Tagged: Atheism Plus

Lessons from #AtheismPlus

[Content note: racism, misogyny, transphobia, domestic abuse. Links are not currently labeled and may lead to triggering content.]

The first thing I did two years ago when I realized I was an atheist was look for other atheists. Specifically, I did a Google search for atheist forums. I was hoping to find people discussing ways to break free from bad ideas. Instead, I found people wallowing in their own sense of superiority. “I’m alone,” I thought, and I didn’t bother searching again for weeks.

When I searched again, a little more extensively this time, I found the various atheist and skeptical forums at Reddit, which were better in some ways. By scouring the user-submitted links at Reddit I eventually found what I was looking for: intelligent and well-informed atheist writers arguing passionately for the prioritization of reason and evidence over tradition and intuition.

Over the next year I devoured atheist materials. I watched atheist presentations, debates, and panels. I read atheist blogs, articles, and books. I listened to atheist podcasts. I followed atheists on Twitter. I thought constantly about the injustices wrought by religion. I wrote scores of (unpublished) blog entries. I engaged in discussion with theists online and off, doing my part to counter bad ideas and spread good ones.

Then, one year ago last month, Jennifer McCreight put out the call for a new wave of atheist activism. Some people–mostly men–were harassing other people–mostly women–for (among other things) discussing feminist ideas in secular spaces. I didn’t know much about feminism, but I knew the people being attacked were among the most insightful, dedicated, and conscientious people I had found in the atheist and skeptical movement: people such as Greta Christina, Rebecca Watson, and Ophelia Benson. I found nothing in their writings to warrant anything approaching the kind of abuse they received. I wanted to learn more about social justice from atheists who shared their concerns. I also wanted to promote skepticism and uphold the values of humanism. So I added my support to the nascent Atheism Plus movement.

I thought as a group we’d do things like talk, write, and start various projects. I thought I would help by organizing and writing. I assumed I was qualified to do both. I did not expect to be confronted almost immediately by the staggering dimensions of my own ignorance and arrogance.

I am a white, straight, cisgendered, American man. I have a history of depression, and I suspect I fall somewhere on the autism spectrum, but for the most part I happen to conform to the dominant culture’s standards for normalcy. Until I began to pay serious attention to the stories and experiences of people not like myself, however, I had little reason to think critically about those standards, how they inform my identity, how they affect the way I view and treat others, and how they operate in our society.

Atheism Plus put me in contact with people who did not have the privilege of ignoring or treating as academic problems such as racism, sexism, transphobia, and ableism. These people were fighting daily for the recognition of their humanity. They did not need my analysis, advice, well wishes, statements of solidarity, or even my friendship–they needed my assistance. They knew more about the reality of their struggles, the goals and methods of their oppressors, and the needs of their respective communities than I did, so if I really wanted to help out, I would have to shut up, listen, and learn.

I’m still learning. I’m glad I have kept relatively quiet in the meantime, because my instinct, honed by a lifetime of exposure to a culture that says people who look like me are better than others, is to pontificate without asking myself if I am at all qualified to do so. The fact is, I do not know what it is like to be a member of most oppressed groups. I have no right to speak for them.

What I can do, and what I have learned to do over the past year, is to find people speaking from experience about the injustices they are forced to contend with daily, listen to those people, and amplify their voices. In doing so, I have also become aware of who is working with them and who is working to silence them. I am not qualified to label anyone an ally, (including myself) but I have found some people who are more informed than most, and I’ve tried to boost their signals as well.

Throughout all of this, Twitter has been indispensable. When the A+ movement first started, I wanted to get an accurate picture of its demographics and concerns. Part of doing this involved putting together a list of all the Twitter accounts I could find of people who had publicly expressed support for A+, or at least its right to exist. (Thus demonstrating one of the benefits of using labels: finding community.) Starting with this pool of social justice-oriented atheists I was able to branch outward and find even more atheists addressing matters affecting marginalized people. In time, I was also able to move upstream and find some of the sources of their more revolutionary insights.

I should not have had to go on a year-long fact-finding odyssey to find any of these people. My community, the atheist community, should have prioritized their voices long ago. Why? Because atheism is a social justice issue. Atheists are oppressed and persecuted the world over. We need the expertise of other such groups to inform our struggle and keep us relevant. And if we are humanists, we have a responsibility to liberate ourselves and others from all forms of oppression, not just that which impacts us personally.

