Thursday, April 4, 2013

A Bridge Too Far?

The Great Atheist Schism, which began with a trivial event in an elevator, has been dragging on for almost two years now. Since then we've seen countless other relatively minor incidents - T-shirt-gate, Camera-on-a-stick-gate, off-the-cuff remarks by Michael Shermer and various other people - eagerly seized on, distorted, and exploited by the Atheism-plus axis to further a narrative that the atheist and skeptic movements are overrun with vast hordes of misogynistic, rapist or rape-supporting "MRA's". Sadly, a smal number of people on the other side have taken the bait and have responded with crude and occasionally threatening comments, adding more fuel to the fire.

Let me make it clear that I condemn threats and harassment, regardless of which side originates them. I am saddened to see the movement so bitterly divided, especially at a time when religious extremists both in the US and around the world are redoubling their efforts to roll back the rights of women and gays, and impose theocracy.

I also want to state the I mostly agree with the claimed goals of Atheism-plus. After all, what reasonable person doesn't support equal rights and respect for women and minorities? So far, however, I haven't seen Atheism-plus achieve or even attempt anything concrete and useful towards these goals, apart from the ill-considered and short-lived "A+ Scribe" which quickly collapsed in a fit of butt-hurt and pointless squabbling.

I can't help thinking that there is something deeply cynical about the Atheism-plus supporters wrapping themselves in the cloak of social justice as though to imply that everyone who doesn't march in ideological lockstep with them is a woman-hater, a homophobe and what not. For those of us who've broken free of the tribalistic, black-and-white thinking of the religion in which we were indoctrinated as children, it's disappointing to see the same mentality emerging from our own ranks.

What I find even more disturbing is the uncritical group-think and frenzied suppression of debate in every forum controlled by Atheism-plus. This is clearly incompatible with skepticism and freethought. And a huge portion of the controversy seems to be about settling old scores rather than having anything to do with principles.

I gather there is a long history of bad blood between Jen McCreight and Abbie Smith, and likewise between Rebecca Watson and several other individuals. I don't know the details, and I don't want to know. All I'm saying is that personal animosity is a poor basis for a social movement.

I appreciate that some people, notably Mick Nugent, are trying to bridge the divide and promote dialogue. Of all the people who identify with or lean toward Atheism-plus, he strikes me as the most honorable, decent and fair-minded.

However, it's clear that Myers, Watson, Carrier and company are determined to burn as many bridges as possible, and alienate as many allies as possible. If you're not totally ideologically pure in their eyes, you must be mindlessly witch-hunted and declared a pariah and unperson until the end of time. I really question whether it's possible, let alone desirable, to build bridges with fanatics who have such contempt for the values that I regard as vital to the secular movement. ("Freeze peach"? Seriously?)

Look at the treatment meted out to people like EllenBeth Wachs and Julian Francisco. They were staunch allies of A-plus, but the instant they showed any signs of thinking for themselves, they had to be dogpiled on, destroyed, and hounded out of the plus-o-sphere.

Mick Nugent's initiative, well-meaning as it is, is doomed to failure because the A-plus leaders have no interest whatsoever in reaching out honestly and in good faith to anyone who isn't already marching in lockstep with them. Blinded by their fanatical zeal, they imagine they have nothing to learn from anyone else and no reason to listen. Their attitude could be summed up as: "Fuck civility! We are Oppressed Victims (TM), and we demand the right to scream and shout non-stop about how much we're being silenced! Everyone else is an oppressor who should just shut up and listen. That's what we mean by dialogue!"

At this point, I have concluded that the best way forward is to ignore Atheism-plus and leave it behind. It is definitely on the losing side of the trends. More and more people are turned off by the constant juvenile drama created by the likes of Ophelia Benson and the Skepchicks, and the blatant hypocrisy, double standards and dishonesty shown by Myers.

Eventually Atheism-plus will simply fade away, or more likely, collapse in a final meltdown of butt-hurt. Hopefully the rest of us will learn something from the whole fiasco. We'll learn to be a little bit more sensitive to the concerns of women, and work productively with those who are more interested in solving problems than scoring rhetorical points against a hated enemy. We'll realize that we must always be on guard against groupthink, tribalism and dogma, even within our own ranks. And hopefully we'll all loosen up and laugh at silly jokes about dongles, when it's obvious that no harm is intended by anyone towards anyone else.

The fifteen mintues are over. Athesim-plus is a movement whose time has come - and gone!

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