Becoming Disillusioned with the Atheist Movement

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.

 

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22 Responses to Becoming Disillusioned with the Atheist Movement

  1. Crude says:

    the atheist movement.

    Preposterous. There’s no such movement. Alan Fox is certain. 😉

  2. Alan Fox says:

    You see Mike! Crude gets it. Atheism is just a view about whether gods exist or not. Why you should think that is enough common ground for people who share the view that gods don’t exist for them to form into a cohesive movement, I really don’t know.

    Now if some reiglio-political organisation (or indeed movement) started oppressing atheists, that might provoke sufficient numbers of them to organise effectively…

  3. Alan Fox says:

    Oops Excuse typo. On reflection, not sure if religio-political is even a word. Maybe we could argue about that! 🙂

  4. Alan Fox says:

    Seriously though, Mike, why so concerned about the ineffectiveness of the atheist “movement” (ineffectiveness akin to not being a movement). Better they should morph into some kind of left-wing political activist organisation and be distracted from considering the core issue of whether gods exist, no?

  5. Michael says:

    You see Mike! Crude gets it. Atheism is just a view about whether gods exist or not.

    I’ll let a quote from PZ Myers respond:

    “Now you see, that’s just stupid. There are lots of atheists who take this blinkered stance that atheism is just one specific idea about rejecting god-belief, and it has absolutely no philosophical foundation and should have no political or social consequences. And that’s nonsense. This commenter is deluding himself as thoroughly as any god-walloper.”

    Why you should think that is enough common ground for people who share the view that gods don’t exist for them to form into a cohesive movement, I really don’t know.

    Why should I think? Alan, it’s clear I’m not the only one who thinks this. As I already pointed out to you, Richard Dawkins thinks there is an atheist movement. So does Jerry Coyne. So does PZ Myers. And so does…, wait a minute. Once again, you did not read the blog posting.

    Why you cling to a denial of what these atheists believe, I really don’t know. Is it just because you cannot and will never admit when I am right?

  6. Alan Fox says:

    Dawkins, Coyne, Myers and I all probably agree that gods don’t exist. I am not sure about Jerry Coyne, but maybe Dawkins and Myers are keen to participate in some sort of atheist movement if it can be got off the ground. No harm in that so long it has no pretensions to oppress or limit the rights of others and is intended to ensure the equal rights of those professing an atheist view.

    Myers is wrong to try and conflate atheism with views on other issues and he will find it divisive and unhelpful if he is serious in forming or joining some cohesive movement based on atheism.

  7. Alan Fox says:

    Why you cling to a denial of what these atheists believe, I really don’t know. Is it just because you cannot and will never admit when I am right?

    I don’t have mind reading abilities so my only way of knowing (and then not for sure) what someone thinks or believes is by what they say. I accept what you tell me about what you believe or think but you are prone to to tell me what I think. In this regard I find you less reliable. By induction when you tell me what person C thinks, I need to check the source if I am curious.

  8. Crude says:

    Alan,

    I am not sure about Jerry Coyne, but maybe Dawkins and Myers are keen to participate in some sort of atheist movement if it can be got off the ground.

    Actually, they think the movement exists, and has been doing things. You, meanwhile, think it’s clear that no such movement exists.

    So, let’s be on record here: if Dawkins, Coyne, Myers, etc, think that an atheist movement exists, and you think it’s plainly obvious that it does not… would that mean Dawkins, Coyne and Myers are delusional? 😉

  9. Grundy says:

    I’m glad you found some value in Vjack’s post. I interviewed the author of Atheist Revolution and a dozen other atheist bloggers and one of the common questions was “who is your favorite public atheist?” Nearly everyone was hesitant to answer because the skeptical mind set is so adverse to role models and hero worship. We should question everyone, even our own.

  10. Cale B.T. says:

    Alan Fox: “I am not sure about Jerry Coyne, but maybe Dawkins and Myers are keen to participate in some sort of atheist movement…”

    “And through discussions on websites, we recognize kindred (or nonkindred!) atheist spirits. By lessening our isolation, that also strengthens our movement.”
    Jerry Coyne
    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/09/20/whats-new-about-new-atheism/

    Also, Grundy, I think the word you want is averse, not adverse.