If you, like me, are new to social justice, if a lack of relevant experience limits your ability to produce original material, or if a lack of resources limits your perceived effectiveness, you can still contribute. You can still be an agent of positive change. You can find people experiencing, documenting, examining, and fighting oppression. You can be a conduit for their words. You can act as a channel for their stories. You can carry their anger, observations, arguments and concerns to a wider audience. You can start doing this today using free internet communications services like Twitter, WordPress, and Feedly. You will face a backlash, but tools such as the Block Bot can help.

You can also tell your own personal story. My story so far is “white boy gets a clue”. Being the product of a racist, classist, misogynistic, heterosexist, gender-essentialist culture, my self-knowledge and knowledge of others was limited. But the stories of marginalized and oppressed people brought to my attention a number of points of articulation where the foreground of actual human experience moves independently of the background of stereotypes and common-sense assumptions.

For example, until the Atheism Plus forums gave me access to safe-space conversations among trans and genderqueer people about how they experience their bodies during sex, I did not realize how simplistic some of my assumptions about the body, gender, sexuality, and human identity really were. The gender I feel myself to be is not hampered or hindered by the physical realities of my body. I don’t know what it is like to have a disappointing or frustrating relationship with my body, to have my natural expectations and desires stymied by the presence or absence of certain parts, or to have parts that refuse to provide the sensations I need for fulfillment. Neither does the gender I feel myself to be conflict very much with the gender role I was assigned at birth. I don’t know what it is like to be counted as a type of person I know I am not, to be forced to move, act, speak, and look in ways that are fundamentally unnatural to me, to be told the specific combination of traits that are natural to me is impossible and therefore non-existent, or to have my purported non-existence render my humanity invisible to most.

Through reading firsthand accounts of people whose bodies and societies betray them, I was able to see that gender dysphoria is not the result of confusion or defiance, but has to do with brain/body parity and the ubiquity of inaccurate and incomplete gender categories. Dysphoria manifests in the lives of the affected in understandable ways and requires practical solutions at both the individual and societal level. I credit Atheism Plus with illuminating the struggles of gender-nonconforming people for me and showing how their more visible choices such as clothing and hairstyle do not exist solely for others, but connect to their internal reality in meaningful ways and have potentially restorative functions.

Real people with gender dysphoria alerted me to a fact I was aware of but hadn’t really considered before: I have a gender! Before this, I thought my male body automatically dictated my masculinity. But, if a quirk of genetics or hormones could have easily resulted in a major break between who I feel myself to be and what kind of body I have, then minor breaks might exist. And if society could get trans and genderqueer people so disastrously wrong, it could get me wrong. A critical look at my gender identity and role was now possible for me. This was tremendously empowering. I was free to deconstruct and reconstruct my identity to better suit my actual nature. I could more accurately and confidently communicate this nature to others. And I could see, hear, and speak to others more directly, without as much interference from rigid and unrealistic gender stereotypes. The result of such listening was a realization that I needed to assist in the debunking of these stereotypes because phobia and harassment stemming from them too often leads to tragic results.

A second example of the humanizing and empowering effect of my engagement in the Atheism Plus project came about through my increased exposure to the experiences of black women and the ways they are derided, devalued, disrespected, gaslit, parodied, insulted, attacked, stolen from, silenced, ridiculed, and ignored by the dominant culture. In their analyses of these phenomena, black women revealed how ongoing white supremacist sentiment deploys a specific set of stereotypes to control the way the black woman is perceived. These stereotypes reinforce dehumanizing prejudices and work to prevent the formation of authentic relationships between black women and people of other races and genders that threaten the racist status quo. In their writings, womanist and black feminist activists revealed the existence and functioning of some of the stereotypes occluding my vision. I began to look at popular media portrayals of black women in a much more critical way after the racist utility of many of these images was made evident. I also began to understand the enormity and complexity of the project to alienate and stigmatize black women, the toll this constant assault takes on their minds and bodies, and the reactions such treatment can elicit.

