Back when the Atheism+ “movement” was announced and the resulting uproar on all sides flared up, I decided after a period of much frustration that I was done paying attention to the atheist community on the Internet. I deleted every blog in my blogroll that was more or less solely devoted to the topic and dropped quite a few folks from Twitter as well. I’ve never been overly active in the community beyond this blog anyway and if I didn’t like where it was going there was no point in paying attention to it. As it turns out, this was the right thing to do. I’m happier and less frustrated than I was when I was paying attention.
That said, there’s still a few folks on my blogroll and on Twitter that I follow simply because, like me, they’re not atheist-only bloggers though it’s a subject they, like me, touch upon from time to time. As a result, I still get the occasional peek at what is going on in the atheist community and occasionally I’ll follow a link out of morbid curiosity. My most recent peek reaffirmed my decision to devote as little attention to the atheist community as I can.
Ever since the whole ElevatorGate kerfuffle and the resulting year-long shitstorm there’s been a growing split in the community that eventually led to the “Atheism+” nonsense. In the time that I stopped paying it much attention things have only gotten worse. Atheists whom I respect have ended up on both sides of the divide and it seems that there are now two competing blogging collectives — Freethought Blogs and Skeptic Ink — that are headed by some of the more popular atheist bloggers that spend a good chunk of time taking potshots at each other.
Things have gotten so stupid in the atheist community these days that organizations such as the Center For Inquiry have been inundated with objections over whom they invite to speak at functions they host. Demands that they are, fortunately, refusing to comply with:
I am motivated to write about this topic for a couple of reasons. First, Russell Blackford has recently announced via Twitter that he will not attend any conference at which Rebecca Watson or PZ Myers is speaking. Second, in the last few months, a number of individuals have advised me that CFI and its affiliates should never invite certain persons as speakers. This advice has often been accompanied with a statement such as “If X speaks, I will not attend the conference.” There was a flurry of such advice around CSICon, the Nashville conference of our affiliate CSI, presumably because our speaker list reminded people of objections they had to this or that individual. Some of the advice was prompted by an essay by Watson that appeared in Slate around the same time as the conference, which, among other things, contained a mischaracterization of one of my blog posts. This was offered as convincing proof that Watson was beyond the pale and should be considered persona non grata by CFI.
In any event, the list of individuals that CFI has been advised not to have any dealings with is long. In no particular order it includes: Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, Ophelia Benson, Harriet Hall, Russell Blackford, Edwina Rogers, Rebecca Watson, PZ Myers, and Sharon Hill. I am sure I am forgetting several more.
So this is what the atheist community has come to. People threatening not to attend or participate at an atheism/skepticism event if certain other people are invited to speak. Oh noes! I cannot be associated with such common rabble as that person! It’ll give me the vapors!
The ultimate example of this in action is, of course, Atheism+. When Jen McCreight first proposed this new branch of atheism she set off a shitstorm of entirely new levels of epicness. The idea was supposed to be that atheism+ would be a way for progressive atheists to show the world that they were about more than just not believing in God(s).
Jen explains In her own words:
It’s perfect. It illustrates that we’re more than just “dictionary” atheists who happen to not believe in gods and that we want to be a positive force in the world. Commenter dcortesi suggested how this gets atheists out of the “negativity trap” that we so often find ourselves in, when people ask stuff like “What do you atheists do, besides sitting around not-praying, eh?”
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.
It speaks to those of us who see atheism as more than just a lack of belief in god.
It sounds innocuous enough and I have no issues with social justice or the other stated ideals above, but it’s clear right from that very first post that it was going to be divisive because of statements like this:
I want to improve the atheist movement, not create a splinter faction or something. But it’s fabulous marketing-wise and as a way to identify yourself as a progressive atheist, or whatever term you want to use. I know I’d love for people to start wearing A+ pins and Surlyramics so I know who I want to chat with.
She never intended to create a splinter faction, but that’s exactly what she ended up doing. Later she refers to Atheism+ as a “new wave of atheism” which pretty much ruffled the feathers of anyone who didn’t see anything wrong with the old wave. It didn’t take long before an “us versus them” attitude started to develop on both sides with several atheism+ supporters all but declaring that anyone who didn’t declare themselves part of the in-group would be assumed to be assholes/scumbags/douchenozzles not worthy of their company.
So far the total sum of their activism seems to have been limited to little more than setting up an official website with a forum, a Wiki page, and a sub-Reddit where they can control who is allowed to participate. Which I have no real problem with. It seems to me to be preaching to the choir, but I won’t begrudge them their right to do so. If they’ve done anything more substantial than the above it isn’t apparent in a casual skim of their sites. Which is, again, fine with me. I’d rather they had their spaces to chat amongst themselves if it keeps them busy and off the streets.
