Over at Atheist Revolution, someone is becoming disillusioned with the atheist movement. I thought I would mention this because it is a rare example of an atheist raising criticisms of the atheist movement. The author lists five things “wrong with the atheist movement.”
1. We’ve seen various cliques emerge, some of which have largely abandoned critical thinking for dogma. This mutual admiration society strikes me as being antithetical to free thought, as similar ideas are rewarded through promotion while diverse perspectives receive less attention. This sets the stage for a type of groupthink that runs counter to big tent atheism.
Very good. And this is why more and more of us are starting to view the atheist movement as being cult-like. In fact, the group think and mutual admiration society leads naturally to the second problem.
2. By elevating some in our movement to the level of celebrities, I fear we have cheapened it through irrational hero worship.
It is this irrational hero worship that not only prevents many within the atheist movement from criticizing people like Dawkins and Harris, but it causes them to behave in an overly protective and defensive manner of such leaders, especially when the criticism comes from a theist or accomodationist.
3. We have focused on squabbles within our movement at the expense of some of our noblest goals.
It is true that those in the atheist movement seem to get more energized by all the constant internet drama that fills the movement. All it took was one elevator ride.
4. We have been too quick to trade calm, reasoned discourse for heated emotional exchanges and name calling. We have to be able to disagree with one another, and with religious believers, without devolving into name calling and character attacks. If we really seek to promote reason, modeling it cannot be a bad idea.
Amazing. This is my core criticism of the atheist movement that I have raising for years. It’s refreshing to finally read of at least one atheist in the movement who recognizes that reason plays a minor role in the movement. The problem is that the heroes in the movement encourage the emotional exchanges and name calling.
5. We must be sure that our desire to create “safe spaces” does not lead us to erect online gated communities where only those who agree with us are allowed.
Some of us have already noted that atheist blogs tend to heavily censor so that the comments sections of these blogs are nothing more than echo chambers.
Yes, these are serious problems. For what we have is a group of people drifting toward group think and hero worship, where a sense of belonging is maintained by erecting online gated communities from which to toss out rhetorical bombs at theists. Yet because this group is only unified by its admiration for its leaders and its hatred of religion, it takes very little to start some nasty infighting. Recognition of such problems is the first step in trying to correct them. And at the very least, such analysis is far more insightful than this bit of delusional cheer-leading from another activist in the atheist movement:
Why would any organization or social change movement want to ally itself with a community that’s energetic, excited about activism, highly motivated, increasingly visible, good at fundraising, good at getting into the news, increasingly populated by young people, and with a proven track record of mobilizing online in massive numbers on a moment’s notice?
If you need to ask that — maybe you shouldn’t be in political activism.
And if you don’t need to ask that — if reading that paragraph is making you clutch your chest and drool like a baby — maybe you should be paying attention to the atheist movement.