Over at the Friendly Atheist blog, Lauren Nelson, the atheist activist who thought Madalyn Murray O’Hair was murdered for her atheism, tries to refute Andrew Sullivan’s observations about the religious aspects of intersectionality.
Let’s have a look.
He’s absolutely wrong. For starters, let’s be clear on what intersectionality is. Rooted in cultural studies, intersectionality contends that oppression is complex, with different attributes in one’s identity often compounding experiences in oppression.
Let’s compare to Sullivan’s description:
“Intersectionality” is the latest academic craze sweeping the American academy. On the surface, it’s a recent neo-Marxist theory that argues that social oppression does not simply apply to single categories of identity — such as race, gender, sexual orientation, class, etc. — but to all of them in an interlocking system of hierarchy and power.
Okay, so it turns out Sullivan’s description was accurate. “Cultural studies” stems from academia and, according to Wiki, has been influenced by Marxism from the start:
Cultural studies combines a variety of politically engaged critical approaches drawn from and including semiotics, Marxism, feminist theory, ethnography, critical race theory, poststructuralism, postcolonialism……As noted above, Marxism has played an important originating role as being one of the first critiques of Culture – and has hence been reflected in the history of cultural studies.
So far Sullivan and Nelson are in agreement. What I would note then is that intersectionality is saturated with subjectivity. Trying to determine whether or not a true example of oppression exists, while being truly connected to “identity,” is ultimately a subjective judgment call that entails emotions. But to expand that emotional judgment call into the realm of multiple instances of “oppression,” all connected different identities in the same body,” is to amplify the subjectivity. It is subjectivity to the nth power, where n = the number of “identities.”
Nelson then tries to give us a concrete example
For instance, as a woman, I have experienced sexism in the workplace and in interpersonal relationships. As a neurodiverse woman, I have also been discriminated against because my brain is wired differently than other people’s. But as a white woman, I have not experienced racism. A black woman who is neurodiverse will most likely have experienced far more discrimination than I have.
Like I said, subjectivity. Nelson “experienced” something that she interpreted as “sexism” and “discrimination.” But one has to wonder how many of these experiences are false positives. After all, Nelson is an activist and such social justice advocates receive activist street cred the more they are oppressed. Look, I do not doubt that Nelson feels as if she has been victimized in such ways, but they are ultimately feelings and subjective experiences that actually strengthen the analogy to religion. For just as many religious believers will root their faith in their religious experiences, Nelson roots her crusade in her oppression experiences.
So Nelson’s first point is nothing more than an intersectionality activist trying to spin intersectionality in a positive and neutral fashion. Yet it does not contradict or challenge any of Sullivan’s points.
Second, what happened at Middlebury College was not the result of intersectional advocates or even progressive protesters. The acts (which have been grossly overstated) were a result of a protest movement known as “antifa” which is short for anti-fascist. I’m not even going to get into a conversation about whether or not antifa resistance is merited at this juncture in history, but suffice it to say that they are not representative of most intersectional advocates. To use the actions of one group to demonize a much larger group of people makes as much sense as calling out evangelist Franklin Graham as a representative of how all Christians think.
At this point, Nelson finally tries to refute one of Sullivan’s points and in doing so, invokes the No True Scotsman argument. I thought atheists were supposed to value evidence above all else. Nelson fails to provide the tiniest shred of evidence to support the contention that the protesters were really “antifa.” Without evidence, Nelson’s second point collapses and doesn’t come anywhere close to refuting Sullivan.
Also, I can’t help but notice the glaring hypocrisy. Nelson the Intersectionality Activist insists we should not use the actions of one group to demonize a much larger group. But Nelson the Atheist Activist does just that. That is, after all, the standard approach on the Friendly Atheist blog – to find a story about this person or that group to advance the narrative that Religion is Bad. Nelson herself began her blog entry telling us how harmful “religion” is. Hypocritical activists have no moral credibility.
Finally, Nelson tries to grab the bull by the horns and wrestle with Sullivan’s core argument. But she will do so without ever responding to any of his specific points. Instead, she merely tries to reframe it:
Third, intersectional beliefs are no more a “religion” than feminism, or anti-racism, or a political party, or any other cultural ideology.
Actually, many of these cultural ideologies come across as a secular religion. But let’s not get bogged down on that here.
There is no deity being praised.
Scientology and Buddhism do not praise any deity either. Clearly, this is not necessary to be a religion.
There are no churches.
There are many religions which don’t have official buildings for worship.
There are no sacraments.
Not so fast there. In intersectionality, the sacrament is, in essence, the oppressed identity. This is why intersectionality activists wear their oppressed identities much like a religious emblem.
As Sullivan explained:
Its version of original sin is the power of some identity groups over others. To overcome this sin, you need first to confess, i.e., “check your privilege,” and subsequently live your life and order your thoughts in a way that keeps this sin at bay. The sin goes so deep into your psyche, especially if you are white or male or straight, that a profound conversion is required.
Back to Nelson:
These ideologies don’t stem from books written thousands of years ago with centuries of suspect revisions and politicized interpretations. It stems from actual modern lived experiences.
