Apparently I’m not fully retired from blogging, but no worries, I did say it was only semi-permanent, which is to say, not written in stone.
As I respond to more people’s concerns about the term and movement known as Atheism+, I wanted to clarify some things that seems to be bothering some people, due to the, what I feel to be, poor way in which the push for the new term has been handled thus far.
Many atheists I know have been stating, and rightly so, that if they refuse to adopt the Atheism+ moniker, not hop onto the bandwagon, so to speak, or drink the Kool-Aid, then that doesn’t mean they don’t share the same values.
And that’s true. Nobody ever said they didn’t–excluding the rantings of Richard Carrier (which honestly leave me a little bit baffled)–and I don’t think the term was intended to be divisive, especially not toward fellow, like-minded, atheists.
This Atheism+ movement isn’t about taking the stes of values listed by other atheists wholesale or not. It’s not an us vs. them issue for those who believe in the importance of humanist values. As far as the definition goes, you can take it or leave it.
However, I find what the term does do, and does well, is imply that atheists are more than just nonbelievers–that we do in fact have values and beliefs that are important to us. Unlike the classic school of atheism, the new school of Atheism+ doesn’t seek define us as merely non-believers, rather, it let’s us define ourselves by the values we share!
Atheism+ let’s us be defined by what we believe in, rather than what we don’t believe in, and that is what the movement is about.
The debate of which values we ought to subscribe to will rage on–but that’s good. It helps us set down what is acceptable and what isn’t acceptable thinking and behavior. Can a person be an atheist and be sexist, a racist, and homophobic at the same time? Sure, can. Regrettably, I recently met one such pitiful example of a human being. All that I have in common with such a person is my lack of belief in god, but that’s it. And to tell you the truth, I’d rather not be associated with such a person at all–which is why I think it is necessary to start defining ourselves by what values we hold instead of simply what we don’t believe. Atheism+ allows us to do this, classical atheism doesn’t.
That’s the point to keep in mind here, since it seems, at least to me, that many are under the impression that it is atheism which unifies us. No, actually. Atheism is just one of the beliefs we share (*since, technically speaking, atheism is the belief in the proposition that there are no gods at the same time as being a rejection of theism, something I’ve written about extensively), among the many other values and beliefs we might share–or that are worth sharing. Herein lies the distinction.
As secularism progresses, I think that’s an important distinction to make, since we as atheists do hold specific sets of values (many of which overlap, some which don’t). As atheism gains cultural awareness in the market place of ideas, it is important to make sure that the bad ideas get weeded out, and the only way to do this is to compare what it is we believe (not what it is we do not believe). Quite simply, we need a term like Atheism+.
Because although the majority of atheists do hold like-values, not all of them do. Some hold diametrically opposed ideas. This in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, unless those values are antithetical to a peaceful and prosperous society which sponsors human flourishing and equality. Then these sorts of atheists are just as dangerous as the worst of the religious who pose a threat to civil society and human progress.
Not only this, but there is the added baggage of the old term atheist, which has been used for several millennium as a pejorative term for anyone not succumbing (submitting) to the theistic belief in God. When the very notion is that atheists are *without values, the old term becomes a burden for us to bare. The new moniker of Atheism+ helps to lift this burden as it seeks to corrects those age-old misconceptions without having to enter into lengthy debates trying to prove to people the obvious–namely that atheists are good people to, with beliefs, values, and aren’t just nihilists, as the common stereotype holds.
This new term, Atheism+, is wonderfully versatile as well, because it is less limited than stereotypical atheism–in that it’s harder to stereotype atheists for what they aren’t because, low and behold, we have additional beliefs and values worthy of consideration!
Regular old atheism can’t say as much, even though it may be true that many of the old guard share like values and beliefs, that is nowhere made obvious. I think you can guess the problem that raises as a consequence. It’s largely why this whole Atheism+ movement has sparked so much controversy among atheists. I’m here to tell you there needn’t be any.
Moreover, there is enough at stake, I think, to latch onto the term and sponsor it as a re-branding of the atheist movement. Notice that I am talking about atheism as a cultural movement, since it has become a cultural movement, and is no longer simply a lack of belief in God and the rejection of theism. Atheism, over the past decade or so, has changed radically. It’s a term which is gaining acceptance in a land which once demonized and ostracized anyone who subscribed to that dreaded title. Moreover, it’s growing–like a wild fire. It seems to me we need to begin to deal with these facts, and Atheism+ helps us do this, whereas, once again, classical atheism cannot.
