We pride ourselves, here on Atheist Nexus (and in other atheist forums), on being intelligent, rational, educated human beings. We also, in the main, abhor those religious views which lead to racism, sexism, homophobia and other irrational prejudices.

But, as we move forward from being a 'philosophical stance' into a 'movement', should we, can we, and, if so, how can we, distinguish ourselves from atheists who have abandoned belief in God, but not irrationality and bigotry.

Over the past few months it has become increasingly clear to me that, while the majority of atheists in 'the movement' are wonderful, caring, rational, liberal thinking people (and I don't mean liberal in a political sense) - some are a complete embarrassment to our cause.

My question is, should we be looking at making a distinction between the generic term 'atheists' which applies to anybody, no matter how irrational, and 'atheist movement' which, it seems to me, must incorporate a secular humanist philosophy as well as a rejection of theism if it is to stand for something positive.

I will provide four cases in point:

The first is an Australian atheist, once the leader of a (now defunct) major atheist organisation, who proudly describes himself as a misogynist. His 'about me' page on his website describes his view as follows:

"Increasingly I realized the inseparability of reason and masculinity. At the same time I could not help noticing the increasing feminization of society. The only course open to me was to attack femininity at the root. My life's work, I decided, would focus on making people aware of the shortcomings of femininity and the great benefits of masculinity."

Then, of course, there is the delightful 'atheist hip hop' artist, Charlie Check'm (soon to be interviewed on The Infidel Guy). Charlie caused a ruckus on AN with his intransigently bigoted views on homosexuals who, he believes, 'have the wrong brains'. No amount of evidence and rational argument would convince Charlie that his views were firmly rooted in religious dogma and misinformation.

Recently, I received a friend request from a fellow Australian atheist on Myspace. He had obviously noticed I was a Australian and an atheist and decided we probably shared a great deal in common. (This is usually my assumption too!) Imagine my horror when I visited his page and discovered he was a white supremacist and a member of the neo-Nazi group, Stormfront! I was further discomfited when I read the comments on his page from another atheist. They are too disgusting to repeat here, but suffice to say they were 'jokes' which included the words Jews and ovens.

Just this week an American atheist (with a prominent atheist website) was banned from the Atheist Foundation of Australia forum after he revealed his sexual fetish for degrading young girls, and his 'fantasies' about having violent sex with children and infants. Even after being warned that this was inappropriate content for the site, he could not fathom that he had done anything wrong - which gave us all severe concern about his assurances that he understood his 'boundaries'.

I am passionately behind an atheist 'cause' which pursues freedom from religion, a secular state, human rights, non-discriminatory laws, civil rights, laws based on reason - not religious dogma, and an education curriculum based on facts, not fairytales. BUT I feel most uncomfortable being part of a 'cause' which includes the kind of bigots mentioned above.

We criticized liberal Christians for not speaking out enough against fundamentalists - for making it credible by tolerating it. Should we not do the same against atheists who hold irrational and bigoted ideas?

I have no answers to this problem, but I'm convinced that, as our movement grows, it is something that we will have to grapple with.

I'd love to know what others think.

Views: 25

Tags: atheist movement, atheists, bigotry, homophobia, misogyny, racism, sexism

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Comment by Chris G on September 30, 2009 at 7:45am
I use the word strong atheist, but that that just means someone who disbelieves that there is a teapot circling the sun and thinks it should be argued that there isn't one, and the idea of one shouldn’t be paid for by tax dollars.

There are those who sit around the coffee shop and argue that a tax break should be given to those who build worship centers for the teapot myth, or argue that schools should be built to include the teapot “theory” with scientific theories.

Should perthagoreom’s theory, Newton’s laws, or pi also have an equal tepot “Theory” disclamer?


Chris
Comment by Chrys Stevenson on September 30, 2009 at 4:48am
I think someone who believes that religion is harmful to society would be termed an anti-theist - as we as an atheist. Maybe an anti-theistic atheist?
Comment by Chris G on September 30, 2009 at 4:41am
I may have to stand and be corrected here. I thought agnostic was the term used for passive unbelief rather than disbelief in a god, or gods.
Is there a common word that means disbelief rather than unbelief beside atheist? Anti-Theist isn't used unless language is being dissected.
Is there a word that means that religion is harmful to society?

http://atheism.about.com/od/aboutagnosticism/a/atheism.htm
Comment by Nate on September 28, 2009 at 10:17am
I hesitate to start to try to apply decency rules to people.

Exactly. In an attempt to present a pristine image, one may find an increasingly small group of "worthy" representatives.

What would satisfy the sense of morality(though adhered to hypocritically) of those opposed to atheism:

1. Charitable giving to counter the notion that atheists are inherently selfish?

If the charitable nature of some atheists is publicized with the intent of legitimizing the movement and making a point, how is that different than the religious giving incentivized by a reward and to give their particular brand of faith some favorable press?

2. Purging the "organization" of indecent influences?

Not unlike religions excommunicating or disfellowshipping members that have brought reproach on their faith. This has often been used to remove those deemed uncooperative with the leadership.

3. Establishment of a central authority to decide which members are best suited to represent the movement and which are no longer welcome for their unsavory "fantasies" or personal idiosyncrasies?