  11. Grundy says:

    Yes, averse is what I meant, although adverse is still almost right.

  12. Alan Fox says:

    @ Cale B. T.

    I have just been pointing out that there is no evidence of any cohesive or effective atheist movement emerging as yet in the US. I am ready to admit that as a foreign observer I may have missed some developments which have only been of local interest.

    What I suspect is that a similar pattern will emerge that has already occurred in Europe; that religiosity will decline without the assistance of an atheist movement. It’s a trend that is already clear.

  13. Michael says:

    Alan writes:

    I have just been pointing out that there is no evidence of any cohesive or effective atheist movement emerging as yet in the US.

    So now it’s an argument about the type of movement. Originally, Alan denied the mere existence of the movement:

    Wrong in the sense there is no Gnu atheist creed and no organised movement. Atheists are disparate individuals with individual views on how a society should referee differing world views…… There is no Gnu movement to sign up to.

    So rather than admit he was wrong, Alan wants to qualify his claims with squishy, subjective criteria. Y’see, while there is a movement, it’s not movementy enough for Alan because he sees “no evidence of any cohesive or effective atheist movement emerging as yet in the US.” So at what point is there enough “evidence” of “any cohesive or effective atheist movement emerging as yet in the US?” No one knows, as that’s up to Alan’s spidey sense.

    Look Alan, you are entitled to your fringe, idiosyncratic opinions, but why not follow through on their implications and address Crude’s question?

  14. Alan Fox says:

    It’s about the evidence, Mike. Coyne may believe a movement exists. I don’t think such a thing has gotten off the ground nor does it need to. But the simple way to test if I am wrong is to wait and see. I’ll look out for news reports of this allegedly growing movement.

  15. Alan Fox says:

    …why not follow through on their implications and address Crude’s question?

    Hardly thought it needed answering!

    So, let’s be on record here: if Dawkins, Coyne, Myers, etc, think that an atheist movement exists, and you think it’s plainly obvious that it does not… would that mean Dawkins, Coyne and Myers are delusional?

    No. I don’t think I am delusional either. I also think it more interesting to look at the world as it is and not how we wish it to be and if we think something needs to change we can campaign for it. For instance an atheist movement could organise and campaign for equal rights for atheists.

  16. Alan Fox says:

    Mike quoting me:

    Wrong in the sense there is no Gnu atheist creed and no organised movement. Atheists are disparate individuals with individual views on how a society should referee differing world views…… There is no Gnu movement to sign up to.

    I stand by this unless you can show me where to sign up!

  17. Cale B.T. says:

    Alan Fox “I’ll look out for news reports of this allegedly growing movement.”

    How about:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2012/sep/02/american-atheism-schism-spit-venom

    And, in terms of creeds and signing up, I think that with regard to Atheism+ specifically, PZ Myers and Richard Carrier have made it quite clear:

    “It really isn’t a movement about exclusion, but about recognising the impact of the real nature of the universe on human affairs. And if you don’t agree with any of that – and this is the only ‘divisive’ part – then you’re an a**hole. I suggest you form your own label, ‘A**hole Atheists”, and own it, proudly.”
    PZ Myers
    http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2012/08/27/following-up-on-last-nights-atheism-discussion/

    “Do you identify as an atheist? Then I can’t insist, but I do ask that you to defend these goals and values (not in comments here, but publicly, via Facebook or other social media): are you with us, or with them; are you with the Atheism+ movement, or do you at least cheer and approve it’s values and aims (since you don’t have to label yourself), or are you going to stick with Atheism Less and its sexism and cruelty and irrationality?

    Then at least we’ll know who to work with. And who to avoid.

    Richard Carrier “The New Atheism +”
    http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/2207/

    (Emboldening is mine)

  18. Michael says:

    I stand by this unless you can show me where to sign up!

    Alan,

    Has anyone ever told you that movements don’t come with sign up sheets? The closest you’ll get to that is signing up with organizations that are part of the movement. And there are plenty of atheist organizations you can sign up with. There is the National Atheist Party (who organized the Reason Rally), Atheist Alliance International, American Atheists, etc. Or, given that Dawkins is your idol, you might want to sign up with Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.

    “I’ll look out for news reports of this allegedly growing movement.”

