I've been told in several conversations in the last couple of months that the movement I am part of is some isolationist sub culture. There are critics out there of both atheism and skepticism as movements who suggest that we are nothing but a bunch of sycophants patting each other on the back for being more brilliant than everyone else.
I'd like to tell those people they have no idea what they are talking about, but while I think they are not entirely correct I can't deny that the criticism does have some merit. Those self congratulatory tendencies are a part of human behavior that all of us, including myself, have indulged in from time to time. In my defense I think I do it a lot less now that I did when I was a fundamentalist Christian, but whether that difference stems from my lack of religion or just generally being more mature than I was at 21 years old, I can't say. However, any movement of a significant size is going to have a certain number of people who seem to spend more time congratulating each other for being in the "know" than doing anything of significance.
When Jen McCreight posted about atheism+ on BlagHag last month I quickly noticed that there were some people on both sides who devolved into name calling, which was bad, but I also noticed that a lot of the people against atheism+ were going off into conspiracy theory territory, which was really bad. I read way to many blog comments of people saying that atheism+ was some secret conspiracy of leftist feminists and communists who are trying to steal the movement. It seems to me the goal of most of the people promoting atheism+ is to promote more diversity in the movement, but the people who don't like the idea are claiming that it is promoting divisiveness. Truthfully I would full well admit that it no doubt will cause a certain amount of divisiveness, but to some extent that is OK. The guy who asked if it was moral to rape a SkepChick, for instance. I don't mind making him feel unwelcome in my circle of friends. In fact, if you don't make those sorts of people feel unwelcome, you may end up with no one but those people. Just look at what happened to Chat Roulette for an example of how this happens.
So this brings me back to something I thought of while I was trying to answer some of these accusations. I remembered the moment in time when I began to consider being activist about my atheism. I had been an atheist for several years by this point, but I wasn't really concerned with what anyone else thought of me or my beliefs. I certainly didn't care one whit about feminism or other issues back then. One day I was on YouTube and happened across a video taken from CNN.
A video of this to be exact:
The discussion was one of study that had been done showing atheists were the most disliked minority. The three people who were asked to speak on this (all Christian) explain that no such discrimination exists, and then rant for about 4 minutes about how any atheist who thinks differently was whiny and should shut-up. By the end of the video I was angry, and for a bit I wasn't even sure why other than the absurdity of what they said. Then it hit me that this was what it felt like to be marginalized, to be discriminated against. The people with the power and authority had just said that my opinions and my feelings didn't count. I should just shut up and let them have their way. This video convinced me that things needed to change.
There is the reason that I think atheists should be concerned with social justice for all people, One, because otherwise we run the risk of running roughshod over other peoples civil rights in the defense of our own, and two, because we need to recognize that we are not the only ones to have problems. Why do we fight? Why do we advocate for skeptical thinking? Is it so we can pat each other on the back and feel superior to others, or is it to make the world we live in a little better? If it is the former then we really are just another smug sub-culture and our movement is meaningless. If is the later then I see no reason not to apply skeptical thought to the problems of social justice we face. This is what Atheism+ means to me.