Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Atheism Plus

There seems to be a new "Atheism Plus" or "A+" movement that aims to unite atheism with certain social justice issues - such as discrimination based on gender, race, sexual orientation, and the like.

(See: Greta Christina Why Atheism Plus Is Good For Atheism)

All-in-all it is a good thing, and substantially where this blog itself started 6 years ago. It is pretty much right there in the title. Atheism plus - ethics.

People who have been reading this blog will note 1 post out of nearly 2000 has been concerned with the existence of a god. The rest have been concerned with issues of right and wrong, good and evil.

In short, this blog is less than 0.1% Atheist, and more than 99.9% Ethicist.

I would rather work with a theist against hate-mongering bigotry than work with a hate-mongering bigot against theism. In fact, I have zero interest in the second option.

In a few posts over the past six years, I have defended this point using a story of an airplane that has crashed on an island with no hope of rescue. The surviving passengers gather. What should their priorities be?

Should they set to work finding clean water, food, shelter if it is needed, tending to the sick and injured, and seeing to their own security from internal and external threats? Or should they put all of this off while they come to a unanimous agreement about the existence of a god?

Well, there are 7 billion of us crash-landed on this island in space called Earth. We do not have enough clean water or food (or, at least, they are not getting to those who need it), we are overwhelmed with sick and injured needing care, and our internal security is a mess.

Technically, this is not a position that is fully embraced by Atheism Plus - and hasn't been well received by New Atheism either. Many people still think that the same type of treatment not permitted against people based on gender, race, or sexual orientation is perfectly legitimate against those who believe in a god or who has some other supernatural belief.

Let me be clear on this one point - where belief in a god is used to lend support to hate-mongering bigotry against women, homosexuals, or any other subgroup, that bigotry deserves no special pass merely because it is based on religion. Nor should the hate-mongering bigotry of an atheist gets a special pass because the bigot is an atheist.

However, as the example of the crashed plane demonstrates, an atheist passenger who cannot haul water, join a hunting party, or build a shelter with a co-survivor who accepts a harmless deism or who has adopted a form of mysticism that demands bettering the community is of no use. That atheist deserves as much condemntion as the person who cannot work side-by-side with or denigrates and demeans others of a particular gender, race, or sexual orientation.

If a person is racist or sexist or the like, then I actually do not care where that attitude comes from. Whether he tries to justify it from scripture or some distorted sense of Social Darwinism, or Ayn Rand Objectivism, it is to be condemned. It is the racism or sexism itself that is the target and no source gets a special pass.

In saying this, there has been a set of serious injustices built into our social traditions that needed to be challenged - and that the New Atheists have been right to challenge. It has been and still is the case that societies turn a blind eye to hate-mongering bigotry and other forms of violence and denigration whenever people can trace this bigotry to books written by violent hate-monering bigots who have been dead for 1300 years or more. That special permission to do harm when one can point to a scriptual passage to justify it must come to an end.

But not everybody who believes in a god or some sort of supernatural force fits this description. Indeed, some are as much concerned with combatting bigotry as the rest of us - and there is no need to shun their company simply because they have a belief that we think is mistaken.

I will let you on a secret. There is no person on the planet who agrees with you on all things. Every one of them - us - believes something that you think is false, or refuses to accept something that you think is true. If your philosophy is, "I will never work side by side with anybody who does not agree with me on all things," you will always work alone. Always. Without exception.

We all have to work with people who we think are mistaken on some matters - and mistaken for foolish reasons.

In fact, if we are honest with ourselves we must all admit that we ourselves must have at least one utterly foolish and unfounded belief in there somewhere that we have accepted for reasons we no longer remember (and perhaps never really knew). People who assert that all beliefs must be held up to the light of reason need to look at their own history. Is this seriously - honestly - true of every one of their beliefs? Where did they find the time?

If these human failings are the grounds for dissolving partnerships and refusing to work together, then we must all hold ourselves in as much contempt as we would hold everybody else.

Personally, I do not have to agree with somebody in all things to work with them.

A partner does have to agree to treat others, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, and economic status - and regardless of the fact that they disagree with me on one or more things even though they work just as hard or harder for the betterment of others - with respect and dignity.

I guess that disqualifies me from membership in this group.

Oh, well.


Anonymous said...

"In short, I would rather work with a theist against hate-mongering bigotry than work with a hate-mongering bigot against theism. In fact, I have zero interest in the first option."

You mean that you have zero interest in the second option, right?

DrewHardies said...

My issue is that New Atheism started as a skeptical movement.

The major point seemed to be that no conclusion or ideological claim should be above discussion. This movement was about asking people to critically evaluate their own beliefs, even ones that seemed essential or obvious.

A+ seems incompatible with this.

Its founding principle seems to be "these conclusions are sacred; question them and we'll kick you out."

It happens that I largely agree with their politics. And there's nothing wrong with a humanistic movement filled by atheists.

But I can't see that the pro-skepticism movement can have much common ground with the A+ movement as its being defined.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

I do not see them as incompatible. A person can hold that X is true (or X is wrong) and still be willing to debate the possibility of being wrong.

I have no trouble distinguishing anti-atheist bigotry, for example, from a discussion of the proposition that atheists have no foundation for their moral statements.

Anonymous said...

While that is true, different skeptical people can come upon different conclusions.

If that it is the case, then someone who comes to a different conclusion than the foundation of atheism plus would be excluded from the movement.

It is a skeptical movement that excludes some skeptics.

Furthermore, what exactly atheism plus is, isn't really established past "We believe this, this, and this."

Is it just people who believe this? If that is the case, it is a near useless term.

Is it a political movement?

Is it a club of some sort?

Is it a discussion group?

I've read about it, but it seems that no one is exactly clear on what it is.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

I am a skeptic (or would call myself such), and I am excluded from the group.

It is not the purpose of the group that capture all skeptics – only those that fit a particular set of qualifications. These qualifications involve a major concern with promoting atheism, and a particular concern with a set of moral issues.

I do not qualify for membership because my interest in atheism is much smaller than that which would qualify for membership, and I do not have an interest in focusing on a subset of moral issues. My list of issues include not only discrimination (I raise a lot of objections to instances of derogatory overgeneralizations – including those made against people with religious beliefs), but also such things as global warming, freedom of speech, cloning, animal rights, and the like.

I have objections to a policy that takes a half dozen moral issues and claiming, “These issues matter – we will use it to distinguish good atheists from bad atheists” – while leaving a countless numbers out and saying, “Those issues will not be referenced in determining the difference good atheists from bad atheists.” Where I hold that they, too, are relevant.

However, I do not see any merit to the argument that my exclusion from the atheist plus club is a threat against skepticism. Fine, I am not the type of skeptic they are looking for. That’s fine. I don’t think they are going to call me a “bad skeptic” as a result – just a “different sort of skeptic with different interests than those who belong to our conception of atheism plus”.

Richard Edwards said...

As an outsider, I find it slightly ironic that someone on "Freethought Blogs" is pushing a "movement" with certain prescribed ideals. I think I'll stick to being an "Atheist Humanist" - both positions inform the other (for me) but Atheism is neither necessary nor sufficient for Humanism and vice versa. (Nor should they be.) The smaller the echo chamber, the more closed the mind. (Intentionally or not.)

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Atheist humanism is a movement with a set of prescribed ideals. In the same way I give special attention to anti-atheist bigotry, women and those who care about them have good reason to focus on the issue of violence and threats of violence against women. - which really are shockingly and sickeningly common.