The explanatory power of the theories brought to my attention by womanists and black feminist activists helped me better understand some of the cultural dynamics at play in last month’s incident at the Great Lakes Atheist Convention between black atheist speaker Bridgett “Bria” Crutchfield and white atheist speaker JT Eberhard. (During the Q&A segment following Mandisa Thomas’ speech on what the freethought community can learn from the hospitality industry, a white woman went off-topic and asked Mandisa what her group Black Nonbelievers was doing to fight black-on-black crime. Later, during the Q&A segment following Darrell C. Smith’s talk about the black atheist experience, in response to a man whose question about how to make black atheists feel comfortable at atheist events was directed at her, Bria gave an educational answer that used the woman’s racist question from earlier that day as an empirical example of why black atheists feel unwelcome. The white woman broke into tears at some point during or after this. JT Eberhard, who’d spoken earlier that day, afterwards pulled Bria aside to tell her she was “out of line”. Bria did not agree.) The predictive power of womanist and black feminist theories helped me determine how such a situation would probably play out and who was most likely at fault even before it escalated from sniping on Twitter to an 8500-word exercise in essentialism, denialism,  and motivated reasoning. I knew a black woman publicly expressing strong feelings while addressing a racist talking point from an ignorant (at best) white woman would likely receive exactly the kind of paternalistic shaming and silencing reaction Eberhard and one of the event’s alleged organizers provided–a reaction that would be compounded if the white woman staged a tearful retreat.

I knew to expect a greatly distorted perception of the intensity and appropriateness of Bria’s words from those people invested (however unconsciously) in silencing people who look like her and protecting people who look like themselves. Even though I was not at GLAcon and had not seen or heard a recording of what Bria said, I had good reason to trust her and the person who said she was “passionate, constructive and on point” more than the one who characterized her behavior as “verbally thrashing someone for no good reason”. This allowed me to show Bria support by favoriting and retweeting a message from herself and a supportive witness on Twitter when I first became aware of the situation, before any blog entries had been posted–a tiny act, but a relatively speedy one in a context where immediate support matters. I would not have had the confidence to do this without the information I learned through Atheism Plus. Later, at atheist activist Jennifer McCreight’s blog, Bria received a much more substantial show of support. Jennifer and her commenters rallied behind Bria while demonstrating a more informed and accurate understanding of the racial dynamics at play than one usually encounters in atheist discussion spaces. Their understanding could not have come from mainstream movement atheism, which still insists on color blindness.

I hope I have shown with these two examples how a person’s mind can be changed, their perspective widened, and their behavior affected by a skeptical approach to social justice which prioritizes the testimony of the oppressed over the assumptions of the oppressors. I also hope it is understood that such an approach is primarily valuable not because it provides privileged persons like myself an opportunity for personal growth, but because it is the most direct route to achieving the type of change that matters. The change I most want to see is a removal of the barriers preventing unfairly marginalized people from becoming full participants in society, so they can live normally and pursue their happiness just like everyone else. It is my hope that one day we can prove wrong those people who think inequality will always be a part of human society.

I would like to conclude with a list of 25 noteworthy things I learned during my first year of involvement with Atheism Plus, followed by a list of Twitter users I think more people should be listening to. The first list is not an attempt to represent the fullness of thought within the social justice movement or the A+ movement. (It’s a personal list, and there were 65 additional subjects I didn’t have the time to include.) The second list is similarly non-exhaustive. (It could use more activists specializing in physical disability, poverty, sex work, chronic pain, fat acceptance, child abuse, and other issues, but I think it is a great start for the typical sheltered atheist.) The writers of the pieces linked to in the first list and the owners of the Twitter accounts in the second list do not necessarily endorse or even know about the A+ idea, nor are they all atheists, but I think they have a lot to teach atheist activists and I think we should be supporting them.

