It would obviously be naive of me to expect every halfwit commenter and twitter troll to read and process what I write before they set about criticizing my work; nor would I expect total agreement from those who actually do. But what I do expect is a certain level of honesty from any person who takes the time to write a full-throated critique of my arguments, especially when that person is an academic.
Unfortunately, it seems even this is too much to ask, as P.Z. Myers has illustrated perfectly in a misleading post about an article I wrote titled, “Atheists Don’t Owe Your Social Justice Agenda a Damn Thing.” In it, I discussed a convention of social justice-minded atheists called Moving Social Justice. As I said in the post, “Any time atheists get together to achieve the things Moving Social Justice wants to achieve, it’s a good thing.” However, I cautioned against holding atheists collectively responsible for a supposed lack of diversity within this amorphous “movement.” This is because I regard an “atheist” simply as someone who lacks belief in deities. Nothing more.
Myers felt my opinion warranted a stinging rebuke, and one in which he never mentions my pro-social justice position. That’s because doing so would undermine his narrative, according to which I don’t care about equality and diversity, and am possibly a libertarian. He took particular umbrage at this statement:
“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.”
Any person with middle school reading comprehension skills can understand this sentence, even if they disagree with it or its implications. Since Myers is an educated person, I can only surmise that his regurgitation of it is the result of willful misrepresentation:
“That’s a lovely sentence. What ‘weird‘ trend? Why, the weird ideas of diversity and equality. How freakish! Such absurd, alien ideas would have to “slink” to sneak their way into the company of true rationalists, like atheists. Mr Luciano seems to think this is causing some phony problems.”
Myers knows I didn’t say that diversity and equality are “weird,” yet he claims this nonetheless. What I said was that atheism does not automatically translate into a liberal political agenda, which both Myers and I have. “This isn’t to say that many atheists don’t advocate for say, wealth redistribution,” I wrote, “but when they do, they do so in their capacity as liberals and not as atheists.”
To be honest, I find my view to be so uncontroversial as to be banal, but it sent Myers into a tizzy about the definition of “atheist”:
“Here’s a definition for you: ‘a person who disbelieves or lacks belief in the existence of God or gods’. There is an important word in there: ‘person’. Atheists are people. These dictionary atheists are always quick to forget that. People have responsibilities to each other, and further, the rejection of religion and the understanding that the universe, and we human beings, lack any kind of grand purpose, shapes the pattern of those responsibilities. You simply cannot pretend that atheism is meaningless outside one philosophical abstraction.”
In calling me a “dictionary atheist,” I suppose Myers is upset that I have the audacity to use “atheist” correctly. Moreover, the thing about the logic of Myers’ argument is that he could just as easily be talking about how, for example, nihilists are people, and have responsibilities to each other, and that nihilists’ collective lack of a grand purpose “shapes the pattern of those responsibilities.” This would be absurd, of course, and it shows how porous his definition of atheism is.
Myers says he wants his atheism to be “more than just a flat abstraction.” He’s welcome to that view, and I wish him the best of luck trying to redefine “atheism” to fit his political agenda, but his visceral reaction to those who don’t share his incredibly loose understanding of the word is misguided.
Then Myers objects to the photo I used for my post:
“Really? They’re just ‘right’? On everything? Yeesh. That’s an appallingly stupid image.
“Can we also purge the hero-worshipping authoritarianism from this movement?”
I can only hope that Myers is feigning obtuseness here, but just in case he’s not, I’ll point out that the most notable thing these 10 individuals have in common is that they’re all atheists — like Myers. His reaction here is strange because his own blog is a never-ending onslaught against religious belief. Does Myers not think he is right, also?
Finally, Myers decries “authoritarianism,” but at this point it’s only appropriate to quote his comments policy, which reads in part:
The Absolute Law
I AM THE BOSS, and don’t you forget it. I have sole and absolute power here; I can ban you, I can destroy your comments, I can shut down whole threads. I am a being of caprice; I don’t have to justify anything I do. So when I tell you to stop doing something, stop. Don’t argue with me. You don’t like that I banned your friend? Tough. Don’t complain to me. I will do as I will to make this place the kind of party I want to attend, and that’s all that matters.
This law supercedes all other rules.
Ironically, Myers’ site is hosted by Freethought Blogs.