Who would decide which members qualify for the position to make such judgments? Should they be the most active, most dedicated, most charismatic, most eloquent, most educated, greatest contributors? One could be all of the above and still be open to accusations of impropriety. If such accusations are found, privately, to have basis in reality, should the central authority take steps to contain the situation with discretion(whitewash for the sake of the movement) or should the matter be made public in an effort to promote a public image of transparency? Should the group claim that the offending party has proven by his/her actions or expressed thoughts that he/she was never really an atheist to begin with- "Real atheists aren't like that"?
Comment by Franklin Ayers on September 28, 2009 at 9:43am
I do not believe in trying to attach any kind of set of beliefs to atheism, then it would fall into the trap that theists are trying to lay for us and make it a religion. All Atheism is is a negative stance on the one issue of deities. That's it. Your personal beliefs or proclivities beyond this are your own.

I do believe that when we organize for change, we should try and keep as positive an image as possible. I hesitate to start to try to apply decency rules to people. That smacks of religiosity. One of the things that historically prevents non-theists from having a voice is our wide diversity. Trying to control or mandate morality just will not work. It is important that we present ourselves as a force for removing religion from government, but not a force for replacing it with some other set of ethics or morals. As atheists we do not have a set of beliefs. That's not our job and also not the job of Government.
Comment by Фелч Гроган on September 28, 2009 at 9:02am
Chris: Atheist is a contraction of anti-thiest.

No it's not.
Comment by Chris G on September 28, 2009 at 8:46am
Atheist is a contraction of anti-thiest.
That’s all it means.
People who say they are atheist and say they are misogynistic or, racist are simply misogynistic and/or racist and happen to be atheist too.

The only atheist agenda I know of is a want for freedom from religion.

I think that a reason many don’t want to call themselves an atheist is because there are so many oddities who happen to call themselves atheists too. It is also of course the most discriminated group in the world (at least in the U.S.). Former president H.W. Bush said that atheists should be allowed to vote, or hold public office.

I think labels are hard to get over and bad to fall into, but as a strong (natural) atheist I find myself outspoken sometimes when someone else brings the subject up.

I like to say if everyone had blond hair and blue eyes (think NAZI) that people would discriminate against people with a different shaped nose.

When asked what race I am on a census I say that I’m KLEIN. Klein meaning a genealogy containing the sets of every ethnic background.

Atheists are under a big tent. (thanks Daniel). No membership is required. Atheists are independent thinkers and it’s akin to trying to heard cats to try to organize an atheist movement. There is no reason to try, other than to get religious dogma, and religion out of our government, workplace, and schools.

Keep religion where it belongs in the church. I don’t want to subsidize it though by paying higher taxes for firefighters and roads because they are tax exempt.


The atheism movement is about the same as the ambidextrous movement.

Here’s a URL to an amusing video from a fellow Australian.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3
Comment by Jay on September 28, 2009 at 6:29am
I just label myself as a secular humanist. Atheism is pretty much part of that definition but the key word I put here is "part".
Comment by Фелч Гроган on September 28, 2009 at 2:27am
Krusty, you have just pretty much explained why I and many others don't even like the term "atheist". It is as wishy-washy and vague as non-denominational x-tianity and likewise people are free to make up their own rules as they go along. You'd be naive to express surprise that many nutjobs choose to describe themselves as "atheists". Unfortunately, neither you nor anyone else owns the term.

You can wax lyrical all you like, but the basic fact is there is no such thing as an atheist philosophy. There isn't. End of story. It no more exists than the supposed roots of morality systems being found in religion and not on humanity. Sorry, its deluded to think otherwise. Atheism is a null hypothesis and nothing more. I call myself a Cynic for this reason. Cynicism does have a complete view of existance to which gods and spooks are simply not relevant. There is method behind my madness. It is a code to live by, which I lived without thinking before I even knew there was such a school of thought. It has substance. Atheism doesn't. Yes, I agree its a problem, but it's not one that will be solved by applying a set of rules to what is, and will always remain, simply a null hypothesis.
Comment by Stephen Moore on September 28, 2009 at 2:23am
I concur with carver's commentary, and also agree with much else that has been written by others above.

Though we like to think that the atheist position is one based upon rationality, there are irrational ways to arrive at the position, and irrational beliefs can be held still be held by an atheist. Note Bill Mahr's position on some topics, as well as those that Kristy has discovered in others mentioned in her post.

Atheism regards one particular point of belief, so we ought be careful of not falling into a trap of "No true atheist..." Atheists, just like like theists, may hold opinions that seem contrary to their belief-position. Though one may argue with a theist that some other belief they hold is contrary to what one may read in their sacred texts, one can't really adopt such a measure with the athiest who holds or advocates an irrational belief. But the means and object of argument remain the same: rationality.

We criticized liberal Christians for not speaking out enough against fundamentalists - for making it credible by tolerating it. Should we not do the same against atheists who hold irrational and bigoted ideas?

To such a question I reply, absolutely and with out equivocation or doubt, yes! There may be no canon or dogma to refer or maintain, but the rational being argues against the irrational because one values rationality.

I am passionately behind an atheist 'cause' which pursues freedom from religion, a secular state, human rights, non-discriminatory laws, civil rights, laws based on reason - not religious dogma, and an education curriculum based on facts, not fairytales. BUT I feel most uncomfortable being part of a 'cause' which includes the kind of bigots mentioned above.

I don't think that's something to be concerned about, Kristy. Such bigots, though atheist, aren't really part of the 'cause' as you've outlined it. Their's is a different agenda. We are able to recognise that Westboro Baptists are bat-shit crazy, but, generally speaking, we don't tar all Christians with that same brush. And so too with atheists: some of them are going to hold bat-shit crazy beliefs, but that need not affect one's desire or commitment to the 'cause'. Freely acknoledge that their are loons, be discomforted by their position, and continue to advocate one's position.

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