  1. White culture has problems which white people must openly and actively confront in order to dismantle white supremacy. I first began to understand this when I read the account of a diversity consultant’s experiences with white feminist organizations whose leaders couldn’t understand why women of color were not showing interest in joining. The consultant noticed a pattern: in diversity workshops most of the white feminists, upon learning about and admitting to their various racist and classist biases, would make dramatic displays of emotional distress seemingly indicating sorrow and remorse, yet would ultimately refuse to implement major changes to their organization’s structure and policy that would better serve the specific needs of women of color, calling such changes “unfair” and labeling their proposals “attacks”. The juxtaposition of the white women’s emotionality with their inhumanity disturbed me greatly. Later I would discover that the phenomena of White Women’s Tears is well-known to womanists and black feminist activists. If the majority of white feminists can be counted on to behave this way it suggests they’re all getting the same basic training, perhaps from a culture that says a capacity for intense feelings of shame indicates a fundamental goodness–a “fine soul”–which should excuse one from consideration as a bad actor even as one continues to behave in a callous manner. There is much, much more to say on this and related topics, but I think the writer of the article is right to say about such interactions between the marginalized and the gatekeepers of power, “This, in short, is where racism lives.”
  2. There is a vast and thriving market for the promotion, trading, and remixing of media wherein a black woman is shown being subjected to physical violence at the hands of an authority figure after she has expressed anger in public. Many people apparently find this sequence of events and images gratifying, relieving, comforting, and worthy of celebrating when captured in real life, probably because a shallow and prejudiced reading of such incidents can appear to justify the racialized misogyny of a status quo they’d rather not have to oppose.
  3. Violence is first of all authoritarian. It begins with this premise: I have the right to control you.” This article helped me immensely by shining a light on the unexamined assumptions responsible for the rage I used to feel when my girlfriend challenged me. I realized my anger was being magnified by the idea that she was breaking “the rules” when she opposed me, and my sense of righteousness was being inflated by the idea that by maintaining a position over her I was defending order and civilization itself. I realized I was acting in defense of an unreal and illegitimate hierarchy that I had not embraced after a process of rational inquiry but had inherited from my culture and had unknowingly incorporated into my psychology. When I dropped this baggage I found I was not nearly as threatened by my girlfriend’s independence and assertiveness. In our arguments I could consider her statements as manifestations of her individual goals and desires, rather than as blows in a life-or-death struggle where her victory would upend humanity’s best and only system for maintaining stability and warding off chaos.
  4. What trolls do is engage in behaviors that are gendered male, raced as white, and marked by privilege.Trolls–the ones doing the heavy lifting when it comes to generating malignant culture and abusing others online–can be identified, studied, and understood. Effective strategies for containing the damage they do and preventing the circumstances that spawn and empower them can be developed.
  5. The Great Chain of Being continues to influence human culture. Getting rid of the imaginary being at the top is not enough–every link in the chain must be broken.
  6. Nothing about us without us.” This powerful motto was brought to my attention by activists on the autism spectrum, whose stories and experiences helped me see myself and the world in a new light.  Autistic people must be included in the social justice conversation.
  7. Privilege exists. [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8]
  8. Socially conscious atheist activism is needed and wanted. [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39]
  9. Uncompromising activism is required. Speaking up, speaking out, and identifying offenders is necessary to protect others and effect change. [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7]
  10. Internet activism on Twitter and blogs connects people, gets attention, changes minds, and makes things happen. [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7]
  11. We are not alone. Other communities are taking a stand against sexism and related problems. Forging solidarity is mutually encouraging, and it helps add to the knowledge base. When we compare notes, we often find commonalities we might never have guessed existed. [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14]
  12. Rape culture exists. [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]
  13. Microaggressions matter. [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]
  14. Harassment and trolling has a purpose and an end game. [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6]
  15. Harassment is not a natural feature of the internet that we should expect and accept. Spaces online, like spaces offline, are more valuable and useful when cleared of those who habitually prey on the less powerful. [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7]
  16. Social injustice causes biological and psychological harm to people. [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14]
  17. Victim-blaming doesn’t help. [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14]
  18. Despite popular and enduring misconceptions, feminism is effective and empowering. [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8]
  19. We can end rape culture. [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10]
  20. There can be no dialog between inveterate harassers and their victims. [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6]
  21. Safe and exclusive spaces are necessary.
  22. Free speech does not include the right to be listened to.
  23. There are a lot of people out there right now who don’t get it [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12]
  24. …but people can change. [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9]
  25. How to be an ally.

Twitter users speaking out on matters of social justice.

Contrary to popular opinion, Twitter is not a total wasteland of narcissism and superficiality. A tweet can be very meaningful and insightful. A tweet can also point its readers to long-form resources such as news articles and blog entries. An active presence on Twitter can lead to connections between seemingly disparate groups, potentially reversing some of the alienating effects of ongoing segregation in the physical world.

