I'm not actually back to blogging regularly, but don't you know, the moment I take a leave of absence this whole Atheism vs. Atheism+ business spirals out of control with strong opinions and emotions flaring up on both sides of the debate.
Bud, my brother-in-blog, over at Dead-Logic wrote a recent piece about his thoughts and feelings. I left this reply, which shares my own take on this recent string of events. Since I felt it was worth repeating, I am re-posting it here.
"Wouldn't it be great to just deal with the important issues instead? That's what we're all trying to do, right? We're trying to fight racism, sexism, classism, ageism, homophobia, transphobia, and all the other phobias and isms that prohibit equality and human rights. We're all trying to promote critical thinking, skeptical inquiry, and scientific literacy. Why can't we just do more of that?"Bud, you just defined, more or less, what Atheism+ means. Was that intentional? Atheism, by definition, isn't a movement in and of itself. It's Atheism plus dealing with the important issues, such as fighting racism, sexism, classism, ageism, homophobia, transphoia, and all the rest while trying to promote critical thinking, skeptical inquiry, and scientific literacy.
How is that not Atheism+?
I'm not going to let myself get so hung up on the terminology. I for one like the idea of atheism as a cultural movement, but in order to gain any traction it needs to be marketed as something positive, fresh, and new. People like new! The shinier the better. Maybe it is superficial, and a bit gimmicky, but so what? If it can get to the next step without all the baggage of the old terms which are mired in a past riddled with so much negativity that it acts to stigmatise, maybe a changing of the guard is in order.
I almost wanted to blog about this hot topic issue, but then held back once I realized it's not such a big deal. At least not as big as everyone seems to be making it. I, for one, like the term a hell of a lot better than "Brights" and it means more than just not entertaining the belief in God, so it's something I think I can roll with. (I initially wrote this as a response on Bud's blog, but I am blogging it now, just to be clear.)
From listening to other atheists, I get the impression that they think that if they subscribe to Atheism+ they will somehow have to change their thinking. Well, yes and no. Your atheism lack of belief doesn't change, but your attitude as an atheist, and whatever else you might believe, will be challenged. I think that's important. I don't want to ever stop being challenged. Especially after meeting some really horrible atheists, such as that guy who attacked Bruce and then lashed out at me when I went to Bruce's defense. That guy, let us not forget, was an atheist. But he cannot aspire to be an Atheist+er unless he gets his act together.
I like being challenged like that. I think such a challenge is necessary in order to start talking about atheism as a meaningful worldview and something more than just a lack of belief in something. The term NEEDS to exist because of dictionary atheists who won't accept the fact that atheism is growing and, due to the cultural and sociological effects of recent secularization, it is becoming something bigger than a mere word in some dictionary. It is pushing the limits of what the definition itself can contain and how we can define it. None of us are just 'mere atheists' anyway. We are people with certain values, and atheism+ can accommodate these values, but standard atheism is just a term for not believing in gods.
Definitions are limiting. So this term needed to be made and defined. In fact, it's still being defined, even as we speak. Of course, there will always be the worry that the momentum could snowball into a dogmatic and inclusive psuedo-religion. It's a possibility. Richard Carrier's lack of tact seemed to indicate something like that, but then, the more I thought about it, the more I felt he was testing the "atheistic dogma" of those who refused to relinquish the title of atheism for something else, which I think, is superior--because it is meant to be.
I basically refrained from mentioning this sooner, because with all the dogmatic atheists attacking Carrier on this point--which probably caused him to go crazy--I felt it would be wise to wait until the egos died down. I n Carrier's case, doesn't the guy get enough of that shit from the religious? I didn't want to engage in the muck raking and I didn't want to be forced to take sides. So I took both sides. AND THEN I REALIZED HOW NECESSARY THE TERM WAS.
It lets atheists be the same old dictionary hugging people, then adds a simple little symbol to say that we are MORE than just that. How important of a message that is!
Maybe the way it is being defined is a little bit exclusionary, but that might have to do with the personalities clashing than the actual effect of the terminology, and it doesn't necessarily make it a religion. It certainly doesn't mean we have to accept how others are defining it. Carrier can have his version of Atheism+ and we can have ours. Is that like an atheistic denomination? Well, yes and no.
In my mind, it's more like a sports league with various teams. Religious denominations differ on ideological, theological, and even doctrinal issues--their splinters make them essentially DIFFERENT religions. Atheism+ might be a splinter, but it isn't different in terms of doctrinal or theological stances. It merely has varying ideological components, we are still all playing the same game, after all. But the new league rules will cut back on the abuses of others in the sport. It is a way to get some conformity--but not to atheism. We shouldn't make this mistake. It is creating conformity with those who have like values, because this is part of the cultural movement. There is no getting away from this, so it does us no use to complain that there is going to be conformity.
Oh, I know others will disagree and caterwaul all night long about the dangers of conformity, but sometimes things only work when they are part of a group ideology--and not merely one person's ideals. That's the difference I hope people keep in mind, and why I feel Atheism+ is necessary.
In other news, here's an interesting article on the Myths and Truths about Atheism+.