The Other Weirdo's Search

September 4, 2010

Atheism and Feminism

In a recent post at Daylight Atheism entitled Why Atheists Should Be Feminists the writer argued that, true to the title of the article, atheists should be feminists. To this I objected on the grounds that “Atheism” has a very pure definition, one devoid of randomness and unintelligible terms. There is no reason to link atheism and feminism, much like there is no reason to link atheism and GLBT rights movements and gay marriage(the Friendly Atheist posts a lot about that,) or atheism and global warming(though we aren’t really supposed to call it global warming anymore; these days it’s “climate change”). I didn’t say that atheists shouldn’t—or couldn’t—take up those causes if they wished, but only that those causes shouldn’t be a prerequisite to calling oneself an “atheist.” In other words, I objected to the idea of atheism being turned into groupthink.

The definition of atheism is very simple. When boiled down, it is simply a lack of belief in deities, for whatever reason. Many people go further, of course; for instance, they make claims about the afterlife, but that’s not really an intrinsic part of atheism.

The discussion regarding atheists also being feminists then degenerated into the benefits of feminism and guilt by association, which in itself is such a feminist concept. After my comment, people appeared to be responding to the perceived criticism of feminism implicit in the denial of linking of it to atheism rather than to the idea that atheism should—and can—stand on its own.

As I have said previously(and also in my comment to that article), if an atheist wants to take on those other causes, I have no problem with that. Atheists are driven by their own conscience, and they should take on causes that feel right to them. Note that I’m specifically saying “atheists” and not “everybody”. The religious are not, generally, driven by their own conscience; instead, their motivation arises from the commands of their gods, or their spokesmen.

Somehow, though, that doesn’t seem to be enough for certain people. They need to link certain types of belief with other types of beliefs, and what’s more, they want to do it for everybody. Ebonmuse never did answer my objection, though he instructed me to reread his post, thinking he already answered it within the body of his original post. In fact, he didn’t, he made it worse. The following quote is the entirety of the very last paragraph of his post.

The diversity of the atheist movement is its greatest strength. There will never be a council of elders or an infallible text dictating what atheists must believe, nor would I want there to be. But I think the atheist community can and should act collectively, by unanimous consent, to make it clear to sexists and other bigots that they are not welcome and that we don’t want them associated with us – similar to the way Larry Darby was collectively cast out after he revealed his racist, Holocaust-denying beliefs. We should do this not because it’s a decree imposed on us from above, but because we all recognize, using our own reason and best sense, that it’s the right thing to do, and that we stand to gain many more friends and allies than we stand to lose.

There’s a lot of stuff there, so I’m going to break it down, point by point.

  1. Atheist movement is about diversity.
  2. We don’t have, and never will have, an overarching text, telling us what we must believe.
  3. Atheist community should—and can—act collectively and by unanimous consent.
  4. Sexists and bigots are not welcome and we(i.e., atheists) don’t want them associated with us.
  5. Larry Darby was collectively cast out for his racist… beliefs.
  6. It’s not a decree, but reason and best sense to do this.

This sounds great, very cosmopolitan, until you close your browser and go to the fridge for a beer. That’s when it becomes a case of Fridge Horror. Let’s take it point by point.

  1. Atheist movement is about diversity: excellent!
  2. We don’t have, and never will have, an overarching text, telling us what we must believe. Except that we should all be feminists.
  3. Atheist community should—and can—act collectively and by unanimous consent. It sounds like a great plan, doesn’t it? Except, if we don’t have an overarching text, how do we know? This isn’t just about feminism; you can apply this to anything.
  4. Sexists and bigots are not welcome and we(i.e., atheists) don’t want them associated with us. Excellent! Except who defines what it means to be a sexist or a bigot?
  5. Larry Darby was collectively cast out for his racist… beliefs. I’ve never even heard of him, but apparently he’s a racist no longer claiming to be an atheist but a Christian and running for government office.
  6. It’s not a decree, but reason and best sense to do this. Yes, because it’s all about diversity. See #1. Oh… wait. No, it’s not, not when we don’t agree with your kind of diversity.

This is where the discussion degenerated into the tired old clich√© regarding salaries and glass ceilings even though I wasn’t—and still am not—disagreeing with the idea of fighting against sexism. And on top of that, my original objection about linking atheism with feminism wasn’t even addressed. Then I was presented with a completely strawman scenario where if I know of a woman who makes less money than I do for the same job and not do anything about it, then I’m guilty by association and shouldn’t be surprised if feminists come to roast my ass. Or something. Of course, I’ve never even suggested that racism or sexism were OK, or that atheists should ignore these¬† problems.

That last bit was the most hilarious to me since it basically enshrines the idea of guilt by association without question, atheist-style. Abrahamic religions have one, too: they damn all women for the supposed sin of Eve. Christianity goes a step further and damns the entire human race. How very… theist… of atheists to want to enshrine a very religious concept within their own “platform”. Never mind the ethical question of guilt by association for biological rather than choice groups.

I will write more about this in the upcoming post regarding atheism and the polarazation of politics. Please stay tuned.


  1. Stuff like this is exactly the reason why I call myself a Humanist rather than an atheist. All these ridiculous discussions about what is / what is not part of atheism (or is it now upper-case Atheism?) or what should we do and what should we comment on? I mean, seriously. That’s the one point where I think Dawkins is the most thick-headed of all. A new symbol for atheism? Like that bloody “scarlet letter A”? A new name like “brights” to avoid association with Stalin and Pol Pot? What for?

    There already is a worldview that stands for the values of the Enlightenment, it’s called Secular Humanism. All the above problems solved. There are already organizations, already structures, already pamphlets and a magazine called “free inquiry”. Even schools. Overcome the petty urge of i-want-it-to-be-my-OWN-movement and join the existing fight.
    Let’s face it, most people within the “atheist community” ARE Secular Humanists, even if they’ve never heard that term before. I urge any atheist reading this to visit the Council for Secular Humanism now and see for yourself if you find anything you disagree with.

    With atheism, there is always the debate about what that means – should we take it in it’s original meaning as “absence of belief in a god” or in its more widespread, colloquial meaning as somebody with a scientific naturalist worldview and a consequentialist ethical system?

    I suggest everybody should save the energy and simply switch to the term “Humanist”, which is clearly defined, can even by willfully ignorant and dishonest people not be associated with any atrocities, and is a movement that has small, but already existing structures.
    Not to mention that being a Humanist is a statement FOR the values of the Enlightenment, rather than the negative statement AGAINST the values of religion, which makes an important psychological difference in the people we seek to convince.

    Comment by Ochiudo — September 8, 2010 @ 8:12 am | Reply

  2. There’s a reason you don’t see, and probably won’t ever see, the red A on my blog. It carries too much implication.

    Comment by The Other Weirdo — September 9, 2010 @ 7:02 pm | Reply

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