If you follow a more diverse set of people on Twitter it will expose you to a wider range of opinions on any given matter. This can increase your ability to serve the marginalized and vulnerable. As an example, when I learned about the petition for a “report abuse” button on Twitter, I gave it my full support. But later I found out that trans women had many reservations about the button because they are often the victims of false abuse reports by TERfs. Merely streamlining the abuse-reporting process would not necessarily benefit trans women. Twitter needed to do more to identify and fight the specific forms of transphobic bullying already taking place on its network. If I had been following more trans activists at the time, I would have known that, and I would have qualified my support for the button. Once I discovered my blind spot I was able to seek out and follow more trans activists, most of whom are on the list above. Now, when I search for a term or a hashtag on Twitter using the “people you follow” link, I will not be lacking their valuable perspectives. The “people you follow” search is extremely useful for finding patterns in opinion and illuminating deficiencies in your understanding so you can be a better ally, but it only works if you follow a wide variety of informed people.

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Unofficial Atheism Plus Proto-FAQ

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Edit:  After writing this FAQ I offered it to atheismplus.com with full editorial rights. It was then tentatively adopted as the official FAQ and put up for community review. If you would like to participate in revising the FAQ, please see this thread.

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What is Atheism Plus?

Atheism Plus is a term used to designate spaces, persons, and groups dedicated to promoting social justice and countering misogyny, racism, homo/bi/transphobia, ableism and other such bigotry inside and outside of the atheist community. The idea for the name came from a comment on a blog entry by Jen McCreight wherein she discussed the need for a new wave of atheism. Jen introduced a number of logos for the project shortly thereafter. Although it was only recently given a name, Atheism Plus has been percolating for a while.

Does A+ represent the official atheist position on social justice?

No. Not all atheists are interested in advocating for social justice. Many atheists choose instead to focus on other worthy endeavors such as science education, skepticism in medicine, or the separation of church and state. Many atheists do not consider their atheism particularly important, nor do they necessarily connect their atheism to any other positions they do or do not hold. And even among those atheists who are interested in promoting social justice, not all agree that the issues focused on by Atheism Plus are the most important ones or that the supporters of Atheism Plus are addressing these issues the right way. There are as many perspectives on social justice, its meaning, its import, the current state of its various aspects, and how best to promote it (if at all) as there are people. All are welcome to start, support, oppose, or ignore groups like Atheism Plus. However, supporters of Atheism Plus are not obligated to provide a forum for their opposition.

What if I don’t want to participate?

Those who choose not to use the Atheism Plus designation are not automatically considered supporters of bigotry. An “us and them” understanding is implicit whenever a group of any kind forms, but the “them” in this case is not monolithic. It is composed of individuals and groups who range from the supportive but uninvolved, to the neutral, to those opposed on principle, to the unabashedly bigoted, hateful, and discriminatory. The “us” in this case are the individuals and groups who are interested in seeing what an association of atheists working against bigotry, hatred, and discrimination can accomplish when given their own spaces in which to develop ideas. This position should be understood as distinct from the “with us or against us” position endorsed by some early proponents of Atheism Plus–a position which has been rejected by general consensus. (Anyone who decides to do so may attempt to speak for Atheism Plus, but whether their ideas find any support with the rest of the group is a different matter.)

What if I think this is a bad idea?

Those who oppose the existence of Atheism Plus are welcome to their opinion, but a substantial number of atheists have already opted in. A forum for discussion has been set up, an #AtheismPlus tag on Twitter has come into use, a Facebook group has been created, a subreddit has been started, and a number of respected atheist writers and speakers such as Greta Christina, Matt Dillahunty, and Adam Lee have already come out in full support of the venture. Others such as Massimo Pigliucci, Ronald A. Lindsay, and Hemant Mehta have offered helpful critiques and words of encouragement from the sidelines. Still others such as Michael Nugent have taken up similar undertakings themselves: ones which like Atheism Plus and unlike Humanism or Brights feature the critical word “atheism” prominently in their titles. Whatever the name–whether Ethical Atheism, Moral Atheism, or Atheism Plus–the desire by modern atheists to investigate this territory seems unlikely to go away.