Part of the problem with atheism+ is that it’s an attempt to impose feminism, an idea that not everyone agrees with, onto atheism. Some of the folks opposed to this are literally bigoted misogynists, but many others are of the opinion that feminism already has its own movement and doesn’t need to take over the atheism movement as well. There’s nothing wrong with being an activist for both movements, but to suggest that the atheism movement needs to be “improved” by feminism rankles a lot of people. It doesn’t help that there are more than a few bigoted and misogynistic atheists out there who reacted poorly to the attempt. Add in the ever present Internet Trolls — people who will say anything to piss others off regardless of what they really think of an idea — to the mix and things go from bad to worse. Because of the constant harassment by trolls and legitimate assholes there’s been a tendency on the part of the Atheism+ folks to brush off any legitimate questions about their movement and how it’s being run as evidence that the questioner is a misogynist asshole and thus deserving of nothing but mockery and being shunned.
As a result of all this there has been a number of notable recent events such as the Matt Dillahunty fiasco. For those of you who don’t know him, here’s a snippet from his bio on RationalWiki:
Matt Dillahunty (born March 31, 1969) is the current president of the Atheist Community of Austin (Texas), and is also the current host of the public access show “The Atheist Experience” as well as the weekly web radio show “The Non Prophets.” He is also a founder of the comprehensive counter-apologetics Wiki “Iron Chariots”.
Personally, I’ve never seen anything he’s done, but he appears to be a fairly popular atheist activist with an enthusiastic YouTube following. I don’t know if he’s as popular as PZ Myers, but he’s generally pretty well regarded in the atheist community. More importantly he has been a pretty ardent defender of Atheism+ even though he, himself, wasn’t paying it much attention.
Rather than type out the whole debacle here, I’ll post this snippet from The Misfit Atheist that summarizes it pretty well:
The other day, Matt Dillahunty(who is the host of the show The Atheist Experience) had done a social experiment in an attempt to prove that the Atheism+ folks weren’t as batshit crazy as all of the critics claim they are to new users. He created two accounts on the Atheism+ forum: One was “Matt Dillahunty”, and the other was a “sockpuppet” account called “Curious”. [Editor's Note: Matt said that the account under his name was actually created back when the site was first setup, but had never been used. - Les]
What set the whole thing off was this thread (do read the whole thread, it’s awesome). Curious/Matt’s post got deleted and was instructed in the notification email to take his case to the moderators. The post that got deleted questioned the merits of a ban (in particular, the ban of “skep tickle” over questioning the now-successful bullying of Justin Vacula). Matt then proceeded to start a thread asking to have his deleted post reposted in that thread or put in an appopriate forum. From there, they ravaged “Curious” like a pack of wolves over fresh meat. That is, until Matt signed a post with his real name. The moderator mocked Curious, going so far as to say (paraphrasing): “Hahaha! I know Matt Dillahunty. He’s a good man. You, however, are not”.
Then Matt directed the Atheism+ admins and mods to his Twitter feed, where they found this bombshell: “Hello to the admins at Atheism+ forum. Curious is me”. And then the mods’ attitudes flipped from “Fuck off, troll!” to “We’re sorry, we didn’t know it was you, Mr. Dillahunty. Had we known, you would have been treated better”.
Eventually they ended up banning Matt under the “no sock-puppet rule” they had put into place even though what Matt had done wasn’t sock-puppetry by the traditional definition. There were several moderators who refused to even consider the point of Matt’s experiment because they were so fixated on his supposed sock-puppeting. In the process they lost one more supporter because it turned out the critics were right. The folks that moderate the Atheism+ forums tend to assume you’re the enemy until you’ve proven that you’re not. Perhaps that’s only to be expected given how much of a backlash the new movement has brought upon itself, but it doesn’t really support their claims of being inclusive.
Not that my aversion to the community is all due to my issues with the Atheism+ crowd, because it’s not. There are plenty on the non-plus side that have been stunningly obnoxious in their reaction to these events. Just reading the comments in the CFI blog entry I linked to earlier will provide you with enough bullshit from both sides.
My feelings are probably best summed up by a commenter who posted in that thread under the name “Tired” who said the following:
Oh, for F@$K’s sake!
I am a reader of various “skeptical blogs” and I am part of the large group of lurkers that rarely post comments, but probably represent the bulk of the traffic to these blogs.
I read a wide variety of blogs, and I read them for the Skeptical content.
I also don’t attend conferences or other “skeptical” functions.
I suspect there will be a significant portion of the audience who will agree with me when I say…… “I’ve had enough”
Enough of the in-fighting, the name-calling, the holier than though attitudes.
This is NOT why I read the blogs.
Lately it seems the general nastiness towards others in the movement has become the dominant theme of many of the blogs I read (perhaps it hasn’t really, but it does certainly seem that way).
Personally I don’t really care about the little cliques in the movement, the “personalities”, or the petty squabbles. It all comes across as so much schoolyard bullshit.
If you want to persist with your in-fighting, how about you treat your “skeptical* audience with a little more respect and keep it to your personal emails and private mailing lists.
I, for one, am tired of it.
I got tired of it a long time ago hence my decision to start ignoring the atheist community as it stands today. There’s a number of atheist/skeptic bloggers who have let their popularity inflate their egos a wee bit much. Some are claiming an authority they really don’t possess simply because they have a high web traffic volume. I’m not impressed with your hit counter stats. All this drama may be great for driving up your numbers and stroking your egos, but it just alienates me and others like me.
Maybe there’s not enough of us to give a shit about. That’d be a real shame if it ends up being true.