But above, it was “rooted in cultural studies.” Intersectionality is an ideology that stems from Marxism and other post-modern books with politicized interpretations. It is spread through indoctrination, as we saw with the Middlebury Ritual.
Contrary to his assertion, there are no saints;
Of course there are. The saints are called Victims. And the more identities one has that can be interpreted as being “oppressed,” the more saintly the person is.
There is no “controlling” of language
This is hilariously refuted. The controlling of language is at the core of the social justice religion. Consider, as a representative example, the social justice atheist site known as The Oribit. One of its social justice bloggers is Alyssa Gonzalez. Feast your eyes on her speech rules:
Racial (including anti-Semitic, antiziganist, anti-indigenous, and anti-Hispanic), xenophobic, classist, misogynist, anti-queer (including anti-trans), fatphobic, and ableist slurs will not be tolerated. For maximum clarity:
Racism does not include criticism of the contents of minority religions, support for ex-Muslim speakers who are critical of the religion they left and its effect on their cultures, or discussion of the harms associated with religions whose adherents happen to be racialized.
Racism does include broad-brush characterizations of members of minority faiths that would be transparently ridiculous if analogized to corresponding majorities, and to politicized targeting of members of minority faiths for scrutiny they demonstrably do not deserve.
Antiziganism refers to bigotry against the Romani people, most of whom consider the term “gypsy” and its derivative “to gyp” offensive.
Classism refers to bigotry against people of lower socioeconomic status and, in places with overt, stratified social classes, members of lower strata. This includes invoking stereotypes of people from lower classes as shiftless, drug-addled, inbred, deformed, dirty, or unintelligent as way to insult. This also includes denigrating the practice of cohabitating with one’s relatives, particularly in said relatives’ basements. Anti-Southern-US (and especially anti-Appalachian) sentiments are frequently classist. Note that classism and ableism overlap extensively, as do classism and racism.
Misogyny includes anti-choice / pro-forced-birth / “pro-life” advocacy, claiming that the primary responsibility for sexual assault rests on the victims of sexual assault, anti-sex-work sentiments, use of sexual assault as a threat or punchline, and the phrase “boys will be boys.”
Transantagonism includes thinking the terms “biological gender” and “chromosomal gender” are useful, claiming trans people are a different gender than they say they are, and reacting badly to the term “TERF.”
Fatphobia includes using a person’s status as being fat, by any standard, as an insult, claiming that being fat is a bad thing, or associating fatness with perceived negative traits such as lack of responsibility, lack of impulse control, or laziness. Fatphobia and ableism frequently overlap.
Ableism refers to bigotry against disabled people, and ableist slurs include common words such as stupid, idiot, moron, cretin, and retard. It is easier to describe the definitions and sentiments that make a word ableist than to list the many, many, many terms that can be used in ableist ways (or have no non-ableist uses). If one’s argument or word choice comes down to a person having an innate, biological deficiency and using this idea to designated them as inferior, or insulting a person by likening them to people who have these impairments, it is ableist, and it is not permitted here. The easiest way to avoid unintentional ableism is to say what you actually mean.
All of these include, in addition to their less contentious acts, advocacy in favor of policies, parties, and politicians who target marginalized people for legal harm. This includes the US Republican Party, the US Libertarian Party, the Canadian Conservative Party, the British Conservative Party, the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), the English Defense League (EDF), the Hindutva nationalist movement in India, the Roman Catholic Church, the various Orthodox Catholic churches, most other forms of Christianity and Islam, Hasidic Judaism, and similar outfits.
No controlling of speech there.
And that’s it. Nelson’s fourth point is essentially a sermon about the righteousness of intersectionality and doesn’t in any way dispute the religious essence of intersectionality.
To summarize, Nelson tries to refute Andrew Sullivan’s argument about intersectionality being a new, secular religion. Nelson raises four points, but only one of the four (#3) actually attempts to refute Sullivan. Nelson tries to do this by highlighting the differences. But she fails. Let’s review each one and see what’s wrong with it.
- There is no deity being praised. Irrelevant, as not all religions praise deities.
- There are no churches. Irrelevant, as not all religions have houses of worship.
- There are no sacraments. Matter of opinion.
- These ideologies don’t stem from books and instead stem from actual modern lived experiences. Contradicted by evidence.
- there are no saints. Matter of opinion.
- There is no “controlling” of language. Falsified by evidence.
Add to this the fact that Nelson never refuted any of Sullivan’s specific examples and it should be clear that Nelson failed to show that Sullivan was wrong. Given that intersectionality is a modern, secular religion, it is not surprising that Nelson failed in such an epic fashion.
I can understand how an atheist activist /intersectionality activist can experience significant cognitive dissonance about this issue. Out of one side of her mouth, she preaches that religion is harmful, yet from other side of the mouth, she proselytizes for a new religion. To resolve the incompatibility, I would suggest that Nelson embrace the fact that atheists can have religion, and argue it’s just that this particular atheist religion is better than others.