Those who oppose the goals of Atheism Plus (eliminating misogyny, racism, homo/bi/transphobia, ableism and other such bigotry inside and outside of the atheist community) are also welcome to their opinions, but repeated interactions with them on blogs, forums, and social media has shown that they tend to derail the conversation. Threats, insults, empty mockery, time-wasting demands for reiterative explanations, uninformed reactionary rhetoric, charges of Nazism, and castigation for not giving equal time to unrelated or opposing viewpoints are too-common responses by atheists who don’t want these subjects discussed. It is up to the individuals who control the various venues associated with Atheism Plus to decide for themselves how to identify and deal with voices that are unhelpful, disrespectful, disingenuous, or unreasonable.

Isn’t this an attempt to redefine atheism?

Atheism Plus does not attempt to conflate atheism with feminism or any other ideology. It does not call for the incorporation of liberal values into the definition of atheism. The “Plus” should be understood as meaning “in addition to” the dictionary definition of atheism, which is still respected as being no more or less than a conclusion on the matter of the existence of gods. It is up to each individual to determine which values they wish to connect to their atheism if any. It just so happens that there is a sizable contingent of atheists who agree that a desire for social justice connects to their atheism in a meaningful way.

Why tack ideologies on to atheism?

Theistic religions tend to convince people there exists a supernatural caretaker: one who listens to, considers, and sometimes responds to psychically transmitted pleas for justice. The same religions also tend to posit an eternally persisting supernatural realm accessible after death wherein this god will dish out punishments for sins and rewards for good deeds. But if there is no supernatural caretaker and no post-death justice, conscious beings concerned with the plight of other conscious beings must take the initiative to promote justice, equality, fairness, empathy, compassion, and understanding in the here-and-now. From a psychological standpoint, an increased desire for social justice in the here-and-now can be credited to the conclusion of atheism for some people. Atheism Plus honors that connection.

Additionally, many believe there is a problem with bigotry and a lack of diversity within the atheist community. By creating a designation for a subset of atheists dedicated to taking action against bigotry it is hoped that more atheists will take such a stand themselves. One of the main problems is that people often don’t understand how they might be unconsciously acting in a manner that is hostile or inconsiderate to others such as women, people of color, the disabled, LGBT individuals, the poor, and so on. By clearing spaces for communication, it is hoped that discussions about privilege will help bring to light such hidden attitudes. It is also hoped that the spaces cleared for Atheism Plus will be more attractive to those people who are most often the victims of such bigotry. In drawing from their unique experiences, marginalized people can offer insights into privilege that mere philosophizing might never have revealed. An atheist community of increased diversity will also benefit from insights by the same marginalized people regarding all other topics traditionally important to atheists.

Doesn’t Humanism cover this stuff?

Atheism Plus embraces humanism. One of the formulations of Atheism Plus is “Atheism + Humanism + Skepticism”. However, to quote an article from the American Humanist Association website, “the humanist movement has never considered atheism (construed as a rejection of all concepts of God) as a necessary part of the humanist outlook.” Such a rejection is a necessary part of the atheistic outlook. Humanism has a rich tradition of promoting ethical living, but many people interested in changing minds find that it does not adequately stress the reality that there are almost certainly no gods and that this is almost certainly the only world in which we will ever exist.

A great number of people sincerely believe in the existence of godly justice in the here-and-now and heavenly justice in the future. Such people just don’t have much reason to listen to humanists on ethical matters because they think their god has it all taken care of. Atheists represent a much more direct challenge to this worldview. Even the word “atheists” has on occasion been deemed too controversial for the general public. If the word “atheism” can open minds to the possibility that there are other, drastically different ways of thinking, and if the addendum “plus” can succinctly indicate the connection many atheists experience between their atheistic worldview and their passion for social justice, the term has the potential to incite curiosity among the actively and passively religious, perhaps ultimately driving more people away from religion and toward the methods of secular humanism.

Isn’t this making a religion out of atheism?

Atheism Plus is a collection of like-minded people using safe spaces to hash out ideas. There is no dogma, just a general consensus among participants that the particular social justice issues it focuses on are important to them. There is no hierarchy, just a number of people whose words have proven helpful in clarifying the need for such a movement, and whose consistently enlightening contributions have engendered a certain level of trust. There are no membership requirements beyond a commitment to taking seriously the need to have and maintain spaces where social justice issues can be discussed by atheists without interference from those opposed to the whole endeavor.