atheism Plus designation are not automatically considered supporters of bigotry. An “us and them” understanding is implicit whenever a group of any kind forms, but the “them” in this case is not monolithic.
This is good.  Because inherent in the us vs them mentality is often a kind of oversimplification and misrepresentation of the views of others.  This happens often when Christians dialogue with Atheists.  The Christian often assumes a grotesquely cartoonish version of the Atheist, while the Atheist will often attempt to paint the Christian as much more fundamentalist and literalist than they may be.  This often ends up in straw men arguments that do not further either side of the argument.
It is composed of individuals and groups who range from the supportive but uninvolved, to the neutral, to those opposed on principle, to the unabashedly bigoted, hateful, and discriminatory. 
Yes, there is a spectrum.  Perhaps we could all agree that although Atheism does have rather a lot of men and rather a lot of older men who are quite often white, one should not paint the whole movement as an old white man's club.  Not entirely at least.  Besides, isn't that the Republican Party?  But that said, I do see just this whenever I get out to a Skeptics in the Pub night.
The “us” in this case are the individuals and groups who are interested in seeing what an association of atheists working against bigotry, hatred, and discrimination can accomplish when given their own spaces in which to develop ideas. This position should be understood as distinct from the “with us or against us” position endorsed by some early proponents of Atheism Plus–a position which has been rejected by general consensus. 
This is where it may actually be beginning to sink in.  Atheism Plus is a self-policing movement that would call out acts of bigotry, hatred, discrimination etc. on its inside and outside.

And if they would like to get together as a community and police themselves and criticize others than who am I to object?  Like Atheist Universe or Atheist Nexus they have their own site and forums.  Why would we not wish to welcome their opinions and support their initiatives if they are positive?
Those who oppose the goals of Atheism Plus (eliminating misogyny, racism, homo/bi/transphobia, ableism and other such bigotry inside and outside of the atheist community) are also welcome to their opinions, but repeated interactions with them on blogs, forums, and social media has shown that they tend to derail the conversation. 
So this site is a place where this sort of behaviour will not be tolerated.  I'm fine with that.  Nobody is forcing me to join this site.
Threats, insults, empty mockery, time-wasting demands for reiterative explanations, uninformed reactionary rhetoric, charges of Nazism, and castigation for not giving equal time to unrelated or opposing viewpoints are too-common responses by atheists who don’t want these subjects discussed.
Again, it seems to me that it is perfectly reasonable to police such behaviour in a private blog or forum where the moderators are understood to be in charge of such things.  But as I've brought up in past posts, who are the moderators and how do they become moderators?  With moderation comes a form of   hierarchy.  Is it not inevitable?
It is up to the individuals who control the various venues associated with Atheism Plus to decide for themselves how to identify and deal with voices that are unhelpful, disrespectful, disingenuous, or unreasonable.
This would appear to be the answer to my nagging question.  Atheism Plus is not a Church or Secret FTB Cabal, it's a sort of philosophy, I suppose.  Like many movements, it is impossible to maintain a clear sense of centralized power.  Like the New Atheism, there is no central authority, but rather a large body of diverse people flying a similar banner with several dozen high profile personalities who act as guides but who are by no means infallible.   Am I understanding this better now?

Like Atheism, one can make a website and somehow misrepresent it.  You know, sort of like S.E. Cupp may be viewed by much of the community.  She claims to be an Atheist, but there seem to be many voices yelling that she doth misrepresent.  

Maybe it's the same with Atheism Plus.  It already distanced itself from some of the more strident early representation.
This position should be understood as distinct from the “with us or against us” position endorsed by some early proponents of Atheism Plus–a position which has been rejected by general consensus. 

Maybe it's not such a big deal after all?  All I hear is silence about Atheism Plus, and I find it intriguing.

This post is already way too long and I need to get the rest of my evening started.  More on Atheism Plus in later posts.


  1. I still don’t understand why so many people, both critics and fence-sitters/neutral observers, want there to be some sort of declarative manifesto to enumerate the values/policies/direction/etc. of A+. It’s just a branch of the larger atheism movement; do the same people ask for a manifesto for all of atheism as well? If not, then why this particular subset?

    I think the point of A+ has been made clear by now: it’s a label/group/etc. for those who are interested in the listed goals (discussing, and acting on, social justice issues) to join in (merely through declaring their interest; there’s no initiation ritual or secret handshake that I’m aware of) as a way of showing their ideals. I honestly don’t get why people on all sides try to make it any more complicated than that.

    My view, in short: You agree with the general goals? Feel free to call yourself a Plusser[*]. You don’t like that label or want to stay out of the whole mess, while still agreeing with the ideals of social justice? That’s equally cool. The only problem is with the reactionary knee-jerkers and cranks[†] who see Plussers’ uncompromising stance against discrimination and bigotry and distort them into signs that they’re all just jackbooted feminazis who hate men and are all mean and hateful and this and that and so on and so forth and whatever (it gets hard to keep up with all the accusations). As I’ve said, it’s truly akin to a child throwing a tantrum because they weren’t invited into a clubhouse that they don’t even want to be in, anyway.