    Sheesh. Alan, did you ever hear of something called “Google?” Let me help:

    In the last decade, atheism in America has risen from a tiny, demonized fringe to a serious presence in the public and political arenas. The latest polls show that almost 20 percent of Americans now identify as non-religious, and the atheist movement — a loose coalition of skeptical, rationalist and humanist groups — is making inroads everywhere from high school campuses to the halls of Congress.

    As the atheist movement gains numbers and prominence, it’s inevitably been forced to confront questions about what it ultimately seeks to accomplish.

    http://www.salon.com/2012/10/06/atheisms_growing_pains/

    Billed as “the largest gathering of the secular movement in world history,” the Reason Rally — a march on Washington by atheists and other non-believers on Saturday, March 24 — is a coming-out party for a movement that has gained momentum in recent years.

    Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2012/03/24/reason-rally-is-coming-out-party-for-secular-movement/#ixzz29kAvaUMM

    As a movement, the secularists have hurdles to overcome; some of their most prominent spokespeople, such as the British biologist Richard Dawkins, reject religious belief as wholly irrational, loopy, and crazy….. Many of the organizations and activists who are part of a coalition of church-state separation advocates have long done stellar work in raising awareness of encroachment of religion in politics and policy-making. Being able to keep the pressure on church-state separation issues during a campaign season will be the test of the movement’s political muscle.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2012/mar/26/reason-rally-resonate-religious-democracy

    Atheist organizer takes ‘movement’ to nation’s capital…….He started as a volunteer in New Jersey in 1996, moved up to be the state’s director and then jumped from national spokesperson to vice president. In 2010 he became president of the organization, which counts 4,000 members, has a $750,000 annual budget and has become the organizational face of a burgeoning American movement of atheists.

    http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/03/23/atheist-organizer-takes-movement-to-nations-capital/

    Thousands of people are expect to descend on the Mall in Washington, D.C., on Saturday to celebrate not believing in God. It’s being called a sort of “Woodstock for Atheists,” a chance for atheists to show their power in numbers and change their image…… Tension Within Movement. But not everyone thinks that’s the best approach. “I’m not sure it is to atheists’ benefit to always present a kinder, gentler face,” says Greta Christina, a prominent atheist blogger and author of a new book called Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off The Godless.Christina says there’s a tension in the movement. On one side are what she calls “firebrands,” such as Oxford biologist Dawkins, who has called some believers “staggeringly ignorant” and “insane.” On the other are the “diplomats,” such as Mehta, who deliver the same message of a Godless universe — but politely. Christina says every modern social movement — civil rights, feminism, gay rights — had the same tension, and you need both.

    http://m.npr.org/story/149021993

  19. Alan Fox says:

    From Myers’ post on A+,

    PZ writes

    There are no leaders, no organization behind it, no money, no coercive power at all. It’s entirely spontaneous. Currently it’s little more than a label.

    PZ wants atheists to band together in a movement that will also take a liberal stance on other social issues. He ain’t there yet. I’m sceptical the A+ thing will go anywhere but you never know!

  20. Alan Fox says:

    Thanks for the comment and all the links, Mike. I don’t think atheists are likely to form into any movement that will begin to wield political power. What is taking hold is the very idea that atheism is a logical and acceptable view. That is a much more powerful force for change than any movement.

  21. Michael says:

    No. I don’t think I am delusional either.

    LOL! Okay, let’s get this straight. Dawkins, Coyne, and Myers not only believe there is an atheist movement, but consider themselves part of the atheist movement. Yet Alan says there is no such thing as an atheist movement. So Dawkins, Coyne, and Myers believe that something exists when it doesn’t exist. That would make them delusional. Yet the same Alan who says there is no atheist movement denies Dawkins, Coyne, and Myers are delusional in thinking there is such a movement. Is Alan denying the implication of his belief because he doesn’t like to think of his heroes as being delusional? Or is it that he just can’t admit being wrong about his own denial?

  22. Alan Fox says:

    What I wonder is why you think it is a big deal? Atheism as a view is gaining wider acceptance in the US. That’s undeniable. I just don’t share the opinion that an atheist movement will have much effect one way or another. Atheism will become a more widely-held view in the US inevitably. You just see if I’m right!

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