Saturday, December 14, 2013
I recently got into a flare up on Twitter with two other atheists who were accusing me of thinking atheism is a movement. Unfortunately, given Twitter's 140 character limitation, it's really hard to write what you really want to write, so I thought I would clear things up here.
In a recent post, I asked the question, "Should those of us who are in some way in the atheist movement really care why someone is an atheist, or should we just be content that the person is an atheist at all?" For some atheists, there is no such thing as an atheist movement because atheism is a lack of something; it's the absence of a belief in god, and just like how not playing basketball is not a sport, you can't turn nonbasketball playing into a movement. But suppose 90 percent of the world played basketball, and those who didn't were routinely discriminated against to the point where many people felt pressure to conform and pretend to like and play basketball in order to feel accepted. And suppose nonbasketball players were being coerced into playing basketball and told that if they didn't play they would go to hell. Imagine this was also forced onto children from an early age. If these nonbasketball players organized and came out and asserted their equal rights and how utterly insane it is to think that not playing basketball will send you to hell, I'd say that these nonbasketball players would appear to be engaged in a movement.
Atheism itself is simply just the disbelief that any gods exist. If you want to say that it's also the lack of a positive belief that gods exists, then fine. I'm not going to get all heated up over a difference I think is trivial. But when I said "atheist movement" I was referring to the people in the atheist community who are open about their atheism (either in person or online) who are advocating for the equal rights of atheists (who are still routinely discriminated against), who are seeking to change cultures that are hostile to atheists by educating the public on what atheism is and what atheists are, and who are advocating atheism and defending it against attacks. I was not trying to say that atheism itself is a movement. I'm saying that atheists who are open about their worldview and who are engaging in any of the above, especially if they're organized, are engaging in a movement. So if you're a member of your local atheist group, or if you're a member of your college atheist or secular club, or, if you're just open about your atheism and what you stand for, then in my eyes, you're part of a movement. What else would you call the organization of people who are specifically trying to spread atheism and the acceptance of atheists?
I make it no secret that I am trying to spread atheism. I want religion to die and I want more people to be atheists. But I also want people in general to be more scientifically and philosophically literate. And while I fully support all of the popular skeptic, rationalist and secularist movements going on, I recognize that atheists who are publicly advocating for equal treatment and who are promoting the naturalistic worldview are a movement: They're organized, and they have an agenda. But mind you, none of this means that atheism itself changes from being the disbelief in gods into a ideological movement.
For some atheists, directly advocating atheism is a bit too much like proselytizing, and that's a bit too close to being religious for comfort. I don't give a fuck what you call it, I'm going to keep being an advocate for atheism and I'm going to keep defending it against attacks. I'm also going to continue organizing with other atheists whenever I can in achieving our mutual goals. What's the alternative? Should I keep all of my specifically atheistic stances in the closet out of fear that I might appear to be proselytizing if I speak openly about them? I don't care. I think what matters most is how you promote atheism. There's a time and a place for advocating your atheism (see here) and as long as you don't succumb to the dogmatic tactics of the religious, (e.g. like brainwashing children when they're too young to know any better with the fear of hell), then I think there is nothing wrong with being a counter-apologist.
Proselytizing has a religious connotation to it. I see advocating atheism as counter-proselytizing. It's acknowledging that the religious are out there in full force trying to convert others into believing their fairy tales. Standing up against the routine discrimination of atheists around the world and doing something about it is a movement. So to clarify once again, atheism itself is not a movement, but organizing and advocating for it is an atheist movement. And atheists should not feel ashamed to openly advocate their atheism for fear of being accused of proselytizing. Whether it is done by spreading scientific literacy, spreading seeds of doubt that hopefully will grow into trees of skepticism, or by directly attacking arguments for god and making arguments for atheism, it doesn't matter. What matters is that you be true to who you are and stand for reason, science and justice backed up by facts and evidence.