    The issue really is simple to me. I believe in equality in general (feminism, LGBT rights, other forms of social justice and reform), I think it’s an integral part of what the goals of atheism ought to be – you can’t oppose religion without necessarily opposing the social harms fueled by religion, right? – so I call myself an A+’er, end of story. (Of course, other labels like “secular humanist” and so on apply more or less as well; I just personally prefer the A+’er label. As always, YMMV.)

    TL;DR: Call yourself whatever you want, but as long as you’re against inequality and social injustice in general, you’re an ally to me and A+ in general, regardless what the critics say. :)

    * As much as I hate that silly term, I’ve yet to hear a better one.
    † Just pop into the “#AtheismPlus” hashtag they’ve successfully hijacked. It’s like a pathologically deranged version of Bizarro World in there.

  2. Good to hear that Carrier's absolute dung was disowned...
    I do hope Jen McCreight continues to be in tune with that movement, as she seems to be an all-round good egg.

  3. Yes, I have always liked Jen McCreight.

    Carrier's posts were surprising to me. I read his book "Sense and Goodness without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism" and liked it a lot. Maybe he was just having a really off month.

  4. Thanks for this very well-written response.

    With all of the hullabaloo back with the birth of A+, it was hard to see through some of the fog. Atheism on its own is simply a lack of a belief in gods. The plus in AtheismPlus really screamed the need for some declaration of that the plus is. I think the FAQ on the site helps there - for people like me, at least.

    That said. Pretty much all of my initial reactions to A+ still hold. I find it a very attractive movement and it was more technicalities and lack of time that made me drop it.

    Since I agree with all of the basic goals of the movement, I'll call myself a "Plusser" for now. It's kind of lame like calling myself a "Whover" rather than a Whovian. Ya know?

    Thanks again.

  5. With a footnote that there is no way I can reply to a response like this and do it justice in the limited amount I have at my disposal now. Thanks again!

  6. Hehe, don’t feel obligated to match my crippling logorrhea. ;-) I’m just glad you’re willing to wait and observe rather than pass judgment on the movement like so many have done. And if you do call yourself a “Plusser” now, well, all the better.

  7. There's not actually a good reason to give kudos to people for making nice claims about themselves. The claims are secondary. They need to first police their own actions to make those claims true. A+ fails immediately as a safe space in what you quoted as their definition, by naming only misogyny instead of all sexism. Misandry is real, and prominent voices in A+ are misandrist. On the positive side, their claim to skepticism has been properly de-emphasized.

    You mentioned Jen McCreight a few times. Here is the sort of social justice you can expect at A+... Walking to work Oct 9 (tweets still visible on Twitter), Jen McCreight notices a homeless man masturbating. She's not concerned about his homelessness, or mental health, or risk posed to others. All she wants to tell us about was that he didn't ask her consent before masturbating himself while she existed. I don't tolerate this moral bankruptcy from the church, and it's even worse coming from atheists who claim to know better than the church.

    Aside from A+'s own participants, hopefully in one of your future posts on A+, you will have opportunity to examine the views of those atheists big and small who were dismissed, shunned, and shamed by the A+ community. I'm not a joiner, so I have nothing to complain about, but what happens to other people has dismayed me, for a movement seemingly associated with science, justice, fair play, and reason.

    Last, a small example, but just look at Joé's comment. You're cool, only if you agree with Joé on social justice. And despite not needing to say it, it's made clear that the only other option is you're a cranky child throwing a tantrum. I suspect it's behavior like this that is behind the silence on A+. People don't like it, and have moved on.

  8. Hi Randy,

    Thanks for your comment and different point of view. Misandry is indeed real but I haven't had a real chance to see it in action or really experience it personally - that I've noticed. I have, however, seen misogyny in action - both mild and strong. I would agree though that all sexism is equally abhorrent and if this is the case then perhaps language needs to be changed.

    That said, on a broader scope, I believe the status of women does still lag behind that of men both in North America and definitely in the world.

    I only briefly heard about the masturbating homeless person issue. Maybe Jen was a little freaked or grossed out. I would need to go back and read it again and think it over. But we all have our foibles. I've been disgusted while sitting at a McDonald's and a homeless person not 20 ft away reached behind himself and scooped out his feces and put it on the table. No matter the condition the man was in and how injust the situation was it was still revolting and shocking. This hasn't stopped me from buying food for homeless people and I've given out blankets.

    Now I do think I see the point though. These people are in need of help. These are people who do have people who love them - mothers, children, brothers, sisters. Jen did seem more concerned about her injury in those posts than the condition of the homeless person. So there are two sides to this coin. She's definitely not a saint, but she doesn't seem like a bad person to me either.

    I would like to examine the views of Atheists who were shot down by A+. I think I may be able to think of a few, but if you could give me a list I'd appreciate it.

    Thanks again.


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