There’s a weird trend that’s been slinking its way through the social justice community, whereby so-called New Atheists are being denounced for supposedly failing to embrace liberal causes such as diversity and equality. Apparently, atheism has a “race problem,” or maybe it should be called a “white male problem.” Whichever the case, it appears atheism also has a “shocking woman problem.”
The latest of these critiques can be found in a Washington Postarticle on Thursday about an upcoming conference titled Moving Social Justice, where attendees will “examine issues of special interest to nonwhite atheists, especially the ills rooted in economic and social inequality.” Sikivu Hutchinson, who founded the group, Los Angeles’ Black Skeptics, explained the conference this way:
“It is a privilege of the white atheist movement to disavow issues of economic inequality,” Hutchinson said. “We should be looking at these issues of social justice and secularism in an intersectional way.
“By addressing issues that are culturally and politically relevant to communities of color, we are addressing a range of things that are not typically addressed within the mainstream atheist movement.”
Did I sleep through some radical redefining of the word ‘atheist’? It’s always been my understanding that an ‘atheist’ is someone who simply lacks belief in deities. That’s it. Somehow, though, it’s suddenly incumbent on atheists to take up certain social and political causes, and that’s just silly.
It’s silly not because equality and diversity aren’t worthy causes, but because there’s no inherent connection between not believing in god and liberal politics. While it’s true that atheists are more likely to be liberal than conservative, to assume automatically that atheists and the atheist “movement” owe something to social justice is wildly misguided. This isn’t to say that many atheists don’t advocate for say, wealth redistribution, but when they do, they do so in their capacity as liberals and not as atheists, which to remind, is simply nonbelief in god.
To wit, conservative atheists George Will, Karl Rove, and the world’s worst atheist S.E. Cupp, as well as the 20% of religiously unaffiliated Americans who call themselves conservative, likely do not place social justice high up on their list of priorities. And their atheism has nothing to do with this fact. It is entirely immaterial. Saying “atheists” need to fight for liberal causes makes no more sense than saying conservatives who are atheists should do the same.
Interestingly, one of the Moving Social Justice attendees emphasized the need for communities and organizations — including religious institutions — to work together to achieve their goals. Obviously this is admirable and perhaps it will bear fruit, but it must be asked: Where does the “atheism” come in? This isn’t meant as a critique, but rather an honest question.
Let’s be clear about one thing: Any time atheists get together to achieve the things Moving Social Justice wants to achieve, it’s a good thing. But we need to be careful about placing the onus on atheists for causes that are unrelated to atheism or more broadly, secularism. Atheism isn’t a belief system. It is not an ideology. If you want to advance liberal principles, appeal to liberals and not atheists. While liberalism and atheism aren’t mutually exclusive, they’re hardly one and the same.
RELATED: P.Z. Myers responds. Poorly.