The Absurdity of “#Atheismplus”

A friend of mine linked to a growing “controversy” within the atheist “movement” on his Facebook page, specifically to something new called “Atheism+.” When I first saw it, I thought about blogging about it, but then ignored it. Now, though, it appears that the Atheism+ crud has really angered a whole bunch of people and caused a great deal of discord:

In the passionate world of American atheism, the venom usually directed at believers has now been turned against the wrong kind of atheists.

The cause of this freethinking furore? A new movement called Atheism+. According to its website, “Atheism+ is a safe space for people to discuss how religion affects everyone and to apply skepticism and critical thinking to everything, including social issues like sexism, racism, GLBT issues, politics, poverty, and crime.”

A+ was born when Freethought blogger Jen McCreight (the mind behind Boobquake) made a passionate call for a “third wave” of atheism, one that extends atheist activism into progressive politics and calls for a part of the movement to be one where women can exist free from the harassment that has plagued women publicly involved in the atheist movement.

The founders of Atheism+ say clearly that “divisiveness” is not their aim, but looking through the blogs and voluminous comments in the two weeks since A+ was mooted, trenches have been dug, beliefs stated, positions staked out and abuse thrown. A dissenting tweeter is “full of shit”, while, according to one supporter, daring to disagree with Atheism+’s definition of progressive issues and not picking their side makes you an “asshole and a douchebag”.

So just what the hell are these people going on about? All it seems is that one guy is trying to blend liberal progressivism with atheism, and create some new social movement. I’m bias against this because I’m a libertarian, but really, looking at it, it just seems absurd on its face.

PZ Myers, a professor biology at the University of Minnesota, who frequently blogs on topics relating to atheism, had some very interesting comments on his blog (well, one of them). It’s a wrap up of a “discussion” some people apparently had about this, and I think this one part sums up where I get very, very confused about all of this:

Im in that awkward position where i do agree with most of the values and dislike the misogynist idiots but see no value or reason to mix atheism and the other values. For me atheism just is the simple disbelief and my political values stand apart from it.

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.

If there is no god, if religion is a sham, that has significant consequences for how we should structure our society. You could argue over how we should shape our culture — a libertarian atheist would lean much more towards a Darwinian view, for instance, than I would — but to pretend that atheism is just an abstraction floating in the academic ether is silly.

No, PZ. To pretend it is anything else is silly.

I mean, as an atheist, I don’t believe in unicorns, or fairies, or burglars who sneak into my house via toilets. (I thought that as a kid, I really did.) Should lack of a belief in any of these things make us suddenly recognize massive implications for structuring our society? Er, no, not really.

Of course, there are implications for not having Christianity front and center. First of all, there would be far less churches, and a far weaker religious influence on our laws. There would probably also be slightly different interactions between men and women (after all, Christianity does relegate women to a decidedly secondary place.) But would it naturally follow that suddenly we’d all be cool with gay marriage and abortion? Err, no, not actually. In fact, I have met atheists who are uncomfortable with either of those topics. There are also many atheists who think feminism, in its modern form, is a crock, and might want to ban recreational drugs.

I’m not saying I’m agreeing with those above views. What I’m saying is that it is a monumental leap from a simple lack of belief in any god to certain political beliefs and “implications for the structure of our society.” It is a huge and in my mind completely unjustified jump, one bereft of any connections or reference points or clear logic. It’s one thing to be like Objectivism, where you have an entire metaphysical and epistemological philosophy going on there that leads you to atheism, but it’s quite another to go from “I don’t believe in god” to “my lack of belief in god requires me to believe A, B, and C.”

PZ Myers and another author, Greta Christine, try to explain this sort of jump, but I find it totally lacking. Greta points out that, since this is the only life we have, we have a “moral obligation to fix it.” Fair enough; I agree this is our only life, and we should improve it as much as we can, but that still doesn’t get the idea that, as PZ Myers puts it, we should have unlimited free healthcare and education.

In fact, if you want to be rational about it, embracing true-blue free markets is the best way to go. Seriously, pick up a copy of Johan Norberg’s In Defense of Global CapitalismSeriously, I dare you. You can get a Kindle copy for less than eight bucks. In just the first hundred pages, Johan goes through all the benefits that capitalism has brought the world. Global poverty has dramatically decreased. Education and literacy have increased dramatically. Women have especially benefitted from free markets, seeing their income soar and their rights broaden in nearly every country in the world. Is it perfect? No, of course not–and lately, corruption and cronyism have slowed the rate of progress–but it is a damned sight better than we were back in 1903. No one can argue that.

And that’s why I find Atheism+ to be absurd. You can be an atheist yet hold gazillions of different views on politics and society and economics. Contrary to popular belief, Christians are not all conservatives. There are many on the “religious left” as well (notably Catholics, at least until this year.) There are Christian socialists, as well as Christian libertarians and probably a handful of Christian fascists (oops, integralists. My bad.) They all believe in one god who sent his son to Earth who was to be killed and then raised again as a zombie, but they have dramatically different political beliefs. How can you then say that something that is merely a lack of belief in those tenets can lead you to specific ideological boxes?

I don’t get it.

Look, it’s fine to say that you’re creating your own social movement of godless people who believe in something. Fine. But the implication of many of these folks–particularly those like PZ, who automatically lumps libertarians in with “jerks”–is that you cannot be an atheist and yet not be of this mind on politics at the same time. That’s just bonkers, and absurd. And I thought atheism was all about reason and logic, because we don’t believe in superstition?

Atheism+ is an absurdity. And I wish people would stop.