Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Shunning, Banning and Unpersoning

Thunderf00t, already a pariah to the plus crowd, has stirred up a hornet's nest once again:

Matt Dillahunty and Mick Nugent, among others, have accused Thunderf00t of dishonesty and quote-mining. And of course PZ Myers launched into one of his usual mouth-foaming rants while stating quite proudly that he had not even watched the video.

Whatever the merits of the arguments for and against, I think there is little doubt that Myers is in fact trying to redefine atheism as Thunderf00t claimed, and appropriate the title "atheist" to denote only those who march in 100% lockstep with Myers' political and social agenda. Forget the Powerpoint slide that some are trying to airbrush from the record. Myers has been quite explicit all along, on his blog and elsewhere, that if you don't buy into Atheism-plus's radical feminist ideology, you are a "dictionary atheist" and an "asshole atheist" - or as Richard Carrier put it, a scum-sucking CHUD who needs to be kicked back to whichever sewer you crawled out of.

I've already stated why I reject this tribalistic thinking. Getting stuff done as a social activist - for that matter, becoming a mature and decent human being - is all about realizing that you are never going to meet anyone who agrees totally with you on every conceivable issue, and being able to work with other people anyway.

For example, I am quite active in the fight for marriage equality. I often find myself working alongside liberal Christians. Should I throw a tantrum and call them brainless sheep because they believe in a god? That would be pretty obnoxious and clueless.

Atheists are already the most hated and distrusted minority in the US, less popular than gays, Muslims or even rapists. Myers' policy of recklessly and mindlessly alienating allies and driving them away is a recipe for suicide. For our movement to survive, let alone make progress, we must build coalitions with other groups, identify where our interests intersect with theirs, and work to achieve common goals.

But there is another reason why the FTB/Skepchick/A+ with-us-or-against-us extremism is disastrous and self-destructive. The concept of "one true atheism" is the antithesis of skepticism. Declaring certain viewpoints to be sacred cows that may not be questioned, and other viewpoints as taboos which mark their followers as evil and immoral, is the opposite of freethought. And cocooning yourself in an echo chamber, refusing to engage with anyone who departs an iota from your rigid inflexible hive-mind, cuts off the very lifeblood of any ideas-based movement.

What's the point of being an atheist if you aren't free to question, and demand evidence for, everything? I don't want to make the same mistake as Myers and proclaim that my version of atheism is the one true atheism. But the A+ version is one I want absolutely no part of.

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