So although it’s perfectly fine to say that we agree on certain values, it’s also necessary to realize that the movement needs to be described as something more comprehensive than just ‘lacking belief in something’, otherwise we’re going to have to relinquish the term altogether. Not because we’d cease being atheists, but because the term would cease having meaning in relationship to what atheists have become and what we may potentially become.
Let’s not underestimate the rapid progress we nonbelievers, skeptics, agnostics, and atheists have made in recent years just getting people to be aware that the choices are not simply religion or the highway. Now consider this question, why should we be limited to only these two? There are other alternatives. Why can’t we create a new alternative beside the classic two? Why not have a category for those who say, “I have no belief in god, plus I hold other beliefs.”
That seems perfectly viable to me. Indeed, it may just be a necessary condition to say as much to counteract the negative stereotype of atheists. This is why I find Atheism+ to be valuable, not only as a term, but as a way to help the movement build up steam as it continues to progress.
But, like I said, you needn’t be burdened with the obligation to adopt the Atheism+ moniker. This is where I disagree with those who have been pushing the term–they’ve been relentlessly dogmatic in saying if you’re not with them, then you’re against them. This simply isn’t true. You may hold all the values of Atheism+ but simply not be comfortable with the term. Yet. However, I have the sneaking suspicion that as all the heated opinions begin to cool down, that the term will start to look pretty goddamn attractive. Just you wait and see.
Now some might argue that not having such definitions is a rather good thing. Sam Harris, for example, doesn’t believe we should use the term atheist at all as a description of ourselves, since it is rather strange to describe ourselves by what we *don’t prescribe belief in. Yes, this generally is the case, but it’s not a rule. We can define ourselves by what we don’t believe in, if we want. Hell, we can talk in third-person too, while wearing our hats backwards, and there’s not a damn thing anybody can do about it. Is it odd? Sure, a little bit. But that’s no reason to simply reject it.
Even so, this new term of Atheism+ unifies us in such a way that it shows we are capable of not only sharing the lack of belief in god, but we also (more often than not) share other values too.
So, the way I see it, this Atheism+ movement does a lot to help unify today’s atheists under an umbrella of similar beliefs. Is that borderline religious? Not even close! Organizational, sure. It’s a small semblance of conformity, I’ll admit, but maybe a little conformity is what we need. How can we be politically unified while seeking legal and social change if we cannot stick together on any given issue? Or, for that matter, how will we even know what issues we agree on if we don’t first state them?
Atheism+ let’s us recognize each other by our shared values. We no longer have to guess what beliefs other atheists hold implicitly, as Atheism+ allows us to state our beliefs explicitly. That’s the power in this term.
The old saying that herding atheists is a lot like herding cats has been a popular way to describe the strong willed, borderline obstinate, relentless independence of atheists. Yeah, that’s what it’s been like for a while now, and it’s been tough sailing. Nobody could even deny this.
Now Atheism+ comes along and says, wait a minute, were not a bunch of wishy-washy sentimental frisky-whiskered, temperamental, half-baked bunch of kittens, which can only seem to caterwaul about how much they despise god, no, Atheism+ says we’re a pack of wolves, baby. You want to be the lone-wolf? Do your own thing? Walk your own path? Fine. But if you want to roll with the pack, let’s go, cuz we’re gonna get shit done!
Does this mean some will be marginalized? Well, only the ones who don’t share the humanistic values Atheism+ers subscribe to, and proudly advertise, and wear as a badge on their sleeve. You can be a good atheist and not subscribe to Atheism+, that’s the lone-wolf mentality, and as far as I’m concerned, there’s no problem here. But you cannot pretend to be a good, honorable, or praiseworthy atheist and not subscribe to the humanistic values of which Atheism+ is trying to bring to the forefront of the debate and make everyone aware of.
Disagree with these values though, and then we do have a problem. What kind of problem? Well, consider the racist, homophobic, sexist atheist I met earlier. He calls everyone a F@*#ING moron, and slanders everyone who doesn’t think exactly like him, and uses vitriol and hate to attack those who he butts up against, even fellow atheists, and thus he effectively throws a wrench into all the hard work we have been doing, to gain acceptance in a religious dominated society and not be branded as heathens and fiends, and therefore mucks everything up royally. This type of person has to go. They’re the weakest link. They take us ten steps backward while we’re so desperately struggling to take one more step forward.
If you don’t want to add the little plus sign at the end of your atheism, that’s fine. Be the lone-wolf. Be that bad-ass who sits atop of the hill under a blue moon howling at it with all the rage and fury of a wild animal. Dare I say it, but we need lone-wolves too. But if you want to take on the world–you’re gonna need some help. If you want to make real change, then you’re going to need a team ready and willing to run with you. The only question you need to ask yourself is, can’t you hear the pack calling?